Zainab Baloch | Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County | Indy Week

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Zainab Baloch

Raleigh City Council (At-Large)

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Zainab Baloch
www.votebaloch.com
Occupation: Quality Management, Department of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services
Phone Number: (984) 444-9813
Email Address: Zainab@VoteBaloch.com
Years Lived in Raleigh: 26
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Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, Raleigh has struggled with questions of affordable and workforce housing. In June, the city council set a goal of fifty-seven hundred more affordable units over the next decade. With burgeoning growth and rising housing prices, what additional steps should Raleigh take to create more affordable housing?

To get into the heart of the issue of affordable housing, we must address the gentrification that is happening in Raleigh, which is forcing many residents out of their homes due to rising costs of living within the city limits. The fact that police officers, firefighters, and teachers cannot afford to live in the city that they serve is unacceptable. By having the cost of living exceed people’s salaries due to gentrification, we are pushing out many of our residents in favor of affluent developers, and in doing this, it sends the wrong message- that money is more valuable than the basic needs of our residents. We need to encourage growth in Raleigh, but ensure that these businesses are coming here to benefit the community, and not just for a tax break. We must also push for tax credit housing for those living and working in this city. By assessing development in Raleigh and pushing for tax credit housing, we will make sure that everyone is being served in this great city.


Related to affordable housing (and affordability in general) is viable public transportation. What steps can the city take to improve mass transit throughout the city? County voters approved a transit referendum last fall that will eventually create a bus rapid transit system and commuter rail line. What more should be done?

As it stands, our public transportation system is not adequately serving the community. The approval of the transit referendum in the fall was a great step in the right direction, but we need to do more. With 64 people moving to the Triangle each day, we must continue to invest in our public transportation to meet the needs of our ever-growing city. By adding more buses in Raleigh, we will not only give residents better access to affordable transportation, but we will also improve commute times, which will, in turn, benefit every commuter in Raleigh, regardless of their mode of transportation.


Given the inflamed racial tensions after the recent events in Charlottesville, what steps should Raleigh take to position itself as a guardian of social justice? How would you characterize city leaders’ relationship with Raleigh’s communities of color, and what should be done to improve that relationship going forward?

Raleigh's community members should make everyone feel safe, and wanted. Doing so will make citizens feel comfortable with where they are. City Council members can make a difference by getting in contact with citizens and hearing their concerns on a small, intimate level. They should also show support for changing the 2015 state law that prohibits cities to take down confederate monuments without state approval, statues which were erected during Jim Crow segregation and are a painful reminder to our communities of color of the injustices we have fought so hard to overcome. Citizens should be able to come together to discuss and make these decisions for their own city.


Given the recent creation of the community engagement board, what do you believe the role of citizens advisory councils should be? What features and levels of involvement do you want to see incorporated into the new structure?

The CEB provides us with a good opportunity to hear more of our citizens' voices, and give a greater push for the initiatives that they want to see. For example, the implementation of community oversight and implicit bias training for police, to allow our communities to feel safer, and generally improve relations between our police and the neighborhoods they are working hard to protect. Another way for the CEB to help our city function better is to bring together the conclusions of the citizens' advisory councils and make sure that we're on the same page as a city. Every citizen should have an equal voice, regardless of our economic or racial background, so that Raleigh can be a place where we can all fulfil our potential.


Thinking about the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific changes you will advocate if elected?


Currently, Raleigh City Council is not representing all people in Raleigh. While the average age of City Council members is well into the 50s, the median age of the city’s residents is in the low 30s. This shows the need for younger residents to have representation in Raleigh, which is something that I understand, and can address with my perspective as a young person. By electing a young candidate in a city diverse in age, we will enable people of all ages to become involved and be represented in local politics.


If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identify your priorities for improvements in the district if you’re elected. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.

We need to prioritize a safe, healthy, and inclusive city. With a safe city, we need to have better community relations, better climate and culture training for officers, and we need to become safe zone for immigrants. To make Raleigh a healthy city, we need to improve mental and physical health by increasing access to parks and public exercise options, as well as having a stronger mental health presence in schools. A city for all needs living wages, improving public transportation, and a push for better tax credits for housing so we’re incentivizing residents and not just developers to Raleigh. Raleigh is a big city that is constantly growing every year, and by prioritizing these three issues, we are making Raleigh a better community for everyone.


What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the city council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?

In college at NC State, I built a foundation of community service in leadership positions, working with interfaith groups and the City of Raleigh’s youth programs, and dedicating myself to social justice. Now, I work for the North Carolina Division of Mental Health while pursuing my Master of Public Administration at UNC-CH, so that I can use the skills I learn to better my service. I understand how local government works, am experienced in bringing together diverse groups of people, and have confidence that I can work to address the needs of all members of our community.


Please give an example of an action by the city council in the past year that went wrong or should have been handled differently. Also, what was the city’s biggest accomplishment during that period?

One of city council’s biggest accomplishments was the approval to increase affordable housing by 5,700 units over the next decade. Doing so lets us expand our community, and gives us the ability to have open arms for everyone who plans on moving to Raleigh. Something that should have been handled differently by city council was the approval of the Community Engagement Board in May. This took away the voices from Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs), and placed the power in a board run by the government. A goal for the city council is supposed to be to hear the needs of the community, and in particular, the CACs-not to diminish their voices by having a government run board speak on behalf of them.


How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?




Now that the city if moving ahead with plans for the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific features or focuses you’d work to see as part of final design?

An important issue of mine is enabling Raleigh to become a healthier city. With the decision to progress with Dorothea Dix Park, I would like to see more healthy spaces for all Raleigh residents. When people think about exercising, their options are typically limited to walking outside or paying for a gym membership to get proper exercise, but our health should not be limited by our personal finances. We need to have innovative, permanent, and accessible options to wellness for all of Raleigh.


If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

One of the areas we are falling short in as a community is the way we treat and talk about mental illness. As someone who works in mental health, I am passionate about dispelling the stigmas surrounding it, and creating welcoming spaces so that those of us who need support feel comfortable seeking it. This starts with schools, by teaching students to identify signs of self-injurious and suicidal behavior, giving them the resources to seek help, and strengthening the city’s relationship with mental health facilities. We need to provide better medical care for all of our citizens, and we must recognize that mental health care is an integral part of this.

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