Focus on affordability, development — Council candidates’ priorities
- Published: November 2, 2017
Issues of affordability and economic development dominated the discussion Thursday, Oct. 19, as the six candidates for Yellow Springs Village Council spoke at the second of two candidate forums organized by the James A. McKee Association in advance of the Nov. 7 election.
More than 100 community members, many of whom, by a show of hands, indicated they had attended the first forum the night before featuring the mayoral and school board races, gathered in the Mills Lawn School gym to hear more about the Council and trustee candidates’ platforms.
All six candidates running for the three open seats on the five-person Council attended, addressing the gathering in alphabetical order: Crissy Cruz, Brian Housh, Lisa Kreeger, Taki Manolakos, Kevin Stokes and David Turner.
Jalyn Roe, of Village Mediation, served as the evening’s moderator. The format allowed each candidate a five-minute presentation, which included a personal introduction and the chance to answer the questions of the most important issues before Council, and how they should be addressed. After each spoke, Roe posited questions from the audience.
The fiscal health of the Village depends on economic development, the candidates agreed, though they differed in approach and focus. And while several spoke strongly in favor of making the village more affordable, they had different ideas about what that means or how to achieve it, and one said the issue is not within the Council’s purview.
In her introduction, Crissy Cruz, who is making her third run for Council, highlighted her various community service activities. She said an important part of her platform is speaking for villagers who struggle financially. “People who work here can not afford to live here,” she said.
As such, Cruz sees the most pressing issues facing Village Council members as affordable housing and economic development.
She proposed revisiting the economic development report former Assistant Village Manager John Yung produced two years ago.
“John Yung produced a brilliant report,” Cruz said. One of its points was about “the benefits of the revolving loan fund and how to avoid mistakes of the past.” Cruz said she supports such a loan fund.
She also called for “a more intensive business survey” regarding village tourism to explore both the positive and negative effects of out-of-town visitors.
The lone incumbent on the ticket, Brian Housh said he is “excited to continue to serve.” With a background in law, business and communications, he described himself as “a rational decision-maker.”
“I am authentic, I really am a positive guy, and I’m collaborative,” he said.
Housh listed four issues that are most important to him: policing, the anticipated Village manager transition, affordability and “maintaining a pride in community.”
Breaking down the affordability issue further, he said that he sees “three major components to fight gentrification”: sustainable economic development; diverse housing options; and community development, which includes broadband Internet access.
He added that he agrees with Cruz about the desirability of reviving the revolving loan fund.
First-time candidate Lisa Kreeger, a registered nurse with a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change, identified fiscal responsibility and affordability as the two most pressing issues facing Council.
“It’s not enough to say ‘all are welcome here’ and go on as business as usual,” she said. Action is required.
For starters, the Village “budget should reflect who we are,” she said.
As a Council member, she said she would actively monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the budget.
Describing affordability as “the single most important factor to attracting a diverse population to the village,” Kreeger said she was concerned about residents living on fixed incomes or working multiple jobs to get by.
A vocal musician who is active in World House Choir among other ensembles, Kreeger said she values collaborations.
As such, she called for a strengthening of connections between the Village and such entities as the school board, Antioch College, The 365 Project and Home, Inc.
In office, “I will listen to your concerns,” she said, noting that she planned to establish regular office hours and a dedicated email address.
An economist on the faculty at Wright State University who previously worked as an energy analyst at a nonprofit organization and serves on the board of the Yellow Springs Federal Credit Union, Taki Manolakos said the two most important Village issues are affordability and diversity, which he said are related.
Village Council “has taken some positive steps,” on affordability, but more is needed, he said. Specifically, he called for more Section 8 housing and more inexpensive rentals.
The other side of lowering costs is raising incomes, according to Manolakos, and he proposed the introduction of “a living wage ordinance.”
He also maintains that the police budget, which accounts for “half of the general fund,” should be cut.
“It’s too much for our size,” he said.
The director of information technology and media services for Antioch College, Kevin Stokes also serves on the board of the Little Art Theatre and is a member The 365 Group and World House Choir.
Stokes opened his remarks by expressing appreciation for the other candidates. “As iron sharpens iron, we each become better candidates by hearing and listening to each other,” he said.
Stokes said he has built his campaign on “three broad themes: cultural justice and competence; the symbiotic relationship between Antioch [College] and Yellow Springs; and economic development and affordability.”
He noted that “the Village had a good year. The budget looks good; we’re in the black. But we want to maintain that. We need to improve the income tax base.”
For Stokes, developing the village-owned property commonly referred to as the CBE would be a positive step toward economic development. The CBE is a good thing for the village,” he said.
“We need to show we are serious about expanding business in the area and attracting new business,” he said.
Stokes also called for the Village to revisit the fiber broadband issue, and he said he supports the work of Home, Inc. and sees the “need to increase the supply of affordable housing.”
Long-time villager David Turner described himself as a parent who has coached baseball and soccer and served on the boards of the Antioch School and YSI, where he worked as an engineer before starting his own repair business. He is also a member of The 365 Project and supports its auxiliary Young People of Color group.
In his professional and civic work, Turner’s “been talking with a lot of people for a long time,” he said. And those conversations have given him insights into community life and needs.
The most pressing issues currently are “affordability and economic growth,” he said.
At the same time, “there’s not a lot Council can do” about housing costs. “Housing costs are high because houses cost a lot,” he said.
Economic development is what drives affordability, he said. “I think we need to stop having surveys to say that’s what we care about.”
And it’s in the realm of economic development that Council can have an impact. The jobs of the past are not coming back, he noted, so new thinking is needed. “We should do an infrastructure survey to determine the kind of industries we do want here.”
Turner was alone in expressing a belief that Council couldn’t do much concerning housing costs, though in response to a question about the Village’s relationship with Home, Inc., he suggested that the current villagewide housing survey might provide some useful information for Council members.
Manolakos spoke favorably of Council’s support for Home, Inc.’s work to build and remodel more affordable housing in town, but he added that the support has been “mostly symbolic” in the form of waiving tap fees.
Kreeger addressed a perceived audience concern that the Village is working exclusively with Home, Inc. when it comes to affordable housing issues.
“I don’t think there’s a corner on Home, Inc being the only [agency],” she said. There is “opportunity for others,” like the Antioch Village proposal to build multi-unit and multi-family living options.
“We need to look at a diversity of options,” Housh agreed, adding that he supports the Village’s recent push for in-fill and split lots.
He took issue with the characterization of Council’s support of Home, Inc. as symbolic, pointing to the “exciting” pocket neighborhood proposal being pursued.
Manolakos noted that cutting the police budget, as he suggested in his opening remarks, could make funds available for affordable housing efforts.
The Police Department budget was on the mind of an audience member who asked whether the candidates would consider reducing the local police presence to nighttime and event coverage, instead using county deputies during the day as well as the county dispatch for emergency calls.
While most of the candidates agreed that the police budget needs cutting, only Stokes expressed interest in considering the suggestion.
“I don’t think we want to be close-minded,” Stokes said. “I saw the faces of the crowd” registering displeasure as the question was read. But at the same time, it’s important, he said, “to do our due diligence, to take it under consideration. Not to totally dismiss something that does not seem palatable to us.”
Manolakos said he would consider cutting personnel, but wouldn’t go so far as to replace officers with county deputies, which he said would “be worse.”
For Kreeger, the police budget is a matter of values. “I’m in support of having a budget that reflects how we want to live together,” she said. “I’m in favor of local policing and relationship building.
Housh expressed his support for community policing and the local department. “I believe the community is dedicated to creating model policing,” he said, which includes good training.
Cruz suggested cutting the budget by “buying less toys,” and she described the local dispatch as a valuable community resource.
An audience member’s question about infrastructure construction to the so-called CBE property on the west edge of town, despite a community referendum three years ago against spending money to develop the land when it was owned by the Community Resources group, elicited a variety of responses. (Community Resources has since transferred the property to the Village.)
Stokes, who previously stated that he supports development on the property, said that he understood the referendum as reflecting the community’s desire “not to spend public money for a [then] profit enterprise.
Now that the Village owns the land, he sees a clear opportunity for economic growth. “If we want to bring in new business, it’s not going to be across the street from Current Cuisine,” he said.
Turner agreed that “it’s a good place for business.”
Housh said that he thought “many people had different perspectives on what they were voting for” with the referendum, which has complicated the issue. For his part, he felt the Village had stayed true to the community vote. “The extension of utilities was because we had a grant … and the engineering study was so Cresco [a medical marijuana company interested in building a facility there] can build a road.”
Manolakos, who said he had served on a committee that included Cruz to assess the original proposal, added that the argument against the enterprise “has been vindicated. … It was too risky a proposition. There were no firm commitments from buyers.” The recent infrastructure work, he added, “was not necessarily against the referendum.”
Kreeger agreed that “for that land to serve the Village, some infrastructure had to go in.” She also noted that she heard, within the audience member’s concern, “a question about process.”
Some community members had expressed distress and a sense of being left out when the infrastructure work was announced.
“The most important thing I can do is communicate actively about decisions that are coming up,” Kreeger said.