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Durham mayor discusses housing, gun violence in annual address

Durham, NC
Dave DeWitt
Durham, NC

Durham Mayor Elaine O'Neal delivered her annual State of the City address Monday night at Durham City Hall in front of a small crowd.

Her hour-long speech touched on several issues, including affordable housing, gun violence and equitable access to transportation and job opportunities. Her address also heavily focused on asking citizens for help.

Mayor Elaine O'Neal
City of Durham NC
Mayor Elaine O'Neal

"I believe when we all work together, greatness will follow," O'Neal said. "I encourage you tonight to think about how you are going to help make the streets of Durham safe for all of us to live, work and play."

The first-term mayor thanked city workers for their service and listed off federal grants the city has recently been awarded, like a $40 million project to build more affordable housing downtown.

O'Neal then moved on to discuss needed areas of improvement. She described gun violence as a plague.

"Each person taken away from our community continues to tear holes in the very fabric of who we are," O'Neal said. "I'm committed to considering all strategies to address the root causes of violence, including poverty [and] lack of housing."

She argued another one of those root causes is access to transportation. She highlighted her efforts to make transit free in the city, and said she plans to continue the free GoDurham service for at least the next year.

O'Neal also said she and the Durham City Council have spent much of the last year conducting a deep review of housing issues.

"We're going to have that conclusion in a couple of weeks. We hope to have a document that will help ... guide the council's ... approach [to] housing in Durham," O'Neal said.

She acknowledged that Durham's growth and wealth have been spread disproportionately.

"The reality is that Durham's prosperity has not been shared equally or equitably across our community. Our most vulnerable populations are feeling the effects the most," O'Neal said. "We have to invest in education, health care, jobs ... as well as affordable housing, and make sure that it's readily available for all income levels."

She ended by asking residents of the city to volunteer their time however they'd like to.

"Last year, I asked you to volunteer for five hours. For those of you who responded to my call for action, thank you," O'Neal said. "If you haven't, please consider. Being of service to our community is essential for Durham to continue to grow."

O'Neal will be up for re-election this November.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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