Catherine Fray, the former chair of the Carrboro Planning Board, announced their run for the Carrboro Town Council in June. Braxton Foushee, the board’s current chair, endorsed Fray and said they “understand representation, being inclusive and bringing voices along that may not be at the table.”
Fray also co-chaired the 2020-22 task force to develop Carrboro Connects, the town’s comprehensive plan for the next 20 years. Their key issues include affordable housing, equity & justice, and climate resilience.
We interviewed Fray via email for an in-depth interview.
Make your 2023 municipal election voting plan
Beginning with the 2023 municipal elections, North Carolina voters will be required to show photo ID when they check in to vote. Voters who vote by mail will be asked to include a photocopy of an acceptable ID when returning their ballot by mail.
Check your voter registration now. You can look it up here. This is really important particularly if you’ve moved in the past year.
Make a plan to vote during early voting. This ensures that if there’s a problem, you can sort it out. Early voting runs from October 19-November 4. Here is the complete schedule of voting sites, dates, and times for Orange County.
Read about the new voter ID requirements. Every vote counts in North Carolina, and this information must be shared early and often. If you know of people who have just moved here, or students, or new neighbors, please let them know about registering and the voter ID requirements.
What are your focus areas for the Carrboro Town Council race?
My number one priority is affordable housing. Rent and home prices determine who gets to live in Carrboro and shape our priorities as a community. What makes Carrboro special to me is our diversity and our care for one another. In order to preserve that, we need to change the way we build homes.
In addition, climate change is impacting Carrboro today. We will have more heatwaves and heavier rain in the future, and that means we need to be working right now to keep people safe from the heat and to protect against flooding. I want us to invest in green infrastructure – stormwater, shade, transit, & walking and biking safety.
What are three things that you believe the town could be doing better?
First, the town could do a much better job managing land use. The rules we use to decide what gets built where today are pretty similar to the ones we had in 1980 – but Carrboro is a very different place today. We need to update our standards so that it’s easier to build duplexes than mansions.
Second, the town should move faster on its top priorities. The Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan was adopted a year ago. The town won an award for how well it collected public opinion on what should go in the plan and it includes great guidance for just about every area of town operations. But since then we have not made enough progress on the changes which the plan called for. Having a vision is important but we also need to act on it.
Third, the town could improve on how it collects and communicates information. Staff are doing amazing work everyday, but it can be hard to find out about it, or learn what the council or advisory boards are doing. We should also expand our methods for accepting public comment. Residents with families and jobs should be able to keep up with town government and have their voices heard without spending hours sitting in or watching recordings of meetings.
What are the things you think the town currently is doing right?
The town is doing a great job supporting culture, arts, and tourism. I’ve been so happy to see our calendar of events fill back up now that we are able to be together in person again. From our welcoming Pride events to the public art festival that just started, Carrboro knows how to be weird and inspiring and free-spirited.
The town is also going in the right direction on infrastructure improvements and flooding prevention. While there’s a lot more to do, the town has taken responsibility for protecting public safety and building climate resilience, starting with projects to reduce stream erosion and road flooding during heavy rain.
I’m also very proud of the town for committing $1 million of ARPA funding to our affordable housing fund. That one-time infusion of money will help seed many truly affordable homes over the coming years.
How has your experience on the Planning Board informed your decision to run?
The decade I’ve spent learning how we actually build things in Carrboro is a big part of why I decided to run. We have great values in Carrboro – we want green, affordable homes that fit into neighborhoods. But that’s not what our current development rules get us.
I’ve watched over and over as our building rules and review processes delay homes from being built, make them more expensive, and push developers to build less efficiently. Projects get canceled, scaled back, or redesigned for a luxury market all the time. The reason is not because affordable housing won’t sell, or because all developers want to build mansions. It’s because our rules were deliberately designed to keep Carrboro looking like it did in the 60s, and even though the town has changed the rules haven’t.
Today it is much easier to build a mansion than a duplex in Carrboro. I’ve heard everyone from neighbors to developers to advisory board members to the town council say that this is not what we want. We want Carrboro to be a place where anyone can afford to live. I want that too and it’s long past time we made it happen.
We know that feedback the Council receives does not reflect Carrboro’s population. How will you ensure your decision making process takes into account the perspectives of people who may not have the time or resources to attend council meetings?
This is really important to me. In addition to advocating on council for the town to communicate more clearly with residents, I want to make sure I am helping to both spread information about what the town is doing and gather input as widely as possible.
We’re living in a time of siloed information, so an “all of the above” approach is needed – door-to-door canvassing, email, social media, talking to community organizers, etc. A council member needs to be out in the community as much as possible, getting to know people and being accessible for feedback. I love the public office hours that several current council members host because talking to someone casually over coffee is much easier than sitting through a council meeting.
When you know that the folks who are most engaged in public comment may not be representative of the community as a whole, we can also use surveys to reach further. Carrboro Connects was a good example – in addition to many other outreach methods, the town mailed a bilingual postcard to every single residence and we ultimately received direct feedback from over 1600 people.
UNC produces thousands of talented graduates each year, most of whom move away for a variety of reasons. Should Chapel Hill and Carrboro make more of an effort to keep homegrown talent here? If so, how?
We should absolutely make it easy for graduates to stay! Not just UNC, but schools around the Triangle produce tens of thousands of talented grads every year who have a lot to contribute to any community they join. I’m one of those UNC grads who fell in love with Carrboro in 2010 and decided to put down roots here.
The single biggest thing Carrboro can do to keep them is work to reduce housing costs. Lots of recent graduates would love to stay, but simply can’t afford it. I’m only here today because I found a home I could afford. Given what’s happened to rent and home prices since then, I couldn’t have stayed if I were making the same choice today.