Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 (Updated Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019)
It didn’t take Junie Joseph long to figure out Boulder’s biggest problem when she arrived in August 2018, because it quickly became her biggest problem. Joseph had been accepted to law school at the University of Colorado; she moved here fresh from a stint in the Central African Republic with the United Nations. She found herself without a place to live.
“I started plugging in to the community. I looked at council and (saw) that it is not a very diverse council. Many are business owners; all are homeowners. They are above working class,” Joseph said. “You don’t have to live in this community for 30 years to know what’s going on, to know that housing is an issue. To me, it’s a social equity issue. I believe that Boulder can be so much better than what it is; so much more inclusive.”
Her struggle to find housing became her motivation to run for Boulder City Council, but Joseph has long pursued public service. She worked for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Ivory Coast, and served as a White House intern in the Obama administration. Her entree into service work in Boulder was at the Shelter for the Homeless, where she still volunteers. She also served on the Boulder County Community Corrections Board.
“Very few jobs I’ve done were not service-based,” Joseph said. “Service has always been part of who I am. That’s what God put me on this Earth to do — service to others. Even if I don’t win, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing.”
At CU, she is training toward a career in law with a focus on human rights and immigration. She hopes to one day work in the Boulder County district attorney’s office.
“I have a little bit of a calling (toward) immigration law, I think because I’m an immigrant myself,” Joseph said. “I was born in Haiti. I came to the U.S. when I was 14 or 15. I find myself having a bit of an affinity with people trying to find their footing in this country.”
We are meeting at her church, Boulder Valley Church of Christ, because “this is the first place that welcomed me when I moved to Boulder.” That community also helped her find temporary housing: She stayed with a family in Louisville for two months before moving into an apartment in Boulder’s affordable housing program.
Joseph has made the story of her experiences with housing in Boulder central to her city council run, along with her identity as a CU student. Again, she argues, the lack of diversity among the city’s elected officials means that students are a group whose needs aren’t considered.
In a discussion about community engagement, a council member’s throwaway comment about students leaving for the summer irked Joseph.
“It’s this thinking that if they are not here, we don’t have to care about them,” she said. “We have to change the narrative that students matter.”
The best way to do that, she believes, is to put a student in office.
“If there’s one thing the U.N. taught me,” she said, “it’s that you have to be at the table if you want your voice to count.”
Endorsed by: Better Boulder, Boulder Progressives, South Boulder Creek Action Group, Open Boulder, The Coalition, Boulder Area Labor Council, Indian Peaks Sierra Club, Boulder Daily Camera
Who she says she represents: Working-class women, ethnic minorities and students
Top priorities: Housing, homelessness, flood mitigation at CU South
Daily Camera editorials: “Opinion: Students in Boulder will be invisible no more.”
Why you might want to vote for her: Joseph has an extraordinary amount of policy experience at the national and international level with respected organizations such as USAID and the U.N.
“I’ve participated in American government at the highest level,” she said. “I’ve lived all over the world: I’ve seen what works; I’ve seen what doesn’t work. I’ve served my country. (This is) an opportunity to serve more.”
Joseph would also bring diversity to the council, as one of only two black candidates, one of the only renters and the only student.
Why you might not want to vote for her: Despite her broad national and international experience, Joseph is incredibly new to Boulder — a drawback in a town where residents often equate the length of their tenure with how much right they should have to determine the city’s direction.
Although she has been regularly attending city council meetings and working hard to educate herself on the issues, some of her positions lack specifics and details (homelessness and CU South, for examples), but no more than many of the other candidates who have been in town far longer.
She has struggled in public forums, repeating talking points and failing to give direct answers to questions. While some evolution of her positions is to be expected as she learns more, on one — whether or not she supports exploring lethal control of prairie dogs — the answer she gave during this interview was opposite to the one she provided during a recent PLAN-Boulder County forum. Her shifting opinions are something to keep an eye on as she becomes more educated and engages with more residents.
Joseph asks of critics who contend she is too new to town for a city council seat — and many have, she said, including one woman who treated her to a “15-minute rant” — How long should she wait before her voice counts? And in the meantime, “where should I go?”
“If I move to the next community, people will say the same thing. How long do I have to be here to know what’s right and what’s wrong? Human rights (and) social justice are innate to all of us. We all know what’s fair. You don’t have to have a master’s degree (or) a PhD to know what’s wrong.”
“This is a country full of immigrants and people who came here because they aspire to be Americans. I moved here on that premise. I’m not here to tell people what to do. All I want to do is contribute because I live here. This is my community, too.”
Joseph on the issues
Housing: Joseph would combine government and market solutions, keeping Boulder’s inclusionary housing fees — though in the recent Boulder chamber forum, she said she “did not believe” in the commercial linkage fee because the costs are passed onto renters, not absorbed by developers — and focusing on subsidized affordable housing while also working to streamline zoning and reduce red tape for affordable housing.
“I went to the city’s website to learn about the zoning; you need seven PhDs to get this,” she said.”Developers” — particularly of affordable housing — “need more opportunities to work in partnership with the city.”
“At the end of the day, housing is not just about the city pumping money into (affordable) housing. How do we use the space we have? We need to find better solutions for housing: Build a little bit higher. I’m not saying going above 55 feet, but there’s opportunity to go up to that point.”
In a followup email, Joseph wrote that her views on Boulder’s affordable housing fees had changed. “I accept the importance of linkage fees,” she wrote. But she doesn’t think they should be increased — yet.
“Since we have already raised the fees twice in the last four years (more than 200%), I propose keeping the fees in place and evaluating the results after a sufficient time period. There are many more programs and ideas I would support as higher priority to increase the availability of affordable housing.”
To Joseph, along with an increasing number of people, Boulder’s housing policies cannot be separated from its environmental policies and social equity ills.
On the environmental impacts of slow growth, she said, “You can’t say you are against global warming and you’re not for housing. We have 65,000 people commuting in (each weekday). They’re driving in. They’re creating more congestion and (using more) fossil fuel. Not giving them access to housing or opportunities to get housing is contributing to air pollution.”
As for Boulder’s lack of economic and racial diversity, “I see housing as the main issue in creating most of the inequalities we see. That I see more diverse people in the (homeless) shelter than walking around on Pearl Street” shows that our housing challenges are racial and equity issues as well.”
Homelessness: “I understand poverty; I’ve seen it; I was born in it. I think (local providers) are doing all they can with the resources that they have. Would I want to have shelter? Yes, that’s important, but at the same time we need housing. Fifty percent of the people in a homeless situation are families. Families with children, they need housing. You can’t have a society where families are not taken care of. We can’t get them into housing if we don’t have housing.
“We have to provide better programming to get them off the street, into housing, into jobs and (better) mental illness treatment.”
Occupancy limits: “Those limits constrain how many people can live in homes. (People say) the issue is noise, the issue is parking. But if the issue is noise, the issue is parking … we need to look into trash, into noise. Putting limits on occupancy is not really the solution to noise complaints and parking issues.”
CU South / flood mitigation: “The priority should be protecting people’s lives. Classrooms can wait, building housing can wait. It’s not just about CU building the next classroom or housing for grad students, which I want as well. Those people that live down there, they need that barrier built so that they can be protected.”
Municipalization: “I am definitely pro-muni. What belongs to community doesn’t belong to corporations and businesses. If it belongs to the community, they will benefit more from the profit than some corporation that takes all the money.”
At the same time, “it’s going to cost a lot of money up front” and we need answers on how much it’s going to cost, how it will be run, etc. “It’s probably not going to be profitable in the beginning. For the future of our children, it will probably be the best thing because we know fossil fuels are not sustainable.”
Lethal control of prairie dogs: Joseph initially said she was supportive of city council’s vote to explore it as an option, while acknowledging it wasn’t a topic she had explored thoroughly. But, as referenced above, she appeared to have changed her mind at a late-August PLAN candidate forum.
“I believe in preservation and relocation,” she said. “What would that look like, I don’t know.”
The city’s policy was relocation, but cost estimates to clear impacted acreage ran into the millions of dollars, and timelines stretched decades. A majority of residents in an Open Space survey also support exploring lethal control.
Budget: “Government efficiency is something that is very important to me. (The budget) is a matter of … where we prioritize.”
For example, she questions the fact that more of the city’s budget goes to open space than to housing and human services. “Although open space is extremely important,” housing is one of the city’s biggest needs, she said. The budget process is about “prioritizing things that are important.”
Police oversight: “The task force is a step in the right direction. There should be internal training, implicit bias training, so we don’t find ourselves here again. Organizational culture is so important. It’s not just having this oversight (group) and let(ting) the environment (stay) rotten, and then when there is an issue, try to solve it. We have to start at the root.
“We all have implicit bias that comes out at the wrong time, that comes out when we least expect it. I don’t believe that officers, if they saw me on fire, they would just keep going. They would do their best to help. But in that moment (when they encountered Zayd Atkinson), something in them kicked in. How do we train them to be better at serving the community without taking into consideration the person’s color” or housing status?
“What we see in the police force … is a reflection of our community. It’s not because people in the police force are evil: it’s a reflection of our society and how much we care about people who are different than us. An officer probably thinks when he is dealing with a homeless person, he probably thinks he is dealing with a problem because that’s how we treat them — as problems that we don’t want to deal with. That police officer is putting on the uniform of the state. If he is behaving the way he is behaving, it’s because we gave him that power as a community. As a society, we can do a lot better.
“(These) are big issues. Not just because I’m black, but because I’m a member of this community. If it happens to anyone, it can happen to me as well. When you have a group of people who are not safe, the whole community is not safe.”
Attended March for Police Oversight: No
Attended city council meeting on racism: Yes
Hill hotel: “My views are evolving as I’m learning,” but in general, Joseph supports the proposed hotel project.
“Bringing the hotel would bring customers to the area” who might help the “struggling businesses” there. But, she said, “that’s something I’m willing to learn more and study.”
Neighborhood input to housing/density and development: Joseph was one of the few candidates at the Raucous Caucus to say immediate neighbors of a project should get more say than residents citywide. (And the only one to answer ‘Yes’ to the question: Is developer a dirty word?)
“I understand the concerns of some people — we don’t need to be building everywhere. As a member of council, I would take all these views into account.”
But Joseph also believes that non-homeowners need better representation in the public process. And what those groups need is housing.
“I believe in equity (and) political inclusion,” she said. “That requires we take into account working class people and ensuring that, if they want to live in Boulder, they can.”
“People talk about neighborhood character, (but) we can’t put all our resources into neighborhood character and not think about the problems it creates as well.”
Council’s use of moratoria: “My views are evolving,” Joseph said, admitting the need to do “more research.” But she is opposed to two of the three moratoria the council has imposed: the Opportunity Zone development and demolition moratorium and the lowered height limit this council extended.
Opportunity Zone moratorium: Opposed. “There are a lot of zoning laws and land use codes” already in place to protect against development we don’t want, Joseph said. A moratorium wasn’t good governance.
Height limit moratorium: Opposed. “It’s already 55 feet, and we have a housing shortage. I’m not for increasing , but I’m not for lowering it.”
Author’s note: This article was updated to add to Joseph’s statements on housing linkage fees and with new endorsements.
— Shay Castle, firstname.lastname@example.org, @shayshinecastle
Want more stories like this, delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for a weekly newsletter from Boulder Beat. Look for more election coverage at VoteBoulder.co, going live in October.