5 questions for city council member Malcolm Graham

With the arrival of Covid-19, he said, the conversation for Historic West End residents and business owners switched.

Malcolm Graham was barely sworn in as a Charlotte City Council District 2 representative when Covid-19 came calling. Overnight, the conversation along the Historic West End changed from growth and potential to one of survival.

Before Covid-19, “it was like a dream come true,” Graham told West Side Connect in a recent phone interview. “All the pieces were falling together. We had scheduled in March a town hall meeting with the students at Johnson C. Smith University to educate them about all the positive developments that were happening around the corridor.”

He ticked off just a few of them:

  • the streetcar, scheduled for completion in December.
  • Five Points Plaza, buoyed by major grant from the Knight Foundation.
  • the I-77 underpass on West Trade, scheduled to get a major redo
  • the old Excelsior Club, scheduled for redevelopment.

Now Graham spends much of his time in talks about Covid-19 and how it’s affecting the various District 2 communities.

Although Graham represents a district that stretches from Uptown Charlotte to Mountain Island Lake, he talked with West Side Connect mainly about Historic West End.

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Q. With social distancing in place, how are you communicating with your constituents?

We’ve been doing it in several ways. I’ve been trying to post and update the community … by way of social media. I have an email list of about 5,000 District 2 residents that we’ve been emailing, keeping them informed in terms of what’s going on.

Also, we’re having a conference call with groups of 10 community leaders from my district. We identified 50 neighborhood presidents and organizations, so we’re doing them in groups 10. We’re calling them, kind of welfare checks. How you doing? How is your neighbor doing? Do you know of anyone in need of services or resources?

I’m trying to be as flexible as possible to communicate with the community, given the circumstance we are under.

Q. What are you hearing from business owners along the Beatties Ford Road corridor?

They’re afraid. When big business catches a cold, small business generally dies, so there’s a lot of apprehension about their doors being shut, their business declining, and how do they stay in business during this public health crisis. A lot of them are inquiring about the Small Business Administration loans, whether or not there is going to be any local loan pools for small business, and in particular minority-owned firms. That’s been the majority of the questions. Some are in a situation where they may have to lay off people. And so it’s just really trying to understand how they can operate within this environment.

Q. Your district includes some of the zip codes with the highest rate of Covid-19 infection. What are you hearing from families?

Along the corridor, as you can imagine, it’s an older population, and a number of the residents have underlying conditions. So I’m just trying to make sure that there is communication between the younger generation and the older generation in terms of respecting the social distancing and following the guidelines set forth by the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

Some of our younger folks think that they’re invincible and that this doesn’t apply to them. And so many of them are going about their business as usual. So when you come in contact with an older resident, that may be problematic. I think (QCity Metro) probably was the first (media outlet) that really talked about the impact that Covid-19 is having on the African-American community. So I requested some data from the health department so I can really understand it myself.

It’s really important that we focus and understand what’s happening within our community. But at the end of the day, the virus doesn’t discriminate against Black or white, rich or poor, young or old, Democrat or Republican. So we all have to, again, do the work and practice the social distancing necessary.

Q. The county recently set aside $6 million to assist small businesses hurt by Covid-19. What has the city done?

This past Monday, the city approved a $1 million loan pool for micro-businesses along fragile and threatened corridors, like Beatties Ford Road corridor. We’re working in conjunction with LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). That was approved by the city council on this past Monday.

In addition, we passed $5.2 million in Community Development Block Grant monies to be applied to affordable-housing issues in the community. Also, the mayor has named me to coordinate the Covid-19 Housing Task Force Committee, where we will be examining a wide variety of housing issues as they relate to Covid-19, from homelessness to home ownership.

The task force is something new. We’ve identified seven community liaisons to work with four council members. So a press release is coming out (soon) from the mayor’s office that talks about that task force, in addition to a small-business task force that she’s named, and a task force that focuses on the airport.

Q. Why do we need an affordable-housing task force related to Covid-19?

Well, because of the impact it is having on people and their housing needs. Some people are homeless, so it’s a way to care for them so that we can control the spread of Covid-19. Some people have the inability to pay their mortgages and their rent. What’s going to happen when the courts reopen in June and when property owners can move to foreclose or evict people? And so we wanted to be proactive in terms of identifying all the housing issues that are being impacted by Covid-19.

The task force is important not only to talk about what’s happening today and the impact it is happening today, but what’s going to happen when we do some forward thinking in terms of housing — in October, November, December and January, because, again, what we’re experiencing now is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and the impact of Covid-19 in relation to housing is going to be within this community for quite some time.

This article is part of a Historic West End journalism project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Do you live in Historic West End? Do you have a burning question or issue our reporters can research? Submit it below.