Believe it or not, there was actually a smidgen of good news over on Jones Street today. The House passed an annexation reform bill  that included a lot of good stuff long sought by advocates for poor and marginalized communities.
One large and long-overlooked vestige of North Carolina’s ugly, racist past has been the systematic exclusion of poor, minority communities from cities and the essential public services (water, sewer, fire and police protection, etc…) that they provide.
Under the annexation bill passed today, many of these issues will be addressed in a significant and positive way. Here are some of the important things included in the bill:
-The bill creates a process to identify and recognize qualifying “distressed communities.” as those in which 51% of the households have incomes that 200% or less of the poverty threshold.
-It reduces the required signatures needed for voluntary annexation petitions from qualifying distressed communities from 100% of owners is the area to be annexed to 75%.
-It requires the city to accept the voluntary annexation of a qualifying distressed community, provided that 1/8 of the boundaries are contiguous to the existing municipal boundaries and the population of the area is not more than 10% of the population of the city.
-The city retains discretion as to whether to accept the voluntary annexation of a qualifying distressed community that does not meet the contiguity or population restrictions above.
-Once a voluntary annexation petition from a distressed community is accepted by the city, public services shall be provided in the same manner and timelines as provided in the involuntary annexation statutes, unless it is determined that the cost of providing water and sewer will exceed a statutorily established “safety valve” threshold, as certified by the city and the Local Government Commission.
-Adds to the categories of land which may be involuntary annexed by a city any area that “is completely surrounded by the municipality’s primary corporate limits.” (While this provision is not specifically limited to distressed areas, research has demonstrated that a number of excluded communities are trapped in these “donut holes” without access to municipal services that exist all around them, often in very close proximity — many residents describe seeing city police cars and sanitation trucks routinely drive through their neighborhood to more easily reach areas of the city on the other side, without ever stopping).
-Establishes priority in Community Development Block Grants and loans or grants from the Wastewater Reserve or Drinking Water Reserve to projects providing water or sewer service to low-income residents annexed pursuant to any of these provisions.
Hats off to Rep. Angela Bryant and advocates at the North Carolina Justice Center and UNC Center for Civil Rights for making such important progress.