By Emily King | Photos by Elle Warren
AS NOVEMBER approaches, the districts of Savannah are getting ready to vote on who will represent them at City Hall. This year’s race has already seen drama over a month out from elections. It’s, of course, more likely to happen in the districts with multiple candidates–like District 2, which has Alderman Detric Leggett, rookie Taylor Washington, and activist Tia Brightwell vying for the seat.
In continuation of bringing coverage to the community regarding critical local happenings, The Savannahian sat down with each candidate to discuss this year's race. Interviews covered each district's political platforms and resident concerns to provide first-hand accounts of each candidate's intent. Next on the docket for District 2 was Taylor Washington, co-owner of Two Chefs and a mother of 11.
Tell me a little bit about you, your background, and why you decided you wanted to run.
My name is Taylor Washington, and I am the co-owner of Two Chefs in Savannah on MLK. I am a mother of eleven children, married for 31 years–my husband is Curtis Washington. I thought about the changes happening right before my eyes, especially here on MLK going down by Frazier Homes where I grew up. I see the trajectory and I don't like where it’s at, how people are being displaced, and I said to myself, “Wow. We got to do something about that.” I sat down and was like, “Why don't you do something about that?” So, I talked myself into running with my family’s support. That's where the initiative came from, caring about the community.
A little bit about me: we give back to the community all the time. The same effort that we do here at Two Chefs, I’m going to use that same effort to help the people in the community, so their voices are heard at the City Hall. The goal is that maybe we can come together and come up with a policy agenda for developers who are coming into our communities so that the people are not being forgotten. It shouldn't always be about money. It should be about the people too.
Crime is my number one topic. We must address crime. I came up in the 80s with crack cocaine being very rampant within our community. I grew up in Frazier Homes, in both projects. I experienced people on drugs. But as a child, we had outlets, we had community service centers where we could go where there's things to do. Kids could go to the gym, play basketball, play kickball, or go do recreation activities. I was exposed to all of that as a kid. I didn't get caught up in the rivalry that was going on in the madness with the drugs and all that.
Now, unfortunately, we don't have those [outlets for kids] in the community. I feel that if we give the kids an outlet within the community and take them off the streets, give them somewhere to go, it’ll slowdown that climb in crime. They need to be occupied other than just on shooting games, know what I'm saying? Now, they want to go out in the streets and portray those things that they’ve seen at home on the screen.
The elderly, they need outlets too, because once they retire, they shouldn't just have to sit on their front porch with nothing to do. I remember my grandmother used to come home from work after she cleaned houses on Wilmington Island, and she'd tell me she’s going down to the Rent Office because they had activities for them to like crocheting and arts and crafts. They don't have it now. We need it.
I believe that there should be a policy put in place where SCAD can give back to the community. Like, say there’s a percentage they give. They’re a big thing here in Savannah and we need to find a way for them to be able to give back to the community.
Like I'm doing here with you, sitting at a table having a discussion, that’s pretty much what I’m doing with the residents, the people of the community. I want to hear their thoughts, to hear what their concerns are. I could be the voice to take them to City Hall and I don't believe that's been taking place, asking them.
Having been right here on MLK within the last three years, we've had three apartment complexes go up. Right here, and on 35th and Kline. The first one was on Hall and MLK. And of course, that's out of the market rate for people with low income. I think they're starting from $2,000 a month. Now, you think about it with that building being in here, property taxes are going to rise. That's going to affect the elderly who have owned homes in this area for year and they’re about to put another one right here on 35th and Kline. I’d like to sit at the table and come to some agreement where there is still affordable housing for people. Property taxes are a big issue, especially for the elderly on a fixed income. If some people can't pay, they'll be displaced. They won't have a place to go.
It’s crazy when you see all the places they’ve built in the last year but then a lot of the times, they can’t even fill them up like what’s happening with the Ann Street Lofts.
That’s exactly right. And I think it's a county issue, not just a city issue. Like with Kayton Frazier Homes. I don't know if this is a rumors or not, but I was told once when I was trying to rent a Frazier Home that the Housing Authority no longer owns it. That could’ve been a rumor though, I’m not certain. But we get so caught up in money that we forgot about the people. We need to be making good decisions that don’t affect people to the point of homelessness, because homeless is already an issue in Savannah. We should be trying to fix that, not make more.
We talked about big developers and SCAD, but obviously tourism and parking are big concerns for residents. Do you have any ideas that you think might help with them?
You know, tourism generates a lot of money here in Savannah and as a small business owner, I do take in some of the traffic flow, not as much as I would want to, but some of it. So, people are gonna look and want to try Gullah Geechee food. But the parking is crazy. I used to be able to park right out front. That’s no longer parking, they made it a lane. Downtown is ridiculous as well because you have to park and walk. Now, what we can do about that traffic flow to try to and contain it? I would have to sit with Mr. Michael Owens [President, Tourism Leadership Council] and see if we can come up with a plan on how to address that where everyone is comfortable.
And then we’ve got the residents. There’s all this noise from the traffic and you know, we need to be able to agree to disagree and come to a compromise. And—there was something else, but I lost my train of thought.
That’s okay, that’s okay. Going off the tourism thing, there are a lot of issues recently popping up having to do with short term vacation rentals and the parking issues that that causes—
Yes! That was it. I heard a couple of people talking when they came in here about the issue with the Airbnbs and what they’re calling furnished apartments. And it was like, there should be moderation. There should be some stipulations in place for that because–as I was told–on this side of the street, which is the right side facing north, they can have Airbnbs. But on this side of the street [left], they can't. But what they can do is something called furnished apartments. So that could be where the issue is coming in. You see, so they’re kind of going through the loops. You know what I'm saying? That's where the overflow is coming from of vacation rentals, they’re going through the loops, getting around certain things to make that happen.
Most of the people who do the vacation rentals don't even live here in the city. I think there should be policy in place for that–a limitation. It shouldn’t be like, “I'm not on Airbnb side but I can do furnished apartments.” It shouldn't be that way because you're taking away from the privacy of the residents. You're taking the comfortability of residences with a constant flow coming of different people–strangers coming in here. That's something we definitely need to entertain.
Like I said, I don't know all the details, but I was told that you had to be certified within the City of Savannah to do it. I don't know what the stipulations are for furniture apartments versus Airbnb but I'm thinking that the city is fully aware of it. I'm pretty sure they're paying taxes on it.
It's a shame to see that that's how it's playing out. I've only lived in Savannah about five years myself, but just in the few years I've been here things have changes a lot.
I asked my daughter once what the minimum wage is because I pay more than that here and she said, “Mama, I think it’s $7.25.” And then she added it up and was like, “Oh my God. How do people live off that? They aren’t even making $2,000 a month?” And I said to myself, “We're not even entertaining assistance for childcare for these people,” especially downtown for tourism workers. There should be some type of assistance for childcare. Y'all getting a hotel tax. Some of that money should be implemented back into the workers.
Workers are coming down to River Street everyday with no childcare, there's no exception for that. They’re literally making the bare minimum and they come into work and have to worry about their children. Childcare is very expensive, and it changes all the time. I think that's something that the city should implement, and I believe if we sit down and we look at the budget, we could find it somewhere.
When you think about the amount of money that comes into this city, there should be a way to help the residents. It shouldn't always just be about money. We can’t keep not giving back because the people in this city, that’s what’s driving the people here. Look out for me and we'll continue to look out for the city. You know?
Please talk a little bit more about your platform and why you feel like the voters should go with you.
Well, I think that I'm a good choice because I'm a people person. I'm passionate, I'm caring, and concerned. I know what struggle is. I know how to overcome, and I know how to sustain. I have so many people come through that door and ask for help. It's like I'm already helping the community. A woman came in recently, she needed help. She was on drugs, of course and I gave her the number to go to the Women's Center to get some help. It’s always the homeless people. They come, we feed them, we don't turn anyone away. One guy comes every day that we’re open. So, what I’m saying is, I’ll take this outside of here and into the city.
The city needs people that are passionate and care, not just momentarily, but for the four years they serve. I will never change. I will always be the same. I’ve been this way all my life. I'm here to hear you, not me, you. We can do this, not I. We can go a long way and bring equity. We can bring balance; we can enjoy it.
You know, my grandmother always said– some reason it's coming to me– she told me, “If people understand that poverty is the cause of killing because the lack thereof makes you want to hurt someone. The Bible says that it’s the lack of money that’s the root of all evil. Because, if you love money, you can do some crazy things, but you’ve got it. But the lack of money is far more dangerous. If you love it, you got it, you understand? But the lack of it, you don't have it so you're willing to do anything for it.” If the city can bring balance to these property areas, it would be good. We’d be a better city.
We need to find out how we can help with the homelessness downtown. We tourists coming into the city complaining about the homeless people. OK, well, City of Savannah, what we going to do about it?
One guy, he came in and said, “They told me I don't fit the criteria.” I don't understand it. Help me understand what criteria you need to fit. You’re homeless and need help. “I don't fit the criteria.” There’s just something so wrong with that.
Do you have any advice for constituents who need help with problems, or need advice on something?
Thy can reach me here at 2 Chefs– Friday through Monday, 12:30 to 7:30 and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays– or they can e-mail me if they have access to that. My door is always open for someone in need of help, in need of food. I do my best to help them find a solution to the problem. If I don't have the answer, I get the current Alderperson involved and they'll take it from there.
Anything else that you'd like to share?
I’m excited. Just trying to find a way around the balances, but I know that will come. I do believe that ways will be made for that.. I'm just excited to be, willing, and capable. I’m not a stranger to the community, I’m seeing it, I've been in it, so I can speak on it. So much has changed, but it hasn't changed for the good. It's gotten worse. And if we don’t get it together, all this right here will be commercial. Not residential.
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