Press "Enter" to skip to content

Meet the candidate: Renee Vaughan

Editors’ Note: Eleven candidates — all Democrats — are vying for five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners in the March 5 election. No Republicans or Libertarians have entered the contest, so the March 5 results will determine who sits on the commission. The 9th Street Journal is profiling candidates in the race.

Renee Vaughan never pictured herself running for office.

“Never say never,” she says, chuckling. Vaughan, a certified research administrator for the Duke University School of Medicine, is one of 11 Democratic candidates vying for five Durham County Commissioner seats this year. 

“I don’t consider myself a politician,” she says. “I ran because I was really concerned about affordable housing.”

Vaughan’s housing advocacy stems from her time working in her native West Virginia.  While serving as the executive director of a local nonprofit she met a woman who, after losing her job and her home, was considering taking her own life. “Had she not been able to receive help, that was the direction she was going,” Vaughan says. 

“For so many people, we forget that our homes represent our lives.”

Vaughan says this experience launched her passion for housing equity issues. “It was one of the reasons why I wanted to work with people facing crisis,” she says.

Vaughan later helped distribute food and relocate unhoused people to hotel rooms through her church. Vaughan, who holds a master’s in divinity from Regent University, then applied to be a member of the City of Durham’s Homeless Services Advisory Committee, where she is now in her second term.

Vaughan says she would advocate for policies to increase and maintain Durham’s existing housing stock, including creating a single platform where Durham residents can view the statuses of different housing initiatives across the county. 

Vaughan wants to expand initiatives like “tiny house” communities in Durham, to provide “another entry for affordable living.” She would also advocate for increased funding for other facets of affordable living, like public transportation and home weatherization programs.

But even as a potential county commissioner, Vaughan doesn’t believe Durham County is solely responsible for creating these initiatives. Instead, she would like to see combined efforts by public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders. 

“I think it has to be all of the above,” she says. “We have so many different types of things underway, but we can’t do it in silos.”

Vaughan previously ran for City Council in 2023. She lost that race, but says her passion for housing issues fueled her to run for Durham County Commissioner this year.

As she watches the ongoing Durham Public Schools pay dispute, Vaughan says her biggest concern is the impact of school closures on kids and families, but she also worries about the effects on workers. 

Had she been in power, Vaughan says she would have conducted a full investigation of the pay increases and their impacts on budgeting. 

“I think perhaps the communications came out a little bit too early, and the investigation maybe should have been in place to find solutions.” 

The daughter of a West Virginia coal worker and social worker, Vaughan was introduced to a wide variety of people through her parents. “Between the two of them, we never knew who would be at our dinner table,” she says. 

Vaughan’s father worked as a safety inspector in West Virginia’s coal mines. “So you’ve heard the thing about the canary in the coal mine? Well, he was the guy.” 

Her respect for her father, who “worked hard and educated his family,” shaped her views on advocating for low-income communities. 

Cole-McFadden, the city’s previous Mayor Pro Tempore , served with Vaughan on Durham’s Homeless Services Advisory Committee. On the committee, Cole-McFadden says, Vaughan approaches the application approval process with great attention to detail.

“She is very dedicated,” Cole-McFadden says. “She’s looking at those [applications] … to make sure that there aren’t things inhibiting equitable access to funds.”

Vaughan, soft-spoken yet assured, says her ability to listen sets her apart from other candidates.

“You won’t find her cussing and being bitter — it’s just not her nature,” Cole-McFadden says. “She seeks peace.”

Above: Photo of Renee Vaughan by Abigail Bromberger — The 9th Street Journal

Lauren Pehlivanian