Vauhxx Booker has often stood at the city council public podium, speaking out against city decisions. Now, Booker wants to be on the decision-making side of the room.
Booker, 35, is running for one of three Bloomington City Council at-large seats. He said social equity will be the driving theme of his campaign with much of his focus on affordable housing and representing underrepresented communities. He said he thinks there is a divide between marginalized groups and the rest of Bloomington.
“I think Bloomington is often a tale of two cities,” Booker said.
Booker has lived in Bloomington since 2011 and has worked as a rehabilitation specialist for people dealing with mental illnesses, struggling with addiction and experiencing homelessness. He also managed Friend’s Place, an emergency homeless shelter on South Rogers Street. He said the issues people faced in the places he worked often overlapped.
“We need to not look at homelessness or the housing crisis or the opioid crisis as separate events,” Booker said. “We need to see them together.”
Booker said his experience with marginalized populations, such as the homeless and those recovering from addiction, has shown him anyone can end up in a situation they’d never thought they’d be in. One of the people Booker worked with in his time as a rehabilitation specialist was Jim Ohrt’s mother.
Ohrt, a local IT specialist and IU alumnus, said his mother got out of the psychiatric hospital around 2013 and stayed in the transitional care center where Booker worked. Ohrt, now friends with Booker, said Booker helped his mother move into an apartment after her stay at the care center.
“That made an impression,” Ohrt said. “He was willing to put so much into taking care of my mom when no one else would or could.”
Booker, a member of Monroe County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Commission, said he sees housing as a human right. As a renter, Booker said he thinks his experience is different than council members who own homes.
One of Booker’s roommates Kris Roehling said she thinks having a renter’s voice on the city council would bring a powerful perspective to the table.
“I think renters are seen as though they aren’t invested in the community,” Roehling said. “There’s a huge percentage of this community that rents.”
According to Booker’s campaign website, one of his goals is to create a Renter’s Bill of Rights, which would aim to decrease predatory rental practices in Bloomington and forced eviction.
Booker also supports more sustainable city practices to lower energy use and consumption. He said he believes building up the city’s infrastructure will be critical to protecting citizens from extreme weather such as large amounts of rain caused by climate change.
As a leader of many of the protests against the purchase of an armored vehicle last year, Booker is familiar with the current city council.
He said he thought many of the council members did not listen to their constituents during discussions about the armored vehicle. He wants to be different.
“He pays attention,” Roehling said. “He listens to people around him. He has this brain that can take things in and respond in a way that’s helpful.”
Although Booker has no direct connection with IU, he said he talked to student media and student groups about the armored vehicle purchase a lot in the past year.
Students should not be left out of the picture when it comes to affordable housing, Booker said. He said he knows many students are not wealthy and cannot afford the large, more expensive student housing that has been built in recent years. He also said students have a lot of voting power with the size of their population.
“They have to pay bills here, they have to breathe the air,” Booker said. “I want students to know they have the power and pick it up.”