Q&A with Columbus City Council’s Newest Member Shayla Favor
Columbus City Council’s newest councilmember, Shayla Favor, is closing in on one month in her new role. Selected by council from a pool of 15 finalists, she’s filled the vacant seat left by Jaiza Page, who in November 2018 won her race for judge of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
Though Favor’s path to council mirrors Page’s — both went to law school and became Assistant City Attorney at the Columbus City Attorney’s office — Favor says her desire to represent the city in a legislative capacity is newfound, though she says she’s ready to continue her work on a new level.
During her time on council, Favor hopes to expand on her work as a zoning attorney, when she assisted in the abatement of nuisance properties, as well as focus on affordable housing for residents in rapidly developing neighborhoods.
As she’s settled into her new position, Favor sat down with Columbus Underground for an exclusive interview, where we discussed her beginnings, the path she paved to Assistant City Attorney, and her goals as City Councilmember.
Q: Are you originally from Columbus?
I’m originally from Dayton, and I moved here in 1999 to attend the Ohio State University. I got a Bachelor’s in political science, and African-American/African studies, and shortly after undergrad I moved to Chicago to attend culinary school.
In undergrad, I was hanging out with a lot of creative people, and I wanted to figure out what my creative gift was — find out if it was something for me. So, I packed up all my stuff and moved to Chicago and lived there for a little over a year. I love Chicago… great food. There’s so much culture, so many things to do.
Q: So, what happened with culinary school, did it stick?
So, my husband proposed to me in Chicago, and I moved back to Columbus, and that’s when this whole ‘It’s time to get busy, get going on the law career’ came back around.
And I also realized, I don’t know if you’ve been around chefs before, but chefs are some of the most intense people you’ll probably ever meet, and rightfully so. You’re dealing with people’s food, and you that want experience to be genuine. So, that experience definitely prepared me for law school and dealing with professors in that capacity, and what that would be like, that level of intensity, and that ethic that you need to bring to whatever you’re going to do, whatever you do in life.
That experience in the culinary arts and in law school definitely prepared me… in my career as an attorney.
Q: So you went to OSU, got to experiment with culinary school, and then went to law school — you must have had a supportive family to help you get through that.
My parents were definitely still supportive — with the caveat that you’ve got to get out and grind. While I was in Chicago, I had a small apartment on the South Side, and I had probably two side jobs on top of my schooling.
It was intense, but I was determined to give it 100 percent, and that meant that I had to work several jobs. The school I attended was Kendall College, right in the heart of the city, and just the sheer nature of where it’s located, it just comes with some costs. So, any type of featured event the school would have — because there were also dining services at the school as well that people would come to get a fine dining experience — I volunteered for that stuff. If there was a conference, I volunteered to cook, just so I could get that experience in cooking, and money to survive. But, I think that ethic, that ability to work with a little and turn it into a lot does something to prepare somebody for future journeys ahead.
Q: Then after you were done with law school, that’s when you got into the City Attorney’s office…
Actually, during [law school]. So, my second year in law school I applied for one of the summer law clerk positions, and I actually started in the criminal division, which is a very unique experience for a law student.
You can practice law in the presence of an attorney. You go through this process with the Supreme Court, and you can hear cases, you can conduct trials. So, it gives students a hand on experience as to taking the law outside of just books and giving you a practical, real world experience.
For a lot of students, they never even go to the courts while they’re in law school. Everything is just reduced to books, but that’s not how the real world works. So, I was grateful for that opportunity and just stayed on after school as well.
Q: What made you want to stay at the City Attorney’s office and not go into a private practice?
So, my first year in law school I did have an opportunity to work at a private firm, and the financial opportunities were lovely. But, my call to go to law school never had anything to do with money, and I think sometimes, when you’re in a certain type of experience, you can become distracted by what’s around you.
And so, in law school, you think that the best opportunities will come through a firm, or it’ll come through the private sector; but if your motivations were never built upon that to begin with, then you get lost, and your efforts are never genuine — they’re not authentic. That experience at the City Attorney’s office reminded me why I went through all of this to begin with. So, I always say ‘you’re with the people.’ I don’t know if you’ve been down to the courthouse, but you’re with the people there.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Columbus?
Affordable housing. In my brief, or my statement, for application for this position, that was one of my number one things. I think my experience working as a zoning attorney — and although it’s amazing work that we’re able to address blight through the abatement of nuisance properties, addressing vacancies and things of that nature — you also can see that it can displace well-intentioned folks as well.
And then just the sheer nature of what’s happening in our city: it’s growing rapidly. And so that brings developers, and that brings investors, and I don’t want to see long-term residents displaced, forgotten, in communities they’ve grown up in and that they helped build as well.
So, we’ve got to find a balance between development and sustaining history of certain neighborhoods.
We’ve got a homeless rate that continues to increase, and so yesterday at our press release as it relates to the budget, we talked about the eviction mitigation fund. And so I’m excited to help establish what that’s going to look like, working with community partners, working with the City Attorney’s office, the Legal Aid Society, in order to help prevent eviction, help prevent the displacement of folks from their homes.
If we can’t build houses right now, we can at least help to keep people in their homes to the best of our ability.
Q: So, when you say affordable housing, what do you mean? I’ve heard “affordable housing,” “workforce housing, “low-income housing” — do you see a the difference between those terms?
For me, affordable housing is providing a variety of housing options for individuals or families that cannot afford a market rate home or condo. If you think about your Olde Town East, or even Franklinton — $200-300,000 for a home or $2,000 for rent. A family of four that is on assistance can’t afford that $2,000. So when you think about us being creative as big government, thinking about alternatives like land trusts, trying to find creative solutions to what appears to be an impossible problem. It’s not only the city of Columbus’ responsibility as well, we need outside input. We need it from the private sector, from the suburbs, anyone who reaps the benefits of Columbus residents have a responsibility to figure out this problem that is not just unique to Columbus, it’s occurring all across the country right now.
Q: Had you thought about running for City Council before there was a vacancy?
I think if you asked me that last year, absolutely not. I knew that I could feel that something in my life was going to shift, but I was just not sure how that change would come, and I had opportunities while at the City Attorney’s office to go into the private sector and things of that nature, but I didn’t want to job hop just for the sake of getting a new job. I wanted my next move to be… to kind of build upon the work I had started while working as a zoning attorney with the City Attorney’s office. So when this opportunity presented itself, I said, ‘Why not? This is work I’ve already been doing.’
So, my specific position in the City Attorney’s office — it was not just dealing with your run of the mill, misdemeanor cases, but actually addressing blight, cleaning neighborhoods up. And so I think that is such a unique area of law that a lot of folks don’t know about. They don’t know that our office is engaging in that type of work for the city of Columbus. And so I saw it as the next stepping stone, honestly, for me to continue that work at another level, on a legislative level. So, I threw my name in the hat.
Q: As you were appointed to Council, Columbus voters did not choose you — what actions will you take as an appointed member to win their vote in the next election?
I’m two weeks in, but I’m no stranger to community meetings, civic association meetings, volunteering. I am no stranger to public service in general, so I’m going to continue to do what I’ve always done: get to know people and hopefully win some voters along the way.
Q: Many city council members have gone on to other political roles in the city, county and state — how long do you plan to remain a council member? Is there another seat you’re eyeing?
I’m not eyeing anything but this seat, anything but November. That is my number one priority right now. I had to resign from the City Attorney’s office a little over a week ago, and I don’t have a second job right now — that’s campaigning.