A crowd spilled out of the City Council’s meeting Thursday to support converting vacant city property into a site for affordable apartments.
People held signs that said “Housing downtown for firefighters, “$9M Tax credit = 80-100 affordable housing units” and “Keep working class families downtown.”
Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, a community-coalition, urged the council to support a timeline that could give the project a shot at applying for $8 million to $10 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits by January.
Self-Help Credit Union offered to apply for the tax credits to build 80 to 100 apartments for people earning less than 60 percent of the median income.
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But the request required the city to rush a complex process, council members said. They told CAN no.
The 2.15 acre vacant lot is on the corner of Jackson and Willard streets next to Durham Station Transportation Center, a bus hub expected to house a future light rail station.
Kevin Dick, director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, suggested a number of alternatives for the property. The proposals, which included forming a public-private partnership as well as selling the lot to the highest bidder, would take about 120 days, too long to meet the CAN and Self-Help deadline.
While City Council members stressed that they supported affordable housing, a majority opposed fast-tracking the proposal.
Mayor Bill Bell said he couldn’t support a development only for families 60 percent below the median income.
“I am not interested in the city putting in money to warehouse poor folks,” he said.
City Council members Diane Catotti, Eugene Brown and Cora Cole-McFadden said they were uncomfortable with the rush.
“We make mistakes that way,” Catotti said.
Council members also pointed out the city recently hired a consultant to create an affordable housing strategy.
Councilman Steve Schewel supported CAN’s proposal.
“We need affordable housing downtown,” he said, adding that the market has proven it will not provide such housing.
After the discussion, the City Council advised staff to return with recommendations for the disposition of the property at its Sept. 24 work session.
The original scope and scale of Durham Station, which was completed in March 2009, was reduced during the design phase, resulting in a smaller station, according to a city report on the property.
The city has received numerous inquiries about the sale of the excess land for private development. In 2013, the city’s administration determined it was in the best interest of the city to define the goals and objectives for future development. The process of defining goals and objectives has been under way since then, the report states.
An August 2013 appraisal estimates the value of the land at $1.8 million.