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New apartments in downtown Durham will be affordable for hundreds of people

Two blocks of Durham County-owned land at the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street will be redeveloped from surface parking to parking garages and apartments. Some of the apartments will be affordable housing.
Two blocks of Durham County-owned land at the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street will be redeveloped from surface parking to parking garages and apartments. Some of the apartments will be affordable housing. Google map

If you make around $38,000 or less, you could soon be able to live near a planned light rail stop in downtown Durham.

The Durham County commissioners agreed Tuesday night to put affordable and market-rate apartments on county land on the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street.

“You have the opportunity to make sure that people of color believe they belong a little bit more downtown,” Pastor Psiyina Davis of Nehemiah Christian Center and Durham CAN told the commissioners before their vote.

“Without your help, downtown will continue to be more white and affluent,” she said.

Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) has pushed city and county leaders for years to use downtown land for affordable housing, especially near proposed light-rail stops.

The commissioners voted unanimously for the plan.

The county owns what are now two big surface parking lots on the 300 and 500 blocks. While both sites will include parking decks for county employees, the plan approved Tuesday also includes 437 apartments between them, with 277 to be designated affordable for those who make 80 percent or less of the area median income.

Eighty percent of area median income for Durham is $37,750 for one person, $43,150 for two people and $53,900 for a four-person household.

Shane Ryan of the Durham branch of the Democratic Socialists of America said that in a “time of rapid gentrification in Durham,” the new housing represented a chance for county leaders to do something positive.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said the location close to the planned Dillard Street light rail stop will also give future residents easy access to N.C. Central University, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit and Durham CAN spent months — and in some cases years — pushing the county to redevelop the land into more than just parking.

Jim Svara spoke on behalf of both groups Tuesday night. He called it a “momentous contribution to downtown” that would expand commercial activity and increase vibrancy on East Main Street.

“The 277 households in Durham will have living costs that are truly affordable,” Svara said.

The parking lots are near the Durham County Human Services building, the new Durham Police Department headquarters, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church and Oldham Towers and Liberty Street public housing neighborhoods.

The Rev. Mindy Douglas, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said the 300 block lot is between First Presbyterian and St. Philip’s and that both churches have wanted affordable housing there since 2015.

The development plan will “continue to make downtown East Main an inclusive, welcoming community,” Douglas said.

Commissioner James Hill called it housing for the working class.

“The people that take care of us downtown should also be able to afford to live downtown,” he said. “I look forward to seeing our new neighbors in downtown Durham.”

Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs said she expects the potential new residents to be first responders, librarians and social workers as well as those who use housing vouchers.

What’s next

Plans were designed and researched by the Development Finance Initiative of the UNC School of Government. Developer plans will be accepted starting in January, and one picked by late spring. The first of the projects could break ground in late 2020.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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