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Richer people are moving to Durham. Here’s how that will change housing.

The median price per square foot for homes sold in Southside jumped from $18 in January 2014 to $133 by September 2014. By February 2018, it stood at $164—an increase of 803% from 6 years earlier, according to a new study from the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund.
The median price per square foot for homes sold in Southside jumped from $18 in January 2014 to $133 by September 2014. By February 2018, it stood at $164—an increase of 803% from 6 years earlier, according to a new study from the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. cliddy@newsobserver.com

The average new resident in Durham makes $13,000 more a year than current residents, and that new resident likely wants to live downtown.

But there’s not enough housing supply downtown and right outside it, Durham Planning Department Director Pat Young said. So those wealthier new Durhamites move into neighborhoods that ring downtown, or further out into “stable middle class neighborhoods and start gentrification,” Young said.

Durham’s success in attracting new businesses and residents has led to increased competition for a limited supply of housing, Young said.

Over the next 30 years, about 160,000 new people are expected to move to Durham. That means 62,200 new houses will be needed, according to the planning department. It is halfway through a yearlong study of housing in Durham and how to deal with growth called Expanding Housing Choices. City Council members got an update during a meeting on Thursday.

Where people are buying houses

In three neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown, the median home prices have skyrocketed. According to real estate site Zillow, the current median home value in Durham is $221,700.

From 2013 to 2018, median home prices have gone up 44 percent countywide.

But in these neighborhoods ringing downtown, they’re even higher: East Durham, Old North Durham and Watts-Hillandale.

Higher-income home buyers buy “down the ladder” — cheaper house — if there’s not a supply of what they can afford, according to the planning department’s report.

How zoning may change

The Expanding Housing Choices initiative of the joint city-county planning department has come up with recommendations for increasing Durham’s housing supply beyond just more single-family houses.

ADUs: Durham already allows accessory dwelling units, known as ADUs or backyard cottages, to be built. But there are some regulations, and planners think loosening those rules will allow more ADUs to be built, providing more housing options and density in the city. Planners are also working on a user’s guide to ADUs that gives information about fees and financing sources.

Duplexes: Allowing duplexes as a housing type in more locations, especially within the urban tier.

Smaller houses, smaller lots: Durham may create a new housing type and lot size standard so smaller houses on smaller lots can be built.

Cottage Court: Another new type of housing and lot dimension would mean clusters of small homes, known as cottage courts, could be built around a common green space.

Neighborhoods will change

City Council members and planners say there will be pushback from single-family homeowners who don’t want duplexes or other housing density in existing single-family neighborhoods.

“Every neighborhood in Durham is going to have to change at least somewhat to accommodate the next 100,000-plus new residents over the next 20 years,” Young said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said they need to look at the future.

“I don’t think we should completely discount those feelings, but if we only consider what single-family homeowners want for neighborhoods, we’re doing a disservice” to the rest of Durham years from now, she said.

A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.

What’s next

The Durham City Council will consider the changes to its unified development ordinance and hold a public hearing before voting on the proposed zoning changes this spring.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan has been covering Durham since 2006 and has received five North Carolina Press Association awards.


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