Here’s what a $95 million affordable housing bond would pay for in Durham

If Durham voters pass a $95 million bond referendum in November, the city wants to fund several affordable housing plans in the next five years. If they don’t, city leaders say, some plans will still happen but at a much slower pace.

The biggest project will be the redevelopment of multiple public housing sites downtown into mixed-income, mixed-use developments. If the bond passes, over the next five years, Oldham Towers, Liberty Street Apartments and Forest Hills Heights will be redeveloped, said Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott.

The DHA office on East Main Street near Oldham Towers is also part of the plan.

Scott presented plans to the Durham City Council at a special meeting on affordable housing Thursday morning.

If the bond doesn’t pass, those projects will eventually happen, but the timeline is unknown.

Mayor Steve Schewel proposed the $95 million affordable housing bond referendum during his “state of the city” speech on Monday. He said that’s how much local funding is required to accomplish several affordable housing goals that would also use state and federal money.

Schewel asked council members to tell him now if they did not support the idea for the referendum. No one gave him a thumbs down, though council members wanted to find out more financial details as the plan moves forward.

Durham Housing Authority developments

One project already underway is the renovation of J.J. Henderson, the senior public housing community on the west side of downtown. The housing authority has already applied this year for a low-income housing tax credit to fund a mixed-income development on the same property next to the existing building that will be renovated.

The redevelopment of public housing into mixed-income and mixed-use developments won’t result in the loss of any public housing units, as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But it won’t produce any more units for below 30 percent of the area median income.

The new projects will, however, have affordable housing apartments at 80 percent of area median income, or AMI, and less.

Other projects, like the redevelopment of Fayette Place, is not in the five-year plan. Scott said that would come later. Fayette Place is the former Fayetteville Street public housing community that was demolished.

Other housing plans

Here are the city’s goals to preserve and expand rental housing:

Strengthen the homeless housing system

Produce green, affordable rental housing for households at less than 50 percent area median income

Preserve existing rental housing for households at less than 50 percent area median income

Engage market rate developers in producing affordable housing through an enhanced density bonus

The city also outlined ways to maintain affordability in neighborhoods:

Create affordable home ownership opportunities with long-term income restrictions

Create smaller-scale, affordable rental options

Support existing low-income homeowners, through rehabilitation and repair funds and expanded use of existing state property tax relief programs

Support neighborhood-led stabilization efforts

With the five-year affordable housing plan, the city expects to see:

More than 1,800 new affordable rental units

More than 800 affordable rental units preserved, including public housing, existing income restricted housing and naturally occurring affordable housing

At least 1,700 homeless households living in emergency shelter move into permanent housing

At least 190 home ownership opportunities created, including construction of 100 new units and down-payment assistance to 90 low-income households

More than 1,800 low-income renters and homeowners stabilized through eviction diversion, emergency rental assistance, property tax assistance and repair/rehab funding

Longtime homeowner grant may end

The city’s Community Development department also recommended ending the longtime homeowners’ grant, a tax relief program for the 2017 tax year that is set to end March 31. Participation was low, and at least four times as many people using the program would be needed to consider it a success, said Reginald Johnson, director of Community Development. Only 24 grants have been awarded over the past year and a half, for a total of about $10,000. Johnson said there were about 285 hours of staff time involved for the program.

The homeowner grant is for those in the Southside, Northeast Central Durham or Southwest Central Durham target areas within 500 feet of a city housing investment who saw tax increases starting in 2016.

Council members didn’t agree on the future of the program. Council members DeDreana Freeman and Charlie Reece said they want to keep it.

“There is nothing this council can do to help longtime low-income homeowners save their homes from property value appreciation, through no fault of their own, except a program like this,” Reece said.

“This is a small investment to catch that gap,” Freeman said.

Mayor Schewel and council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said they would support the staff recommendation.

“I’m not against phasing out, but if we’re going to phase out I want to be certain that we have exhausted all of our options,” Middleton said.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.