A consultant told City Council members last week they won’t be able to pay for an affordable housing plan with current resources.
And even if they could, council member Charlie Reece pointed out, the proposed measures would hardly make a dent in the city’s current affordable housing gap.
“Citywide we have a shortage of affordable homes for very low- and extremely low-income people — people below 50 percent of area median income and particularly people below 30 percent,” said consultant Karen Lado of Enterprise Community Partners.
Durham has about 27,000 low-income households that spend over 30 percent of their income on housing. Of those, 15,000 spend over 50 percent on housing.
The problem is even worse for the city’s 12,000 extremely low-income households.
“For every 100 renter households earning less than 30 percent of area median income, there are only 38 units affordable to them,” she said.
“This is a very big problem, and we are just going to start chipping away,” Lado said.
She explained that, while Durham is still a “relatively affordable city,” many neighborhoods are experiencing rapidly rising housing costs.
“We are early in the cost-escalation curve, and now is a better time to act than when the problem has become acute,” she said.
Lado laid out a five-year plan that would preserve 450 existing affordable housing options and create 300 new rental units along transit corridors.
She also advocated for finishing the Southside development and launching a new neighborhood initiative in Northeast Central Durham.
Coming up short
But Lado said federal housing resources are declining, and local funds will not be enough to plug the gap.
“What we’ve laid out now is not something that is achievable with current resources,” she said.
Even with the council’s Dedicated Housing Fund, or the “Penny for Housing” initiative, she estimates the city will come up between $6.7 million and $21.3 million short.
Reece pointed out that, even if this funding gap was met, the plan would only create or preserve around 1,000 housing units over five years.
“I don’t think that anyone in this room who’s looked at this issue for more than five minutes thinks that the number of severely cost-burdened households in Durham is going to decrease in that time,” he said.
“I think all of us need to be realistic about the problem of affordability in Durham, about our ability to put enough resources behind the problem to address all of the cost-burdened families and residents.”
“It is very sobering,” Lado responded. “The ‘winning the battle, losing the war’ analogy in many cases applies here.”
“This is not a problem, particularly at the very low end of the income spectrum, that we can house our way out of,” she said. “We’re talking about persistent, deep, entrenched poverty. Housing is part of that solution, but it cannot be the only solution.”
In other business
▪ The City Council discussed buying the former Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau building on Morgan Street for use by the Durham Water Management Customer Billing Services division.
The bureau has movd to 212 W. Main St. Remodeling and expanding its former site on the Downtown Loop would cost an estmated $1.7 million to $2.3 million in addition to $1 million to buy the building from the county.
▪ The council also passed resolutions in support of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and of the right of Duke non-tenure track faculty to unionize.