Brenda McCoy Bradsher feels like the city and other agencies have forgotten about her and her neighbors.
“It seems like because we are here in the black community that it is not important to them,” said Bradsher, 70. “They are redoing downtown. But it seems like when it gets down to our neighborhood, it doesn’t bother them anymore.”
Her evidence is 20 acres of overgrown land and crumbling foundations hemmed in by a tattered chain-link fence.
“That’s been empty for years,” she said. “And they haven’t done anything to it. Not anything.”
Bradsher, who is the third generation to own her family’s homes, was referring to te Fayette Place property just down the street from her home. It’s just off Fayetteville Street, a block from the Stanford L. Warren Branch of the Durham County Library and across the street from W.G. Pearson Middle School.
Over decades the property has been a public housing complex, a failed Durham Housing Authority (DHA) development venture and now a privately owned empty lot.
“It’s just a vacant hole,” said Erma Riddick, 76, who lives near the property in a home that her grandparents built.
But now Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods is pushing for change.
On Wednesday Durham CAN will hold a rally to denounce property owner Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments, present a vision for building affordable housing on the land and seek reaction from DHA and other city leaders.
The Durham News spoke with a Campus Apartments representative who didn’t follow up on the newspaper’s request to respond to concerns about the property.
The property’s decline began when longtime homeowners were pushed off the land and out of a cohesive, affluent black neighborhood to make way for the Durham Freeway and a housing project billed as urban renewal but which never met expectations, Riddick said.
Instead, the Fayetteville Street public housing complex opened in 1968. In the early 2000s, DHA officials started taking actions to convert the dilapidated property into Fayette Place, a low-income housing development funded with tax credits.
DHA moved residents from the public housing complex as the property awaited a $12.5 million renovation. The authority spent more than $1 million on legal fees, architectural services and financing.
The plan never came to fruition amid a stagnant economy and scrutiny that resulted in the resignation of longtime DHA leader James Tabron in 2003. The agency came under fire when questions arose about Tabron’s credit card use and association with a plan to build low-income, tax-credit developments, similar to Fayette Place, across the country.
Soon afterward, the cash-strapped DHA started to sell off some of its properties, including Fayette Place and the development now known as Golden Belt near downtown.
In 2007, Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments finalized a deal to pay $4 million for Fayette Place with a promise to build affordable housing for students attending N. C. Central University. The agreement includes a provision that allows DHA to repurchase the property if Campus Apartments doesn’t meet requirements that include the property having at least 168 beds rented by NCCU students or low-income individuals.
However, DHA has to exercise that option by August 2017.
The city and DHA officials have been discussing options for the property that is near a planned light-rail station, said City Councilman Steve Schewel, who serves as the council’s liaison on the authority.
“The Fayette Place property is in many ways potentially a great opportunity,” he said.
The two challenges, Schewel said, include whether the property can be acquired and new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines that discourage the concentration of very affordable housing.
The property is in the middle of a neighborhood that could be vibrant again, said Ivan Parra, lead organizer for Durham CAN.
Durham CAN is hosting the Wednesday event because it is important for community members and leaders to see the property themselves, Parra said.
The event is a continuation of Durham CAN’s push to support the development of affordable housing in Durham and raise awareness about struggling neighborhoods as downtown thrives in a revitalization that includes high-end condos and apartments.
The city needs to start thinking about steps it can take to improve all parts of Durham, he said.
“It’s hard not to be upset about the lack of opportunity and the lack of action that for years has slowed down development,” Parra said.
Clarence Laney is pastor of Monument of Faith Church, which is about a block away from Fayette Place. For years, community members have been pushing for change, but getting the run around. They sent letters to Campus Apartments, with no response, Laney said. Then they talked to city leaders, who pushed it back to the private company.
“If it was in some other communities in Durham, this would have never would have lasted as long as it has,” Laney said. “We pay taxes like everybody else, but our communities are not given the same attention.”
If you go
The Durham CAN rally starts at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday at East Umstead and Merrick streets in Durham.