About four hours before a scheduled rally this week, four trucks pulled into the Fayette Place property, cut the grass and gave the 20-acre site its first sprucing up in years.
“This place hasn’t looked like this in 10 years,” said the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, a senior pastor at Abundant Hope Christian Church.
Still, he said, it’s too little too late.
Middleton and other members of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods on Wednesday called for the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) to reacquire the vacant property, now marked by crumbling foundation slabs behind a chain-link fence.
“We do not want this property to go on the general real estate market and become part of the unfolding gentrification story in the city,” Middleton said. “The folk who live in this neighborhood, the folk who live in Hayti, want something here that is reflective of their values, of their desires.”
Durham CAN members criticized property owner Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments and demanded city leaders help to turn the urban wasteland a block off Fayetteville Street into a community asset.
Jerome Washington, pastor at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, and others want to see affordable housing for nurses, police officers and teachers, along with shops and recreational opportunities.
“I believe this vision can become a reality,” Washington said. “I also know that it can only happen when Durham’s decision makers and the stakeholder come together.”
The development process, speakers said, should include residents.
“Campus Apartments of Philadelphia is no longer welcome in this community,” said Clarence Laney, senior pastor at Monument of Faith Church, which is a block away. “And for that matter, any developer, any institution, any private investor who failed to talk to the people, who live, who worship and work in this community. You are not welcome unless you first have the conversations with us.”
Campus Apartments has no plans to build on the property at this time, company officials said in a statement before the rally.
“When we purchased the property, we had every intention to develop affordable student housing in partnership with N.C. Central University,” the statement said. “However, the original plan did not come to fruition.”
The company has continued to pursue “viable development opportunities,” the statement said.
Martin Eakes, CEO and founder of Self-Help Credit Union, supports DHA retaking the property and pledged the bank’s financial and legal resources to help.
For about 35 years, the property housed the 200-unit Fayetteville Street public housing complex. In the early 2000s, DHA officials started to convert the property into Fayette Place, a low-income housing development funded with tax credits. The development never happened.
In 2007, Campus Apartments agreed to pay the DHA $4 million for Fayette Place. Part of the agreement allowed DHA to repurchase the property if Campus Apartments failed to rent at least 168 beds to N.C. Central University students or provide housing for low-income individuals.
But the DHA must exercise that option by August 2017, Eakes and others said.
Durham CAN members plan to meet Friday with DHA CEO Anthony Scott.
Dan Hudgins, chair of the DHA board, said in an email that the agency has asked the city for help.
“DHA does not have the funds to repurchase the property and has made an informal request to the city to assist DHA in identifying funding,” he wrote.