Durham County

How Durham is trying to get affordable housing at light-rail stops

Durham is offering density bonuses to developers for affordable housing at planned light rail stops.
Durham is offering density bonuses to developers for affordable housing at planned light rail stops.

Want to live near a future light-rail station but not sure you’ll be able to afford it?

Durham leaders want that too, so they’re offering developers more incentives. But they’re not sure they will work.

On Monday night, the City Council voted to offer interim density bonuses for affordable housing in compact neighborhoods near Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit stops. The amendment revises existing incentives to make voluntary inclusion of affordable housing more attractive.

Compact neighborhoods near Durham light-rail stops were designated in the future land-use map near the Patterson Place, South Square, Erwin Road, Ninth Street, Leigh Village and Alston Avenue stations.

In 2015, the City Council and Board of County Commissioners set a goal of having at least 15 percent of housing units within a half-mile of stations be for residents earning less than 60 percent of the average median income (AMI).

A two-person household earning 60 percent of the AMI in Durham makes $33,940 annually, so they could afford $750 per month for housing. Housing is considered affordable at up to 30 percent of a household’s income.

City-county planner Hannah Jacobson told the council that 70 percent AMI housing bonuses would give them a better chance with developers, but the city-county resolution calls for 60 percent AMI housing at the transit stops.

“Will developers desire to take advantage? Of course this is something we’ll find out,” Mayor Steve Schewel said.

Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton asked the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit and residents to stay engaged and send their ideas in case the density bonuses don’t work.

Council member DeDreana Freeman cast the sole negative vote on the density bonuses. She said she wants to believe the 60 percent AMI will work for the bonuses, but thinks the 70 percent AMI would work.

The interim bonuses, to be offered while a long-term plan is developed, expands on the existing incentive that offers developers three more market-rate units for every one unit of affordable housing they build.

The enhanced bonus passed Monday will also give developers a density of 75 units per acre for new development and waive parking requirements. Height restrictions will also be eased, depending on proximity to urban and suburban neighborhood tiers.

The bonuses will be given a year to see if they attract developers. If they don’t, the council will revisit the idea.

Jim Svara of the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit called the interim bonuses an important step.

“These lower-income persons need access to light rail,” Svara said. “Access to stations should not be an amenity reserved for high-income persons.”

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan