Durham County

Durham in an 'affordable housing crisis,' council members say

Left to right: Durham City Council member DeDreana Freeman, in purple, talks to Durham CAN leaders along with Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton and Council member Vernetta Alston on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at First Chronicles Community Church.
Left to right: Durham City Council member DeDreana Freeman, in purple, talks to Durham CAN leaders along with Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton and Council member Vernetta Alston on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at First Chronicles Community Church. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Twenty new people move to Durham every day.

They're arriving in a city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, city leaders said this week.

On Wednesday night, the three newest elected City Council members met with Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, part of the community-organizing group's efforts to hold elected officials to their campaign promises.

Vernetta Alston, DeDreana Freeman and Mark-Anthony Middleton have been in office about 100 days. Middleton was in Durham CAN's clergy caucus before running for office. He told the group he has learned that governance is very different than activism.

Alston said she is most passionate about "our affordable housing crisis, which we are further and further behind on every day."

Municipalities use different calculations to describe affordable housing, but people are considered "cost-burdened" when they pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing.

The city wants to make sure affordable housing is available for households from 30 to 80 percent of average median income (AMI). In the Durham-Chapel Hill area, the 2016 AMI for a family of four was $56,550.

Developers donate to city's dedicated housing fund

Mayor Steve Schewel has said Durham needs more housing density — more units to meet help meet demand — and more housing for the "missing middle" class, at a price point like two recently approved townhouse projects that will cost around $200,000 per home.

Developers don't have to provide affordable housing, but the council members want them to know it is a city priority. Middleton said the message is going out that giving to the dedicated housing fund is part of the city's culture.

Blue Heron, the developer of a new apartment building, Foster on the Park, gave $100,000 to the city's dedicated housing fund, Middleton said. The company gave $42,000 to Habitat for Humanity for a previous project three years ago. Foster on the Park is a 64-apartment building across from Liberty Warehouse Apartments overlooking Durham Central Park. The project will also turn Roney Street into a woonerf, which is a street conducive to walking and biking.

Another recent project much farther from downtown, a townhouse development on Wake Forest Highway in East Durham, gave $8,000 to the city's dedicated housing fund.

Selina Mack of Durham Community Land Trustees asked the council members if they still support giving $2 million to renovate 54 affordable-housing units the Land Trustees took a risk to buy a year ago.

Freeman said there is tension around affordable-housing needs in Durham, and that city prioritizes Durham Housing Authority renovations and new projects for the 12,000 people who live in public housing here. The list of needs keeps growing, Freeman said.

"The affordability crisis is reaching every aspect of our city," Alston said.

How the city will spend its housing fund

At the City Council work session on Thursday the city's community development department made its recommendations for dedicated housing funds distribution.

If the council follows staff recommendations, Durham Community Land Trustees will get $750,000 to rehab 14 rental homes in Northeast Central Durham for residents who earn less than 50 percent of AMI, as well as $327,250 for another seven rental units for residents making 30 to 50 percent of AMI.

The city recommended Habitat for Humanity receive $300,000 to make minor repairs on homes of low-income elderly or disabled people city-wide. And Housing for New Hope is expected to receive $175,000 to convert six units from transitional housing to single-room occupancy for residents making less than 30 percent AMI. There is another $500,000 in the dedicated housing fund recommended for neighborhood stabilization projects.

The recently approved Jackson Street mixed-use project, which includes 82 affordable units (under 80 percent of AMI), likely depends on the city getting a low-income housing tax credit. They are applying for it and will find out later this year. Middleton pushed for the project when he was part of CAN, but said the tax credit is not guaranteed.

"Jackson Street, as a template moving forward for other projects downtown, is not viable," Middleton said Wednesday. "We're going to need thousands of units to address the affordable-housing crisis."

The Jackson Street project might get more units now that Duke University and the A.J. Fletcher Foundation have pledged to give between $2.5 million and $3 million toward the project. Karen Lado of community development told the council about the new funding during its Thursday meeting.

Lado said that it could be used for a second phase of housing on the site instead of office space. The money influx will not change the city's application for the tax credit.

Freeman wants more judges to direct people to Durham's new eviction-diversion program, too, and for the county to expand its rental-assistance program.

Also Wednesday, CAN pressed Freeman, Alston and Middleton on their campaign promises to support doubling the city's youth summer jobs program, which they all do. Schewel pledged the same during his meeting with CAN earlier this month. The program now serves 58 youth but has more than 900 teenagers applying each summer. Doubling the program to 116 jobs would start the summer of 2019.

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