More apartments in downtown Durham — including affordable housing — are planned within a few blocks of a proposed light rail station.
Two development plans for county-owned land call for more than 400 new apartments on the 300 and 500 block of East Main Street. Both sites are now parking lots. And the plans call for more parking, with a garage on each site, too.
With help from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government, Durham County leaders have devised two plans, and are asking for the public to tell them what they think. The first of three public input sessions was held Tuesday night at the county’s Health and Human Services building on East Main Street, across Dillard Street from the 500 block parking lot.
About 30 people attended, with several praising the amount of affordable housing, but questioning the need for so much parking planned for both sites. Parking will serve both county employees and residents of the new buildings. The land is a few blocks from the planned light rail station at Dillard and Pettigrew streets.
The two plans
In both development proposals, the plan for the 500 block of East Main Street is the same: 160 market rate apartments ranging from studios to three-bedrooms in one building, 180 units of affordable housing in another building, and a parking garage in the middle of it. The affordable housing units will be aimed at people earning from 30 percent of the area median income, which means public housing vouchers could be used, to 80 percent of the area median income.
Durham Congregations, Neighborhoods and Associations calls the land a “powerful opportunity to transform publicly owned land to develop affordable housing in downtown Durham.” Durham CAN has successfully lobbied for affordable housing on two city-owned properties downtown. Now it’s focused on the county-owned properties.
The median household income in Durham from 2012-16, according to the U.S. Census, is $54,093. For a three-person household, 80 percent of the area median income, or AMI, in the Durham-Chapel Hill Metro Area is $50,900 a year. At 50 percent AMI, the income is $31,850, and at 30 percent, that household income is $20,160.
Where the two development plans split are in what to do with the surface parking lot on the 300 block of East Main Street. Plan A calls for 152 market-rate units including 400-square foot “micro units” to studios and one-bedrooms. The “assumed market rate” rents in plans for those apartments range from $1,000 to $1,420 per month. That plan also has space for a daycare or pre-K and commercial space, but no affordable housing.
Plan B for the 300 block does have affordable housing — 97 units of it for households at 80 percent AMI for one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. It also has commercial space. Both plans for the 300 block include a parking garage with more than 1,500 spaces for county employees and some greenspace.
Households are considered housing “cost-burdened” if they pay more than 30 percent of gross household income on housing-related expenses, which includes rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance and taxes.
County commissioners told Durham CAN they supported their proposal to include affordable housing on the downtown land.
Casey Stanton of Durham CAN said Tuesday that she credits the county, and Commissioner Ellen Reckhow in particular, for wanting to be part of the solution to affordable housing in downtown Durham and not keep the land just for parking lots.
‘Happy with both options’
“We’re pretty happy with both options. We like the second option better,” Stanton said, because it calls for affordable housing at both sites.
“Guaranteed long-term affordability is really our hope,” she said.
At the other end of downtown, another CAN-supported affordable housing project is planned for city-owned land at the corner of Jackson and Pettigrew streets, and the city will sell the old Durham Police Department headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street contingent on developers creating affordable housing on that land, too.
The county’s “guiding public interests” for the land call for:
▪ Parking for Durham County Health and Human Services employees and customers.
▪ Incorporating options for multiple modes of transportation because it’s near a future light rail station.
▪ Increasing affordable housing downtown for households earning 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) and below in a mixed income and multi-generational setting.
▪ Providing ground-floor commercial and service offerings for tenants and workers in and around the sites and increasing activity along E.ast Main Street.
▪ Maximizing public benefits and attract private investment.
▪ Focusing on pedestrian-scale design that creates a vibrant, urban streetscape along East Main Street.
No county commissioners attended the public input session this week, but they will get a report of all the sessions before deciding on which plan to pursue.
There will be two more community input sessions about the parking lots on the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street:
▪ Saturday, July 28: 10 a.m. to noon at the Criminal Justice Resource Center, 326 E. Main St.
▪ Thursday, Aug. 2: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Nehemiah Christian Center, 514 N. Mangum St.