Hillandale Rd. Harris Teeter, plaza renovations reported still on track
Kicking off "Shooting the Bull" (Sun. 7:30pm WXDU 88.7)

Cleveland-Holloway: Home tour, Indy scrutiny this weekend

Justmap The Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association is hosting its first-ever home tour this weekend, scheduled to start Saturday at 1pm at 406 Oakwood Ave. Fifteen homes are scheduled to be on the tour, which provides a good view into the renewal and revitalization happening in this historic neighborhood. The tour is free, though a $5 donation is appreciated.

Among the houses available for viewing are homes in various stages of renovation, along with a look at properties currently available for sale. Learn more at the home tour web site.

The tour comes on the heels of an interesting and thoughtful cover story in the latest issue of the Independent Weekly, the provocative cover of which asks "Rubble to Revival: Do the poor have to leave?"

Mosi Secret's feature -- which is absolutely worth a deep read -- is, to my mind, at its best when sharing anecdotes and on-the-ground reporting, be it about the efforts to block the demolition of 407 Ottawa Ave., or a neighborhood cleanup effort that drew mixed local reviews, or the ACORN-led protests over rental housing conditions.

As much as I appreciate the individual threads that Secret draws with his usual evocative language, there is a core theme underlying the article, one that undergirds -- almost as an assumption -- discussions that touch on matters of neighborhood revitalization and renovation.

That theme? The idea that gentrification's displacement of poverty is, by definition, a solely negative social cost and a purely problematic outcome.

First, let's connect the threads that run through the piece:

Cleveland-Holloway's revival embodies a tension between new and old. The dozen or so new homeowners, mostly white young professionals, artists, musicians—and some real estate agents—have formed a strong and unified voice, advocating for much-needed neighborhood revitalization and historic preservation. But longtime renters, many of whom are low-income and have few housing options, occupy most of the crumbling homes.

According to 2000 Census data, two-thirds of the population in this area is black; nearly half the households earn less than $15,000 each year, and more than 40 percent have annual incomes of less than $10,000. There are social implications; it is unclear if the poor residents will benefit or be displaced.

The emphasis above is mine. The dichotomy is clear, as is the thesis of the piece: displacement of the poor is antithetical with any benefit to renters. It's a theme that continues throughout the article.

Yet public and private investment downtown all but assures the neighborhood will change. Greenfire Development, Scientific Properties and Blue Devil Ventures have begun projects that could bring thousands of residents, workers and shoppers downtown.... The face of the neighborhood is transforming, with or without the poorer renters....

Most of the new homeowners express a sense of responsibility to the renters, but have not determined how to work with them....

Few people in Cleveland-Holloway can move around the corner when their homes fail to meet housing code. On March 27, the newly reorganized Durham branch of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, staged a protest to draw attention to living conditions in Cleveland-Holloway. Organizers had been canvassing the neighborhood, talking to residents about their concerns. "A lot of people are coming forward saying 'We are being victimized by our landlords,'" said Gloria Harris, ACORN's lead Durham organizer....

"The reason people do not call and complain [about substandard housing conditions] is because if you do not find an affordable to place to live, you don't want to be put out on the street," says Muna Mujahid, an activist who lives on Holloway Street and is active in ACORN and the Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association. Her home on Holloway Street has also been condemned, but housing inspectors have allowed her to remain long enough to find another place to live.

In the fight to preserve historic homes and to revive the neighborhood, the renters' needs also need to be considered. "I know the [Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association] has been dealing with some other stuff," Mujahid adds. "I just think ACORN can be a little more effective. We're fighting different battles on different fronts."

It would be easy to read this article and draw a straightforward conclusion:

  • Neighborhood is inhabitated by largely-poor residents who face substandard housing conditions.
  • New buyers, mostly middle-class or middle-class strivers, move in and start fixing up residences, but don't reach out to help the renters.
  • Renters continue to struggle in squalor, and will eventually be displaced to make way for a gentrified neighborhood as landlords sell.

To wit: will renters "benefit or be displaced?"

Problem is, I just don't think it's that simple.

Let's take a moment to face a cruel, hard reality about life in Durham. Rental property often flat-out stinks, particularly that which rents to the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. The "slumlord" term has been bandied about after more famous Durhamites than I could name -- make that "should name," in light of libel laws.

Soon after I moved here, I heard a tale from a longtime and prominent Bull City resident about how as a child, he rode around through impoverished neighborhoods of Durham with his parents as they collected rents in low-income districts where they owned and managed rental property. It is, I suspect, a background that's frequently found among many Durham families of some means.

Obviously, the new residents moving into Cleveland-Holloway aren't responsible for the historic disinvestment in the neighborhood -- it's a responsibility that lies with those who've owned these properties for decades or generations, eking out a rental income from each unit that nets out to a decent side income, but nowhere near enough to incent them to invest enough to properlymaintain the structures.

It's part of the reason I and many others have argued for the need for mandatory rental unit inspections, a program that would take tenants out of the sometimes eviction-inducing process of reporting violations themselves. Not surprisingly, that proposal has meekly morphed into a voluntary compliance program. I don't have exact data on how many landlords agreed to participate, though I once heard the number bandied about that out of 300 invited, less than 100 opted to participate. (I'll try to firm that number up and see what the actual level is, be it more or less.)

Heck, we have the legislature pushing to forbid cities from instituting such rental inspection programs in the first place.

So I ask: Is the dichotomy really as simple as whether renters renters "benefit or be displaced" by gentrification?

I don't think they're benefitting now, that's for certain. In the absence of any power to compel property improvements, low-rent housing ambles along in declining condition. And neighborhoods become filled with such properties, concentrating poverty into socioeconomically isolated warrens.

As we talked about before when looking the "Two Durhams" theme a few months back, the concentration of poverty is a recipe for social turmoil. Crime and educational performance are at their heart, I would argue, functions of concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty; the latter remains a situation that must be addressed, as a city and a nation, if we're to restore economic opportunity and break the cycle of poverty.

Creating economic diversity, to my mind, means creating affordable housing across the geography of a city, yes. But it also means inducing the return of a middle class back to underinvested neighborhoods.

I spoke with Ken Gasch, who's quoted in the article, about what this kind of economic integration means. As someone who sees neighborhood successes and failures at an intimate level through the INC, I think Ken speaks to this better than I can:

 

I don't agree that we need a neighborhood of dilapidated, falling down, 90% rental housing, either.... We need rental property in our community. People come to our community, they're not ready to buy a house, maybe they're just going to be here a little while. We need rental housing. But we don't need a community with 90% rental housing.

 

What I encourage [landlords] to do is, hey, say you've got an owner that's got four of five of them in there. Talk to your owner and say, hey, let's let one or two fo these go. Let's get one or two of them in the hands of owner-occupants up in there, so that we can bring that stability up. I believe very much that a neighborhood with lots of owners is a much stabler neighborhood....

 

You have a neighborhood where there's no opportunity. There's no opportunity. Everybody is poor. And I'll walk with you sometime. There are folks selling dope in the middle of the day in these neighborhoods... And I don't think that this should be transformed into Trinity Park, where everything's $150 a square foot. But damn it, we do need to mix it up a little bit. And by mix it up, I don't mean racially, I mean socioeconomically. I mean, if a kid's growing up in a neighborhood, and he's got a lawyer on one side, maybe he's got a plumber, a retired person [on the other side].

 

And now it's just like, everybody's poor. And what does that kid see? And he starts to sell dope. That's what I think about gentrification, is it's not necessarily a bad thing....

 

I got criticized because we sold a property short of foreclosure, and the gentleman who lived there was upset that he had to move. And we worked to help him relocate. The buyer even helped him to pay the deposit at the next place that he moved to.
 

 

We took him from a place where raw sewage was running into the back yard. It didn't have any sort of a heater other than resistive heating. The bathroom, the commode when he would flush would run water out all over the floor. And we put him in a place... that everything worked. I'm not the most sensitive person on the planet, but when confronted with a situation like that, I like to think that I do the compassionate thing that I was taught to do growing up.

Gentrification is, of course, a buzzword, and a code word of sorts. I've talked here at length of the risk of gentrification -- by which I'm literally talking about a wholescale transformation of central Durham, a scenario which rising oil prices and the increasing economic marginality of exurban cities and towns may not be as far off as some would think it might be a decade ago.

There's no question in my mind that Durham needs to take steps to maintain economic diversity in neighborhoods and avoid such economic transformation of the city. But a situation where you have entire neighborhoods economically disconnected from Durham's success, populated only by the poorest among us, creates a social fabric where those citizens, particularly youth, are almost destined to fail.

Which is by way of saying, we need to stop thinking of gentrification as a situation where displacement equals a lack of benefit.

There is, as Ken pointed out, a social connectivity, a network that comes from having a diverse, mixed-income neighborhood. Job opportunities, civic connections, religious life, help when you need it: you can't get these elements from a neighborhood that's entirely impoverished. It's like getting blood from a stone.

That can't happen in today's toughest neighborhoods, those where 90%+ of residents live in poverty.

Which is not to say that exit is the only solution. Neighborhoods in southwest-central Durham have been successful through the Quality of Life initiative in building affordable, owner-occupied housing in partnership with the Durham Community Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity, and other non-profits. And they've managed to increase home ownership rates.

It'd be great to see groups like these, or Rebuild Durham, stepping in and helping to rehabilitate housing in neighborhoods like Cleveland-Holloway.

And for those situations where renters exit the neighborhoods, it's worth noting that they're likely to have access to higher-quality housing stock than their current digs. Durham deserves credit for supporting programs like Eastway Village and Hope VI, which are intended to bring economic diversity and a mix of rental and ownership opportunities in neighborhoods and public housing projects that were perceived to have failed.

The most frequently-cited reason for that failure? An overconcentration of poverty.

Also worth noting: Mayor Bell's point, repeated I believe during the mayoral campaign and at City Council meetings, that the availability of higher quality public housing stock in recent years has improved the quality of life of its residents, and that some of the abandoned housing issues we're dealing with are the result of underinvested properties no longer drawing tenants who now have more choice in where they live.

Do residents "benefit" from the influx of new residents if their landlord sells their home and they have to move? I'd ask, how much are they benefitting today?

If it takes a property sale to remove one more substandard housing unit from the local stock, then -- presuming and assuming thatthere is, in fact, a housing unit for them to go to elsewhere -- then perhaps the net result is positive.

Certainly, without the efforts of Cleveland-Holloway, we'd have seen a greater concentration of group homes and social services facilities in the neighborhood. Exactly what a neighborhood with entrenched poverty doesn't need, of course, and the kind of services that ought to be fairly distributed throughout the city.

Ironically, the C-H folks managed to "displace" such facilities before they were built -- probably "benefitting" local residents. From that perspective, despite the conceit in the Indy piece that somehow C-H's newest homeowners haven't done anything to really help long-time renters, I'd argue that by raising the community's profile and bringing resources and attention, they've done a lot already.

I don't mean to harp on this one point of displace/benefit over and over. But I am concerned that it's too easy to make gentrification the third rail of local politics. This particular thread comes up from time to time in the Bull City, and it's a natural reaction to an issue that many of us care instinctively about.

But the reality is too tricky to wrap up in an either/or statement.

Comments

Matt

This is a fantastic post and really is an excellent continuation of the conversation started by the Indy article. I completely agree that these issues aren't binary and that the landlords/slumlords have a responsibility to maintain their properties up to code, but speaking as a hopefully soon to be homebuyer in the neighborhood, we do have responsibilities to the neighborhood.

Gentrification earns it bad reputation when it forces out local businesses and tries to homogenize the community to look like Anywhere, USA. From the new homebuyers I've spoken with, we all share a desire to support local businesses and to hopefully create growth from within so that it can help the local residents as much as possible. We have a responsibility to become a part of the community and not cut ourselves off from it.

And again, this was a fantastic post.

David Rollins

Kevin is that rarest of commentators who writes from a centrist viewpoint without being middle-of-the-road boring. While I disagree with him over rental inspections, I agree it's too easy to think about "displacement" as though there are a finite number of cheap places to live. Twenty years ago Trinity Park was a scary place to walk after dark; I used to rent the house at Gregson and Club and I assure you that robbings and killings were not limited to Northgate Mall like they are today.

Renters such as myself who were displaced either moved into a more affordable neighborhood, a less urban location, got more roommates, worked hard to save the money to buy a place and benefit from the rise in property values, or (in my case) went off to grad school.

As a libertarian I support socioeconomic diversity and am vehemently opposed to gentrification. There's nothing wrong with buying a property and fixing it up, as long as you don't strong arm the neighborhood "slumlord" who may in fact be a little old lady who depends on the rental income to buy her prescription drugs. Most landlords make little money on rent, and depend on property appreciation to build their nest egg (let's remember that real estate represents the largest asset for most Americans, despite the misconception that we're all stock investors nowadays).

One of the reasons I love Trinity Park is because of the rolling hills on a street like Englewood, where houses on the lower ground are occupied by carpenters, musicians, and public school teachers; there is a mutual benefit to rubbing shoulders with the landed gentry of Watts St. This is the type of diversity I want my children to encounter.

Do you think the folks behind the recent rezoning of the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood care about the poor? I submit they do not, as I made clear in my comments at the time. Mandatory lot sizes and the prohibition of multifamily units is a tax on the poor, pure and simple.

I encourage the residents of C-H to engage their poorer neighbors; the renters will most certainly benefit from the decreased crime and increased amenities that are sure to follow. Renovating houses is addictive, and I know that many homeowners who become landlords like to "grandfather" current tenants, especially the elderly. As a landlord myself I can say that there is a lot to be said for having a tenant who pays his rent month in and month out, even if it's lower than what you might get from the fly-by-night "creative class".

David Rollins

Also, living close to Walltown is convenient when your old college buddies come to town and you need to score a bag of weed.

Allen

Centro-Left Minarchist?

I think the Burch Ave. neighborhood has done it right. Most of the houses are rentals and the rates are reasonable with a good deal of SES diversity. However, I do see in the near future the "G" word coming along and turning all of these houses rents up or having them sell for 500,000 a piece.

I will try to be in attendance for the C-H tour, because well I'm poor (paying for a three bedroom apartment by myself-long story) and it's free.

Myers Sugg

Mark Twain got it right, "Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."

M. Sugg
10* year resident, T-L

David Rollins

Myers:

I trust this question is not too foolish for you. What are you doing to increase affordable housing and socioeconomic diversity in T-L? It's a serious question, I hope you will condescend to answer it.

Myers Sugg

Those who know me are aware of the various activities I've participated in over the past 10 years to support and promote T-L. If knowing more about these things is important to you, look me up in the phone book and call.

Myers Sugg

Natalie

Price per square foot recently went up in one of our tax districts. It is now somewhere around $61.

People who make 80% of the median income in Durham can still afford to buy in our neighborhood.

I have the data. It is not little old ladies who have invested in a rental property to buy their prescription drugs. It is out of state property flippers who board up their houses and keep them vacant and local owners who decide they would rather tear down or board up their house instead of bringing them up to code or selling them to people who will.

KH

Mallard Street on the northern edge of the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood is another untold story in this neighborhood. From talking to people in the area and property owners, it was generally a quiet street w/ several elderly homeowners. When these people died, some houses became heir property while others were sold to landlords.

At one time in the last year or so, there was one tenant on a street w/ around 8 houses...The vacant properties were used as dumping grounds for contractors, auto parts shops, etc...All of the AC units were vandalized...windows broken, cabinets and toilets stolen...doors kicked in...beer bottles, condoms, excrement, etc. were scattered across the floors.

A couple of houses were renovated and vandalized again leading to a cycle of blight. One or two tenants on a street do not provide many eyes and ears.

There is definitely room for investment in this neighborhood. At the same time, the new neighbors need to use their resources to build partnerships w/ non-profits and others who are committed to their goals of a diverse neighborhood.

The Burch Ave. community is a model of market rate housing mixed in with non-profit rental properties and other decently maintained owner-occupied and rental properties. The latter will face more pressure as more people are priced out of Trinity Park or simply can't find an available house in that neighborhood.

hurley

These people showing their homes is the best possible thing that can happen in this neighborhood.

Gentrification is nothing but a political word for the recycling that has been going on in urban areas since about 6000 BC. It's used by idiot whites who think that black people are so stupid that being the daily prey of teenagers hanging out on the corner is preferable to having whites in their neighborhood.

As for the Independent, it began and prospered as a place for want ads for sexual activities that no one in their right mind would ever bring up in the workplace. If they thought the people buying the want ads were rightist in their political beliefs, you'd see a lot of reprints of Hitler's speeches.

David Rollins

Godwin's Law! I'm not touching that with a ten foot pole.

The suggestion that gentrification is a white man's invention is racist and offensive. What I think you are getting at is the concept of "rich man's ennui". There are plenty of blacks concerned about gentrification, though I will concede that they are often happy to trade lower crime for more gentrification.

KH

The TRUE fear of gentrification is that the current residents and/or businesses will not be able to remain in their neighborhood. You know the people who have lived there for 20/30 years through the good times and the bad.

As property values rise along w/ property taxes, many are forced to sell their properties. These same people don't experience the same windfall that the house flippers/speculators do.

Honestly, gentrification extends beyond race...it is more of an economic issue. As demand rises, the prices rise and the previous inhabitants (low-income people, Ma and Pop store, etc.) can no longer afford the rent or taxes.

I haven't seen good examples yet on how to deal with this issue but I don't think people have tried hard either.

Michael Bacon

The worst part about Secret's article specifically, and the whole dialog about "gentrification" in general, is that the term "gentrification" has become a stand-in for rising housing prices.

The original meaning of the word, that the gentry are moving in and making it impossible for the non-gentry to live there, should be present here. A couple who is making $35k+ a year together does, it's true, have more economic stability and power than, say, someone on their own making $15k a year. Neither, however, is the "gentry," a word originally termed to refer to those in europe who held massive estates, and in an American context, should at the very least involve being in the top quintile of household income.

To suggest that Cleveland-Holloway is even remotely close to becoming a home only for the gentry is beyond stupid. The biggest fight the neighborhood currently faces isn't the poor getting run out because of housing prices, but the poor having the house collapse on their head. I'm mildly sympathetic to David's defense of landlords, but I refuse to feel one ounce of pity for someone who can't be bothered to install a hot water heater.

I firmly believe in William Julius Wilson's argument of the detrimental effects of "concentrated disadvantage," or having all the poor people concentrated in one place. Cleveland-Holloway, along with most of the rest of NE-Central Durham, has concentrated disadvantage like nowhere else in the Triangle. If that's ever going to change, it by definition means a few people with some more money moving in.

It also, consequently, means making sure that new development is not solely for the gentry. For anyone (I'm still looking at you, Rollins) to complain about gentrification in a neighborhood where housing prices are starting to top $70k without seeing the inherent problem in massive new housing developments where the houses start at $285k is just ridiculous. I believe the solution to this is inclusionary zoning -- requiring 10% of all new housing developments of 10 units or larger to be targeted as affordable by those making 120% of the poverty line, or 80% of the median household income, or some other measure. I argued for it in my own neighborhood 9 years ago, and I continue to think it's the best strategy we have. I know libertarians like Rollins think it's too much government intervention, but until if you've got another way of addressing the problem of concentrated disadvantage, I'm going with it.

sw

"..... the people buying the want ads were rightist in their political beliefs, you'd see a lot of reprints of Hitler's speeches. "
I hate to break it to you but hitler was a leftist.

KeepDurhamDifferent!

As usual, Michael Bacon and I are closer than one would suspect given our differing philosophies. I don't like inclusionary zoning, but it's not the worst thing either. I would suggest that instead of more zoning we need less.

I hate to keep holding up Trinity Park as a utopia, but we have plenty of low-income and multifamily housing stock that would not be built in (say) Tuscaloosa-Lakewood under the new regulations. As rents rise and fall over the years, landlords with the fewest restrictions have been able to meet the needs of the community: dividing up old houses into duplexes, taking in boarders, renting out the guest house / garage, reclaiming duplexes for conversion or historic renovation, and yes sometimes bulldozing old properties. A free market means that the most valuable and/or historic properties will be preserved (in a rising market), and the least valuable will be razed for infill McMansions or crappy apartments (in a falling market). It's not a perfect solution, but it's a lot better than the alternatives, which are frought with corruption by special interests.

fly

As a T-L resident, I have to respond to the comment claiming that T-L's recent re-zoning limits opportunities for lower-income families to live in our neighborhood. This is simply not true. What we have done is pushed for zoning regulations that will preserve the existing character of our neighborhood. T-L is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Durham and one of the few places where you really do have "lawyers living next door to retired plumbers".

Our new zoning regulations do not push anyone out of our neighborhood. Rather, they ensure that everyone - wealthy homeowner, low-income renter, wealth renter, low-income homeowner, whatever - gets to live in a neighborhood that is not overcrowded or decimated by developers.

As a low-income resident, I can say with absolute certainty that T-L is a shining example of how a neighborhood can advocate in the interests of ALL residents.

Steve

An excellent post and follow-up to the Indy article.

However, the quote "It'd be great to see groups like these [Habitat for Humanity, for instance] ... stepping in and helping to rehabilitate housing in neighborhoods like Cleveland-Holloway" kinda scares me a bit; while such groups do build liveable structures for people who oftentimes desperately need such a house, they tend to do a disservice to historic structures. Not only do their "upgrades" or "improvements" (I definitely will not use the term "restoration' here) tend to be shoddy overall, as it tends to be done by untrained and unskilled volunteers, but they also often remove the historic details and add harmful materials like vinyl siding to historic structures.

Like a friend once told me, HfH (in the instance I'm referring to) often times takes a $20,000 house that could be a $100,000 house with $20,000 worth of professional or semi-professional restoration work and turns it into a $30,000 house.

David Rollins

I guess reasonable people may differ on the value of preserving the character of the neighborhood versus serving the working poor (not to mention respecting the property rights of the owners).

My earlier comment stands -- take a look at the apartments on Gregson north of Markham. I'm sure at one point there were mill houses or grand victorian single family dwellings there, but what's there now would never be built under the terms adopted by T-L. It's an exercise for the reader to determine what was in the best interests of the community.

KH

I can understand Mr. Rollins argument but T-L would not get a new duplex/apartment built like the ones in Trinity Park. It would be closer in design to the many cookie cutter dwellings that have been sprouting up all around town on every available scattered lot. They were trying to avoid infill such as the corner of Duke and Carver St. It may not be perfect but at least a developer would have to present a compelling proposal to the neighbors to sidestep the NPO in any way.

RWE

There are no apartments on Gregson north of Markham that I'm aware of. Maybe you're referring to the 7-20 Apartments at Dacian and Gregson, scene of a recent sexual assault, and a perfect example of the kind of 'low income' development that Durham's neighborhoods could and did see when zoning regulations were ambiguous and poorly enforced. Personally, I'd prefer the historic mill houses or whatever used to be there.

Anon

Aren't those Bergman Properties?

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