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June 05, 2011


Matt Drew

The thing about this article that confuses me is that not a single person questions the wisdom of building yet more housing, in a city with a such an obvious plethora of vacant and boarded up housing. So instead of supporting groups that are rehabilitating and re-using existing housing, the plan is to build expensive new housing via huge subsidies from the Feds - notably, money that the Feds don't have and are borrowing?

Rob Gillespie

I agree with you about the need to do something about boarded up houses being hoarded away by their owners. The vast majority of boarded up houses are privately owned, though. Would you suggest that the city be allowed to seize boarded up houses, say after being boarded for more than 6 months, for their fair market value (often times below $15,000) and rehabilitate them for affordable housing?

Matt Drew

No, I don't think that's necessary or a good idea. It would be slightly better than bulldozing them, which is what the city does now, but I think the damage to property rights would offset those benefits and that the shifting of such power to the city would have a corrupting influence. There's enough eminent domain abuse now that we don't need to add to the problem.

There are plenty of private organizations that are working to buy houses and rehab them before the bulldozers get to them. And private owners aren't the only ones hoarding housing:

The city could start by divesting itself of housing that it has, and working with HUD and others to get their abandoned properties into the hands of those who can rebuild them.

It's also my understanding that private owners gain a significant state tax benefit from owning property, regardless of its condition, and that's the reason they can afford to keep paying property taxes year after year while the houses rot. Working to remove that incentive might loosen their grip on existing housing and get things moving quicker.


I generally support developments like this, but all of those commitments mentioned (besides the left turn lane) are requirements for receiving federal low income housing funding anyway. I'm not sure it's entirely fair to then point to those as examples of going above and beyond the call of duty...


The article states that there is little to no evidence that low income housing hurts property value, as if that is reassuring. The best case scenario is that low income housing is neutral with regards to nearby property value. Its just common sense to see that there is no upside to low income housing with regards to property value. I would like to see my house value go back to the level it was when I bought it, this proposal will not do anything to further that goal.


Is there Bus service on that part of Barbee? If not how far away are the bus stops and will the developer build safe sidewalks to and from the bus stops to the complex. Seems like a no brainer when you are talking about helping low incoming housing folks.

Erik Landfried

@David - I don't live anywhere near this proposed project, but I too would like my housing value to increase. This proposal will also not do anything to further that goal.

What's your point?


@ Matt - I've heard the property rights defense before but an abandoned property is infringing on the property rights of ALL the surrounding property owners. That's not fair. Plus as Rob questioned (or stated) :) a property that has been boarded for 6 months is essentially abandoned. I would add stipulations as far as securing, stabilizing and marketing the house for rent/sale to avoid being classified as abandoned.

As far as this development is concerned, I hate that most LIHTC properties seem to have to be 100% low-income (<60%) housing. I still condone requiring ALL new developments to have an affordable housing component (around 15 -20%). That's roughly 12 units for this particular development but once the economy improves you would have well over 50 affordable units/ built across the city per year by private developers. All without concentrating; pigeon-holing; designating where THOSE people should live.

Tar Heelz

Sounds like the applicant, opponents, and the City Council need to read up on NC's laws prohibiting discrimination against affordable housing in land use decisions...


The developer withdrew their petition so the point is moot for now.

John Martin

@Tar Heelz
You might read it as well: "It is not a violation of this Chapter if land-use decisions or permitting of development is based on considerations of limiting high concentrations of affordable housing."


@ John

The intent is probably on a census-block level versus an individual project level. The language does leave it up to interpretation I guess though.

Bull City Rising

@John M.: To me, "concentrating" LIH in an area applies more to places like Cleveland-Holloway that have disproportionately high levels of such housing as a percentage of units, than to bringing initial affordable housing to an area.

As Natalie notes, with the withdrawal this seems moot for now.

John Martin


I was not weighing in on the merits of this issue. I was simply making the point that the particular law cited by Tar Heelz wouldn't resolve this dispute. Maggie Constantine, quoted in the article as opposed to the project, argued that it represented "concentrations of low-income housing. . ." She may be right or wrong, but if the Planning Commission or the City Council decides she's right, they could deny the permits without violating the statute.

Tar Heelz


The Council can of course, cite whatever justification they like. Simply saying magic words may not be enough. Rather, the courts will decide the issue in light of the remainder of the statute and its guidance upon what acts of a council are inferred to be discriminatory against affordable housing.

Keep in mind that a court's consideration of this provision will be set in the context of well-established housing discrimination law.

Rob Gillespie

@Tar Heelz-
It's my understanding that income is not a protected class (things like race, sex, ethnicity, and age are), so most housing discrimination laws and past rulings don't offer insight into how courts will rule on NC's relatively new statute.

I'm not a lawyer, though, and I can't even pretend to play one on TV.

Tar Heelz


Rather than a constitutional class protection, it is a protection afforded by statute. In adopting the protection of affordable housing, the NC General Assembly added discrimination affordable housing to the list of prohibitions.

"It is an unlawful discriminatory housing practice to discriminate in land-use decisions or in the permitting of development based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicapping condition, familial status, or, except as otherwise provided by law, the fact that a development or proposed development contains affordable housing units for families or individuals with incomes below eighty percent (80%) of area median income."

John Martin

@Tar Heelz

Rob means to say that race, national origin and religion are "suspect classes" (not "protected classes") and therefore government actions that affect these "suspect classes" have to withstand "strict scrutiny." Translated, that means the government has to have some compelling state interest in order to take an action that would adversely affect these "suspect classes." Almost nothing has ever survived "strict scrutiny."

The state statute cited by Tar Heelz protects "affordable housing" but since that's not a "suspect class," it is only subject to "rational basis review" not "strict scrutiny." In other words, did the governmental body have a "rational basis" for what they did? Since the statute itself specifically allows "limiting high concentrations of affordable housing," it would be easy to find that the Planning Commission or the City Council had a "rational basis" for rejecting the rezoning. Remember, in judicial review, the question is not whether the judge would have voted the same way had she been on the Council, but only whether or not there is a statutory or constitutional violation.

I find myself irritated with Tar Heelz continuing to argue this point because he seems to imagine that state law or judge's decisions can be a substitute for the City of Durham developing a sensible policy on affordable housing. The City simply seems to blow in the political wind, talking a good game, but not actually figuring out how it's going to achieve its affordable housing goals. The result is that neighborhoods like Auburn have a comparatively easy time blocking affordable housing initiatives, and most affordable housing then ends up being built in neighborhoods that already relatively poor.

No one-page state statute or judge's decision will solve that problem.

Frank Hyman

@ John Martin

"The result is that neighborhoods like Auburn have a comparatively easy time blocking affordable housing initiatives, and most affordable housing then ends up being built in neighborhoods that already relatively poor."

You got that right.



Thank you for stating what is REALLY the problem.

I seriously doubt she'd be opposed to luxury condo's being built by her home.

Low income doesn't mean "Low Life". If you want to gauge what type of community you live in, look at how it views the most unfortunate.


I wish the money would be spent on fixing up or rebuilding the current low income housing. The apartments along Liberty and Elizabeth are horrendous!

Tar Heelz

JM wrote, "I find myself irritated with Tar Heelz continuing to argue this point because he seems to imagine that state law or judge's decisions can be a substitute for the City of Durham developing a sensible policy on affordable housing."

1) I need not imagine it. Such is patent reality. The City Council derives its existence and all power from the General Assembly. Durham is a municipal corporation chartered by the legislature. The Council has not a single right without the State's say-so. Here the State has announced that discrimination in land use based on the designated/projected income of the residents is not permitted (with the noted safety valve of avoiding undue concentration (ie "packing") of affordable housing in certain areas. Heck, without Article 19 of Chapter 160A, Durham could have no zoning regulation whatsoever.

2) Thank you for the primer on Constitutional Law. While accurate insofar as your lecture goes, it is entirely misplaced here. This prohibition on discrimination is state statute-based -- not constititionally grounded. There will be no "rational basis test" applied to a consideration by NC's courts to whether the City may have violated this state statute..

3) I did not intend in my original post to argue anything. I merely hoped to add to the discussion the recently enacted legislation intended to broaden opportunities for affordable housing.


The article says, "Mayor Bill Bell said he had been receiving messages from the public about Crowne Pointe. He declined to disclose what they said." If those articles are written, they are public record.

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