Making (dollars and) sense of the downtown library renovation bond

Durham has seen an outstanding turnout in early voting -- just short of 120,000 souls made it to early voting, just over half of the county's registered voter base. And given our bluer-than-blue shade on political maps, it seems nearly a fait accompli that all four bond issues will pass, including that for the main downtown library renovation.

Still, we noticed with some interest discussion on local neighborhood listservs wondering about the library's cost -- a $44.3 million project, about three quarters of which is allocated to construction. 

That is four times the cost projected in 2008 -- then, an $8 million construction budget out of a total project cost of approximately $11 million. (For background, see BCR's extensive July 2008 and September 2008 coverage, and Lisa Sorg's March 2016 update.)

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 7.56.10 PM

Of course, when the project was first under discussion back in '08, there was plenty of grousing from residents and elected officials alike about whether that number was sufficient to develop a first-class library for Durham, given that the renovation cost was only a bit more than the new-build cost of two of Durham's final new-build regional libraries.

The project team at the time put their best foot forward, pontificating on the building's panel/curtainwall exterior, and noting that communities with strong regional libraries (like Durham) needed less space than others.

Then that renovation project went away, only the resurface in the past couple of years with a new project team, a new library director, the departure of the former county engineer -- and, a budget that is a multiple of its old self.

Over the past few weeks, BCR has been taking a look at other library projects in the US and talking with Durham County Library (DCL) staff and project team members to try to figure out what's driving the cost.

Our take? While it's a steep rise in cost and a larger library than was proposed in 2008, it also is at least commensurate with other projects in smaller/mid-sized cities, and likely reflects a more realistic project than was initially proposed a few years back.

Continue reading "Making (dollars and) sense of the downtown library renovation bond" »


Jason Baker: Correcting the record on the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project

This guest post, written by Jason Baker, originally appeared at OrangePolitics.org. We're reprinting it here with permission. It's a full-throated response to the Indy Week's cover story last week on the Durham-Orange light rail project. 

As always with guest posts, the opinions expressed here are those of the original author -- but heartily seconded by your editor here. -KSD

The June 29, 2016, “Off the Rails” INDY Week piece by David Hudnall, which discusses the Durham-Orange light rail transit project (DOLRT) is a poorly researched opinion piece that does a tremendous disservice to INDY Week readers, residents of Durham and Chapel Hill, and—most importantly—current public transit riders in Durham and Orange counties who stand to benefit greatly from a significantly enhanced bus and rail transit network with DOLRT at its core.

Hudnall’s piece mistakes anecdotes for data, ignores significant differences between Wake County and Durham-Chapel Hill, ignores the ways in which current low-income residents travel today—and what that tells us about the usefulness of DOLRT—and, finally, skips reasonable fact-checking of anti-rail project critics’ claims with publicly available documents, including past INDY Week stories on DOLRT.

In an effort to correct many of the misrepresentations of facts, and errors made by Hudnall, below are excerpts from his piece with added context, data, and information so that readers can get an accurate understanding of DOLRT, the benefits it will provide for our community, and why light rail will meet the needs of Durham and Orange Counties and move us forward.

Continue reading "Jason Baker: Correcting the record on the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project" »


Why I was disappointed by the Jillian Johnson Facebook tempest, and why it really matters

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.25.51 PMUnless you've been trapped in Faraday cage these past couple of weeks, unable to discern the blue-light glow of your latest smartphone Twitter alerts, you've certainly heard about Jillian Johnson's famous Facebook fracas.

The first-term City Councilwoman was apparently taken aback at the reaction that her post about police and the military being the "most dangerous people with guns," as the N&O's Virginia Bridges notes in today's very good summary of the matter:

However, Johnson’s outspoken, activist style drew backlash last week after she posted a statement on Facebook as members of the U.S. House of Representatives unsuccessfully called for measures to curb gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists following the Orlando shooting in the Pulse nightclub.

“I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people,” she wrote, “but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia.”

Johnson posted a clarification Wednesday morning, saying “state-sanctioned violence causes more harm” than non-state sanctioned violence.

Every action has an opposite and likely unequal reaction, and the comments -- circulated from her personal Facebook page to an audience far wider than she expected -- led to a predictable reaction from those in and related to the law enforcement community, some of whom called for her resignation.

And, of course, the comments section of sites like the N&O's web site were as banal as one would expect, with predictably-racist diatribes involving returning to Africa, or criticism of black men and fathers.

And, just as predictably, came the full-throated defense of Johnson's comments from the most progressive in Durham's progressive community, many of whom seem to be members of the activist community that Johnson has long participated in, organized and championed.

All of which has made for, I am sorry to say, a terribly unenlightening and unenlightened debate. It is possible, indeed far more important, to disagree with her comments without the jingoism and call to proverbial arms we have seen in the initial pushback.

But the progressive defense of Johnson's comments is also, to these ears, tone-deaf and unable to be supported by the facts on the ground -- as we note beyond the jump, the CDC's statistics find that homicide is, by a factor of 50x, a more likely cause of death for young black males than police action.

In a sense, this very debate is emblematic of the poor coin of the current political discourse's realm. 

Why?

Because the concept that police officers are among the "most dangerous" people with guns, while touching emotionally raw wounds in the shadows of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others, is logically inconsistent with the sources, uses and users of guns and violence, in a way that undermines the very important point underlying Johnson's comments.

Because the use of policing power in the public interest is a necessary function of any division of government, and while Johnson shows great promise as one who can reform the work, the seeming eschewment of its validity and purpose could undermine that end.

Because the intersection of the fundamental tensions here -- the acknowledged misuse of power at times by law enforcement, coupled with the inalienable necessity of policing functions to exist -- makes it crucial that elected officials engage and not pigeonhole the subject.

At the end of the day, Johnson's activist background is one of the things that drives the passion and engagement so many citizens have with Durham's newest elected official.

Yet it may be hard to hold the reins of power and a picket sign simultaneously.

Continue reading "Why I was disappointed by the Jillian Johnson Facebook tempest, and why it really matters" »


Criminal investigation into primary continues; provisional do-over starts July 11

This story has been updated on Wednesday at 3:49 p.m.

While the state’s criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of primary election ballots continues, the 892 Durham residents whose provisional ballots were in question in March will be allowed to re-vote by mail from July 11-22. 

Official results, with the new totals, are expected by August 12. However, the number of ballots in question will not affect the outcome of any contest, including the county commission.

Even though state officials announced on May 31 that they would mail and count the ballots, the local board — surprisingly — will now be in charge of that process, said Durham Board of Elections Deputy Director Sam Gedman at a public meeting tonight. He referred to an email that local elections officials received from the state board today at 2:18 p.m.

“It’s the first we had heard of it,” added local BOE member Margaret Cox Griffin.

Update: On Wednesday, State Board of Elections spokesperson Jackie Hyland told BCR that the agency is preparing "formal guidance" for the local board. Hyland added that there is no update on the criminal investigation.

The local meeting concluded after the State Board of Elections had closed for the day, so those officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

In March, the Durham elections board had approved or partially approved 1,039 provisional ballots that had then been entered into the state’s election management system, also known as the provisional module. However, during the March 22 count, also known as the official canvass, the board and staff noticed the numbers of paper ballots and those entered into the tabulator did not reconcile. 

In addition, a temporary elections employee had told Durham Director Michael Perry that an elections staff member had instructed her to run some ballots twice in order to reconcile the numbers.

Download Email regarding provisional ballot problems

The local and state board have not publicly identified that staff member, but according to documents obtained by Bull City Rising in an open records request, the employee in question resigned on March 29. The only elections department employee who resigned that day was Elections Administrator Richard Rawling, according to county personnel records.

Download Employee roster Durham BOE

A volunteer also reported that a satchel of ballots had disappeared, but neither a state nor a local investigation has not confirmed that allegation. “We don’t know if any are missing,” said Durham Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian.

Several members of the public asked the Durham board who would oversee the counting of ballots. Brian said there would “probably be a state observer, but if you want one, you [the public] should ask the state board for one.”

County commissioner candidates Michael Page, Fred Foster, and Elaine Hyman, who lost the election, filed official protests over the results. However, if even any of those candidates won all of the disputed ballots, the number would still not be enough for them to win.

The winning school board candidates, Steven Unruhe, Minnie Forte-Brown and Xavier Cason, will be sworn in July 1. The outcome of those races would not be altered by the provisional counts. Forte-Brown and Cason ran unopposed; Unruhe won by more than 15,000 votes over Frederick Ravin III.


Shawn Stokes of Luna: "I didn’t think that there would be public outcry about it," + Black Wall Street Plaza still needs our attention

Photograph_102104_W_Main_Street_107_N_Mangum_Street

Looking at the corner of Main and Mangum streets, where the southern end of Black Wall Street Plaza is today.
Date of the photograph is 1963. Note that Mangum Street is already one-way south.
Courtesy of Durham County Public Library
Photo owned by Rachel Middleton Brown, Robert Lee Middleton, Sara Middleton Mocrich

“What defines a character of a city is its public space, not its private space. What defines the value of the private assets of the space are not the assets by themselves but the common assets. The value of the public good affects the value of the private good. We need to show every day that public spaces are an asset to a city.”
-- Joan Clos, executive director, United Nations Human Settlements Program

 

The Luna proposal died before it was born.

Less than a week after a public meeting about the future of Black Wall Street Plaza — a quarter-acre of city-owned green space bordered by Parrish, Main, and Mangum streets — Shawn Stokes, the chef/owner of Luna Rotisserie, withdrew his inquiry into placing outdoor seating in a corner of it.

“Based on feedback from the public discussion last Thursday, and subsequent coverage and commentary, we've decided to end our inquiry into a public private partnership to revitalize the space,” Stokes wrote to me in an email on Tuesday.

Stokes opened his popular restaurant at 112 West Main Street last fall. Previously, he had served in the Peace Corps and USAID in South America. In rural Ecuador, he worked with organic-coffee growers to help them export value-added products, not just raw green coffee beans. He worked on environmental and social equity issues in Brazil and preventing gang violence in Panama.

“I had a skeptical view of business,” Stokes said. “I wanted Luna to be more than a successful business but to have another [social justice] aspect to it.” The lowest-paid worker at Luna earns $12 an hour, he said. Several line cooks earn $45,000 a year.

On Tuesday afternoon, after Luna had closed for lunch, Stokes and I sat in the park and talked about his plan, the public reaction, and his wish that the community come together to determine the future of the beloved space. 

While we were there, the park did its thing: A man walked his dog along the path. A homeless woman, dressed in a winter coat and scarf on a summer day, lumbered by, burdened by her bags of belongings. She settled at a table, singing. Another man stopped at our table and gave Stokes and I each a peppermint.

Here’s a Q&A of our conversation. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. We also spoke to the building owners; that interview follows the one with Stokes.

Why did you want to put outdoor dining here?

The space was advertised with a patio. [The building is owned by Elaine Curry and Dawn Paige.] A tenant before us wanted a club but the people living across the street in the Kress Building didn’t want that because of the noise. Elaine and Dawn thought the city would be amenable not to a disco, but a restaurant patio.  When I was looking for a space, I thought we have so much nice weather here, and I love being outside, I love dining outside, it sets a really nice environment. The patio would have been open to the public when we weren't open. I didn’t think that there would be public outcry about it. 

IMG_3371

The rental flyer for 112 West Main Street; the schematic includes a 560-square-foot patio. 
A quarter-acre equals 10,890 square feet. However, Duke Energy has two large transformer
boxes that eat up plaza space. Time Warner Cable also has a utility box.

 

When did you first approach the city about the idea?

Late last year we introduced the idea, but it sat for a while. The second discussion with the city was more recent. We were being affected by crime. One of our employees left the back door unlocked and someone took some things. An employee had his bike stolen. We used to let people use the bathroom, but then someone shot up in there. After that, we stopped allowing that. We tell people to go to City Hall.

What were some of your ideas about the park?

We wanted there to be seating without the barriers. We wanted to provided charging stations for the homeless who have phones. We wanted to make improvements that would cater to people who use the park, including the homeless. We really did think a patio would be an added value for the park. It would allow for eyes on the park, seating for guests outside helps prevent crime. It’s a special little place, and even though our proposal is withdrawn, it’s exciting to see people passionate about it. 

Nnenna Freelon, who attended the public meeting, had reservations about Luna’s proposal because it could have ousted homeless people from the space. She stops by the table with an “I Voted” sticker on her shirt. We invite her to sit and chat.

Freelon: I hate that you guys had to be flayed at the meeting. The way the city handled the meeting did not allow people to think creatively. People feel very protective of the this place. It’s the last green space in the neighborhood. But how do we build community around the park? There’s not enough investment in it, spiritually and economically. 

Stokes: I hope that people continue to express their feelings about the park to the city and other stakeholders.

Freelon: There’s an opportunity here. Part of the problem is that there is not enough open free space. We’ve entered a new phase, and we can still create what we want. We need a water fountain, it could be a memorial water fountain to educate people about segregation. We need more places to sit in the shade. These tables say, “People have to know one another to sit here.” We want benches. We want public bathrooms here. No one wants to pee in the park.

Stokes: And there could be emergency buttons in there if someone gets into trouble. You can build the bathrooms so you can see people’s feet, to see if someone is using it. We also could have low terraced walls around the park [instead of the chains and wooden bollards].

BCR: In Chinatown in San Francisco, people do tai chi in the park. It’s beautiful to watch.

Freelon: Everyone is feeling possessive about this space. Things work better when there’s synergy.

Stokes: The business owners, people who live here, who hang out here, there’s a lot of potential. There’s a lot of momentum about the park right now. We need to keep it going.

**************

Elaine Curry and Dawn Paige have owned the building for three years. BCR spoke with Curry on Wednesday.

Did you speak with the city about a patio?

Curry: We did speak with the city about the possibilities, including this option, but they didn't really have a process for it. 

What do you think of the public response to Luna's proposal?

We think all of the public should have a voice in Luna's proposal. I was at the meeting, and there wasn't a broad spectrum of stakeholders there. Shawn never got to make his proposal. He's very community minded. He never wanted to desecrate the park, like some people have said.

What is your vision for the space, being its neighbor?

We're stakeholders. I've lived and worked in Durham 15 years. I patronize downtown Durham businesses. It's a beautiful space, but it could be more than that without changing what's important about it. We want it to be open, with lighting and bathrooms. We've donated money to the church that holds services for the homeless there [Bridge Ministries]. We like that it's a place for everybody. 

 

To that end, Bull City Rising would like to co-sponsor a block party this summer in the park/plaza (with the proper permits, of course). There, the community at-large could informally discuss and brainstorm about how to improve and protect the space for everyone: lighting, public bathrooms, benches, other public amenities — and how much it would cost. Since the city owns the land, those suggestions would be forwarded to General Services, which maintains the space.  

Contact Lisa Sorg at lrsorg@gmail.com.

 

 


Live blogging the City Council meeting, April 21

We'll live blog the highlights of today's City Council meeting. Mayor Bill Bell has an excused absence today; he's out on other business.

Download City Council Work Session Agenda - April 21 2016

1:03: Cora Cole-McFadden announces that a group of minority health care providers are not "coming our way" because of HB2.

Tom Bonfield says there is a supplemental agenda item about a Requests for Proposals regarding the Morgan Street parking garage.

Now going through the consent items and then we'll hear public comments.

Durham Beyond Policing Campaign: I address you all today as a coalition of many organizations, who firmly oppose the building of the DPD headquarters. ... We're bringing up the way policing in Durham causes harm. Our campaign requires an active divestment from police and reinvestment [in low-income, minority people]. We are asking the City Council not to build the DPD HQ and to implement participatory budgeting like has been done in Greensboro.

The money for DPD HQ could go to youth centers, street maintenance, affordable housing. It's doubly offensive to build without buy-in from that neighborhood. It's violent to build a police station in an area where black people are over-policed. Don't build another monument to police that engages in racial bias.

By May 16, we demand that City Council stop construction plans on the building.

Cole-McFadden: What happens if we can't vote by May 16?

Coalition: We would like a response by then.

1:42: [We're waiting for a presentation about the Durham Workforce Development and the Compact Neighborhood Land Use plans. A DPD first crime report is on the agenda, but the details usually aren't publicized until the Monday night session.]

1:50: Kevin Dick, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is presenting. [He leaves this position for Charlotte on April 30.]  Download 11062_EXHIBIT_DWDB_ANNUAL_REPORT_2016_P_387737_690332

Some facts from the report:

In 2014, 148,761 Durham residents are employed; 7,707 are unemployed; unemployment rate is 4.9 percent. there are an estimated 48,820 Durham residents — 17 percent — living below the poverty level.

Kevin Dick: A highlight for DPS is that our graduation rates are improving. This is integral how we deliver services. It impacts the number and profile of our youth programs: Durham Youth Work Internship Program and Yes program. With nonprofits and the library, we're connecting youth with our internship programs.

The job placement services for our NCWorks center: We formed an adult provider collaborative, government and nonprofit to discuss issues related to people who have multiple barriers to employment. Group meets monthly. Barriers include criminal backgrounds. One grant proposal would put an NCWorks Center in the county jail. Also we applied for a $1.4 million grant to serve people on work release programs and in halfway houses. These grants are competitive, but we're hopeful.

[More interesting data: NC Works referrals who were hired:]

EMC: 6 NC Works hires of 112
ACW Technology: 28 of 42
Save-a-Lot Food Stores: 20 of 20
CREE: 120 of 160
Durham Bulls: 58 of 95
Frontier Communications: 14 of 45

Cora Cole-McFadden to Kevin Dick: Your leaving will leave a void.

Steve Schewel: It's amazing you'd leave Durham for the Charlotte Hornets. We'll miss you. Thank you for all of your great work. I do have a few questions. The success of the former offender program. What limits the number of participants? 

KD: Former offender are considered a "hard to serve" group, multiple barriers to employment. Client to staffing ratios should not be more than 60:1, right now we're at 160 to 1.5. So it's a matter of money.

SS: How is traffic at the career centers? I've heard it's down.

KD: That's correct. Part of the reason is the unemployment rate has gone down. Another reason is that technology has improved. People can access services at home or the library. When you move to full employment, the people left are usually the hardest to serve. 

SS: With the staffing at the career centers, they are a great resource and we need as many people to use them as we can. How far along is the StepUp Ministries?

KD: They are operating and come to the board meetings. As they've ramped up, our referral process isn't as smooth as we like.

SS: How is the cooperation with Made in Durham? How is working for the people serving?

KD: Made in Durham is invaluable. Companies represented on the board are worksites last summer. Where they add value is in extending the message delivery to businesses, nonprofits that work with youth.

 CCM: How do we reach out to kids at my favorite school Lakeview alternative school for summer programs?

James Dixon: We don't target Lakeview specifically but all DPS schools. We went out to each community for application assistance programs to help students. We have received 780 applications. One young man was from Lakeview; I'm sure there are more.

It's 2:29 pm.

 

Continue reading "Live blogging the City Council meeting, April 21" »


Durham Rescue Mission wants no part of Golden Belt's local historic designation

Golden Belt (dragged)

 

It cost just $265 to build a three-room house on Morning Glory Avenue; for an extra $4, the carpenter would toss in a privy. That was in 1900, when the 20-acre mill village, then known as Morning Glory, housed the workers who made cloth and thread at the nearby Golden Belt factory.

Download Golden Belt

More than 115 years later, the Golden Belt neighborhood is one of the last areas near downtown that is relatively affordable for the middle-class. And with its tight street grid and modest former mill houses, the neighborhood feels distinct — character that residents want to preserve through a local historic designation.

“It’s our hope that local designation will guide further development, small-scale in form and character in the future development,” Jennifer Martin Mitchell of MdM, the city’s consultants for the project, told the Historic Preservation Commission at a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The HPC recommended the designation and its boundaries at a meeting Wednesday morning, although with concerns about criteria that could guide future development.

While residents at the meeting overwhelmingly supported the designation, a major property owner in the neighborhood, the Durham Rescue Mission, wants to secede from the proposed historic district. The mission owns 13 properties in the neighborhood, including five historically contributing structures and several vacant lots in the 1200 block of Worth Street and Morning Glory Avenue.

 “We want to be sliced out somehow,” Rob Tart, the rescue mission’s chief operating officer, told the HPC. “We don’t want to be part of it. It’s onerous. It doesn’t help us accomplish our goals of serving homeless people. This will not help what we’re trying to do. We don’t think it’s profitable or helpful.”

However, what the rescue mission is trying to do is unclear. Tart acknowledged the nonprofit, which has been in the neighborhood since 1974, has no concrete vision for its properties, only to say it doesn’t include single-family homes. He also said he had not read the design criteria, only that he had been “briefed on it.”  

“But we have no desire to build what you want us to,” Tart told the HPC. “You’ll leave those lots empty. Nothing will happen on those properties, because we’re not going anywhere.”

Since the mission is a nonprofit, it does not pay property taxes. It has assets worth $23 million, according to its 2014 federal tax statements. The mission CEO, Ernie Mills, earns nearly $150,000 annually. Tart is paid $110,000 per year.  Download 2014_DurhamRescueMission

Vacant lots provide an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of a historic neighborhood, said Cynthia de Miranda of MdM. “They can help reestablish street patterns. They can enhance what has been lost.”

Lisa Miller, a senior planner and urban designer for the city, told Tart that multi-family housing could be built in the historic district, as long as it’s “not a big block of apartments of monolithic faces to the streets.” For example, after several design iterations, the Greystone apartment complex in historic Morehead Hill was ultimately approved by the HPC. 

“This isn’t hamstringing or forcing someone to build single-family homes,” Miller said. “There is a lot of leeway but you do have to hold on to basic elements of building placement and design.”

Without a local historic designation and its associated design criteria, the Golden Belt neighborhood could be very much in jeopardy. The widening of Alston Avenue — construction is scheduled to begin in August — threatens to divide the eastern and western portions of the neighborhood. 

“We see this local designation to give the neighborhood some leverage to be the walkable, integrated, inclusive community we want it to be,” said Mel Norton, who lives on Wall Street. As part of Durham Congregations and Neighborhoods, she has conducted extensive research on gentrification in the city. “I’m afraid we’ll see what’s happening in Cleveland-Holloway happening here” — teardowns replaced by “bigger non-descriptive homes that don’t relate to the neighborhood.”

And with the its proximity to downtown, former Golden Belt resident John Martin said, the neighborhood “is still very fragile. “If you don’t do this, you’ll start seeing gentrification in a bad way, people tearing down mill houses that can be protected and preserved.”

Construction and renovation projects by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and Scientific Properties, which purchased the old factories and several blighted homes, have kept prices modest, often under $150,000. But the asking price for a new house on Worth Street is $295,000.

“There are already high development pressures that will increase over time,” said Ben Filippo, executive director of Preservation Durham

Maintaining connectivity on the east and west sides of Alston Avenue is “essential” he added, and that tax breaks for preservation could help achieve that goal.

“If we can’t include those residences — the working class housing-stock that Durham was built on — if we don’t provide incentives to protect that,” Filippo said, “we are doing a major disservice to our residents.”

The issue will go to the planning commission in June, and ultimately to City Council.

Timeline of Golden Belt neighborhood

1900: Julian Carr begins construction of the cotton mill and bag factory, plus the first phase of the village 

1906-1930: Golden Belt expands to six factories, including hosiery and cigarette cartons

1910-1920: Mill village expands to accommodate additional workers.

1985:  The 39-acre Golden Belt Historic District listed on National Register of Historic Places

1996:  The district boundary increased to add a building at the southeast corner of East Main  and North Elm streets. The building has since been demolished but the parcel remains in the district. 

2008: Period of significance is extended from 1935 to 1958

2010:  Petition is circulated to also designate the National Historic District a local historic district.

2015:  Creation of local district initiated with public meetings and initial research by MdM   Historical Consultants


Moogfest and AOC funding, through a different lens

My colleague Lisa Sorg had an article earlier this week on Moogfest and the Art of Cool Festival (AOC) that's generated a lot of dialogue and discussion here in the comments, and elsewhere online.

Much of the discussion comes through a lens of equity -- around race, and around the (real or perceived) difference between a locally-generated festival, and one that's chosen to relocate to the Bull City.

Lenses have a lot of uses. In the real world, they can serve to make things clearer -- or to distort things, like a funhouse mirror -- or, like a magnifying glass to a sun, to concentrate attention on one white-hot corner until it burns.

To my mind, the view through an equity lens on the Moogfest/AOC debate is still a little foggy. After talking to parties on all sides of the issue, while I think the City could (and likely will) do more to support a wide range of events, I'm pretty convinced that this was never a process that expected or sought to create inequity. (And indeed, Moogfest's out-of-cycle request may have led to a level of data-driven scrutiny that will help AOC and other festivals.)

It is, though, a reminder of the importance of contextualizing public decisions broadly, to consider their impact on all stakeholders, most particularly at a time when change has so many in Durham on edge. 

Unfortunately, in our current Best Durham Tradition, sometimes the view through one lens doesn't always give us all the context needed.

Continue reading "Moogfest and AOC funding, through a different lens" »


The affordable housing possibilities at the soon-to-be old Durham Police Department

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.16.44 AMPhoto from Durham Police Department annual report, 2008

Here’s a morning mental exercise: This fall, Durham County is expected to place a bond referendum on the ballot to help pay for a $40 million major renovation of the Main Library downtown. The bond will likely pass — let's hope — because libraries are beloved, vital community resources.

Now, if $81 million in funding for the new Durham Police Department were put to a bond referendum, would voters pass it? I’m not so sure.

Last night, Durham Beyond Policing held a public protest at DPD headquarters objecting to the city’s financial priorities: the money budgeted from city coffers for the new DPD mothership on East Main Street versus funding for affordable housing, free and expanded public transit, living wages for city workers, restorative justice.

Realistically, it’s doubtful that the city will cancel the deal. It’s just too far in the process, with Council approving the architectural designs last month.

However, there’s an opportunity here: The current headquarters at 505 W. Chapel Hill St., is prime, city-owned real estate for affordable housing. The building sits on 4.1 acres of land, 3.35 of it surface parking — quite a waste.

It’s next to the bus station and across the street from the Amtrak stop. In other words, ideal for low-income households, especially those earning less than $25,000 a year. There’s a serious shortage of housing for the very poor, a point that Karen Lado of Enterprise Community Partners underscored to Council last week in her presentation about a proposed affordable housing strategy.

One of the goals Lado laid out was adding 300 units citywide over the next five years for these households — “particularly near transit lines and rapidly appreciating neighborhoods.”

Download 10987_PRESENTATION_AFFORDABLE_HOUSING_GOALS__384900_680294

That sounds like 505 W. Chapel Hill St.

There needs to be a public discussion on which is the wisest course to develop the land for this purpose: a City/Durham Housing Authority partnership, a nonprofit, such as Self-Help, or a private developer, albeit one that is required to allocate a percentage of the units as affordable. 

(That type of “inclusionary zoning” is illegal in North Carolina on private land, but the city has more latitude to place covenants on its parcels.)

To add urgency to this situation, consider that over the next five years, subsidies on 1,240 of 6,100 privately owned, affordable units in Durham will expire — 930 of them by the end of 2017. These units have generally been subsidized via low-income housing tax credits and Section 8 programs. The apartments/homes, many concentrated in Northeast-Central Durham, could become market-rate, thus creating an even more severe housing crisis for the poor.

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Need more urgency? Landlords are bowing out of the Section 8 program because they can charge higher market rates without having to navigate the inspections and paperwork from the Durham Housing Authority. 

There also needs to be a public discussion about the fate of the building, which needs at least $4 million worth of rehab. At one time, the building, which in the late 1950s, originally housed Home Security Life insurance company, looked swanky, with a lot of glass. But now, of the Mid-century modern style buildings downtown — the Durham Hotel, the old Jack Tar motel, for example — DPD HQ is the least attractive because of the tinted windows, security grating and other fortress-like architectural details that accompany a structure devoted to law enforcement. (O’Brien/Atkins, the architects on the new DPD HQ, have been directed: No fortress on East Main.) 

Durham Beyond Policing has valid concerns about the $81 million expenditure. But I’m ready to cry Uncle and acknowledge that a new station will be built. Yet in doing so, we should consider what can be gained on those four acres on West Chapel Hill Street. 

 

 


Affordable housing: Live blogging the Durham City Council meeting, March 10

It's a long agenda today, with several affordable housing items and a non-controversial, albeit, welcome item regarding the city's lease with Liberty Arts Foundry. The City Council is also expected to pass a resolution supporting the collective bargaining/unionization rights of non-tenure track faculty at Duke University. Download Durham City Council Work Session Agenda - March 10 2016

Note: Affordable housing discussion starts below, time listed as 2:34 p.m.

We'll blog the highlights. Note: Sometimes many minutes elapse between them.

1:03: Mayor Bill Bell wants to dedicate a full, special meeting to the affordable housing issue and presentation. Stand by: This item may not be discussed today.

1:06: Presentation will happen today, but there will be subsequent meeting to devote to it.

1:11: Briar Green Apartments, 500 Danube Lane, financed with bonds up to $19.9 million. This is in North Durham, near Hebron Road.

1:15: The City Council resolution supporting the Duke non-tenure track faculty. Cora Cole-McFadden prefers the term "endorse," but it passes unanimously.

Steve Schewel: This is 200 units for 30 percent to 60 percent AMI built by a private developer using a 4 percent tax credit. This is a tremendous win. 

1:37: Regarding an audit of city employees'  dependents' eligibility of health care benefits:

Jillian Johnson: Only 10 of 1,460 or so city employees' dependents were found not to be eligible for benefits [but receiving them.] It seems like it would cost more to do the audit

Germaine Brewington of the city: Statistically across the country, about 5 percent are ineligible. We're going to do this audit again, but a sample of 50%. It's my opinion we should do this audit every year. The results this time were favorable because of the up front work that was done.

Schewel: We found so few because 170 fewer children and 140 fewer spouses were signed up by employees who were concerned they would be found not to be eligible.

1:42: Item 6: Regarding Grants for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Enforcement

Johnson: First time I heard that we receive xxx It's becoming increasingly clear that the mass incarceration is being driven by drug policies that disproportionately affect people of color. Is use of this drug funding a priority? Should we consider continuing to accept this money?

City staff: This is money allowed to be used to coordinate law enforcement at local, state and federal level. We get $250,000 year from this office to do that.

Reece: To do what?

City staff: To do drug enforcement.

Bell: High-intensity drug trafficking can mean a lot of things to different people.

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