Kudos to Aidil Collins and all the folks in Uplift East Durham and Preservation Durham for this weekend's very successful "Old East Durham" home tour. By my best guess, upward of one hundred Durhamites -- including both home-buyers/Realtors and the occasional lookie-loo like myself -- stopped into the neighborhood to see a mix of renovated, occupied homes and houses available for sale and renovation through Preservation Durham's "Endangered Properties" program.
Walking down Vale St. -- one block south of Angier, and one of the early hot-spots for revitalization in East Durham -- one is impressed by how quiet and peaceful the street is, the hum of the Durham Freeway (and a quick commute to Duke, downtown and RTP) barely audible over the trees. The street consists largely of houses from the early twentieth century, and while some appeared to remain rental properties, three neighbors opened their doors to show the work they'd done inside their homes.
Seeing the terrific renovation and decorating that had taken place inside these beautifully detailed old Victorians was inspiring. One house still under rehabilitation on Vale had features and touches like wainscoting, a nicely upgraded kitchen, and a huge first-floor bathroom -- honestly, if you had been transported into the house from space, you'd think you were in Watts-Hillandale.
Down the street, a 1905 two-story gabled house with Doric columns and 2,400 sq. ft. of living space provides a great aesthetic on the corner. A step inside this "Endangered Property" makes it clear that extensive renovations are needed to make the home habitable again and to bring it back to life as so many neighboring houses have. Then again, at only $25,000 for the house and with 30% state tax credits available for qualifying major rehabilitation, the opportunity is clearly there to create a beautiful home at a tremendously affordable price.
Over on Driver St., we met a woman whose family moved in in the late 1980s and has lived there in a beautifully decorated and restored home for twenty years -- as well as a woman who's lived in the neighborhood for only a year and a half. Both raved about having a walkable street in front of their front door and about the character and incipient transformation of the neighborhood. (Another neighbor on the tour noted that she typically biked to and from her job at the Duke/VA medical center most days.)
Further north on Driver St., Marie Austin Realty is selling a 3 bedroom, 2 bath one-story house with a great exterior and interior renovations. The price? $85,000 for an urban pioneer -- as affordable as or more so than any housing available through the city or local non-profits, with the side-benefit of beautiful bones and aesthetics to boot.
One of the most heartening elements of the tour was seeing the streets come to life with residents and visitors alike, walking up and down the streets and stopping into houses with blue and white balloons to see what the neighborhood has to offer. For some, the lightbulbs seemed to be going off as to the promise that East Durham has.
If there was any surprise on my part, it was that the usual folks who advocate on behalf of East Durham -- leaders in local churches, PAC 1, and other community organizations -- didn't seem to be out on the tour, at least during the couple of hours I was walking around. Assuming I didn't just miss them, that's a shame. Increasing owner-occupancy in East Durham and encouraging investment in properties is a sure-fire way to stabilize the neighborhood and further reduce crime.
And, as Mayor Bell noted in his recent State of the City speech, although Durham's government is investing millions in projects like Eastway Village and Few Gardens, it can't afford to renovate every street and every block. At the end of the day, that's where groups like Uplift East Durham and Preservation Durham come in -- by encouraging private dollars, tax credits and sweat equity, not just local property taxes, to flow into East Durham.
Ten years from now, it'd be great to go back into the neighborhood and find that it's become a diverse representation of what Durham can be. The good news is, Uplift East Durham plans to make this an annual event... so we'll have a chance to check their progress along the way.