Tuesday night's meeting of the still-young Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association was consumed by two very different proposals from two very different non-profits with eyes on projects in the north-of-downtown 'hood.
Non-profit landowners are a sensitive subject in general for many in the rapidly-changing neighborhood, which has argued that it bears a disproportionate volume of social services, group homes and the like. The 'hood successfully fought the City over a proposed transfer of property to become a lockdown facility for young persons with behavioral difficulties -- even as many in the neighborhood have also started to complain, quietly and publicly, over what they say is a push for gentrification driven by what they deem to be real estate interests.
That background helps to explain why the two non-profits got very different reactions on Tuesday. One was well-received; the other was, well, "received."
The former was met with a range of questions, some unanswered, but by a round of at least moderate applause at presentation's end; the latter, with a threat from one prominent community member to turn three properties she controls into homeless shelters if group homes keep sprouting up in C-H.
Did we mention this was a lively meeting?
Tuesday night was a chance for residents to hear the promises of Builders of Hope, a non-profit focused on mixed-income affordable and market rate housing that says it wants to improve the neighborhood and offer workforce-class housing -- and those of Carolina Outreach Foundation, which has bought a house on Queen St. to use as a transitional home for at-risk youth with family or housing risks.
You can figure out which one got which reception.
The raspberries and brickbats seemed to go disproportionately, as one might expect, to Carolina Outreach Foundation -- though it was certainly not without voices of restraint and interest in the neighborhood.
The foundation, a charitable off-shoot of mental health provider Carolina Outreach LLC, which operates in Durham and other counties, purchased a home two months ago at 706 N. Queen St., foundation executive director Karla Rosenberg told the audience of 15-20 neighborhood residents at the downtown public library's auditorium.
Carolina Outreach's program is focused on renovating homes as well as lives, Rosenberg told the audience; the house will serve as shelter for 17-21 year old youth as an outlet from bad family or foster home situations or a safety net against homelessness. In exchange, the youth will be expected to work to fix up and renovate the house -- with the help of tradesmen -- and will be encouraged to seek out other jobs and social services during a typical 6-12 month stay. Youth have started living in the facility and rehabbing the house, Rosenberg said.
After Rosenberg described the foundation's intent to make this the first of many such residential-plus-rehab projects in Durham, C-H resident Natalie Spring asked whether the foundation planned to sell the house once renovated -- a point on which Rosenberg demurred, noting that while some of the program's board were interested in selling relatively soon, the house would likely continue on for multiple cycles of rotating youth residents.
The house in question sat vacant over a year; neighborhood resident Tyler Waring noted that he had several such vacant properties near him and he saw this as a way to fix them up. "Frankly, I'm just glad someone is putting work into a house, so thank you."
Mel Norton, a renter in C-H, added that she had looked at the house but was deterred by the $30,000 to $40,000 in work it seemed to need. "If the model truly is to fix up the house, do the skill training for the folks who are living there, and sell it, it sounds like a really good program."
Generally, though, the voices of concerns outpaced those of supporters. Matt Dudek raised concerns over what level of supervision and on-site support the youth were receiving. "You're hearing a lot of the concern in the neighborhood is, we were all 17 to 21 at some point and got into trouble when we were unsupervised."
Chris Dickey -- noting that he was speaking only in his capacity as a resident, not a City employee -- expressed his skepticism and asking how this was different than the Dominion Ministries plan defeated by C-H a couple of years back.
"I don't want to use the word burdened, but I feel like we have a sufficient enough appetite in our neighborhood with respect to transitional living," Dickey said. "It does impact our property values. Are there other locations you may be looking at besides us?"
Rosenberg -- increasingly appearing (understandably) nervous as the questioning continued -- said that there was a balance in trying to find somewhere affordable yet relatively safe, a mark which Cleveland-Holloway fit perfectly.
"This is why we didn't choose east Durham," Rosenberg said. "We felt Cleveland-Holloway was a much safer neighborhood than going into east Durham for now."
It was a line of reasoning that enraged Faye Broadwater, an NCCU administrator and once the mother-in-law of City Councilman Farad Ali.
"Every damn one of those programs is to help. I don't know why they don't help in Croasdaile. I don't know why they don't help in Hope Valley," Broadwater said. "Why don't we all turn our houses into help homes?"
"Every time I turn around, somebody's making money off our neighborhood and not living there," she said at a different point in the meeting. "They're making their living off of making us miserable, and I'm sick of it."
A fellow Holloway St. property owner chimed in, noting that "we were really pushing ultimately for own-occupancy in an area that over the years became rental properties." He cited curb appeal, absentee landlords, and impact on property values as reasons for concern over ongoing high levels of renter-occupied housing and non-profit-owned group homes in the area.
At the end of Rosenberg's presentation -- which was really more advisory to the 'hood, since Carolina Outreach Foundation is already operating at 706 N. Queen -- Broadwater had a warning that seemed aimed as much at the neighborhood as at Rosenberg's program.
Broadwater admonished the neighborhood that it needed to draw the line on more social-service and group homes in Cleveland-Holloway.
"If you don't, 510 Holloway will be turned into a homeless sheter. So will 519, so will 523," she said, referring to three properties controlled in her or her family's name. "You're going to get it. I'm sick of this."
At that point, meeting facilitator hesitantly asked Lew Schulman from Builders of Hope if he was ready to present -- an invitation that drew nervous laughter after the high drama of Rosenberg's presentation.
Dudek introduced Schulman, the non-profit's COO, as coming to look to partner with the neighborhood over its proposal to rehab houses into workforce housing in C-H.
Schulman said that the proposal that originally made the papers several weeks ago -- stirring up opposition in the neighborhood when some residents thought this to be yet more low-income or group homes coming in -- was misconstrued and plucked too early from city manager Tom Bonfield's inbox by local media.
At the time, Schulman said, Bonfield appeared to have $800,000 in entitlement dollars that might need to be given back to the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and was talking with Builders of Hope about collaboration.
But Schulman stressed that the organization does projects with and without public funding; city dollars could make the output more affordable to residents, but Schulman noted that his organization was interested in working with Cleveland-Holloway even if the City of Durham wasn't involved. (Builders of Hope was asked by the City to look at doing a project in Northeast Central Durham as well, Schulman said, and noted that they were looking at more option for collaboration with the City, and that the group had been in communications with Southwest Central Durham's Quality of Life initiative for 18 months or so.)
Schulman described Builders of Hope as an innovative in-fill green builder and rehabber that fixes up homes on-site and also obtains homes that would be lost to NCDOT road widenings or teardowns and relocates them and fixes them up to become what he called "workforce housing" -- 20% market rate, the remainder aimed at being affordable to teachers, firefighters, and others making 60-90% of the average median income in an area.
Founded by a Raleighite who inherited her father's in-fill luxury home company, the non-profit has been well-received in the City of Oaks, and had a strong write-up from the Independent Weekly's Bob Geary earlier this spring.
Whether it moves houses or (as it would focus on in C-H) rehabs on site, Schulman said the non-profit was committed to deep rehabs of structures with new building systems and green technologies to make them energy-efficient while still affordable.
Schulman referenced Mel Norton's challenges in looking at 706 N. Queen St. yet not having the funds to rehab the house herself.
"Typically, someone who was fairly young, staritng out in life with a good job and good intentions... certainly couldn't afford a $30-40,000 rehab on top of a $50-60,000 acquisition price."
He added that the non-profit puts 10-year recapture covenants into the homes they sell to impair flipping -- though he pointed out that at the low prices at which Builders of Hope sells houses (one 3,000 sq. ft. rehabbed home in Raleigh sold for $185,000 -- most properties are smaller and sell for significantly less), residents who do stay in and maintain their homes will end up with a strong equity position.
Referencing Karla Rosenberg from Carolina Outreach, Schulman said, "I understand organizations such as yours, and their goals. And ours are similar."
He noted that his program works with the Durham Rescue Mission and the state Department of Corrections to screen and select persons in their programs who can learn a skill and trade and work under careful supervision at Builders of Hope -- sometimes going on to full-time work with the organization. "What we're doing is providing them not only with training, but with life situations, where they're learning -- especially the people who come from homeless shelters or the Dept. of Corrections."
The proposal generally seemed to meet with good reviews -- or at least few objections -- from the assembled crowd.
The biggest concern was Cleveland-Holloway's status as a national historic district. Noting that Schulman said the program gains economies of scale by working on five to eight houses in an area simultaneously, historic preservationist Sara Lachenman expressed concern as to whether Builders of Hope preserves original windows or replaces them with newer, vinyl ones.
Schulman said that cost and energy efficiency leads to window replacement more often than not, a point that raised some disquiet.
"We intend to keep oiur historic district," Faye Broadwater said. "We've sat in front of bulldozers to preserve our houses in our neighborhood."
Schulman noted his organization had never worked in an historic
district before, and seemed unclear as to how historic tax credits
might work to support the effort or make homes more affordable to
buyers -- a subject that Schulman, by meeting's end, seemed willing todiscuss further with the neighborhood.
It remains unclear what role the City government is going to play on the project.
The project's sudden appearance in what Schulman said was a mischaracterization of the effort in the Herald-Sun got the effort off to a bad start, he said.
"The City ... they didn't tell us not to work in Cleveland-Holloway. They didn't say anything," Schulman said. "I think as a result of the surprise about the project by the community, they said immediately, we're not doing that project."
Faye Broadwater didn't disagree.
"The angst that you felt, and the City Council, and Bonfield felt, had to do with them not checking in with the community, with waking up one morning and finding your community appear on the front page of the Herald-Sun," Broadwater added.
The next step for all parties appears to be dialogue, and more work towards mutual understanding of needs and goals.
"You don't need the city, you don't need approval from us," she continued. "But you'll have a whole lot less trouble if you have a nice little task force... sit down with you and plan, take a look at the houses."
Schulman said he was open to continuing the collaboration, and to finding a way for Builders of Hope to have an impact, in Cleveland-Holloway or somewhere else.
"There are 4,000 board ups in Durham. So there's plenty of work for us," he said.