The duality of the Durham thing
Motorco set to open tonight

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 24, 2010

Water Restrictions On Way: An Oct. 7 start date seems likely for Stage One water restrictions in Durham, as the primary reservoirs in North Durham are down to three-quarters full amidst a typically dry fall season. One saving grace: the 10 million gallons/day of processed Jordan Lake water that we can buy from the Town of Cary through a system interconnect beefed-up after the 2007 drought; City staff note that interconnect can provide as much as half of all Durham's wintertime water needs. (Herald-Sun)

Modest Raises at Duke?: University provost Peter Lange told the school's faculty governance committee that a "modest salary increase" is in the works for 2011, after two years of no pay increases for campus staff (though lower-earning employees were eligible for one-time bonuses.) Improved levels of philanthropy and continued belt-tightening by the university -- which is closer to meeting its goal of multi-year reductions in operating budgets than ever -- are credited with the move. (Herald-Sun

Rolling Hills Roils Housing Backers: A new report from community affordable housing activists discussed in a two-hour presentation at City Council's work session yesterday takes the City to task for proposing to focus almost all its federal housing obligation dollars on Rolling Hills' redevelopment, calling the subsidy for such units much higher than that given to local nonprofits, and saying it would exhaust resources for turnaround efforts elsewhere in Durham. Housing officials countered that for all the one-off investment in areas they've never been able to "[turn] a neighborhood around" with housing efforts -- though conceding that city manager Tom Bonfield is riding the affordable housing team hard to come up with ways of resolving complainants' criticisms, not yet it seems to TomBon's satisfaction. (Herald-Sun)

New Testing Program...: The new Scantron testing system discussed yesterday passed the DPS board by a 6-1 vote, with some board members taking comfort in a description of the system as providing feedback on strengths and weaknesses of individual students' achievement and learning, not simply a statistical prediction of the students' likelihood of passing end of grade tests. New board member Natalie Beyer cast the dissenting vote. (Herald-Sun)

...And New Staff: Meanwhile, a Chapel Hill/Carrboro assistant principal will take the reins at Pearsontown Elementary, while Carrington's principal will take over an assistant superintendent position, and NC DPI staff member Paul LeSieur becomes the executive director for budget and management services -- what sounds like the replacement for long-serving COO Hank Hurd, who retired last spring after his interim stint as superintendent ended. (N&O)

Preservation NC Meeting: Preservation North Carolina is holding its annual meeting in Durham for the first time ever, and kicked off their downtown conference with plenty of learning about how the Bull City has turned around its old tobacco warehouses into housing, retail and office space -- and about how preserved, walkable neighborhoods are key to attracting "creative class" residents and workers. (Herald-Sun)

Comments

John Martin

I read the Herald-Sun story on the Rolling Hills report by "affordable housing advocates" differently from the way you reported it here. It was not "housing officials" who said that they were never able to "turn a neighborhood around." It was Lanier Blum, representing the "affordable housing" lobby, who made that claim. The last paragraph is this odd statement: "But aside from Scientific Properties rehab of the Golden Belt business complex, the city's moves didn't spark much of the kind of added private-sector investment in the neighborhood officials wanted to see there, or hope to bring to Rolling Hills, she {Lanier Blum] said." I love that "aside from." Scientific Properties invested 15 million dollars, which is the largest private investment in the Eastside of Durham in decades. Moreover, I invite Ms. Blum to come walk around my neighborhood, Golden Belt. She will readily see that I, and other individuals like me, have invested hundreds of thousands of our own dollars in this neighborhood, and we ARE turning it around. Ironically, one of the biggest impediments to turning around these neighborhoods are these coalitions of well-intentioned people whose actions have perverse consequences. I live next to a boarded up house which is adjacent to another boarded up house. Who owns these houses? The Durham Housing Authority! After months of writing letters and lobbying, it appears that one of these houses will finally be sold to Scientific Properties for restoration. Just yesterday afternoon, I was speaking with officials at Neighborhood Improvement Services about these houses, and what will happen to the other house is still anyone's guess. There's another boarded up house in the 1200 block of Wall St. It is a contributing structure to the Golden Belt National Register Historic District. The owner wants to tear it down. Who's the owner? Habitat for Humanity! There is a rezoning petition before the Planning Department that would rezone part of the Golden Belt Historic District for apartments, and in the process, demolish nine more contributing structures. Who applied for this rezoning? The Durham Rescue Mission!

These groups and agencies are often like any other kind of developers: they have tunnel vision. All they can see is their particular goal, and they need to listen to the neighborhoods they are operating in far more closely.

Last Saturday, I attended the regular monthly PAC 1 meeting. PAC 1 is largely North East Central Durham. A representative of the affordable housing lobby (who lives in Trinity Park, by the way) came to our meeting asking for our endorsement of the proposal they are putting before the City Council. Their resolution died for lack of a second. Do you suppose that those of us who actually live here know something about the neighborhood that the "affordable housing" leaders don't? In any case, before Ms. Blum lectures the City Council again, or makes unsupportable statements about the East side of downtown, I invite her to actually talk to those of us who live here.

tjd

DPS spending during the past few months must be approaching $1mil already with this testing contract and all the high paying administrators (four "area superintendents") added.

And people wonder why I laugh when I hear how taxes need to be raised "to save teacher jobs".

Taxes went up, but last I heard, DPS was still down about 80 teaching jobs from last year.

Natalie

I'll second John's assessment of short shrift for private investors. In Cleveland Holloway, my back of the envelope calculations point to easily $2,500,000 in private investment by individuals purchasing and rehabbing their homes over the past 2-3 years.

The non-profit Carolina Outreach Foundation purchased a home to 'house' teenagers. They lived alone in a house that did not meet minimum housing code and quickly became a party house. It now sits boarded up after they were told to obtain proper permits.

Kevin Davis

@John: Here was the text I was direct-quoting from Mike Barros as quoted in the H-S, though I agree that both Blum and Barros are agreeing that the current efforts have not succeeded in turning neighborhoods around:

'Barros also took the chance to defend his department's all-in approach to Rolling Hills.

He noted that officials have spread their federal grant proceeds to "a wonderful amount of uses." Still, "the reality is we haven't turned a neighborhood around," Barros said.'

Dabney Hopkins

So the questions are, "What should be done for the people who cannot afford housing? Whose responsibility is it to try to fix this problem? How should government money best be spent? Has there ever been, or will there ever be, private sector money to address the problem for those who cannot afford other options?"

Lanier Blum

“He said…” “No, she said…” “Um, who said?” Oh my.

Blum here, to respond for John Martin’s take on who said what to the City Council yesterday about neighborhood revitalization.

It was definitely Durham Community Development Director Mike Barros, and assuredly not Blum, who asserted that in spite of decades of City investment, “we haven’t turned a neighborhood around.” Barros has made this statement repeatedly since May, to justify an argument that I, for one, can’t follow. He recommends that City investments in housing and revitalization in neighborhoods east and southwest of downtown now abruptly cease.

On the contrary, in both the report and summary I presented to the City Council, I hail Golden Belt as an outstanding example of revitalization. If that is not neighborhood transformation for goodness sake, what is?! Scientific Properties’ remarkable investments of not only a healthy infusion of equity, but also award-winning design, preservation, financial acumen, commitment to Durham, creativity, and expertise is in every multi-faceted aspect of the development a wonderful contribution to Durham. And the most wonderful thing about it - undoubtedly in no small part because of neighbors like John Martin – is its vibrant, spirited, financially feasible SUCCESS. I would love to see Scientific Properties take the same approach to the property they own at Heritage Square, and hey, why not at Lakewood? But I dare say for that to happen any time soon would require City participation. And the City is making other plans.

Meanwhile, revitalization has also succeeded in neighborhoods southwest of downtown, where just in the past six years highly cost-effective nonprofit and capable developers have added over $12 million in residential value and other significant assets.

It is true that there remain in the neighborhoods both east and west of downtown many vacant and underutilized properties that cannot yet attract unsubsidized residential or commercial development. Should the City not then stay committed in these neighborhoods and keep building on their foundations of progress?

Instead, the Community Development Department recommends that for the next ten –plus years, all Durham’s currently identified funds for housing production - $26 million - be used along Lakewood Avenue to build two apartment complexes on the City’s land at Rolling Hills, and 40 homes for sale in the Southside neighborhood. The apartments, costing over $200,000 each to build, could only even possibly house 28 of the more than 250 lowest income current Southside households. They will continue to live in tremendous financial stress, across the street, in unsafe, uncomfortable, blighted structures. And although on average each of the 400 Southside households includes more than one disabled person, only 16 of the Rolling Hills apartments would have supportive services.

I have been thinking about the Southside neighbors, whose needs have been so totally ignored. I am angry at the thought of the City abandoning neighborhoods southwest of downtown, where I have worked and lived. I’ve been amazed that the City would now consider walking out on your neighborhood at Golden Belt. I thought about how the success of Golden Belt rests in part on the more than $40 million of public investment in housing during the past decade, setting the stage for its transformation. By my definition, two apartment complexes does not a turnaround make.

I also agree with John Martin about his second point. Any subsidized neighborhood development, especially affordable housing, should be constructed and managed with guidance and perspectives of -- or better yet, governance by -- surrounding neighbors and their own tenants. Durham Community Land Trustees was founded on that principle, and I have volunteered for that organization for years in part because of that.

John, though we haven’t met, I appreciate your invitation to come visit. In turn I hope you and Golden Belt and East Durham neighbors from all walks of life will go down to City Hall and make your own presentations to the City Council. I prepared and presented the report to encourage Durham voters to engage in our community’s planning. I suspect most people in Durham share a concern that Durham not walk away from the blighted and vacant properties in all three downtown neighborhoods, or cut critical services that improve the quality of life for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Frank Hyman

The notion that affordable housing efforts have not turned neighborhoods around is hogwash. I can speak directly about two re-born neighborhoods that disprove that silly notion.

I lived in Walltown when I first moved to Durham in 1984 and the place was a wreck created by absentee landlords, an indifferent government and asshole criminals.

I've also spent much of my time in Durham as a renter and homeowner in Burch Ave. neighborhood (and now as a landlord there). And in the mid 80's Burch Ave. was the wild west. A drug dealer was shot around the corner from my house and a few doors down, another person was shot on a porch of a house with a confederate flag in the window.

In the mid-80's a coalition of white and black voters elected progressives like Wib Gulley and Lanier Blum to the city council and in short order we passed several bond referendums for affordable housing.

Twenty years later, both neighborhoods are homeowner heaven with houses selling at prices so high that my old friends and I find them jaw-droppingly stunning.

I don't think that anyone saying that Durham's affordable housing efforts haven't turned neighborhoods around is lying, but I do think they are ignorant and need to work on their local history education.

Chuck Clifton

These are all great comments that will help further the discussion of affordable housing in Durham. So let's just remember that the sole and exclusive domain of the discussion held at the City Council work session on Thursday was how best to use two HUD grants that renew annually: CDBG and HOME funds. Together these account for about $3.5 million available to Durham *every year* to provide two things: (1) affordable housing and (2) public services to those making 80% or less of the median average income in Durham. The City has proposed a "paradigm shift" starting next year where all of that money will go toward one area and one project for the next 20 years for 2/3 of the money and 10 years for 1/3 of the money. That means well over $100K that goes every year for emergency shelter for the homeless and soup kitchen meals will go to zero. Same thing for anti-gang programs. Same thing for non-profits providing affordable housing. In it's place, the City's plan will provide none of the public services and less affordable housing.

While revitalization and historic preservation are important issues, if the stated projects result in housing that is not affordable by those making <80% of the average median income, it's a moot point because the project would not have been eligible for the funds under discussion.

We need to work together as neighborhood and community leaders to reverse this disastrous decision by the City. Please join the fight to help the hungry and homeless in Durham. I promise helping them will help your neighborhood.

Khalid

Neighborhoods such as Walltown and Burch Ave. represent areas of concentrated redevelopment with funds from various sources over an extended period of time. How is this different than what's intended for the Rolling Hills/ Southside area.

I still maintain that there are enough houses and buildings for affordable housing (AND supporting and transitive housing). How many homeless can be sheltered in the old Whitted and Y.E. Smith buildings? TROSA has even provided a model for other programs in the city. It seems the Durham Rescue Mission has been taking note.

So do we continue spreading a small amount of money around the city? Do we allow private homeowners and investors to restore the remaining pockets of SW Durham? and NECD? When you get past organizations personal agendas and/ or funding issues, the city's plan makes a lot of sense. Sometimes organizations need to constraints in order to truly innovate.

Lord knows that there are plenty of people in the associated neighborhoods innovate every day (more than is made publicly aware in the news and media). Contrary to popular belief, the trouble makers in these neighborhoods are in the minority. Even poor people get tired of these trouble-makers and leave when they can. Hence you have streets like Mallard St. and Hillside Ave. in NECD and Southside respectively.

Southside/ Rollings Hills as well as the other associated developments is an opportunity to not just correct past mistakes but build a healthy community that people of all incomes CHOOSE to live and are not forced to because of their current financial and/ or social situation.

Chuck Clifton

First, we must separate Rolling Hills and Southside. They have been grouped together only by the Department of Community Development to make it seem like they are the same thing, and they are not. Rolling Hills is essentially a blank piece of land (minus some townhouses that are doing their best to fall down on their own), and the activity there is pure DEVELOPEMENT of empty land. Southside is a thriving but troubled area with a lot of housing stock, much of which can be REVITALIZED incrementally. Second, how is the proposed project different from the Walltown, Burch, and SWCD redevelopments? The latter are all public-private partnerships with local non-profits that build affordable housing for all three primary segments: 60% AMI with a skew towards the lower and middle ends (because that is where the need is in Durham). The former project is a land and future rents transfer to an out-of-state development company (owned by a for profit parent) that will build fewer affordable housing units in the first two segments, more housing in the third segment and even market rate housing using dollars intended for affordable housing. Moreover, the past projects in Walltown, Burch, and SWCD did not mortgage our HUD funds for 20 years for CDBG and 10 years for HOME. They followed the Consolidated 5 Year Plan and made incremental investment.

Regarding your maintenance that “there are enough houses and buildings for affordable housing (AND supporting and transitive housing)” I’m unable to comment because I am not aware of any data that would support such a claim. If you review the current Consolidated 5 Year Plan or talk to the service providers in these segments or visit Housing for New Hope or Urban Ministries or the churches in these communities I think you’ll find that the census data, the housing advocates, the service providers, and the faith communities will tell you a story that is as consistent with each other as it is different from your assertion: there is not enough affordable housing across all three segments listed above.

It is a dangerously uninformed yarn that some are spinning that says spreading the money across three target areas is not effective. Yes we are spreading. But it has been effective because we’re only spreading over a small number of areas in any given 5 Year planning period, and the local non-profit providers are surprisingly efficient in their leverage of this money using volunteers and in-kind contributions. Moreover, building in this way engages neighbors in their community in a real, hands-on, meaningful way and builds community. Single shot, outsourced development will miss out on these positive externalities.

Ah … the personal agendas argument. I do not belong to, get paid by, or have any conflict of interest in any of these organizations. I just see with my own eyes the good they have done, and I can’t help but advocate for them. So why does it seem that the only folks (mostly) who are outspoken about this are the non-profit providers? That’s because this is an intensely technocratic area of our government, and only they understand the full implications of this enough to sound the alarm. I know because I was the chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee that advises the City Council and County Commissioners on the spending of these funds. But outside these organizations, few know enough about it to realize how very serious this is.

Chuck Clifton

I need to correct a typo in my first paragraph above. Affordable housing means housing that can be afforded by those making < 80% of the average median income (AMI) for the local area. This is broken down into three key segments because of the buying power of the segments and the degree to which they need assistance in renting/buying housing: < 30% AMI, 30%-60% AMI, and 60%-80% AMI. Somehow in my feverish typing above I omitted the first two segments.

Frank Hyman

@ Chuck Clifton.

I don't know who you are, but you got your facts right--thanks for putting it out there.

@ Khalid.

I don't know who you are, but I"ve been following your comments awhile and your comments strike me as coming from someone with way more formal education than real world experience.

Which leaves you generating a whole lot of Pollyana happy-talk that isn't related to any facts that I'm familiar with. Only one example is your notion that "Neighborhoods such as Walltown and Burch Ave. represent areas of concentrated redevelopment with funds from various sources over an extended period of time. How is this different than what's intended for the Rolling Hills/ Southside area."

As Chuck Clifton responded--Walltown and Burch both had funding that they shared with other Target Areas. Totally different from what's proposed for Rolling Hills.

When I'm not familiar with a topic, I shut my mouth and listen. And when I'm ready, I ask questions to make sure I understand what I've heard.

And then....

I say something useful and based on reality.

You might want to bone up on the facts for awhile before you weigh in next time.

Frank Hyman

Khalid

My comments are not based on education but from personal experiences and working in these communities. Correct me if I am wrong but there were a lot of Bond funds directed towards Burch Ave. and Walltown as well. There also has been plenty of private investment in both areas beyond the public subsidized investments.

Formal education tells you to rely on statistics. Experiences tell you that there were less than 30% occupied houses between Enterprise and Lakewood in the South St. area (part of the St. Teresa/Southside community). Even fewer were owner-occupied...many of these properties have been acquired by Self-Help Credit Union who has been a key partner in previous development efforts in Walltown and SWCD.

Yes...our non-profits have done plenty of work in these neighborhoods but the neighborhoods become sustainable when you have private investment. There was private new market-rate housing in Walltown (with accompanying Bull City debate).

When there are houses renting for $400/500 or less and selling for less than $50K in a neighborhood, that does not scream that there is a lack of affordable housing. What part of building a community that attracts people of multiple income levels is hard to understand?

Frank...you should know that Burch Ave. is a community with $80K houses and $200K+ houses. What if more of the marginally-maintained bungalows in the neighborhood were torn down and developed by non-profits? Its not a terrible thing but is it optimal?

Reality is more non-profits battling over shrinking pool of money regardless of how it is split. No more bond funds...shrinking CDBG and HOME funds...more initiatives and plans...

Khalid Hawthorne
Born in Watts Hospital
Former Bull City Civil Servant

Can I continue in the conversation now that my credentials are on the table? :-)

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