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September 2015

August 2015

Friday statistic: Homeless in Durham

Over the past 12 months, homeless families in Durham spent more than four of them living in emergency shelters and transitional housing. Homeless single men spent nearly three months without permanent housing, while homeless single women went two months.

The average number of days that homeless families and individuals stayed in shelters and transitional housing increased over the past year, after declining from 2011–2014.

These numbers were released by the Department of Community Development to the Homeless Services Advisory Committee this week. 


Main and Market streets  Photo by Lisa Sorg

Here are the comparison figures for the past fiscal year:

In 2015, families spent an average of 124 days homeless, up from 108 in 2014.

For single men, those figures were 88 days, up from 65.

For single women, 61 days, an increase from 55 the year prior.

 A caveat: The uptick in time may be attributed to the personal situations ofthese families and individuals. They are among the most vulnerable people receiving services, and are staying in shelters and transitional shelters longer until they can get permanent housing.

The good news for homeless families is that more of them are finding permanent housing, indicative of the city's focus on those services.

Here are the figures comparing 2015 to 2014: 

359 people living in families found permanent housing, up from 319.

100 single women did so, down slightly from 103.

And for single men, 221 found permanent housing, an increase from 219.

There is a ton more data breaking down Durham trends in homelessness, which I’m combing through. At first glance, several trends are encouraging—the number of chronically homeless families and men is decreasing or steady. However, single women seem to be faring more poorly, especially those who are chronically homeless and with disabilities.


More on Durham Housing Authority, private competition for affordable housing sites

By Lisa Sorg

I learned two important things at yesterday's Durham Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting: 

1. DHA, definitely, 100 percent, no doubt about it, is applying for the same competitive tax credit that Self-Help and/or other private developers are, which could determine the fate of the Jackson Street affordable housing site.

2. Few members of the public attend these board meetings, which means people know little about this agency that affects the lives of thousands of Durhamites.

Regarding No. 1, Steve Schewel, City Council liaison to the board, asked about DHA's plans to apply for a 9 percent tax credit. Awarded through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, it would be applied to the demolition and rebuilding of a public housing community on East Club Boulevard. 

Even though DHA has not scored the site—100 is a perfect grade, and a must, given the competitive nature of the credit—"we know this is our window to submit [an application]," said Meredith Daye, DHA director of development. 

Self-Help, which plans to apply for the same credit for the Jackson Street site, says its application scores 100. But here's the rub: The credit requires "site control," in other words, ownership of, or other legal mechanism for the land. 

DHA owns the land on Club Boulevard. Self-Help does not own the Jackson Street site; the city does. And it looks unlikely that the city will donate the parcel to Self-Help. Rather, the city is considering selling the land through an RFP process. (The issue is scheduled to be on the agenda for City Council work session on Sept. 10.)

So let's say DHA is awarded the tax credit for 2016. What then? 

There are 77 single-family, detached homes are on the East Club Boulevard site. Built in 1967, they're getting long in the tooth.  


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The 77 new units would be townhomes geared toward households with Section 8 vouchers, which should help reduce the number of people on the waiting list. Earlier this year that number totaled more than 2,000.

The townhomes could even be dispersed throughout Durham, what are called "scattered sites" on publicly owned land. One school of thought says that scattering the affordable housing avoids concentrating low-income people in one place—the projects. However, it is also important to consider how residents' well-being could be affected by the upheaval of their neighborhood. Short-term residents may be happy to move to another part of the city; those who have lived in those homes for years, though, may have connections and supports among their neighbors. 

It is probably a good idea just to ask them.



Durham People's Alliance chooses Schewel, Reece, Johnson

A record turnout—190 ardent politicos—showed up at last night's PA endorsements meeting, and after an intense two-plus hour discussion, but only one ballot round, the PAC's co-coordinator, Tom Miller, announced the chosen ones for City Council: Steve Schewel, Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.

Not surprisingly, the PAC endorsed incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, who is running for his final, 267th term. (OK, that's an exaggeration, but it's early.)

In their Council selections, the PA broke from the endorsements pack (yes, a terrible pun, but again, it's early). Both the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and Friends of Durham endorsed Schewel, Ricky Hart and Mike Shiflett.

Reece and Johnson are part of the new guard, candidates who have not risen through the political ranks in the traditional way. Although Reece has served in the state Democratic Party, neither he nor Johnson has been anointed in city politics through appointments to the planning commission or elections to the school board. 

In her work as a community organizer, Johnson's support comes from a grassroots, street-level constituency. As I wrote earlier this week, it is similar to the bloc that buoyed Sendolo Diaminah's school board campaign, one in which he defeated a well-funded conservative, Jimmy Doster. (Where is Jimmy these days? Paging Jimmy.)

In Durham politics, money isn't everything. It's not even the only thing. Ask Thomas Stith, the last major challenger to Bell. (You'll find Stith working in Gov. McCrory's office, because that's where he landed.)

With this in mind, the importance of this year's City Council election cannot be overstated. Two veteran incumbents, Eugene Brown and Diane Catotti, are not seeking re-election to their at-large seats, taking with them years of institutional memory. None of the newcomers yet knows the misery of revamping the UDO—but rest assured, they'll get their turn—or of deciding, in each budget season, the winners  and the losers.

At this point in Durham's economic, social and cultural history, there's considerable anxiety over how current city leaders will plot the course of the next 50 years. We are still living with the decisions of our political ancestors, Exhibit A being the destruction of Hayti and Exhibit B being the Downtown Loop. Today's decisions on affordable housing, for example, will resonate long after many of us have moved away, or yes, have died.

For all the current promise, and the mayor's ambitious, laudable poverty reduction initiative, there is still an enormous class divide. This chasm excludes the working class from rooftop hotel bars, from luxury condos and from the venture capital flowing into American Underground. (Although admittedly, some of those start-ups are in a stage known as "pre-revenue.")

And how will the new Council interact with Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez? Violent crime continues to rise. There have been a half-dozen shootings over the past week, with at last count, 14 people injured and at least two of them killed.

These, and other troubling aspects of Durham, are a reflection of a larger, systemic failure, not only in policing but also in education, health care and neighborhood cohesion. (I'm looking at you, gentrification.) 

Whoever wins in November will need to be prepared to lead in a way that accounts for the well-being of everyone, not just today, but in 2065.


Developers pitch Publix/mixed-use development to skeptical North Durham neighbors

As we speculated here on Saturday, developers are indeed proposing a Publix-anchored shopping center and residential development in North Durham.

Neighbors got their first chance to offer feedback in a meeting tonight at Easley Elementary School. And unsurprisingly, residents in the largely-suburban environs north of the Eno River weren't hesitant to share a range of concerns -- notably traffic, but also including worries over property values, impact to area character, and duplication of commercial activity elsewhere on Guess and Roxboro.

An overflow crowd that appeared to number 250 residents or more strained to hear updates from Florida-based developer Tom Vincent from Halvorsen Development, Morningstar land-use attorney Patrick Byker, and a number of project team members working on traffic counts, site planning and other topics.


A real estate program manager from Florida-based grocer Publix confirmed their intent to open a store on site, while staff from Cimarron Homes confirmed they would plan up to 70 residential units on the site in keeping with mixed-use requirements.

We weren't able to take an exacting account of opinions, thanks to standing-room only ergonomics and a back-of-room vantage point; if we were to take a swag, the crowd was generally as much as three parts opposition for every one part proponent and every one part what we might call "accommodator" -- the latter being residents who saw lemons but posited lemonade, like asking the developer for extra traffic improvements or wondering about possible help to property values.

Byker projected the project won't make it through City Council's legislative process for between six and twelve months, while more detailed design work takes place. Yet neighbors are already girding for an opposition campaign, with literature from one opposition leader encouraging residents to begin contacting Durham Planning Commission staff with their thoughts.

Continue reading "Developers pitch Publix/mixed-use development to skeptical North Durham neighbors" »

Election 2015: Friends of Durham has same friends as Durham Committee

Now that two political action committees have issued their endorsements, the question is less about who is receiving the stamps of approval than who isn't.

City Council candidates Mike Shiflett, Ricky Hart and Steve Schewel each received his second endorsement in a week, this time from the Friends of Durham. Last week, the trio also received the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. 

Where does this leave the candidacies of Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece? Both have grassroots support (read: outside the PAC regime), so their lack of endorsements may indicate an old guard/new guard divide.

Nonetheless, the tea leaves say they will likely clear the primary (with the caveat that tea leaves can sometimes be wrong). Remember, Sendolo Diaminah won a school board seat in 2014, buoyed by the same constituency that is supporting Johnson: young(ish), social justice activists, community organizers who have grown frustrated with the political status quo.

The Durham People's Alliance holds its endorsements meeting tomorrow evening. Depending on who shows up to vote, there could be new faces among the list of endorsees.

The top six candidates in the field of 10 will proceed to the general election. BCR is planning a candidates' forum for Oct. 21 (last chance before early voting!), so stay tuned.

Mixed-use development eyed in North Durham; could Publix be a planned tenant?

Attorneys for a Florida-based developer proposing a 30 acre mixed-use project on Guess Rd. in North Durham have scheduled a neighborhood meeting for Tuesday night to brief nearby neighbors and associations (as required by Durham's Unified Development Ordinance.)

Latta-guessHalverson Development Corp. is eyeing an assemblage on the southeast corner of Guess Rd. and Latta Rd., north of the Eno River and intends to ask City leaders for a zoning change to allow mixed-use in order to develop "single family/townhome residential development" along with 68,500 sq. ft. of commercial development.

The materials sent to neighbors ahead of the meeting don't go beyond showing a grouping of 11 properties that are eyed for the rezoning, and doesn't show how homes, townhouses or retail would be divvied up on the site.

But like a moth to a flame, there's two things that keep drawing our eyes back to the letter: "Halverson," and "68,500."

Halverson, based in Boca Raton, develops a range of retail, but disproportionately seems to have Publix Super Markets in their pipeline -- including other Publix-anchored mixed use efforts.

And 68,500 is definitely right in the range of Publix-anchored shopping centers.

Publix's motto, seared into the brains of all once-and-present Floridians, is "Where Shopping is a Pleasure."

If our hunch is right, we suspect they may be able to learn that in Durham, land-use isn't a pleasure (for anybody).

Continue reading "Mixed-use development eyed in North Durham; could Publix be a planned tenant?" »

Old and In the Way: More on the Carpenter Building and Durham Police HQ

By Lisa Sorg

“It is not a jewel,” said Kevin Montgomery of O’Brien/Atkins architects, the firm designing the new Durham Police Headquarters. “Old does not mean historic.”

And with that, the old Carpenter Chevrolet was downgraded from 1920s diamond to 21st-century cubic zirconia. The building at Walker and Main streets dates from the 1923, and is in the way of the proposed new $81 million DPD HQ.

“I’m not sold on saving it,” said Councilmember Diane Catotti, at yesterday’s work session, noting that Council would likely be “heavily lobbied” this week to keep it.

Her colleagues, Eddie Davis and Cora Cole-McFadden, were equally skeptical of tapping into the city coffers for nearly $4 million when the money could be used for other projects. 

(For cost comparison’s sake, the city bought the HQ’s 4.5-acre parcel for $5.7 million.)

Wendy Hillis, executive director of Preservation Durham, has long advocated for saving the Carpenter. As I reported for the INDY in April, it was listed on Preservation Durham's 2013 Places in Peril. Hillis pointed out during an April community visioning session that if you want historical connectivity between American Tobacco Campus to the west and Golden Belt to the east, then save Carpenter.

Certainly, there are problems with incorporating the Carpenter into the headquarter’s design: the floor height, HVAC and electrical systems, and probably the plumbing, considering about six weeks ago I walked by and huge floor fans were on full blast, drying the floor after a flood inside the building.

It’s not a good functional match, a lot like a horse-drawn Tesla, but as Bo Ferguson, deputy city manager for operations, noted, “it can be done.”

And the Carpenter should remain because the headquarters could have gone—and should go— elsewhere.

Continue reading "Old and In the Way: More on the Carpenter Building and Durham Police HQ" »

Live blogging Durham City Council's discussion on DPD's HQ

We'll focus on the DPD HQ agenda item, but this is of interest, right off the bat:

1:02: Steve Schewel is asking to put the Jackson Street project, aka, housing near the Durham bus station, on the Sept. 8 agenda.

Diane Catotti: I'd like to hear if that's feasible, the RFP process, and if not, surveying other lots and land in the downtown area. And the steps necessary to subdivide the lot. Those might be interim steps that could keep the process open.

This will be taken up at the end of the meeting.

1:45 p.m.: OK, city staff is teeing up the DPD HQ presentation. Kevin Montgomery is discussing design considerations.

"When we met with you back in June, you charged us to bring back new options and re-examine some things. We met with DAD, Preservation Durham, DDI, plus other city departments and personnel. We took a look at the east-west connector, the frontage along Main Street. Then we looked at the larger context: north is residential, west is governmental, south and east is commercial. We also know looking down the road with what's happened with Hendricks Chevrolet site and light-rail, land uses are going to change. 

"The square footage of the site is roughly 210,000 square feet. [If you're following along, we're on Page 7]. There are other programs currently not located on Chapel Hill Street: K-9 Unit, Traffic Services, Property and Evidence [and more]."

Montgomery continues: "We were also asked to consider the building height. 40,000 square feet need to be located on the ground floor, roughly one-fifth of the entire site. We looked at the building footprint, and in looking at that we looked at multiple iterations of how to stack the site. But the premise is 40,000 square feet has to be on the ground floor for programmatic reasons.

Continue reading "Live blogging Durham City Council's discussion on DPD's HQ" »

The new Durham Police HQ is getting more expensive (but we were warned)

The highlight of today's Durham City Council meeting (1 p.m., City Hall, second floor) is a discussion of the new Durham Police Department headquarters to be constructed on the wedge of land on East Main, Hood, Ramseur and Elizabeth streets.

Under the latest proposal, it will be more expensive to build than anticipated: $80 million instead of $62 million. I know, you're shocked. The cost details start on page 21 in the presentation.

Architects O'Brien/Atkins advised the Council earlier this summer that a taller building, which helps reduce its massive footprint and thus a fortress-like appearance, would add to project expenses. So would saving the historic Carpenter Building (see below; El Centro Hispano is there now).
I'll live blog this portion of the meeting this afternoon, so stay tuned.


Self-Help, Durham Housing Authority and the city: Big questions about affordable housing

By Lisa Sorg

In the closing minutes of a recent heated City Council work session that focused on the lack of affordable housing downtown, Councilman Steve Schewel dropped, almost off-handedly, a bombshell.

Self-Help, a leader in developing affordable housing, wants to build 80 to 100 such units on a prime piece of property downtown. Prime as in next to the Durham Transportation Center, a.k.a. the bus station and the future light-rail stop. Prime as in placing affordable units in the midst of high-end apartment complexes, thus diversifying a neighborhood. 

Self-Help would ask the city to donate the land (kudos to Durham CAN for identifying this parcel), and in return people earning less than 60 percent of the area median income (e.g. up to $37,000 for a household of one, $43,000 for two) could live downtown. 

Self-Help would apply for the very competitive 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit for 2016, and if awarded by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, that tax break would be a major carrot—worth about a $9 million—to dangle in front of a builder.

However, Schewel’s aside did not so much as put a period at the end of that marathon work session, but an ellipses.

Since then, the future of Jackson Street property, as it’s now known, not only has become complex and politically fraught, but these complications also underscore the city’s lack of a larger vision for affordable housing. To the city’s credit, Council just approved $100,000 to hire the consultants Enterprise Community Partners to help Durham sort out its priorities and establish a plan. “We have a tendency to want to be tactical rather than strategic,” City Manager Tom Bonfield says. “We need get this right.”

Continue reading "Self-Help, Durham Housing Authority and the city: Big questions about affordable housing " »