The deafening silence of gunfire (politically speaking, that is)
Sept. 10: Live blogging today's Durham City Council meeting re: affordable housing

Today's agenda: an epic City Council meeting that includes the dog poop ordinance

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Photo courtesy of GoTriangle

Expect the full force of affordable housing and transit advocates to show up today at the City Council work session (1 p.m., second floor committee room, City Hall), as the agenda is packed with those issues and other tidbits.

Issue 1: The land next to the bus station is up for more discussion.

The rub: The city owns these two acres, and Durham CAN identified the parcel as an excellent place to build affordable housing. Self-Help wants the city to donate the land so it can apply for a tax credit for that very purpose. But City Manager Tom Bonfield has suggested issuing an RFP and putting it out for bid. The city could put stipulations on the sale, requiring some level of affordable housing, but that's all to be determined.

Councilman Steve Schewel sent BCR his vision for affordable housing; it's lengthy—and I haven't made it through the whole document yet—but definitely worth a close reading.  Download Towards an Affordable Housing Strategy 2015

Issue 2: An economic development incentive agreement, worth $5.25 million over 15 years, with Longfellow Real Estate. The developers say they need the money to build an 820-space parking deck in the Innovation District, which is adjacent to Durham Central Park. The Innovation District is a proposed biotech/lifescience campus downtown.

The rub: Will any of these 820 spaces be public? And why is the city subsidizing deep-pocketed developers for a parking garage? Are there not other worthy projects that could use some help?

Issue 3: A presentation from GoTriangle about the light rail project about the recommended alternatives, as laid out in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The agency is asking the mayor and city council for their blessing.

The rub: Suburban residents in the Downing Creek and Farrington Road area are unhappy. The alternative puts the maintenance facility near Farrington Road and the line crosses Downing Creek Parkway, parallel to N.C. 54, which could cause traffic problems for the subdivision. On the other end of the line, there is still concern about the placement of the Alston Avenue station and whether it will divide neighborhoods. Durham Area Designers also is chiming in.  Download Durham Area Designers DO LRT Downtown Section Comments

Issue 4: The city's disparity study, analyzing if minorities and women are being excluded from city contracts.

The rub: Data came out earlier this year showing that there is a statistically significant disparity in contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses. Council and the mayor were very dismayed by this news, and asked for more information and recommendations. The report lays out ways to reach out to these groups to ensure they have equal access to information and opportunity.

Issue 5: Elois Johnson is going to speak during the public comment period about the "Dog Poop Ordinance."

The rub: I'm just guessing what Johnson is going to say, but from my personal experience, I would advise that when you bag your dog poop in parks and public areas, TAKE THE BAG WITH YOU. 

See everyone at 1. I suggest bringing snacks and drinks. It's going to be a long haul.



If they don't pass affordable housing, everyone should have their dogs poop on City Council members' porches.


John Martin

I think Bonfield's suggestion that the City issue an RFP is more than reasonable. Self-Help can then submit proposal and the Council and the City Manager can compare it to whatever else comes in. There is no point in foreclosing alternatives before you've even seen them.


@John Martin: that would be true if we didn't have quite a bit of past experience of Council rolling over the second a developer makes a tiny complaint.

Either Council expresses a commitment to real affordable housing, or it continues the trend of pricing poorer folks out. There is a simple and straightforward solution here, that is opposed by big money and the fear that rich downtown apartment dwellers won't want to live near poor people. This city can afford to condition the first. As for the second, if the city is committed to maintaining its supposed ideals of equity and opportunity, then maybe it shouldn't be trying to attract the sort of people who fear poverty.


As someone who has assembled construction bids in Durham and other areas I find it interesting that Durham has different rules than the state and pretty much everyone else.

Their goal percentages are different and specific to various sub-groups, excluding others that qualify elsewhere. Native American and Asian American businesses count everywhere but Durham. Their African American percentage is higher and separate from women owned.
I believe this causes them to miss out or at least have under reported the amount of these businesses that are working on projects.
Also there are several aggregators that serve no function other than to get bids from non minority people, mark them up and send them in. They tend to be very insistent that you have to use them even though the rules don't require that and that specifically is not allowed in the ordinance.

Bull City Rising

"Either Council expresses a commitment to real affordable housing, or it continues the trend of pricing poorer folks out. There is a simple and straightforward solution here, that is opposed by big money and the fear that rich downtown apartment dwellers won't want to live near poor people."

So: I'm not at the work session and haven't read the alternatives (didn't see them posted online -- though Lisa's live-blogging helps). With that caveat, I'm really disappointed the NCDOT constraints and/or staff preferences seem to put together a choice for Council of "mixed use TOD" on one hand, affordable housing on the other.

Looking at the comments on Twitter, the Mayor and others are raising concerns about an all-affordable community. And I can't say I disagree. After all, we've spent twenty years undoing the legacy of Few Gardens. The new development at Rolling Hills is a great example of mixing affordable with market rate units.

And, we know that retail and commercial space mixed in helps enliven the street. It's disappointing Whetstone didn't do this. Worse to have the other half of the street not have mixed-use retail and commercial.

For the life of me, why can't we see a path to do mixed-use that has affordable housing requirements? 120 units, 75 at 60% AMI, another 20 at 60-100% AMI, the remainder market rate. Retail on the first floor.

I have a ton of respect for Self-Help, and if we can't do mixed-use here that includes a committed affordable component, I know they'll do a quality job with an all-affordable complex. And I'd prefer to see _that_ on this City-owned land to a purely market-rate development.

But why the heck can't we something that isn't the binary choice that Rann is presenting? If the NCDOT constraints are too binding, then that's pretty disappointing. We absolutely need workforce housing downtown. But the concerns on an all-affordable development are also coming from a legitimate place. There has to be a way to meet both needs.

Lisa Sorg

The presentation was not posted online; I'll ask for it and post as soon as I get it.
The alternatives will come before council again on Sept. 24.


Sorry, but my comment was in no way black and white 'build 100% low income housing or else'. Please do not put words in my keyboard.

What you are proposing in no way contradicts what I said. Mixed use is entirely reasonable, but Council has shown a complete inability to mandate affordable housing in any recently approved development anywhere near downtown, to say nothing of the 62.5% affordable housing you're proposing.

I admire your trust that they will suddenly do the right thing because there is 'a way to meet both needs', but I quite simply see no evidence whatsoever of their willingness to do so. It's time for a real progressive majority on Council, rather than these liberals who rubber stamp every developer request.

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