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City affordable housing report suggests different experiences, opportunities, risk for low-income vs. very-low-income Durhamites

At tomorrow's City Council work session, Karen Lado from Enterprise Community Partners will share a housing profile report developed as part of her company's contracted work to help Durham with its strategy on affordable housing.

This first step in Enterprise's work gives intriguing details and data about the state of Durham's demographics -- and demographic change -- along with the nature of Durham's affordable housing stock.

We'll summarize some of its key findings here, though I'd very much encourage readers to dive through themselves, as it's a fascinating read. (The document is available on the City of Durham's web site.)

A note of caution: this is my first-pass interpretation based on what's in the report, and doesn't benefit from the consultant's presentation, which will take place at work session tomorrow. (The errors of the interpretation lie with me, et cetera.) With that said, the report raises some intriguing findings about the need for and supply of affordable housing.


Population Change in Durham

Between 2000 and 2013, the study period in the report, the City's population grew by 26%, outpacing both the overall County growth rate (19%) and the state's (20%). This jives both with recent findings that Durham is one of the fastest-growing US cities, and that most of the community's growth is happening in the urbanized, incorporated city limits.

Of the nearly 75,000 households in the City in 2000, the data suggest 52.2% of them had incomes greater than 80% of the area median income (AMI), the threshold for determining whether a household is low-income or not. By 2013, that number rises to 57.7%, with households in this group seeing the greatest 2000-2013 change (46%).

Durham also saw a rise in households with very low incomes (30-50% of AMI), at 39% growth. The number of extremely low income households shrunk by 2%, while low income households (50-80% of AMI) grew 18%.

On net, these numbers suggest to me that Durham is wealthier than it was in 2000, though at the margins -- more than 42% of households are still low-income. A key question to me is the impact on extremely low income households: were these populations displaced, or were members of this population able to rise into greater than 30% AMI categories due to job opportunities or social services programs?

34% of White households, 53% of African-American households, and 71% of Hispanic households qualify as low-income (0-80% of AMI), as do 49% of Asian households, according to the Enterprise data.


Income Stratification in Housing

The Enterprise report finds that very low and extremely low income Durhamites are disproportionately found in areas east of downtown in particular, and more generally extending to eastern sections of north Durham and south-central Durham. (In talking about concentration: since these populations are 25% of Durham households, we're looking at the three categories in the graphic below where 20% to 50%+ of households fall into this income strata.)

Interestingly, low-income Durhamites -- those with 50-80% of AMI -- appear to be somewhat more geographically dispersed throughout the community, including in several northern and southern stretches of western Durham.


The report suggests this concentration of Durham's lowest-income populations may be linked to the location of public housing facilities almost exclusively within eastern and southeastern Durham:


At the most basic level, this concentration of subsidized housing in only a subsection of Durham echoes a point my colleague Lisa Sorg touched on here last week, noting that the Durham Housing Authority faces a constraint in developing or redeveloping properties in highly-segregated areas:

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was intended to reverse decades of discriminatory practices, such as redlining, that corralled African-Americans in certain neighborhoods (often those near industrial sites, dumps, highways and other places where whites could avoid). The FHA not only outlawed racial discrimination in housing policy but it also required government agencies to implement policies that would help integrate neighborhoods. That has not happened—many major cities remain segregated—so in July the Obama Administration issued new rules to correct that 47-year-old failure.

Local governments now must analyze census data—not just racial but also income and social justice statistics—to reveal segregation patterns. The hope is, with this transparency, that those patterns can be corrected. Public housing authorities cannot add minorities to areas where 50 percent or more of the population is minority; for low-income neighborhoods, that threshold is 40 percent. 

“Everybody in the country is dealing with this,” said DHA CEO Dallas Parks.


The Shortage of Affordable Rental Housing -- And Who's Most at Risk

Besides the challenges of concentrated pockets of rental housing for the lowest-income populations, we wonder if there's another message in the data -- a more positive one, perhaps, about the availability of what's sometimes called workforce housing.

One of the questions the report seeks to address, particularly amidst today's conversations around gentrification, is whether there's enough housing for low-income Durhamites. In that context, the following chart from the report is pretty intriguing:



If you look at the right-most data point by itself, affordability looks to be pretty good overall for the broad range of low-income households (0-80% of AMI). For every 100 renters in this income range, Enterprise suggests there are 142 rental units affordable to them in the market.

But those units aren't available across all income levels.

There are just 79 units for every 100 Durham residents with income below 50% AMI; for extremely low income Durhamites below 30% AMI, that number dwindles to 38 units.


Home Ownership Affordability 

While most of the report focuses on rentals, Enterprise does address another component: home ownership for lower-income Durhamites. And the outlook here is brighter than you might think.

A three-person household earning between 60% and 80% of AMI -- $36,420 to $48,550 per year) -- can still afford a home selling at 2015's median selling price of $167,000.

For all the attention focused on rising prices (and valuations) in Durham's hottest, in-town neighborhoods, a wide range of more-affordable homeownership opportunities still exist.

Median home values did rise 42% between 2010 and 2011, or just about 3.25% per year appreciation. That period includes the Great Recession, but prices tended to rise more slowly than other communities before the housing bubble crashed, and rebounded better than other, more hard-hit Sunbelt cities.

While few low-income (50-80% AMI) homeowners faced what Enterprise terms "severe cost burdens" -- that is, paying more than 50% of their income for housing -- almost half of very low-income homeowners and two-thirds of extremely-low-income owners were so heavily burdened.


Questions for the Road: What are Durham's Biggest Affordable Housing Issues?

With the caution that there is almost certainly a data gap versus changes in the last 12-24 months in housing, and that this is a purely by-the-numbers analysis, without the benefit of Enterprise's presentation tomorrow -- there seem to be a few questions of broader interest worth delving into based on the report:

Who needs affordable housing the most?  

It's been popular -- some might say expedient -- to talk about needs for workforce housing, a term that may get broader cross-political support. In the Puritan roots that our country celebrates and/or mythologizes, depending on your viewpoint, it's back to the old "deserving poor" question. Yet these data suggests we have at least enough housing units for the "workforce" population in the 50-80% of AMI category -- whereas there's a big gap for poorer Durhamites.

We shouldn't take too much comfort in this data seen in isolation, however. What's the quality and safety of the housing stock that's affordable to 50-80% AMI households? Is it safe and meeting code, or do the lower rents or owner disinvestment mean that this isn't so rosy a picture?

Assuming the housing stock is of a reasonable quality, are there more opportunities, through better management of programs like Section 8/Housing Choice Vouchers, to expand that existing supply to a broader income range, i.e., to lower-income Durhamites?

Who's most at risk from gentrification?

More speculatively: could the number of sub-80% AMI housing units and the geographical dispersion of them suggest that gentrification is not impacting the entire low-income housing marketplace? 

The report does note only a 22% cumulative rent rise from 2000 to 2012 in Durham. That's not at all a super-heated rate of growth (indeed, it probably lags inflation), though that does miss more recent years for which I'm not convinced we yet have any good, meaningful data.

Yet while this is a positive sign, the geographic isolation of very/extremely low income (0-50% AMI) housing should be a warning sign. 

After all, with all respect to my Publix-lovin'/hatin' north Durham friends -- revitalization and economic rejuvenation leading to gentrification ain't issues there for now. (Which could explain why lower-income, "workforce" poor residents are found in higher contributions north of the Eighty Five.)

Instead, the pressures we are seeing in Cleveland-Holloway and likely will soon see in other parts of East Durham suggest that Durham's most vulnerable, poorest residents could be impacted sooner, and hit harder.

Thinking through the DSA reboot

The significant planned renewals of many DHA complexes -- Enterprise notes that DHA's upcoming projects at McDougald Terrace, Liberty Street and Oldham Tower could be "transformative for entire neighborhoods," and Lisa noted here recently the plan for public-private partnerships and a greater focus on Section 8 housing -- offers both opportunity and risk.

The risk: Enterprise reports that one-fifth of the 6,100 subsidized housing units in Durham will be able to exit their restrictions on affordability between now and 2021, with most of those occurring in the 2016-2017 timeframe.

That's yet another challenge for a population at significant risk, it seems.

Yet, I also wonder if there are some opportunities here.

Half of DHA's public housing supply -- nearly 1,000 units -- is within the catchments of proposed light-rail station areas. This may be a reason to challenge, again, the lack of a line extension east of Alston Avenue.

This factor, along with US HUD's reticence to continue putting public housing in high-poverty areas, and the focus on public private partnerships, raises an intriguing possibility.

Could Durham use those existing DHA complex sites to create new, mixed-income housing opportunities to improve housing access for Durham's poorest, while at the same time concentrating workforce and market rate housing in these same sites to increase density and use of transit?

There are some win-win-win opportunities here, it seems. 

A much-denser complex that preserved significant numbers of low-income units while mixing in other income levels could be an intriguing idea -- assuming, of course, developers would be willing to dance with the requisite puppet strings involved.

Of course, you're still going to need to find new sites for very-low-income housing in other parts of Durham, including near Duke, in southwest Durham, in north Durham. (But, shouldn't we have been doing that all along?)






"A three-person household earning between 60% and 80% of AMI -- $36,420 to $48,550 per year) -- can still afford a home selling at 2015's median selling price of $167,000."

If they can get a mortgage....


Couple of things caught my eye... 29% vacancy rate for downtown units with almost 400 more being built...perhaps the market has reached saturation and prices will start shifting downward... ( ive already noticed the "sign a lease get 2-3 months free, effectively discounting the rent by up to 25%)

For the extremely low income there is nowhere you can rent an apartment or house for $455 in Durham. Even rooming houses charge more than that.


Interesting. The most remarkable stat: "Over 70% of severely cost burdened households are unmarried families without children (p16)", which is mostly single people?

If single people are the most severe need, why isn't the affordable housing lobby demanding some rooming houses? It's the most efficient way to add lots of units, especially units that meet the 30% AMI requirement that would max occupants out at about $300-500/month.

Also, there are 15,500 Dukies who (on average) come from wealthier backgrounds but are considered poor by HUDs (reaaaaaaaaaaly flawed) AMI metric. Could we clarify if the Duke student population (about 2/3rds of whom are grad students) skew our numbers? If Duke students were 5-10% of our statistical housing market, it would matter.

Nice coverage, KD.

Erik Landfried

Karen's presentation today was terrific. This report was more about current conditions than proposing a specific plan (that's coming in February), but it's clear there are a lot of important decisions and opportunities coming up in the next few years. Doing this study was a really good idea.

Her final point is the one that is sticking with me the most. She said that Durham is way ahead of the curve in terms of thinking about our impending affordable housing crisis and that most communities wait until most of the opportunities are gone. She acknowledged that there are clearly pockets of Durham where affordability has become a problem. And she especially emphasized that for the lowest-income citizens, there is absolutely an affordable housing issue, which she noted is true of every city she's ever studied. But in the aggregate, Durham is still in the beginning stages of the type of affordability problem many cities are experiencing.

This brings up two things for me. The first is the thing that makes me most proud to live here, which is that the people who live here are quick to recognize issues affecting our fellow citizens and aren't afraid to tackle those problems. We have also done a great job electing officials who actually give a shit and work hard to try to address those issues. It doesn't mean we or our elected officials are perfect or that we haven't made mistakes as a community - far from it - but I think sometimes we take this for granted.

The second thing, though, is that I worry that the quality of some of this dialogue is getting worse. Hyperbole and entrenched positions are becoming more and more commonplace and it's not very productive. This certainly isn't a Durham-only problem and the conversations that occur at places like Bull City Rising aren't as scary as the rhetoric that someone like Donald Trump is spewing these days. But let's have a safe and inclusive dialogue about the issues Durham is facing, not personal attacks and black-and-white stances, OK?

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