Shawn Stokes of Luna: "I didn’t think that there would be public outcry about it," + Black Wall Street Plaza still needs our attention
With new CEO Anthony Scott, a new chapter (hopefully) at the Durham Housing Authority

Stabiliziing NE Central Durham: Live blogging the City Council meeting, June 9

The meeting is starting about 30 minutes late because of an event Council attended this morning at the Lofts at Southside. We'll blog the highlights.

Some interesting items on the agenda:

7. Resolution in support of Faith ID in Durham  Download 11197_RESOLUTION_RESOLUTION_IN_SUPPORT_OF__390764_698889

45. Neighborhood Stabilization in NE Central Durham [This is a supplemental item, so we don't have documents on this yet.]

49. Amendment to building and services agreement between the City and Carolina Theatre [This is a supplemental item, so we don't have documents on this yet.]

2:12 p.m. Jillian Johnson: Proposals that meet our affordable housing goals should be fast tracked through planning, with additional staff in development services, we'll have the capacity. It will allow nonprofit developers to deliver housing more quickly.

Steve Medlin, director of planning: Take it under advisement, asks council for guidance. We can do that. But it's not just the time but quality of submittals that come in. Re-reviews would take more time. We can establish an expedited program but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll get out the back end quicker.

Don: If we expedite review, it should be the initial review.

Tom Bonfield: If Council wants this, we can go back and see how this could happen. We'd want to take a look at this regardless of whether development services has extra staff. It potentially could impact many other departments.

OK, it's 2:54 p.m. and Mel Norton is giving the presentation about stabilizing NE Central Durham. I'm hear on behalf of Durham For All organizing committee. Thank you for this opportunity to present today, and for all the councilmembers who have met with us one on one. It's really valued.

Durham For All is a 501 c4, goals place-based community organizing empowers marginalized voices to participate in the political process. We did this beause of rapid demographic change in the central city in race and class. Very broad recognition that benefits are happening disproportionately. As you know the county did the tax assessement for the first time in 8 years. Some central city areas saw their valuations triple or quadruple.

We've been following affordable housing initiatives closely. It's still unclear, the fine-grained data.

Download NECD-neighborhood-canvassing-report_5_27

The valuations are way up in Cleveland-Holloway and Golden Belt, we're confident this pressure is moving east. Knocked on 800 to 1000 doors, had 200 conversations. We wanted to get a very clear sense of the primary concerns about housing: affordability, repairs, utilities.

What we found is that 80% of folks concerned about the valuation. Overwhelmingly people didn't even know, particularly renters. More than half of the homeowners had lived in their neighborhoods for more than 10 years. But there are plenty of renters in NECD that have been in their homes a long time.

Top housing concern: For low income homeowners, repairs were definitely the biggest concern. For the renters, affordability was the primary concern. But having extended conversations, repairs are high on the list as well. We

We connected with 25 households eligible for existing tax relief programs: seniors, disabled, and veterans. Only one house was receiving these benefits. There's a disturbing disconnect.

The primary recommendations from the Mayor's poverty reduction initiative review aligned with what we found.

Neighborhood stabilization must be a long term multi prong set of strategies. Long-term and low-income residents benefit from what's happening in the central city. It's time sensitive. What's happened in the past five years surpassed anyone's expectations.  We need ongoing community organizing. It's very fine-grained work, hard to legislate in broad strokes. 

There were many low income homeowners who own them outright, but most of them don't have resources for maintenance. These are older homes, and the need is greater. In an extremely tight rental market, landlords aren't keeping up with maintenance, but can charge more rent.

The vast majority of households eligible for existing tax relief programs may not have computers or skills to fill these tax relief application online.

The application is not simple. You have to go back online to find out where you mail the applications. Each of these steps creates barriers to participation. We need a significantly expanded repair program for targeted low-income homeowners in NECD. We also recognize a minor repair program targeted at landlords would help. There would be an attached affordability period, meaning there would be a guarantee that the rent would not increase for period of years [in return for help with repairs.]

Coordination with the county is needed on the tax issue and tax fairness. Especially as we have dramatic poles in income.

We want to emphasize this is about people. We believe there are very powerful stories we'd like you to have some sense of.

Charlie Reece: Thanks for this canvassing effort in the field. It's the kind of work need to do here in Durham. Because the voter file was used for your canvassing efforts could understate the problem because people are registered to vote would be typically better off economically than people you would not have in the voter file. So the data you've collected understates the problem. Would you agree?

Norton: That's true.

Aiden Graham of Durham For All: We used the voter file to generate the walk list. But we also included some people who were not in the voter file, about half the people who weren't we still had a conversation with.

Schewel: This is awesome. It confirms [affordable housing consultant] Karen [Lado's] priority for a repair program. Really interesting to see it confirmed by this door to door work. And similarly Karen has been telling us lately that she thinks we're reaching about half the people who could receive existing tax relief. The number could be higher, but the point is there is low-hanging fruit here we can get from the state. This needs to go before our county commissioners. The application difficulty is them, not us. If they heard from you, they would work on fixing that. There's no reason the county wouldn't want to maximize this. 

Schewel: How many were in Spanish?

Norton: There were none. No, there was one.

Schewel: As someone who doesn't speak much Spanish, I think as we go forward we need to think of that population.

Norton: We've been noting where Latino people live so we can target them once we bring on people who are more proficient in Spanish than we are.

Jillian Johnson: I wanted to check in with Mr. Bonfield how we'll be allocating the dedicated housing money. What are the opportunities?

Bonfield: In budget there is money for the urgent repair program, $350K. There are certain program guidelines. We could revisit that. I don't think we can design a program around this, but maybe get a debrief from the staff about the backlog. The cost and the extent of the repairs are signficant. In some cases we're challenged, the repairs exceed the guidelines about how much any one house can get. It limits the number of houses. We are remodeling houses in many cases. I just wonder, too, thinking out loud, the challenges we have with the bidding requirements, staff managing contractors, is there not potential for some other way to be efficient, a nonprofit like Habitat that could participate with volunteer labor, to help people. It may not have to be a city program. Once we do a repair, we own it. Ten years later, that person will call and say fix it. It is really challenging work. I'd like to encourage you all and the groups working on this, what are some different models than the city runs a repair program.

Johnson: A nonprofit managed program would be great. They can leverage volunteer labor and donations the city can't. In the interim, I'd like to see if we can get additional resources for the urgent repair program. 

Cora Cole-McFaddon: Thanks for the work that you do. I'm aware of so many people who need this.

Schewel: What we've traditionally done is repairs of multi-family. I assume you could do this on smaller units.But the thing we have going for us for people who are renting is the inspection program. Many of them are living in PRIP zones. The other thing is our housing inspectors can also respond to complain. 

Norton: Even in the testimonial we gave you, renters feel vulnerable.

Schewel: That's why we have PRIP, so tenants don't have to complain. there are private landlords who can afford to and need to fix their properties. We've been more effective since we started PRIP at getting them to do that.

Moffitt: 2,600 inspections inside PRIP, 80 percent had violations. 1750 outside the PRIP are all complaint-driven. If you're out talking to people, Durham For All could call.

Norton: Just to underscore this vulnerability issue, Lincoln Apartments, there is a perception that it was closed down by PRIP. [That's not true.

Schewel: It's not true.  [The foundation that owned the buildings no longer could afford to pay the utilities or maintain the property. Essentially out of money, the foundation shut down the complex and evicted about 150 very low-income people.]

Norton: Folks aren't getting the benefits they're eligible for. A short-term relief program is something we'd be in support of. With RAD knocking on the door and other changes in public housing we need even more organizing efforts to keep track of Section 8 and public housing people.

Moffitt: Next steps?

Bonfield: Urgent repair and asking staff to think about limitations, come back to Council after the break with thoughts about funding levels and programmatic needs. It won't be close to meeting the demand, but put out the challenge to everybody for new models.

Norton: There's a distinction between smaller repairs and more rehab, higher pricetag repairs. We support both.

Bell: Are you aware of any models?

Norton: There is a group out of Raleigh, Rebuilding Together of the Triangle.

Lorisa Seibel: They do essential repairs. They do a little bit of work in Durham. They get some funds from NC Housing Financing Agency to do urgent repairs and rehabs.

Bell: I like the idea, but as for a city-owned program, once we do it, we're in for life. There might be other models. We'll do some research and come back.

Norton: I know there are similar issues in other areas. Crest STreet and other Quality of Life neighborhoods. Second mortgages have been a problem, too, especially in SW Central neighborhoods.

Aiden: I talked with Jacob Lerner with NIS. The housing task force and the mayor's PRI area are where you could see significant impacts.

Bell: I like that when you have an impact in a concentrated area. If we're trying to revitalize neighborhoods we should focus on those areas.

It's 3:40 p.m. and the consent agenda is being approved. Over and out.



Dick Ford

We could use some clarity on Lincoln Apartments. I believe the owner foundation was able to pay off their entire mortgage to the bank before the property was closed. And a city agency, I believe, was the catalyst for the shutdown.

Perhaps other know more about this than I. But it matters that well-meant city actions may have unintended consequences.


I'm glad that people are talking about how low-income residents in East Durham fear NIS. Homeowners are afraid of having their houses condemned without the means to fix it and renters of being displaced by their landlords.

Lisa Sorg

I covered the Lincoln Apartments issues when the situation was unfolding. The foundation that owned it couldn't pay the utility bills (it provided water, plus electricity to common areas) or maintenance. There was some concern that if the water was turned off to residents' apartments, it would violate public health law. As a nonprofit, it did not pay property taxes.

The foundation sent the eviction notices to the residents in September 2012, but the city's utilities department worked with the foundation to keep the water on, and thus people in their homes. Instead of having to leave in October 2012, residents were given an extension after the Durham Housing Authority purchased the property for $10. Some stayed until February 2013.

There was some question about DHA's $2 million estimate to fix up Lincoln instead of shutting it down. The city randomly inspected 40 apartments. Some were in OK or even decent condition (I saw several like that). Others were awful (I saw those as well). Portions of ceilings were missing, floorboards were rotting, toilets continuously ran, the there was "dirty and possibly sewer water" coming up from the drain.

The conflict between residents and the city focused on the slowness of Neighborhood Improvement Services to provide the inspection reports, which are public record. I was with the residents when, after repeatedly requesting the documents, they entered NIS, and finally got them from Rick Hester. (He's no longer there.)

Khalid Hawthorne

@natalie How do you propose that NIS Code Enforcement ensure a quality housing stock in NECD? The department has instituted many programs to help home owners with violations over the years.

As far as renters are concerned, we have always heard that concern about getting evicted (or rent raised) for reporting violations. That is probably outside of the realm of the Code Enforcement division. A judge can probably place limits on an owner in Housing Court if they choose. A housing court judge can sentence someone to jail and huge fines if they choose.

Let's move past screaming about the symptoms to problem and dig deeper. In addition, cut NIS some slack...they have been instrumental to much of the "improvement" in your neighborhood. It seems like it takes a "crisis" to bring attention to long abandoned properties. If that is what it takes NIS is successful beyond measure!

Please work with your civil servants to drive effective change...or join the Housing Appeals Board...collaborate with friends to rehab a house and rent it at an affordable rate.

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