News & Observer–Durham housing advocates get the transit ‘goal’ they wanted

NEWS & OBSERVER — March 13, 2014


Durham housing advocates get the transit ‘goal’ they wanted




DURHAM — The city, the county, their shared planning department and an ad hoc advocates’ coalition reached a meeting of minds last week about affordable housing near future light-rail stations.


“We got exactly what we wanted,” said Ivan Parra, director of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN), a member group in the Ad Hoc Coalition for Affordable Housing.


What the coalition wanted, and got, is the local governments’ commitment to a goal of at least 15 percent of all residences within a half-mile of each station to be affordable to households with incomes less than 60 percent of the area median – and a deadline for getting there.


“I have no problem with it being a goal,” Mayor Bill Bell said. “If you can achieve it you can achieve it, if you can’t achieve it you can’t.”


The goal won’t be official until the county commissioners and City Council formally approve it later this spring, but it won approval from the commissioners and council members discussing it as the Joint City-County Committee last week.


That approval brought applause from CAN members and other supporters in the audience, some of whom held up signs reading “Affordable Housing Now” and “Affordable Housing at All Transit Stops.”


Community concern


Affordable, or “workforce,” housing near transit stations has been a concern at least since Durham voters approved a half-cent sales tax for bus improvements and a light-rail line from Alston Avenue to UNC Hospitals in 2011.


The City-County Planning Department has had special zoning for each station, effective developer incentives and subsidy funds, on its priority list for more than a year. When a county funding cut threatened its ability to work on the station areas, housing advocates lobbied city and county to restore money and re-emphasize the work’s importance.


In December, the Ad Hoc Coalition gave the City Council a draft resolution setting out the 15 percent goal and several specific steps to achieve it. Last week’s discussion involved around what to adopt from the coalition’s final resolution and what from an alternative the planning department submitted as a response.


Planners  preferred making 15 percent an overall goal for the 11 planned stations in Durham County, rather than for each one; and Bell and Councilman Eugene Brown balked at the coalition’s three- to five-year timetable for finishing several planning tasks.


“I don’t want to put us in a box,” Bell said, as he and Brown pointed out that money to build the $1.3-billion light-rail line is still an uncertainty.


Reckhow’s recollection


County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, though, pointed out that 15 percent at each station was a stated goal in the special legislation authorizing the transit-tax referendum (S.L. 2009-527, and making the Durham-Orange project eligible for state money.


She also pointed out and that some of the tasks – a housing inventory and incentive plan among them – have to get done in less that two years to meet an application deadline for the federal New Starts grant program the rail project is depending on.


“There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Reckhow said. “If we don’t do it in two years our application won’t be as strong as it could be.”


In the end, the officials settled on leaving 15 percent each in a resolution, and instead of “three to five years” include “as soon as practicable consistent with the criteria for New Starts applications.”


That, Parra said, was “absolutely” a victory.


“It will force them to think outside the box,” he said.


Affordable Housing along Durham Transit line one stop closer

Affordable Housing along Durham Transit line one stop closer

Posted: Mar 11, 2014 11:32 AM EDTUpdated: Mar 11, 2014 11:32 AM EDT

by Justin Quesinberry, WNCN News - bio | email
by WNCN Staff

Photo: Message delivered!!


Durham City and County leaders voted Tuesday as part of a new light rail transit plan to make 15 percent of housing near each transit stop between Durham and Chapel Hill affordable housing.

Many in Tuesday’s crowd were from the group “Durham Can.” They held up signs, urging board members to make 15 percent of all housing at each transit stop to be affordable housing.

The planning department had suggested that 15 percent of housing overall along the transit route to be affordable, not 15 percent at each stop.

But the crowd did not want the housing lumped in one area, and ultimately the board members agreed.

A state law requires 15 percent of the housing near each stop be affordable housing, and supporters say it’s an important step in cutting poverty.

“This is a first concrete step of bringing affordable housing, people who need transit to get to jobs, to get to churches and to get to appointments, to get to education, this is the first step,” said Bo Glenn, member of Ad Hoc Coalition on Affordable Housing and Transit … Supporting Affordable Housing Around the Transit Stations.

Elected leaders will take the new plan back to their boards to for a vote.