The Herald Sun March 02, 2018 01:13 PM
Durham CAN holding city leaders accountable (Opinion)
Mayor Steve Schewel recently laid out his agenda for shared prosperity, describing Durham as a “progressive beacon for the South and the nation.” Electing a progressive City Council will hopefully prove to be an important benchmark for Durham but make no mistake – our job as Durham residents is far from finished.
In Durham CAN we understand our city will need more than a City Council that’s resolved to tackle such growing problems as poverty, inequality, gentrification, and lack of well-paying jobs. We also need involved citizens who hold our elected officials accountable. We know that democracy will only function if Durhamites continue to show up consistently and persistently to impact the decisions that affect their lives.
Last year, CAN engaged over 2,500 Durham residents in conversations about their vision for the city. Only a few days prior to the election, 612 CAN leaders who previously participated in those citywide conversations met with Mayor Schewel and the three other City Council candidates to present a series of well-researched proposals.
That evening, each of the recently elected officials made specific promises to the people of Durham. The commitments included the creation of jobs for disconnected youth, apprenticeships for those that have been involved in the justice system, putting together an affordable-housing trust fund, addressing the current eviction crisis, and the investment of $2 million over two years to maintain permanently affordable homes in Northeast Central Durham.
All those promises were fresh in our minds when we recently launched an ambitious listening session campaign, which seeks to connect with at least 1,500 Durham residents who need work or have been affected by the criminal-justice system. Hundreds have already participated in those sessions throughout Durham. The result of that broad-based listening effort will be a more involved citizenry with a clear agenda for a better Durham for all.
In the next four weeks, the mayor and three other council members will meet with CAN leaders to publicly report on their progress in fulfilling their promises. With so much growth and so many awards won by our beloved city, it is sometimes easy to lose track that in Durham over 4,000 residents ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor employed and about 700 people return to Durham each year from state prisons needing employment. Durham has the highest eviction filing rate among North Carolina’s 10 largest counties, with one eviction case filed per 29 residents in the last fiscal year; and 33 percent or roughly 39,000 households in Durham County are paying more than they can afford in housing costs.
Durham CAN encourages Mayor Schewel and the City Council to meet their commitments to our city. We will continue to work with the people of Durham to hold our elected officials accountable and to make Durham a place where everyone can thrive.
Submitted by Ivan Parra on behalf of the Durham CAN Strategy Team.
The Herald Sun
Durham, March 1, 2018 By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan email@example.com
Evictions, affordable housing and jobs – what’s the mayor doing about it?
That’s what Durham CAN, which stands for Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, wanted to know at its meeting Wednesday night with Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.
Part of the Durham political process for candidates is going before the Durham CAN Assembly to say “yes” or “no” to the nonpartisan group’s agenda during their campaigns and after they get elected.
CAN leaders called on the mayor Wednesday to report what progress the city has made on what he agreed to support during his campaign. Schewel met with CAN leaders at El Buen Pastor Episcopal Church in East Durham.
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel
“There are two things people like: more services and lower taxes,” Schewel said. “You can’t have them both.”
One of the mayor’s jobs, he continued, is to see what other people are doing, applaud it and say “that’s amazing.” And he also said he didn’t want to “overpromise” anything. Still, Schewel told CAN how he was progressing on each of the group’s key issues.
CAN wants the city’s youth summer jobs program to add 116 more jobs to about 200 jobs this past year. Schewel said the budget is already set for summer 2018, but he supports adding at least 116 teen jobs for 2019, and hopes to double the program. To do that, Schewel said they need to involve private employers. CAN asked to be at the table when Schewel meets with those employers. Schewel said not at the first meeting, but that he would involve CAN at subsequent meetings.
Another CAN priority is jobs for formerly incarcerated people returning to the community. Schewel touted the city’s Innovation Team, known as the i-team, which is funding by a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant and works on re-entry issues.
Ibrahim Kamara said he is a convicted felon.
“I know the frustrations of being a convicted felon because you face many rejections,” he said. The jobs he has been able to get pay $8 an hour, which is not enough to support his wife and children.
“No one wants to hire us. We have to explain our story over and over,” Kamara said.
Housing and gentrification
Ashley Smith talked about the shame of going to eviction court for her middle-class, two-income household. They cannot afford their $1,580 a month rent, she said, and she doesn’t want to tell her children they need to move.
“Of all the issues that I work on, I work on this every day of my life,” Schewel told her.
“We can’t stop the forces of gentrification, we can’t stop them. Twenty people move here every day,” he said. “It’s driving the cost of housing up, and we know that. We can’t stop this and we can’t totally fix it, but we can make a difference.”
Schewel talked about the Durham Housing Authority’s plans for renovations and building new public housing. He also mentioned planned workforce housing for teachers as well as using low-income housing tax credits for affordable housing and Durham’s eviction diversion program. Durham County has the highest eviction rate of North Carolina’s 10 largest counties. Attorneys in the diversion program negotiated with landlords by matching tenants with charitable assistance to resolve the eviction or negotiate a move-out date, among other steps.
“To be honest most of what we’re targeting is low end [income],” Schewel said of the city’s two pennies on the tax rate dedicated for housing. “If you live in a $200,000 house, we tax you $40 a year for a house for someone else.”
CAN will meet later this month with other City Council members. Those elected in November who agreed to CAN’s priorities are DeDreana Freeman, Mark-Anthony Middleton and Vernetta Alston. Middleton was a CAN leader before running for office.
Mark Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org
At a Monday night Durham Congregations, Associations & Neighborhoods meeting, five of the six City Council members present agreed to support repurchasing the project. Mayor Bill Bell wasn’t able to attend.
Councilman Eddie Davis was uncomfortable making such a commitment at the meeting, he said. He thinks the property needs to be back under local control, he said, but wasn’t prepared to give the straight yes or no answer that Durham CAN wanted.
“I just need to have more information to deal with not only that request but other (budget) requests from the Durham Housing Authority,” he said.
At the meeting, Durham CAN also planned to ask Campus Apartments to donate the property, but a company representative didn’t attend.
Campus Apartments issued a statement that was very similar to the one it issued after Durham CAN held a rally at the property in July.
“When we purchased the property, we had every intention to develop affordable student housing in partnership with N. C. Central University; however, the original plan did not come to fruition,” the statement says. “Campus Apartments then made a significant investment to remove the dilapidated structures and secure the property. We understand the community’s desire to develop the property and appreciate local community feedback.”
City Councilman Steve Schewel, the council’s liaison on the DHA board, is confident the city will help DHA, if necessary, to make the purchase, he said.
Mark Schultz email@example.com
Once the property is acquired, surrounding neighborhoods and other members of the community will be involved in the process to determined what will happen to the property.
“Those folks want to be part of the discussion and need to be part of the discussion,” Schewel said.
City and DHA officials say the project will involve affordable housing, but it’s too soon to say how or when the property would be redeveloped.
“The development of Fayette Place has to be thought of in concert with the redevelopment of the other large housing authority existing communities,” Schewel said.
City Manager Tom Bonfield said the issue will likely come before the City Council at the end of May or June. Specifics haven’t been discussed, but he expects the city will be asked to cover the entire purchase price. The money would most likely come from the city’s general fund balance.
It’s too soon to say whether the city would loan or grant DHA the money, but the city wants to be a partnership in the redevelopment, Bonfield said.
“The big thing is not missing this window of returning the property to public control,” he said.
HISTORY OF FAYETTE PLACE
For about 35 years, the property housed the 200-unit Fayetteville Street public housing complex. In the early 2000s, the Durham Housing Authority started to convert the property into Fayette Place, a low-income housing development funded with tax credits. The development never happened.
In 2007, Campus Apartments agreed to pay the DHA $4 million for Fayette Place. Part of the agreement allowed DHA to repurchase the property if Campus Apartments failed to rent at least 168 beds to N.C. Central University students or provide housing for low-income individuals.
The property was never developed.
Residents ask Durham City Council to buy back, develop abandoned land
Posted April 24,2017 Updated April 25
DURHAM, N.C. — There was a packed house Monday night as local organizations and concerned residents met with Durham city leaders to discuss nearly 20 acres of abandoned land.
Members of Durham’s Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods, known as Durham CAN, are asking the Durham Housing Authority to exercise what they believe is its right to regain control the property.
In 2007, Durham housing forced those living in Fayette Place to leave their homes and, several years later, all of the buildings were leveled.
Several dozen people and neighborhood associations want to see the land developed into affordable housing.
“There are people all throughout the city that are coming out today to make sure that there is justice for this community,” said Ivan Parra with Durham CAN. “This used to be the center of the African-American community, many years ago, and we want to rebuild this community with local residents.”
The Fayette Place property was purchased by Philadelphia-based development company Campus Apartments in 2007. The company said in the past that it shares the community’s desire to develop the property and that they have pursued viable opportunities.
Following calls from CAN last year to build affordable housing, Campus Apartments said in a statement last year that they had plans of developing affordable housing at the site in partnership with North Carolina Central University, but the plan did not work out.
Five out of six city council members in attendance Monday night said they would be in favor of allocating money from the city budget to buy the land back from Campus Apartments, unless the company agrees to donate the land.
Durham CAN seeks update on abandoned Fayette Place property
BY VIRGINIA BRIDGES firstname.lastname@example.org April 20, 2017
DURHAM- Delegates of Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods plan to meet with Fayette Place stakeholders Monday to discuss the stalled project.
Durham CAN delegates will meet with city officials and Anthony Scott, chief executive officer of the the Durham Housing Authority, lead organizer Ivan Parra said. Executives from the for-profit, Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments have been invited, but haven’t confirmed, he said.
The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at Monument of Faith Church at 900 Simmons St. and is open to the public.
“Campus Apartments have demonstrated they lack interest and vision for this property and our community,” Clarence Laney, pastor of Monument of Faith Church, said in a news release.
“Their lack of interest has left the largest undeveloped property in the city,” he said. “One can be sure this kind of neglect doesn’t happen at the rest of their luxury properties across the U.S.”
The future of Fayette Place will be the focus of the meeting, but CAN leaders will also unveil results of a recent neighborhood audit they performed and ask the city to address a series of items it identified.
For about 35 years, the 20-acre property housed the 200-unit Fayetteville Street public housing complex. In the early 2000s, DHA officials started to convert it into Fayette Place, a low-income housing development funded with tax credits. The development never happened.
In 2007, Campus Apartments agreed to pay the housing authority $4 million for Fayette Place. The agreement allowed the housing authority to repurchase the property if Campus Apartments failed to rent at least 168 beds to N.C. Central University students or to provide housing for low-income individuals.
The housing authority must exercise its option by August 2017.
Dan Hudgins, chair of the authority’s board, said last summer that the agency has asked the city for help repurchasing the property.
In July, CAN held a press conference calling for the authority to reacquire the vacant property, now marked by crumbling foundation slabs behind a chain-link fence. CAN officials have been meeting with authority officials monthly since then, Parra said.
A neighborhood watch signs stands guard over the slabs that remain of the Fayette Place public housing project in the Hayti district. Durham CAN would like to see affordable housing tried again on the site.
Mark Schultz mschultz@newsobserver,com