Durham County moving forward with downtown parking decks with affordable housing
The red circles on this Durham County map show the areas for proposed parking decks. Courtesy of Durham County BY VIRGINIA BRIDGES firstname.lastname@example.org
Durham, September 13, 2016
Durham County leaders are moving forward with a plan to establish public-private partnerships to build two downtown parking decks that would include affordable housing and retail space.
County commissioners unanimously voted Monday night to request qualifications from companies interested in partnering with the county to build the mixed-use projects on the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street.
The project on the 300 block would be built on the existing parking lot across the street from the Durham Housing Authority and between Main and Liberty streets.
The project on the 500 block would be built on the existing lot across from the county’s Human Services Complex.
The community coalition Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods has been pushing for developments that include affordable housing on the properties.
The Monday night vote allows county officials to gauge interest in the proposal and process, which will have to include figuring out the structure of the private and public partnership and exploring construction possibilities on the two county lots.
Jay Gibson, the county’s director of Engineering and Environmental Services, said downtown county employees were using 91 percent of their 1,298 spaces in 2015. An ideal usage rate would be 75 to 80 percent, Gibson said.
To address future needs and sustain a goal of an 85 percent utilization rate, the county would need to increase its parking spaces by 457 by 2025 and 850 spaces by 2035.
The decks are also needed to address a general parking crunch downtown and to accommodate projects such as the renovation of the former judicial building and the renovation and expansion of the main library downtown. The library’s expansion could include an outdoor amphitheater, which could consume some of the existing parking spaces.
Gibson suggested the county move forward first with a request for qualifications for the parking deck on the 300 block of East Main Street, which is closer to the library and the judicial building.
That parking deck could fit about 900 spaces, Gibson said. However, Gibson recommended moving forward with a 600- to 800-space deck and a yet-to-be determined amount of space for affordable housing and ground-floor retail.
Some commissioners criticized the presentation’s emphasis on parking spaces, while not giving specifics on affordable housing.
Commissioner Wendy Jacobs pointed out that nearly two-thirds of Durham County employees are considered low-income households.
“Many of us have made it very clear for a long time that we were concerned about incorporating housing in this parking lot as well as the other one,” Jacobs said. “I am really surprised that the staff presentation was focused on parking.”
County Manager Wendell Davis said staff is considering housing and retail, but the county’s focus is providing enough parking for its downtown facilities.
In November, Charlotte-based CitiSculpt presented a plan with a roughly 900-space parking deck, affordable housing, and retail and office space on the lot that currently has about 400 spaces between the Human Services Complex and the future headquarters of the Durham Police Department.
Gibson’s presentation Monday focused on the lot on the 300 block of East Main, but commissioners voted to seek requests for qualifications on both lots.
The process could take about three months. The commissioners will have to approval the final contract.
“Durham City Council Asserts Its Commitment to Downtown Affordable Housing—In About Four Years
By Lauren Horsch – Sept 13, 2016
It’s been over a year since the group Durham CAN pinpointed a nearly two-acre parcel of ripe-for-development land on Jackson Street as an opportunity to build affordable housing.
Last year, Self-Help Credit Union told the city council it would be interested in helping create a mixed-income development, where at least 80 percent of the units on will be available for renters making at or below 60 percent of the area median income. Last September, the council decided not to fast-track the project, saying it wanted its staff to review its options. In November, staff members gave the council three choices: a purely affordable development, mixed-income housing, and market-rate and/or “workforce” housing. The city opted for the mixed-income development—essentially what Self-Help wanted to do.
But there hasn’t been much movement since—and, in fact, it could be another four years before those downtown units ever appear, according to a timeline presented to the city council last week.
City of Durham
Timeline of proposed RFQ for Jackson Street property
Members of CAN came to a council work session on Thursday prepared to fight—there was a rumor that the council was going to walk back its commitment to affordable housing on that site—but instead found the council assuring them they had nothing to worry about. “We might not move as fast as some would like us to move, but it’s a commitment,” said Mayor Bill Bell. “Sometimes it does get somewhat irritating when innuendos are made that we are trying to do something less than what we’ve committed to do.”
The city is currently preparing to seek bids on the project. The hope is to have a developer with experience with low-income housing tax credits establish a building plan that includes ground-floor retail and can integrate bus and rail transit.
As Richard Valzonis, senior project manager with the city’s Department of Community Development, notes, this federal LIHTC program is competitive—especially because Durham County competes against other countries facing affordable housing crises, including Wake, Buncombe, and Mecklenburg. Municipalities first have to seek a partner—for instance, Self-Help—but even after that, those applications aren’t always accepted. In 2015, Durham County had two projects accepted by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, which administers the LIHTC program. But 2016 had none.
That’s part of the reason the Jackson Street project will take so long to unfurl.
CAN has also identified multiple tracts of land owned by the city and Durham County for affordable housing downtown, including parking lots on East Main Street. Conversations on those have seemingly stalled, but this week county commissioners will take the issue up again.
On Monday night the Durham County Board of Commissioners voted to pitch in county-owned land for the prospect of affordable housing. Parking lots on 300 block of East Main Street and the large Health and Human Services parking lot on the 500 block of East Main street were offered up for an RFQ process to build structured parking that included directives to determine the feasibility and inclusion of retail and affordable housing.
DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Wednesday, more than 100 members of the Durham community as well as community leaders asked the city to make changes to a plot of land they say has been blighted and eyesore for nearly a decade.
“This area used to be a basketball court,” said Tamario Howze.
Howze, grew up at Fayette Place. As an adult he traveled the country working as an engineer, but he says he’s left that career and came back home to Durham to pursue ministry.
He says his old backyard at Fayette Place is where he feels he is most needed.
“You still see a vacant lot where nothing is promising from what we see,” said Howze.
But it’s not just Howze, many members of the community feel a the lot needs to be changed.
During a press conference organized by Durham CAN, more than hundred people called for the city to take action and develop this land specifically with the interest of the people who live closest to the lot.
“We’re tired of our community being over looked and neglected. We’re tired of witnessing the millions of dollars pouring into downtown Durham and this area is blighted and undeveloped,” said Bishop Clarence Laney.
In 2007, a Philadelphia based company called Campus Apartments, bought the lot for $4 million with the promise of building affordable housing; that never happened.
“They left it as a vast wasteland,” said Durham Councilmember Steve Schewel.
Schewel says the possible millions of dollars it would cost the city to buy this land would be worth it.
“The housing authority would own this property wand with some development partners could redevelop this with affordable housing and also with a mixed use development that would bring jobs to this community,” he said.
And for people like Howze, who grew up in the area, they say they are excited with the possible change.
“This place for me coming back it’s sort of like a place of hope,” he said.
Campus Apartments say there was a plan to develop the land into affordable housing, but it didn’t work out and they have no current plans to develop the lot.
They do say they share the community’s desire to develop the land and are open to discussing ideas.
Listen at http://wncn.com/2016/07/27/durham-leaders-ask-city-to-invest-millions-to-develop-blighted-land/
“Housing downtown is simply unaffordable,” Rev. Susan Dunlap told a crowd of about five hundred at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon. Ain’t that the truth.
Dunlap was addressing not a church congregation but a pre-election assembly of delegates for Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods). The event was a chance to hear from community stakeholders on issues plaguing Durham, even in its current era of prosperity. Affordable housing hovers right around the top of that list.
Dunlap relayed a story of an acquaintance who she recently heard say that it was “too late” for Durham to shut out the luxury developers who are slowly turning America’s downtowns intoprohibitively expensive playgrounds for the wealthy. And North Carolina cities are especially vulnerable, hobbled as they are by state law that forbids them from requiring developers to include affordable units.
Still, Dunlap was looking on the bright side. She explained that the city and the county still own several plots of land downtown. In selling that land to a developer, the city or county could make affordable housing part of the contract. Those properties include two acres at Jackson and Dillard streets, two acres on the 300 block of East Main Street, and four acres on the 500 block of East Main Street.
The Durham Housing Authority also has the option to repurchase twenty acres of property at Fayetteville and Umstead streets that is currently owned by a Philadelphia-based company.
All the candidates for Durham County Board of Commissioners were present at First Presbyterian. One by one, CAN leaders asked them if they would support: 1) 100 percent affordable units at the property on the 300 block of East Main Street; and 2) 60 percent affordable units at the property on the 500 block of East Main Street.
To a person, the commission candidates said they would.
“It’s not too late for downtown Durham,” Dunlap concluded. “We have land, we have time—and we have an election.”
Candidates for Durham County Board of Commissioners address the CAN crowd.
The pews were full at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon—though not for a church service. Instead, the standing-room-only crowd was there for a pre-election delegates’ assembly forDurham CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods). It was a chance to hear from a variety of community stakeholders about issues important to the city, as well as from candidates in this Tuesday’s election for Durham County Board of Commissioners.
As Rev. Mark Anthony Middleton of Abundant Hope Church put it: “Durham CAN doesn’t endorse. We don’t have permanent candidates or allies. But we do have permanent issues.”
Three of those issues were discussed Sunday: the lack of youth counseling in Durham Public Schools; affordable housing; and immigrant-police relations.
Two high school students— Laura Salazar of Riverside High School and Faith Jones of Jordan High School—addressed the crowd on the topic of school counseling. It was noted that, while the recommended ratio of students to counselors is 250 to one, in Durham Public Schools it is 350 to one. Salazar said she’d had virtually no guidance about the ACT test prior to taking it—just one twenty-minute conversation with a counselor. She reported that many other Riverside students had been unaware of the deadline for signing up to take the test.
There is also concern among CAN members about the use of ConnectFunds. This money, generated through a sales tax referendum passed in 2011, is meant to help high school students pursue education at Durham Tech. But data reviewed by the Durham County Board of Commissioners has found that the funds aren’t being utilized.
Jones and Salazar called for Durham Public Schools and the superintendent to audit DPS’ counseling system, and to prioritize hiring bilingual counselors for all open and future positions. They also asked that DPS investigate the use of ConnectFunds.
On to affordable housing—the most common menu item at Durham civic meetings these days. Several Durham leaders spoke on the issue. Rev. Clarence Laney, of Monument of Faith Church, said, “Gentrification is real. We can’t leave this conversation on the desk of developers or, as much as we love them, our elected leaders.”
“Housing downtown is simply unaffordable,” Rev. Susan Dunlap, of First Presbyterian Church, said. She relayed a story of an acquaintance whom she had recently heard say, of affordable housing in downtown Durham, “It’s too late”—meaning the developers’ claws were already in too deep for ordinary people to be able to afford to live there.
Dunlap didn’t think so. She explained that Durham still owns several plots of land downtown. That includes:
*Two acres of city-owned land at Jackson and Dillard Streets.
*Two acres of county-owned land right outside the meeting, on the 300 block of East Main Street between First Presbyterian Church and St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church.
*Four acres of county-owned land on the 500 block of East Main Street.
*The Durham Housing Authority also has the option to repurchase Fayette Place, twenty acres of property at Fayetteville and Umstead Streets that is currently owned by a Philadelphia-based company.
“The county can say to a developer, ‘We will sell you the land, but we are also going to require you to build affordable housing,’” Dunlap said. “This land belongs to us. [To the commission]: Don’t give it away without talking to us. We need to make sure downtown isn’t just for rich people, but for all of us.”
“It’s not too late for downtown Durham,” Dunlap concluded. “We have land, we have time—and we have an election.” Big cheers from the crowd.
CAN leaders then lined up all the candidates for the Durham County Commission and asked them if they’d support specific affordable-housing goals. One was that one-hundred percent of the units at the property on the 300 block of East Main Street be affordable (sixty percent below area median income). The other was to require developers interested in the 500 block of East Main Street location to include sixty percent affordable units.
It would have been interesting to see what happened if a candidate said he or she wouldn’t support those goals. But all the candidates said they would.
“It’s imperative we take advantage of the public land we have,” said Heidi Carter, a school board member and commissioner candidate. “If we squander it, it’ll be a monumental mistake.”
The meeting closed with a brief discussion about the erosion of trust between Durham’s immigrant community and local law enforcement. Recent ICE raids have brought on fear among immigrants that interactions with police could result in their deportation. Judith Montenegro, of El Centro Hispano, spoke about issuing “faith IDs,” a concept based on a model developed in Greensboro. The idea is that churches and other community organizations give immigrants a verifiable form of identification that, while not formally accepted by the government, acknowledges that the person is a member of the community. “It can help turn strangers into neighbors,” Montenegro said.
Councilman Steve Schewel read a statement from interim police chief Larry Smith in support of the faith ID concept. That earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
The election is tomorrow. Our endorsements are here.
The Triangle Tribune – Voice of the Black Community
Durham CAN members demand more school counselors
Published, January 31, 2016
by Special To The Tribune
DURHAM – Durham youth and parents connected with Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods will attend a Durham Public Schools Board of Education work session Monday at 4 p.m. to urge DPS to add additional school counselors to their budget. DPS will soon defend its budget projections during meetings with the Durham County commissioners.
Students, parents and community leaders want to ensure the board boosts the capacity of its school-counseling department by adding additional counselors. CAN believes such a solution is an effective crime deterrent and will continue to impact educational outcomes and economic opportunity for many.
“We are seeing improvements in the overall graduation rate, and that is a good thing. Now we need to ensure that those that graduate are able to enroll in college, graduate and become full contributors to the area’s economy,” Riverside High senior Axel Herrera said.
The proposal was generated through a series of community listening sessions sponsored by Durham CAN, a non-partisan network of over 30 diverse community institutions. The lack of school resources, particularly the need for more school counselors, nurses and social workers, was a problem that continued to arise. Ultimately, youth decided to first focus on counselors, as they play an important role in the ability of students to succeed in high school, college and beyond.
As Durham County is struggling with issues of youth violence, school counselors provide a critical set of skills and services that prevent many from falling through the cracks. Counselors are in the classroom helping to teach students skills about decision-making, career planning and getting along with others. They help to ensure students are achieving the skills they need for success.
“Unfortunately, the very sad reality is that there aren’t nearly enough counselors in Durham to help stop this difficult trend,” said Jordan High senior Faith Jones, who helped arrange many of the listening sessions.
“The lack of opportunity and hope often translates into apathy, which fosters the kind of violence we are seeing on the streets. We believe that additional school counselors are a kind of anti-violence vitamin we need in Durham. Do we really want to effectively be our brother’s keeper? If so, we need to look at how we prioritize spending in our system,” said the Rev. Mark Anthony Middleton of Abundant Hope Church.
“Research clearly shows that comprehensive school counseling programs do indeed affect student success and achievement. Data also indicates that students who have access to quality school counseling do better on standardized tests, one predictor of success in college,” Riverside High junior Laura Salazar said. “As a freshman, I would have liked to know what the ACT and SAT were, and how they impacted our futures.”