The Triangle Tribune – Durham residents want affordable housing at old police headquarters

Published Monday, July 1, 2019

by Freda Freeman, Correspondent 

DURHAM – Standing in front of the old police headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street, residents implored city officials to use the site for affordable housing. They asked city leaders to help make downtown “socially, culturally, and economically diverse.”

Members of more than 30 churches, community organizations, and neighborhoods associated with Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) urged the city to build at least 80 units of affordable housing on the city-owned property, which is considered a gateway to downtown.

The press conference was held on Thursday because Friday was the deadline for developers to submit proposals to the City Council for the redevelopment of the four-acre site. Also, Durham County Commissioners are in the process of interviewing developers for the development of 300 and 500 East Main Street.

Kicking off the rally, Herbert Reynolds Davis, pastor of Nehemiah Church, said: “Not only can our governments demand a certain number of affordable housing units at each of these sites, they can make sure the developers contracted have the best interest of the community. This means making the properties affordable to families for as long as possible, making sure they invest in amenities such as child care, contract women/minorities, as well as hiring local residents, or even returning citizens, all while paying a living wage of at least $15 per hour.”

Davis added that it is important for the developers to work closely with the Durham Housing Authority to ensure housing for residents at or below 30 percent of the area median income. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development defines housing as affordable if the rent is 30 percent or less of a tenant’s income. Davis also said development of the properties should align with the massive redevelopment of public housing that the DHA will undertake over the next 10 years.

Wilbert Pipkin, 67, said he spent 36 years of his life in and out of prison. He said each time he was released, he never received any help reentering society. Now a member of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, Pipkin said he was there to speak for affordable housing, a livable wage, and jobs for people of color, including those with criminal records.

“When we come out of prison, they don’t give us a shot at it at all. That’s why we keep going back and forth,” he said. “I want to do something that can help the people. I want to do something that can help the prisoners. We need to do something that will enable our community to truly be a community for all people.”

Bertha Bradley, who grew up in the West End, said the main reason she has a place to live is because of affordable housing owned by the Durham Community Land Trust. However, she said other longtime residents have been forced out of their homes because of gentrification and Durham’s failure to address the affordable housing crisis.

“Yes, it is a crisis and a shame that in a city like ours, the poor are unwelcomed. Progress should not come at such a great expense that it fails to consider real people and real community,” Bradley said. “It’s important to people like me that this project, here at the police station, be able to have at least 80 affordable housing units. Affordable housing is a crisis that needs a solution.”

The Rev. Tanya Johnson, of Abundant Hope Christian Church, recalled growing up in Durham, but said now she feels more like a tourist than a resident. “We don’t recognize this Durham as we are being farther pushed out. What I found out is we can spend our money downtown, they will accept our money, but won’t let us live downtown, so I say to the mayor, to the City Council, please keep your promises where people of color can work, have transportation, eat, laugh, and, at the end of the night, walk home like everybody else that’s living downtown,” she said.

Cullen McKenney, of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, said when his congregants look across the street at the site, they want to see a building that reflects all of Durham.

“We want this land to reflect the values that we are proud of as a community. We want this land, this gateway into the heart of Durham, to reflect values like diversity and equity,” he said.

The Rev. Jonah Kendall, of Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church, said he and neighboring churches have been working with Durham CAN to ensure the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street be used for at least 300 units of affordable housing. Kendall asked the commissioners to choose a developer that not only has experience developing large projects but one that will invest in Durham and its residents. He also asked that the developers work with the DHA to reserve some of the units for residents with housing subsidy vouchers.

County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs assured the residents that their concerns had been heard.

“What we heard from everyone was No. 1, affordable housing; No. 2, activate East Main Street; No. 3, to have a day care center; and No. 4, opportunities for minority and local businesses. That is what we put in our RFQ (Request for Quote). What we’re hearing is 300 minimum affordable units down to 20 percent AMI; partnering with groups like Urban Ministries to provide supportive and transitional housing; and a pipeline for jobs for people who need them the most, including returning citizens who want to work,” she said.

The County Commissioners received proposals from 65 developers across the country to develop the Main Street properties. The commissioners narrowed the field down to three and will begin meeting with them next week to hear their proposals.