Date: October 22, 2020
To: Durham City Council
Re: Public Comments on Work Session Agenda Item #25 Approval of $15.4 Million Tax-Exempt Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds for JJ Henderson Towers
On Wednesday September 30th, Durham CAN leaders participated in a public hearing advertised on the Durham Housing Authority (DHA’s) website as an opportunity to comment on draft revisions and amendments to DHA plans and policies. Many were surprised to learn that there were actually three separate hearings being conducted, including one for DHA’s issuance of $15.4 million of tax-exempt bonds to finance the sale of JJ Henderson Towers. The Certificate and Summary submitted by DHA Board Chair, Mr. Dan Hudgins reflects one public comment. Considering that over 40 people participated in the hearing, many may not have commented on the bond items because no meeting agenda was published prior to the meeting and while a public notice was published in The Herald, the notice wasn’t published on DHA’s website.
Ms. Ladd’s comment highlights a continued and growing concern about the level of transparency the public should expect from DHA and the level of accountability that we should expect you to hold DHA to. Ms. Ladd’s comment -- specifically her request for access to the project contracts and evidence of resident input for a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) project -- were not addressed, and the information is not on the DHA website. Instead, Ms. Ladd received a 7-page FAQ about RAD. However, when CAN made the same information request to the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, within the hour we received a 76-page response that included the project’s tax credit application, bond allocation, sale terms and list of 50 attachments including market studies, term sheets, commitment letters, relocation plans, and contracts.
DHA, while a separate legal entity from the City of Durham, is the City’s largest provider of low-income housing -- a precious resource not solely because of the scarcity of the units, but because of the lives of the adults and children who call them home. You appoint the Durham Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, who hire, fire and review the performance of the DHA CEO. You approve City funding to DHA. You approve tax-exempt bonds, and you establish and enforce a housing code to ensure that tax-payers are not subsidizing slum conditions. In addition to the concerns we raised with DHA in advance of the September 30th Public Hearing, we’ve attached questions regarding this item and additional issues of concern. We look forward to your response.
Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods
- Will there be a new public hearing for this Work Session Item? If so, what information will DHA make publicly accessible prior to the new hearing? How will the Certificate and Summary accurately reflect the response to the public comment?
- During our October 20th meeting with Mr. Anthony Scott and Ms. Ashanti Brown, we were surprised to learn that the City’s Affordable Housing Implementation Committee -- which you instituted to advise the Community Development Department on the implementation of the Affordable Housing Investment Plan -- has not weighed in on the bond funding for the sale of JJ Henderson or Oakley Square. Considering that a significant portion of City’s Affordable Housing Investment Plan is the redevelopment of DHA properties as outlined in the DHA Downtown & Neighborhood Plan (DDNP), and considering the $ 2.9 million from the City of Durham Dedicated Housing Funds awarded to DHA/DVI as a loan to the new owners of JJ Henderson Tower for development of the project, when will the Committee have an opportunity to advise you on the City’s financial investment in this sale?
- In our October 10th public comments on the conveyance of 505 W. Chapel Hill Street to West Chapel Hill Development LLC, we also expressed our deep concern and disappointment at the delays in the disposition of City-owned, vacant lots in the Hayti community and the community engagement program that you committed to create and implement in 2017 to provide meaningful opportunities for the Durham community to contribute input in connection with the redevelopment of the former site of the Fayetteville Street Projects and the surrounding area. When and how do you plan to move forward on both of these items?
- As of July 2020, DHA had over 2,000 work orders for maintenance requests. Will future funding from the City be contingent on DHA’s response to maintenance requests? Will the City’s Neighborhood Improvement Services Department continue to offer support to DHA to address inspections and repairs as it did during the December 2019 carbon monoxide crisis at McDougald Terrace?
- Page 81 of the July DHA Board of Commissioners Packet includes minutes from the June 17 2020 meeting of the Operations Committee. During that meeting, Mr. Scott outlined a strategy to use City funds that DHA received for public housing communities (like McDougald Terrace) to be counted as repayment towards a $3.5 Million debt stemming from a 2005 Office of Inspector General (OIG) Audit. Does this strategy require City Council’s approval? If the City funds are for repairs that have not been completed, can the City funds be counted toward repayment to OIG?
Durham Detention Center Testing & Data Transparency: Our Letter to Durham Public Health Director Rodney Jenkins
June 30, 2020
Director, Durham County Department of Public Health
Dear Director Jenkins,
We, Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN), are an organization based in over 30 influential institutions throughout our community that share a concern for families and a tradition of faith and democracy. We seek to develop public relationships with elected, appointed, and other leaders in our community, and through those relationships shape public policy for the common good, especially for the voiceless and vulnerable in Durham. We also hold our leaders accountable. While we hope to have a relational meeting with you soon (see below), the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic do not permit us to wait before sharing with you our concerns and requests.
When you assumed the role of Director of Durham County Department of Public Health (DCoDPH), you committed to serving all the residents of Durham County. In this role, you are charged with helping the whole community, including those people who cannot speak for themselves. We are writing today specifically about our incarcerated brothers and sisters at the Durham County Detention Facility. We acknowledge and thank you for the Durham County Coronavirus Data Hub, which includes the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, the average age of a COVID-19 person, the demographics, and the total number of deaths. While the Data Hub is revealing, it lacks testing and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility. The DCoDPH website mentions that it will use every resource at its disposal to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We believe that transparent and up-to-date testing and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility is critical in combating the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter to Durham CAN dated June 1, 2020, Sheriff Clarence Birkhead stated that approximately 24 residents were tested for COVID-19, and thankfully, none were positive. When asked about making this data public, Sheriff Birkhead indicated that this information was forwarded to you, Director Jenkins. Thus, our first request of you today is:
Will you make current and future COVID-19 testing and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility publicly available on the Durham County Department of Public Health's website?
As the Health Director, we know you understand the dire consequences of a virus making its way into a closed building with congregate residents like the Detention Facility. During an online conversation that we had with Sheriff Birkhead on June 8, he committed to testing all the residents of the Detention Facility if he had sufficient resources. He told us that he did not have the resources then, and he anticipated that his budget would be reduced in the next county budget. If you have access to tests that could be made available to the residents at the Detention Facility, we would ask that you make these tests immediately available so that all residents can be tested. Even if you do not have access to a significant number of tests currently, Durham county will be receiving federal money from the CARES Act that must be used towards mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Thus, our second request of you today is:
Will you provide tests and/or advocate or arrange to designate a portion of the CARES Act money that Durham county receives to fund COVID-19 testing for all residents of the Durham County Detention Facility?
Finally, as we indicated above, Durham CAN believes that the most productive public relationships we can have with our leaders is borne of a strong relational foundation. Thus, our final request today is:
Will you meet with Durham CAN leaders via online platform in the next month to discuss your work and vision for DCoDPH?
We believe that answering yes to all three of our questions would be consistent with your commitment to protect and serve all of Durham County residents. Considering the aggressive nature of COVID-19, we hope that since June 1, 2020, there has been ample testing in the Durham County Detention Facility. We hope that tests are readily available for our incarcerated brothers and sisters. We acknowledge all the steps you have taken thus far, but we hope that our call for more transparency does not go unanswered as it is your duty to keep our community safe. As coronavirus cases rise in our county and state, our concerns are obviously urgent. We eagerly await a response to this letter. We look forward to speaking with you soon, and we hope you will let us know if there is anything Durham CAN can do to help you in your work.
Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods
On Tuesday, June 2nd, Sheriff Birkhead provided the following response and accepted the invitation to attend our next Criminal Justice Action Team meeting on Monday, June 8th:
May 20, 2020
Clarence F. Birkhead
Sheriff, Durham County
Dear Sheriff Birkhead,
As our community continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we first want to thank you for your April 6 letter detailing the initial measures you took to prevent the spread of the virus in the Durham County Detention Center. After detention officer Alexander Pettiway, Jr.’s death from COVID-19 and several other officers testing positive for the disease, we write with continued concern for the safety of your employees and our incarcerated brothers and sisters. In addition to seeking information, we also want to know how we as a community can assist and support you in making the detention center as safe as possible.
Response from Durham County, Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead re: COVID-19 & Incarcerated Community Members
On Friday, April 3rd, Durham CAN sent a letter to Durham County Sheriff, Clarence F. Birkhead, to express our concerns and priorities regarding our brothers and sisters in the Durham County Detention Facility; and to invite his thoughts about how we as a community could assist him and his staff in securing the necessary resources to protect the men and women in his custody. Our letter also included a list of questions about the specific measures he was taking at the Detention Center facility to prevent the spread of a virus.
On Monday, April 7th, Sheriff Birkhead provided the following response:
April 27, 2020
District Attorney, Durham County
Dear Ms. Deberry,
We write to follow up on our letter of March 27 and our conversation on April 2. First, thank you for your efforts in reducing our county’s jail population during this pandemic. As of this morning the jail population is 265. That number was nearly 500 when you took office, and it was over 360 five weeks ago. The drastic reduction, achieved through a combination of fewer and lower pretrial bonds and sensible plea agreements, is laudable. We thank you, the defense bar, and the responsible magistrates and judges for such quick and dramatic action in deference to public health.
We hope that you and all those you hold dear are faring well during these times.
A lot has changed since our last Metro Council Meeting at Abundant Hope. And the fact is that many of the communities we organize with are in a constant state of emergency even when there isn't a pandemic. So while this moment forces us to adjust our methods and our tempo, we still remain committed to action.
Leaders from all Durham CAN institutions, as well as those assessing membership, are welcome to our April Metro Council meeting:
Durham CAN Metro Council Meeting
Thursday, April 16, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm