Date: January 4, 2021
To: Ms. Ashanti Brown, Durham Housing Authority
330 E. Main St., Durham, NC 27701
Subject: WRITTEN COMMENT - FY2021 Annual PHA Plan & 5-Year Plan
In 1998, the US Congress established the public housing agency (PHA) plan to ensure “that the PHA is accountable to the local community for choices it makes.” Our comments highlight specific recommendations that the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) should consider to increase accountability for the significant investments of tax-payer funds including:
- Publishing complete information for all prior and current RAD Conversions on the DHA website.
- Prioritizing the organization and training of a Resident Advisory Board and Resident Councils as required under federal law.
- Revising the Durham Housing Authority Downtown Neighborhood Plan (DDNP) to incorporate feedback from long-time homeowners and community members about what the plan gets wrong and is missing.
- Presenting a financial update at the next DHA Board of Commissioners meeting on how the RAD conversions of Damar Court and Morreene Road have generated funding that is being used to address maintenance issues in other DHA communities.
- Providing a briefing to the City of Durham’s Affordable Housing Bond Implementation Committee on the return of investment of City funds granted to DHA since 2017.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on these plans. In the future, please consider how your scheduling of public hearings and public comment impacts religious and cultural holiday observances. A public review and comment period that falls over during the busiest months for clergy leaders and community members prevents meaningful public participation in the process.
Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods
Date: January 5, 2020
Attn: Ms. Ashanti Brown, Durham Housing Authority
330 E. Main St., Durham, NC 27701
Subject: MTW WRITTEN COMMENT
The Moving to Work Demonstration program (MTW) is an opportunity for Public Housing Authorities (PHA) to participate in testing new policies aimed at 1) reducing the cost to the PHA of administering rent policies, 2) incentivizing families to work or prepare to work, and 3) increase housing choices for low-income families. The Durham Housing Authority (DHA) is applying to be a part of Cohort #2: Rent reform with the desire to test a Tiered Rent policy. Thus, a DHA resident in the treatment group would pay rent within an income tier and that rent would be the same until the next recertification in three years. DHA has suggested that the cost reductions of not having to recertify every year and the flexibility to use existing PHA and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) funds would allow them to fund 4 new programs: 1) resident support services 2) increase funding for Project Based Vouchers (PBV) 3) increase landlord incentives, and 4) pre-development costs. However, no new funding for such programs will be provided as part of participation in the program.
We have no comment about the merits of MTW or the expansion; however, we believe it is not the right time for the Durham Housing Authority to apply to participate in the program for the following reasons:
- We fully support an increase in resident services and increasing the number of families DHA is able to assist with more PBVs; but, with no new money being provided to the agencies chosen to participate in the program, we question where this money will come from. A large portion of DHA’s communities have been failing the Physical Assessment Subsystem (PASS) for many years. Resident inspections at Hoover Road in 2019 and the carbon monoxide crisis at McDougald Terrace in 2020 confirm the deteriorating conditions that families in these communities live in. The top priority for DHA should be ensuring that all units across all its properties are in safe and livable conditions.
- The tiered rent system as described at the end of the application would create a system in which some families end up paying more than 30% of their rent if their monthly income is less than the midpoint of the tier. A family with an income of $5,000 places them in tier 3 and a rent of $156 per month or 37% of their monthly income.
- As of January 2, 2021 DHA has 13 open positions listed on their website including the person who will manage the Jobs Plus Program that is set to launch on February 15 (according to the 2021 Annual Plan on page 17). We are concerned with DHA’s capacity to take on a new program while negotiating a recovery policy with HUD for the “Troubled Agency” designation as well as managing existing and new programs like ROSS and Jobs Plus.
- DHA has been designated a “Troubled Agency” under the Public Housing Assessment System due in large part to the PASS scores. According to the Moving to Work Operations Notice ( FR-5994-N-05), “MTW agencies will not be scored in PHAS unless and until HUD develops a MTW-specific system or successor …”. This would deny the public and its residents the one way of reviewing the overall performance of their local housing authority including the physical assessment of its units, potentially leading to a further erosion of trust within the community.
We thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the MTW Plan and Application.
Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods
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: