From the front porch of the duplex on Scout Drive where Eddie Green has lived for about seven years, he sees a construction site with mounds of dirt and equipment.
The site is planned to be a new 48-home neighborhood that’s part of a revitalization project launched by the City of Durham and other partners to uplift the Southside neighborhood.
The sloping construction site is off Lakewood Avenue, just down the road from the American Tobacco downtown office and restaurant campus, the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The new construction is positive, he said, but he expressed doubts that the duplex he rents, and other houses along his side of the street, will be part of the finished picture.
And while the city and other groups are providing incentives to try to bring in a mix of incomes and to make homes affordable for more people, the $176,200 price tag of some of the homes had a sticker-shock effect on Green, who said it was “kind of crazy.”
“I probably won’t be here,” he said. “I don’t know what (they’re) trying to do; move us out or something.”
‘Back to its former vitality’
It was in 2008 that Phail Wynn Jr., Duke University’s vice president for Durham and regional affairs, got a tour of the Southside neighborhood from an official with Durham-based Self-Help, a lending institution with a community redevelopment arm.
He said the goal was to convince him and a city staffer to restore the neighborhood and bring it “back to its former vitality.”
The area is close to downtown and American Tobacco, Wynn said, adding that the university wants to support the “continued growth and expansion” of downtown. He also said it’s a “prime location” for affordable housing for employees of Duke and downtown businesses.
To help the institution acquire vacant or dilapidated properties in the Southside, Wynn said Duke loaned $8 million. This is the third time that the university has partnered with Self-Help on a community redevelopment project in Durham.
Dan Levine, Self-Help’s assistant director of real estate, said in an email that the strategy in Southside was to acquire enough property to facilitate “large-scale revitalization.”
With American Tobacco nearby, Southside was seen as a well-defined area with a jumping off point where officials felt they could make a big impact, said Tucker Bartlett, executive vice president of the Self-Help Ventures Fund, the nonprofit real-estate arm for Self-Help.
Levine said that Self-Help acquired 105 properties in Southside, most of which were vacant homes and lots. And earlier this year, 71 of those were sold to the city so it could move forward with a 48-home neighborhood.
The cost to the city was just under $2.6 million, said Reginald Johnson, director of Durham’s Community Development department, in an email. Forty-four of those properties are in the area where the city has planned the 48-lot neighborhood.
Johnson said Southside was one of three priority neighborhoods identified as targets for neighborhood revitalization. Of the three neighborhoods, he said Southside had the lowest rate of home ownership, and the largest concentration of vacant properties. The project targets an area on the southern edge of downtown, north of N.C. Central University.
Johnson also said revitalization is seen as one weapon against criminal activity. Most areas like Southside that have “experienced long-term periods of disinvestment,” are particularly vulnerable to that, he said.
City leaders also have coordinated with the Durham Police Department to cut down on crime. Police Capt. Patrice Andrews, commander of the district that includes Southside, said the department has been “progressive and proactive” in coming up with new initiatives for Southside.
“This was done long before the redevelopment, so to speak,” she said.
“Waiting to get homes”
The first phase of the Southside revitalization project is underway.
Delayed due to rain, the first 93 rental units of a planned 132-unit rental development near Lakewood’s intersection with Roxboro Street are expected to be completed by the end of December, Johnson said. Eighty of those units will be for low-to-moderate-income renters. The rest of the units should be finished next year.
The next phase, visible from Green’s front porch, includes the 48 homes.
The neighborhood is planned to be mixed income, with 51 percent or more of the homes selling to people in households at or below 80 percent of the area median income, which is $54,150, according to Johnson. For a two-person household, that’s $43,350.
To help bring in potential buyers, the City of Durham, Duke University and the N.C. Finance Housing Authority have offered incentives.
Johnson said in an email that buyers must be approved for a mortgage from the bank, and he added that, generally, a credit score of at least 640 is required.
For a three-person household earning $36,600 buying a $175,000 home, the cost might be about $754 per month with loans from the city and N.C. Housing Finance Agency.
Duke’s incentive is for employees of the university or the health system. In total, the university is providing up to 15 forgivable loans of $10,000 each. Wynn said the university received an “overwhelming” response from more than 142 people.
From that pool, he said, officials sent 18 applications to be reviewed by bank officials for a pre-application analysis. For remaining employees who have a “little ways to go” before they can qualify for a mortgage, he said the university partnered to provide financial literacy and credit repair training.
For the city’s or N.C. Housing Finance Authority’s assistance, a total of 27 applications had been received as of Oct. 7, Johnson said. Full-fledged promotion will begin in the next few weeks, and construction won’t fully begin until January.
Britney Wallace, owner of B. Wallace Design and Construction, which is one of two general contracting companies picked by the city to build the 48 new homes along with the company Andrew Roby, said she expected to start this fall, at least on a spec home.
“We have people that are waiting to get homes,” she said.
The company had taken reservations from eight potential buyers in the new neighborhood as of earlier this month, although Wallace said the company hadn’t signed any contracts.
There are young professionals and empty nesters that want to be downtown in the group, Wallace said, adding that the people who are interested in living in the neighborhood “are already accustomed to downtown.” A challenge is finding potential buyers who meet the lower-income qualifications, she said.
Ben Haas, a current Durham resident, said in an email earlier in the month that he was one of the interested clients. He said he and his wife currently love living close to downtown, and they see Southside as a “unique opportunity” to buy an attractive, affordable home in a “fantastic location.”
Lisa Leathers said she’s lived on Scout Drive, which looks out over the 48-home site, her whole life. She lives in a home next door to the house where she grew up. Now 40 years old, she has a baby of her own.
She described the neighborhood as one where “everybody looked out for everybody.”
Up the street, she said crime is a problem, but she said it doesn’t trickle down to where she lives.
She welcomed the new construction, saying “it’s time for a change” but, like Green, she didn’t expect her home to be left alone.
“I know (they won’t) do one side of the street, and just leave us,” she said. “As long as I can stay, I want to. I was raised here.”
Leathers also said she felt the prices of the new homes were too high.
“We’re barely living here now, with the taxes going up on the light bill,” she said. “Like I said, with the prices – who can afford that?”