DHA, nonprofits discussing possible collaboration

Apr. 23, 2013 @ 06:54 PM

Two nonprofit groups and the Durham Housing Authority recently opened exploratory talks on whether they can work together to develop roughly a 50-unit housing project for low-income renters and buyers.

The discussions, still in the very early stages, are fueled in part by worry about the diminishing availability of governmental subsidies for low-cost housing projects, DHA Chief Executive Officer Dallas Parks and City Councilman Steve Schewel said.

In such an environment, “it would be great if the groups could collaborate on some common work because oftentimes they’re competing against each other for federal money or tax-credit financing,” Schewel said.

So far, officials from DHA, Habitat for Humanity of Durham and Housing for New Hope have met twice.

More meetings are coming up, including one late this week among DHA leaders, Schewel and city Community Development Director Reginald Johnson.

The initial talks have focused on whether the groups can and should work on the creation of what Schewel in an email termed “a small neighborhood” that would include a mix of housing types.

Within the project, the “idea is each of the developers would develop within their area of expertise,” Schewel said.

That would most likely mean Habitat taking the lead in building houses for sale to buyers in its ownership-training program, with DHA handling work on rental units and Housing for New Hope potentially focusing on developing space for formerly homeless people.

Initially, the idea is that about 30 units would cater to renters making 30 to 50 percent of the area median income. Ten more would rent to those making less than 30 percent of the median and the remaining 10 would be for sale.

The idea of a 50-unit project is “something we threw out there preliminarily as a starting point” for the discussion, Parks said, adding that participants are “taking a look at what the ingredients need to be” to support a joint project.

Eventually, they’d have to agree on a site, a funding scheme, an overall organization and a management strategy, he said.

None of those things has been nailed down.

“We’re doing a look-see, what-if kind of situation” and are far from something firm to report, Parks said. “But I am happy that people are sitting down at the table and attempting to explore ways and means for us to work together collaboratively.”

“Nobody’s signed on the dotted line, there’s not a common entity yet, we don’t have a site; all these things are in the idea and planning stage,” Schewel added. “But I’m very excited about it and all are things the group is very interested in.”

Schewel, the City Council’s liaison to the housing authority, has tried to encourage the talks by telling participants he’d be willing to “go to bat” for a joint project by supporting an allocation of city housing funds.

He was alluding to proceeds of the “penny for housing” earmark of property tax revenue the council established last year.

Administrators at the council’s insistence outlined a long-range plan for using the revenue, with a fair bit of it going to support city-sponsored redevelopment work in the Rolling Hills and Southside neighborhoods.

But at least a few projects and allocations in the outline are subject to change, thus opening the door for officials to stockpile money for a joint project.

The other motivating factor for a joint project is the overall housing situation in Durham, which figures suggest has become more costly, in relative terms, for owners and renters alike.

City officials in judging that assume a household shouldn’t have to spend more than 30 percent of its monthly income on rent or a mortgage.

Federal surveys indicate 32.0 percent of the city’s mortgage holders and 47.6 percent of its renters were paying more for housing as the decade of the 2000s neared its close.

Those figures were both higher than their equivalents as of 2000, when 25.4 percent of mortgage holders and 38.3 percent of renters were seeing costs above the 30-percent-of-income benchmark.