Durham County

Council votes for affordable housing on city land in downtown Durham

The concept design approved by Durham City Council on Oct. 16, 2017 for affordable housing downtown on city-owned land.
The concept design approved by Durham City Council on Oct. 16, 2017 for affordable housing downtown on city-owned land.

Affordable housing in downtown Durham moved closer to reality Monday night when the City Council approved a plan for the Jackson/Pettigrew Street project on city land next to the bus station.

The land is appraised at $2.8 million.

The main difference in four proposed plans was whether to include market-rate units alongside affordable units in the apartment building.

The scenarios also looked at the feasibility of having office and retail use in the building.

In the end, the council voted for the plan that has 80 affordable housing units for residents making 60 percent or less of the area median income, as well as retail and office space. The vote was unanimous, 7-0.

“We’ve always got to build for the future and get the most out of that property that we can,” Mayor Bill Bell said. “This is an investment in downtown. It’s a different type of investment, but it’s an investment in downtown which I support.”

Council members praised the collaborative work that went into the design concept. They also recognized the activism of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, known as Durham CAN.

At a council work session earlier this month discussing the Jackson/Pettigrew project, Cullen McKenney, a minister at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church on West Chapel Hill Street, which is up the hill from the project site, spoke in support of affordable housing. McKenney is also in Durham CAN’s clergy caucus.

“Stay focused on affordable housing. Don’t lose focus,” he said, urging the city to move forward in time to submit the tax-credit application before a January deadline. He said overall CAN liked the concept design proposals.

“The market has not been able to create affordable housing – the only way is for us to step in,” said City Council member Jillian Johnson. “This is my neighborhood ... and I think it’s really going to improve circumstances for folks living where we live.”

Initially the Jackson/Pettigrew Street proposal called for exploring an 80-20 split between affordable and market-rate housing among roughly 120 planned apartments. Two of the four proposed plans included market-rate units, but the council approved all-affordable housing units after the development team told them previously that a market downturn could leave the market-rate units empty. Nearby apartment buildings include Whetstone, Bell West End, American Tobacco and West Village.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit could bring $10 million to the project, which it needs to move forward, according to the development team. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development describes the tax credit as “the most important resource for creating affordable housing in the United States today.”

The next steps in the Jackson/Pettigrew project are to refine details and construction costs, submit the preliminary tax credit application to the N.C. Housing Finance Agency in January and the final version in May. The Housing Finance Agency will announce tax credit awards in August. If Durham gets it, the design will be finalized, permits granted and construction will begin in early 2019. The building would be completed by the end of 2020.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan