Over the next five years, hundreds of people will move into – and out of – downtown Durham. Some of them will be moving into new affordable housing and public housing mixed use developments if plans get off the ground.
Anthony Scott has been CEO of the federally-funded Durham Housing Authority for the past year and a half. He previously worked for the Baltimore and Richmond housing authorities, and will shape the future of Durham’s public housing. He sees its future including public housing next to affordable housing.
Some public housing will be torn down, some renovated, some rebuilt and some built up. Scott talked to The Herald-Sun about what he sees for the next few years.
Scott said it’s very important to keep public housing in downtown Durham.
“One of the things that’s so cool about Durham is its mix of people. The concern is that things that drew you here are slowly disappearing,” he said. “Black Durham is concerned there’s an influx of white people moving into Durham and buying [property] and that it’s losing the character and does not have the fabric once there.”
What it was: Fayette Place was a large public housing neighborhood off Umstead Road, visible from Fayetteville Street with historic Hayti on one side and the east side of downtown Durham on the other. There were 200 units there.
What it is: It is 20 acres of vacant land, with concrete front steps and sidewalks that lead nowhere. It’s surrounded by a chain link fence in the shadow of the Durham Freeway.
What Scott wants it to be: Mixed income of people living in public housing, affordable housing and market rate units instead of concentrated poverty, he said, as well as mixed use. That means residential, office space and retail.
“We hope to have a development partner on board before the end of next year,” Scott said.
Morreene Road and Damar Court
What it is: Morreene Road and Damar Court are adjacent public housing neighborhoods built in the late 1960s that will both undergo extensive interior renovations in 2018. They are located near Duke University, not downtown, but first on the list of changes to public housing in Durham. Financing for the projects is expected to be finalized this month. Morreene Road has 226 units and Damar Court has 102 units.
What it will become: DHA will pay to move residents from one part of the development to the other while the work is done in 2018, then move back. Morreene Road and Damar Court will look the same from the outside when work is done, but inside there will be new electrical wiring, drywall and plumbing with the same floorplan.
“This project should have been finished by now. When I started, it had stalled,” Scott said.
DHA office on East Main Street
What it is: The Durham Housing Authority office at 330 E. Main St. is in an old Ford dealership. It has a small parking lot adjacent to it.
What it might become: “We are looking at not necessarily getting rid of this office but to redevelop this office,” he said. That means keeping offices there but also changing and renovating the building.
Oldham Towers/Liberty Street Apartments
What it is: Oldham Towers, a senior citizen high rise on East Main Street, and Liberty Street apartments, right behind it, are considered one site and cover 14 to 15 acres. Oldham has 106 units and was built 1969. Liberty, with 108 units, was built 1972.
What it might become: Scott said DHA will look to redevelop the sites to include public housing and up to and include market rate. He doesn’t think the site should have more than 30 percent public housing, and preferably 20 to 25 percent public housing.
Rather than selling the land, DHA wants to use the downtown Durham location as leverage for its goal of mixed income, mixed use and a public private partnership.
In 2018, the housing authority will hold community input sessions to find out what people want for the land, then take design idea submissions and financing. Scott wants to have a developer lined up by the end of 2019.
“It’s one thing to do pie in the sky, another how are you going to pay for it,” Scott said. He said DHA intends to apply for a Low Income Housing Tax Credit in January 2019.
Where the current residents will go: Some will have already moved to the 30 units of public housing designated for the Jackson Street affordable housing project near the bus station at the other end of downtown. Other units will remain vacant when someone moves out. And everybody else will need to move. Scott sees the site under construction within five years.
City Council’s role
Scott is glad to see that Mayor Steve Schewel and new City Council members have said affordable housing in Durham is critical.
“I’m excited council members get that this is an important issue, clearly,” he said. “I came to Durham because Durham as a whole understands and gets affordable housing is critical to the success of this city. Big C city gets it. Little c city gets it. They’re not trying to fight it. They’re trying to fight for it.”
What about J.J. Henderson?
Scott said rumors about residents having to move out of J.J. Henderson public housing are not true. Nothing is planned for the site for the next couple of years, he said.
“Nobody’s going anywhere. We update residents each month with the Resident Advisory Board.”