Durham County

Housing supply in Durham can't keep up with demand. What should the city do about it?

Durham’s housing supply can’t keep up with demand from new people moving to the city. New residents have $13,000/year average higher annual income than current residents.
Durham’s housing supply can’t keep up with demand from new people moving to the city. New residents have $13,000/year average higher annual income than current residents. cliddy@newsobserver.com

People who want to buy a home in Durham are facing a lot more competition for a lot more expensive homes.

Increased demand — 20 people moving to the Bull City a day, Mayor Steve Schewel says — is driving up prices of homes for sale.

And the city's current zoning, which favors single-family homes, is making it harder for newcomers to buy or rent townhouses and other forms of multi-family housing as well.

Five years ago there were about 1,500 houses for sale in Durham at any given time.

Today there are about 800 houses for sale, according to the planning department. They cost more and don't stay on the market long:

Median number of days a house is on the market: 41

Median sale price of a house in March 2013: $168,000

Median sale price of a house in March 2018: $258,000

Local planners are trying to get a grasp on where housing stands in Durham and what can be done to expand it.

The joint planning department has started a yearlong study, "Expanding Housing Choices," to learn what residents have to say about their current housing and what changes they'd like to see. City and county staff will be at events all summer to get your feedback or you can submit it online at https://publicinput.com/2771.

What they do know is that development isn't keeping up with the number of people moving here, often from more expensive places like Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles.

From 2010 to 2015, there were 10,774 new households in Durham, but only 9,629 new housing units, according to "Expanding Housing Choices," a new project of the Durham City-County Planning Department. That's a gap of 1,145 places for the new residents to live.

At the same time Durham is running out of large areas of vacant land that near city utilities. Planners say the way to accommodate Durham's growth is to build out, build up and build in.

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Karen Lado of the Community Development department told the City Council in March that if Durham doesn't build more housing, “we will become even more unaffordable than we already are.”

Housing is considered "affordable" if housing payments and utilities cost less than 30 percent of your household income.

Multi-family housing, like townhouses, duplexes and apartments, can be cheaper. But current zoning perpetuates the status quo, letting developers build single-family housing on available land 77 percent of the time, but only 8 percent of the time for "missing middle" density housing. So multi-family housing developments often require rezonings that come before the City Council, where they can face opposition,

In March, after voting to approve a rezoning that allowed a new townhouse development in East Durham, Mayor Steve Schewel said Durham must recognize it needs more density housing.

Either we build more houses or the price of housing is going to go through the roof, and we need more density," Schewel said.

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"There are fewer forces more powerful than a single-family neighborhood, half of whom are our friends, trying to stop neighborhoods around them," Schewel said.

Planning Director Pat Young said that the whole tool of zoning is a significant contributor to Durham's housing problem. Post-World War II zoning in cities that benefit single-family houses was done to protect the natural environment, manage community character and other reasons, he said, but "at a very high cost."

Talk about housing choices at these summer events:

Saturday, June 23: 9 a.m. to noon at the Durham Farmers Market,Durham Central Park, 501 Foster St.

Saturday, July 7: 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rock the Park Concert & Movie Series at Forest Hills Park, 1639 University Drive.

Saturday, Aug. 4: 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rock the Park Concert & Movie Series at Southern Boundaries Park, 100 Third Fork Road.

Saturday, Aug. 11: Noon to 5 p.m. at the Durham Latino Festival at Rock Quarry Park, 701 Stadium Drive.

The deadline to complete the online housing survey is Aug. 15.

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