Opinion

Light rail integral to Durham’s affordable-housing plans

Anthony Scott is CEO of the Durham Housing Authority. John Tallmadge is interim project director for the light-rail project at GoTriangle.
Anthony Scott is CEO of the Durham Housing Authority. John Tallmadge is interim project director for the light-rail project at GoTriangle.

Meeting the city of Durham’s affordable-housing goals would not be possible without mutually beneficial partnerships.

The city and county of Durham, GoTriangle and the Durham Housing Authority are committed to enhancing opportunities for existing low-income families as well as to increasing the production of affordable housing. The light-rail project is critical to the success of these goals, and the success of these goals is critical to the light-rail project.

We at the Durham Housing Authority and at GoTriangle applaud the Durham County commissioners for recognizing that mutually beneficial relationship and deciding to build 277 affordable apartments on parking lots near the planned light-rail station at Dillard Street in downtown Durham.

We also applaud the city of Durham for its continued efforts to fund affordable housing through its “2 cents for housing initiative” that generates over $5 million annually for affordable-housing preservation and production.

Seven out of every 10 existing homes owned by the Durham Housing Authority are within a mile of a proposed light-rail station. Nearly 1,200 of the authority’s homes are within a 10-minute walk of a light-rail station.

Durham and Orange counties’ light-rail line will provide convenient, frequent and reliable access to these residents, greatly expanding their opportunities for jobs, education, health care and entertainment.

The light-rail line also is essential to helping the authority expand its stock of affordable homes through the federal Housing and Urban Development program known as the Rental Assistance Demonstration program or RAD.

Due in part to the proximity of DHA-owned properties to light-rail stations, DHA’s approach to the RAD program will allow the creation of newly built mixed-income and mixed-use communities and an overall increase of housing units. The value and number of market-rate apartments and any nonresidential space directly influence the number of affordable homes a development can support. The more private investment a light-rail station area can attract, the more DHA can leverage that investment for affordable housing.

Not only will the light rail benefit existing DHA residents and the authority’s expansion plans, but the number of permanent affordable homes near the light-rail line also is an important reason why the project is on track to receive a federal investment of over $1.2 billion.

The Federal Transit Administration highly values transit projects that provide improved service to affordable-housing communities. Based on the FTA’s criteria, the light-rail project will receive a 5 out of 5 rating in this category. Without so many of the authority’s communities close to the light-rail line, this top score would not be possible.

Perhaps most importantly, the light rail will help restore access to important job, education and health care centers for communities that have been historically underserved and cut off from opportunities in Durham.

The light rail will travel over the Durham Freeway, providing a reliable and sustainable connection between the N.C. Central University station and downtown Durham. The NCCU station is adjacent to the planned site for NCCU’s School of Business on Alston Avenue. It’s also less than a mile away from Durham Technical Community College, less than a half-mile from Lincoln Community Health Center and less than a quarter-mile from McDougald Terrace, a DHA community envisioned for redevelopment as mixed-income affordable housing.

A light-rail trip from this area, across Durham Freeway and into the heart of downtown Durham will take less than seven minutes. A trip to Duke will take less than 15 minutes, and a trip to the end of the line at UNC will be possible in under an hour.

Whether it’s bridging the divide across the freeway, providing frequent and reliable access to job and health care centers, connecting students with opportunities for college success or driving investment in affordable- housing communities, the light-rail project will be transformative for Durham and the first step in a regional transit network for the Triangle.

Anthony Scott is CEO of the Durham Housing Authority. John Tallmadge is interim project director for the light-rail project at GoTriangle.

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