Opinion

Affordable housing can be downtown too

Gentrification in Durham: What is it and where is it

A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.
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A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.

Meet Bill. He’s a hardworking man with a fair credit score and clean criminal background check, but he doesn’t make enough money to afford living conditions in reasonably safe neighborhoods with a hint of 21st century amenities. If Bill is given the opportunity (via some sort of affordable housing set aside) to live in Downtown Durham or Uptown Charlotte, wouldn’t that be great?

In Charlotte, Bill’s uptown living experience would be next-level in comparison to Bill’s current situation that includes fighting through traffic and barely making it home by 9 p.m. on weekdays, just in time to eat a meal with his spouse and children before they’re off to bed. Given the opportunity to live in Uptown Charlotte without raising the amount of his rent/mortgage and possibly saving even more on utilities would cut out the time he spends in traffic as well as save him additional money on gas.

If Bill were a resident of the Triangle working in Durham, the opportunity to live in downtown Durham would be nothing short of an unforeseen miracle compared to commuting from Roxboro or in some cases South Boston, Va., Can we all spend a little time to focus on the improved mental health Bill and his family would enjoy simply by having less of their family’s income going out and spending more time together as a family? In this scenario, I don’t see how anyone could pose an intelligent stance against affordable housing.

Housing, however, is far from the only consideration for people in the Triangle like Bill. Groceries cost more in downtown Durham than Roxboro. Parking in Durham is far from free and only slightly easier to find than a black-owned business (but I digress). There also aren’t many early childhood education choices in downtown Durham, and if someone like Bill lived within a mile of Durham’s $2 million penthouses, I’m sure his family couldn’t afford child care.

It’s one thing to advocate for affordable housing, but what about the ability to have an affordable life? As I did a national deep dive of various affordable housing offerings from Newark to Washington, DC, Brooklyn to Charlotte, I was prepared to write about the lack of anyone, anywhere, nationwide that has taken this into account. That was until my research landed me on the only plan that seems to take everything into account.

Recently, Durham County Manager Wendell Davis and his team issued a “solicitation for development partner proposals” for county-owned properties, situated firmly in the heart of downtown Durham. “The County seeks a qualified development partner or partners to redevelop...into a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, ground floor commercial space and structured parking.”

Even more amazing is that the winning proposal came from a black woman-owned firm whose team is diverse, very qualified and experienced and is committed to providing their future tenants and residents with affordable housing and an affordable life via parking, early childhood education and commercial units that will seek to partner with entrepreneurs who share their vision.

This, to me, read like the unforeseen miracle I mentioned earlier. What could possibly be the downside? Let’s hope this model is successful so that the City of Durham and other municipalities can have the necessary blueprint required for being intentional about a more inclusive tomorrow. And, like Bill, the Kychias, Jamals and Mr. & Mrs. Hernandezs of America can factor into the planning phases of development as opposed to being seen as burdensome factors to deal with.

Contributing columnist Edward Boyd lives in Durham.

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