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Council signals support for major affordable housing proposal

Durham’s affordable housing efforts got a boost last Thursday as City Council members voiced support for a $6-million dollar project that would preserve and develop over 100 residences.

At a Council work session, the nonprofit Housing for New Hope (HNH) asked the city for over $3-million dollars, and five of six members present showed enthusiasm for the proposal. 

That $3-million dollars would go with another $3-million already approved by the County Commissioners in early May. The commissioners’ commitment is contingent on the City Council’s official approval of the project.  

City officials have repeatedly said that affordable housing is a top priority as rents and home prices have skyrocketed in recent years, boxing out scores of Durhamites, many of whom have decided to relocate. 

A 2023 North Carolina Housing Coalition report found that 48% of Durham renters had “difficulty affording their homes.” Earlier this year, HNH estimated that the city’s unsheltered population–homeless people who live in places such as cars, stairways, and commercial buildings–has increased 10% over last year. But as the unsheltered population grows, “we are losing more [affordable housing] across the state, from what we understand, than we are constructing,” Russell Pierce, HNH’s executive director, said in an interview. 

Pierce stressed the need for “deeply affordable” supportive housing that provides resources to combat conditions often faced by people experiencing chronic homelessness, such as substance use disorders and mental health challenges. HNH already oversees two such communities in Durham. 

By acquiring 531 E. Carver Street, HNH would be able to develop and preserve 100-120 units of supportive housing. The location, next to another HNH property, would accommodate 45 of the new units. 

“Where would that money come from?” Mayor Elaine O’Neal asked at the work session. 

City Manager Wanda Page responded that Durham’s affordable housing budget “would not be able to cover something of this magnitude.” The $3.025 million would have to come from the city’s savings.  

“I do think that we can justify going into our savings,” Mayor O’Neal said. “This does fall into a unique category for our most vulnerable and marginalized community members.” 

The overall $6-million dollar request would cover only the buying price of the land. HNH mentioned other partners– including Alliance Health, Duke University, and Duke Health–that are interested in financially supporting the development of the units and services. 

Currently, the property is under contract with HNH and has a projected closing date of June 28th.

The acquisition of Carver Creek would not only allow for the 45 new units; it would also keep the current tenants housed. In 2024, the Carver Creek complex, which serves low-income residents, will be at its 30-year expiration of protections—meaning that a private developer can buy the property. Pierce noted that of today’s residents, 60 percent are on government subsidies, and would likely struggle to find new affordable housing. 

As it turns out, other publicly funded properties could also be reaching the end of their protections. “It’s kind of scary that there might be a bunch of other buildings out there that we don’t know about that we might lose, and that we’ve got folks living in that we want to make sure we can continue to house,” Council Member Jillian Johnson said. 

“We really do look forward to partnering, not just in the development of the Carver Creek campus, but also partnering to help so that we as a community can have a plan to address the potential loss of other properties,” Pierce said in an interview. 

At the work session, representatives of several key organizations voiced their support for the Carver Creek acquisition. The organizations included the Community Empowerment Fund, the Criminal Justice Resource Center, Durham CAN, Durham Congregation and Action, and Urban Ministries.

“I have a pretty good life now,” said Jeremy Bergman from CAN, who identifies as a low-income disabled veteran. “The biggest factor is that I live in affordable housing and I have been able to access mental health services.”

Along with O’Neal, Council members Leonardo Williams, Mark-Anthony Middleton, Javiera Caballero, and Monique Holsey-Hyman, expressed their support for the project and urged other community stakeholders to get involved.

Between May 2018 and May 2022, average rents in Durham-Chapel Hill surged about 25 percent. And in that same period, median purchasing prices for Durham homes soared about 40 percent. Meanwhile, the number of unsheltered people in Durham has increased 105 percent over the last three years. 

“I think this is an opportunity for us to engage the broader community to be players in solving this crisis,” Williams said. “There are a lot of folks that are sitting in the audience or on the sidelines watching, and I challenge them, publicly, to get in the game.” 


Audrey Patterson