Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Local government”

Fayette Place development sparks criticism from Hayti community

It’s not a place that people tend to visit.

At the corner of East Umstead and Grant Streets sits Fayette Place. A metallic fence that’s taller than a street lamp post encloses the 20-acre site. But even from the outside, anyone can see the honey-colored grass that isn’t mowed; the clusters of crumbling red bricks that aren’t paved; the bits of trash that are carried inside by the wind or trespassers. 

But Fayette Place won’t remain vacant forever. In January, the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) released its proposal to build 774 affordable housing units on the property. The ground plan features a variety of building designs: garden-style walk-ups, L-shaped low-rise apartments, a parking structure and a 2,000-square-foot retail parcel. 

The City of Durham is funding this three-phase project. Five years ago, officials awarded the DHA a $4.2 million grant to purchase the land. The agreement comes with a stipulation: the city must allow the community to “contribute input in connection with the redevelopment of the site and the surrounding area.” 

The housing authority claims it has done just that. But residents of the local Hayti district—encircling Fayette Place—say that the authority has not considered their feedback. 

***

“From what I have heard and assessed,” Hayti resident Melvin Speight said, “they [the DHA] have talked to very few people.”

Speight grew up in the historic African-American neighborhood. It’s the place where he attended services at nearby Mount Vernon Baptist Church with his four sisters. It’s the place where, as a young man, he joined his father’s business, Speight’s Auto Services, at 422 Pettigrew Street. It’s the place where  Speight is at home.

Speight is one of many Black entrepreneurs who form Durham’s African-American commercial heart. In the 20th century, over 200 African-American-owned businesses lined Fayetteville, Pettigrew and Pine streets in Hayti. Residents of the district want to ensure that the community’s history as a cultural and commercial hub is not forgotten.

***

“My dream and vision,” resident Faye Calhoun says, “is that a Black history tour will start.” She gently smiles, revealing laugh lines that curve up to her silver glasses. Her curly ash-colored hair rests atop her beaming face. 

Since 2017,  Calhoun has lived near the Fayetteville Street corridor. Her home is an understated, yet picturesque, brick property with four bedrooms. She hopes that Hayti becomes a destination that represents Durham’s African-American history. 

Yet Calhoun hasn’t had the chance, she says, to voice her aspirations to the housing authority. “They know how to contact us,” she says, shaking her head. “And they did not.”

***

Bishop Clarence Laney’s concern for the neighborhood’s history stems from his 26 years of work in the community. He currently leads a congregation of nearly 300 people at the Church of God of Prophecy. Even though services are being held over Zoom, Bishop Laney stays connected with parishioners through regular coffee chats outside of church.. 

The housing authority has overlooked Bishop Laney’s congregation and their feedback, he says. “The DHA has not done a good job, in my opinion, in making sure that the voices of those who live in the community are centered in this project,” he says.

Speaking via Zoom from his home office, against a backdrop of burnt-orange walls, he says he wants to see “a park or some sort of memorial, which reflects the true history and past of this community.” 

***

Other members of the community would like to see the housing authority contribute to Hayti’s economic development. Among these people is Henry McKoy, who serves as the project director of Hayti Reborn, a developer that aims to revitalize the Fayetteville Street corridor.

“There is a desire to create something that would spur permanent jobs, economic opportunity, and upward mobility,” McKoy says. He pauses and reclines in his black swivel chair. The subtle motion creates a few wrinkles in his white checkered button-down. 

McKoy believes the DHA should prioritize generational wealth-building because of his own upbringing. As a child, he watched his 15-year-old mother drop out of high school.  McKoy stood by her, 15 years later, when she passed her General Educational Development test before she graduated from Fayetteville Technical Institute. Inspired by her, he eventually became the first person in his family to attend graduate school.

He believes that upward mobility and economic development go hand-in-hand. 

He views the housing authority’s current approach to Fayette Place as nearsighted. “There’s a tendency to think,” says  McKoy, “that poor African-Americans only need to be housed.” 

***

When the DHA announced its purchase of Fayette Place five years ago, an optimistic buzz filled the Hayti community. The land would no longer be vacant. It could serve a purpose. It could offer affordable housing to Hayti. 

“Right now, housing in Durham is getting to be not affordable,” said Calhoun. “Unaffordable. So affordable housing is a good thing.”

Yet many Hayti residents’ perception of the housing authority soured as plans for Fayette Place unfolded. Subsequent to the land acquisition,“Our next steps were going to be a planning process to determine what we would build on the site,” says the DHA’s CEO Anthony Scott.

This planning process for Fayette Place was part of the DHA Downtown Neighborhood Plan (DDNP). The plan is a comprehensive 10-year roadmap to develop mixed-income, mixed-use communities across nearly 60 acres of downtown Durham’s publicly owned land. 

For each DDNP site, the housing authority ordered a market study. The Fayette Place analysis, however, delayed the site’s development. “The market study determined that the Fayette Place site was not one of the sites that we should immediately look to develop,” says  Scott, “just because of the market conditions of the community—the community being the Durham community as a whole.” 

Scott did not explain how the market conditions of Durham “as a whole” delayed Fayette Place’s development. Nor did his communications manager, Aalayah Sanders, respond to a follow-up email sent on March 26.

It wasn’t until January 2022 that the DHA announced the selection of its developer for Fayette Place: Durham Development Partners, a joint venture team that includes F7 International Development, Greystone Affordable Development and Gilbane Development Company. The housing authority chose Durham Development Partners over other developers, including Hayti Reborn.

A February 2022 letter released by Hayti Reborn complained that the chosen developer “came into the community and met with residents for a brief afternoon. At no time was the schematics, the plans, none of that was shared with the community prior to being selected by DHA.”

Scott, however, defends the housing authority’s community engagement at Fayette Place: “We’ve been very methodical. We spent a lot of time in getting the feedback from the community,” he says.

Scott did not say how or when the DHA connected with community members. 

In March, the housing authority formally responded to Hayti Reborn. Scott wrote a five-page letter to McKoy, explaining the developer selection process. He says that Hayti Reborn received the lowest aggregate score from a selection committee. No selection criteria were specified.

A spokeswoman for the housing authority also says, via email, that “All proposers had ample opportunity to provide feedback on the selection process and DHA did not receive any concerns during the approximately 90 day solicitation period.”

McKoy is now calling upon the Durham City Council for help. He is concerned about the committee’s review process.

In an April 4 letter to “Honorable Durham City Leadership,” McKoy writes, “Hayti Reborn was the ONLY team not allowed to present its plan through interview to the DHA Review Committee prior to their selection.” 

McKoy says that he’s asking for three things. First, he wants to schedule a public Durham City Council hearing. Second, McKoy is requesting a “city injunction” ordering the housing authority to pause its Fayette Place development plans until a city hearing occurs. And third,  he asks that “The diverse public of Durham be allowed time and space to offer feedback to the City Council.”

At the housing authority, “you’re going to find a couple of African-Americans over there in leadership positions,” Calhoun says. Scott and several other top DHA officials are African-American. 

 Calhoun adds: “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Above: A view of the Fayette Place site; photo by 9th Street Journal writer and photographer Chloe Hubbe. Portraits of Melvin Speight, Henry McKoy and Faye Calhoun by 9th Street Journal photographers Kulsoom Rizavi and Simran Prakash.

Upgrades to Durham Bulls Athletic Park will exceed $10 million

When the City of Durham was asked to spend twice as much as expected to make improvements to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the result was never really in question. But that didn’t keep the council from debating the question when it met on Monday. 

The city leases the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to the Durham Bulls team, and is required, under an agreement with Major League Baseball, to make upgrades to the Bulls’ stadium by April 2025 in order to keep the Bulls in Durham.

With that in mind, the Durham City Council voted 5-0 Monday to spend an extra $5.35 million to renovate the ballpark, on top of the original $5.22 million it approved in June 2021, for a total cost of $10.57 million. The Durham Bulls are contributing $1 million in renovation costs but it’s up to the city to cover the other $9.57 million. 

During a work session in March, John Paces-Wiles, senior project manager with the city’s general services department, relayed that the upgrades will include renovations to player locker rooms, coaches’ offices and a new batting tunnel.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, Skanska, the company that won the bid for the project, reported to city officials that the higher costs resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected the entire construction industry. Costs for construction materials went up an average of 45 percent since March 2021, the company reported.

Though the council voted 5-0 to approve the additional expenditures, members were divided on whether the deal to keep the Durham Bulls, which was brokered with the council back in 2014, was truly worth the money.

Prior to the meeting, At-Large Council Member Jillian Johnson and Ward 3 Representative Leonardo Williams debated the topic on social media. The debate continued Monday as each member weighed in on the issue.

Johnson lamented that the council had committed itself to paying for upgrades to the stadium, and pointed out that the baseball league requires many cities across the nation to pay for upgrades to their stadiums. Durham’s lease with the Bulls expires in 2033. She urged the council to broker a better deal with the league at that time.

“I hope that we can have a little more equity in the future for how the city, the Bulls, and maybe even Major League Baseball can split the costs,” Johnson said. “I’m disappointed that it’s falling all on our residents.”

Paces-Wiles and the general services department provided information regarding the Durham Bulls’ cultural events, revenue and overall contributions to the community, statistics which Leonardo Williams reiterated in arguing that the Durham Bulls were, indeed, worth the monetary investment.

Williams pointed to the Bulls’ direct economic impact on the city, which included generating $48.5 million in revenue last year. In addition, the Bulls’ presence in Durham directly supported 23,130 jobs and indirectly supported over 25,00 jobs last year, according to the report from the general services department.

Williams and Mayor Pro-Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton lamented that there was debate about whether to pay the money.

“This is a real city, and we got to put our big pants on,” Williams said at the council meeting. “Which means we need to have assets to welcome people to the city to spend so we can generate the revenue to address the social issues that we have.”

Mayor Elaine O’Neal echoed Williams’ statements, pointing to the Durham Bulls’ history in her life, and the life of Durham.

The Durham Bulls moved from Durham Athletic Park to the team’s current downtown home, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, in 1995. 

Durham Bulls Athletic Park hosted 70 home games in 2021 and dozens of other events, including the city’s Fourth of July celebration. 

Williams and O’Neal also mentioned the fame generated by the film “Bull Durham.” The Durham Bulls are at the center of the 1988 movie, which was filmed at Durham Athletic Park. 

Elaine O’Neal’s family home is just three blocks down from Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and she recalled her father’s pride when “Bull Durham” was released.

“For my father’s 103rd birthday, he wanted to go to a Durham Bulls game, and we have a photo of him and the Bulls mascot up in our home,” O’Neal said. “The Durham Bulls…will never ever go away, if you have been a part of this community for as long as I have.”

Despite the lively conversation, the motion to fund the ballpark renovations passed unanimously.

Opening Day for the 2022 season is set for April 12, when the Bulls will face the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Above: Photo of Durham Bulls Athletic Park by Henry Haggart — The 9th Street Journal

City Council hears mixed views on ShotSpotter gunfire detection system

More than 1,900 shooting incidents have taken place in Durham since the start of 2020.

They’ve left more than 650 wounded and nearly 90 dead.

“Folks are asking for help,” said council member Leonardo Williams at last week’s Durham City Council meeting. “They’re saying, ‘Just do something more, please.’”

That “something more” may be ShotSpotter, a controversial gunfire detection system that the council blocked in June 2019 and September 2020. Now, the council is one step closer to setting aside $197,500 for a year-long pilot of ShotSpotter.

A majority of the council voted last month to move forward with a budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year that would include money for ShotSpotter. The council must vote on the budget before June 30, but during public comment at a council meeting last week, several Durhamites showed up — either in person or via Zoom — to oppose funding for the technology.

ShotSpotter uses microphones placed around a city. When the microphones sense gunfire,  police are notified and dispatched. By improving police response times and sending officers to scenes that might otherwise go unreported, ShotSpotter could save lives, proponents say.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, arguably the council’s most ardent supporter of ShotSpotter, said that last year in Wilmington, two police officers received awards for saving lives after responding to ShotSpotter alerts. (Only one incident involved gunfire; in the other, someone had sustained injuries breaking a window.)

“This is about when someone needs help,” Middleton said. If someone is hurt, even “in the middle of the night, someone will come and see about you.”

But does ShotSpotter work? The MacArthur Justice Center found that in Chicago, 88.7% of ShotSpotter alerts were “dead ends” — incidents in which no gun was actually involved.

“What ShotSpotter is effective at is manufacturing consent for increased policing,” council member Jillian Johnson said in an interview. “It increases the number of times that police are called.”

Naana Ewool, who is involved with Durham Beyond Policing, a coalition that advocates for “community-led safety and wellness,” says most cities place microphones only in small areas…or in certain neighborhoods. “And those neighborhoods are often the ones that are majority Black and brown, with a higher number of folks being criminalized.”

“Police who arrive on the scene often escalate situations and introduce violence, so folks are more likely to get injured or killed,” Ewool said. “There’s public health research that shows that regardless of the type of interaction, the more interaction folks have with police, the worse their health outcomes are.”

Danette Wilkins, a health professional and resident of Durham’s Cleveland-Holloway community who works for Johns Hopkins University, implored the council to reject ShotSpotter. She cited a report by the City of Chicago that says  “the very presence of this technology is changing the way Chicago Police Department members interact with members of Chicago’s communities.”

Opponents think the $197,500 would be better spent elsewhere.

In general, “we need gun control, we need housing guarantees, we need a living wage,” Johnson said. “That’s how you end gun violence.”

Johnson said the city can “invest as much as we can into prevention and intervention techniques,” like the violence intervention program Bull City United and the We Are The Ones Fund.

Middleton says these reforms and ShotSpotter are not mutually exclusive: “I think the people reject the zero-sum game. It’s not either/or.”

He resisted comparisons to Chicago and Charlotte, which canceled its contract with ShotSpotter in 2016. “I have to govern based on data from Durham,” he said. “But we don’t have that, and so I really want this to be a pilot in the truest sense.”

In an interview, Ralph A. Clark, president and CEO of ShotSpotter, said the technology bridges “a fairly significant public safety gap.” He pointed out that “80 to 90 percent of gun fired events go unreported. So that means guns are fired, there’s no call to 911, which means there is no police response.”

In Oakland, California, Clark said, ShotSpotter technology has saved more than 100 gunshot wound victims. The company also says its sensors detection rate is 97%.

Clark added: “It’s very confusing to me to see people have a negative reaction to the idea that police are able to respond to incidents of gunfire.”

Williams agreed. “Give us a chance to try this,” he said. “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, we’re going to try something else.”

Council member Javiera Caballero, who would prefer that the city fund other violence-reduction efforts, says officials will have six months to collect the data about the gunfire detection technology. After that, the city has to pay for ShotSpotter.

She doesn’t think Durhamites have had enough of a chance to hear about the technology, but she expects it to be funded when the council votes on the budget.

Opponents want the city to keep searching for solutions.

“Communities are dealing with so much grief and so much fear because of gun violence,” Ewool said.  “Just offering them something—anything—isn’t fair. People deserve things that are going to provide real solutions and real healing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Reece bids adieu to Durham City Council

After nearly seven years of public service, Charlie Reece will join his last Durham City Council meeting in less than a week. The city clerk will present Reece’s letter of resignation to the rest of the council at its next meeting on Monday, March 7. 

Reece, who was first elected as an at-large council member in 2015, is resigning in order to move to Paris with his family. He announced his resignation on Feb. 21. 

Reece’s wife Laura Helms Reece is the CEO of their Durham-based clinical research company Rho, which recently acquired a European business. The family will relocate for Laura’s job with their two children, Gwyn, 10, and Rose, 13, at the end of this school year. 

The Reeces plan to return to North Carolina eventually. “Even while we’re living far away for a little bit, Durham will always be our home,” Reece said in a statement last week.

“I’ll miss it like you wouldn’t believe,” Reece said of leaving his position on council. “It was the hardest decision I’ll ever make as a politician. But at the same time, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made as a husband and father.”

Reece’s resignation will allow him to support his wife and their business while keeping their family together, he said. His alternative option – to remain in Durham with his children while Laura works in Europe – didn’t line up with his priorities. 

“That’s just not the family life we all signed up for,” Reece said. 

Reece was re-elected as an at-large council member in 2019, and his current term was set to end on Dec. 4, 2023. 

In his statement to city council and constituents, Reece expressed appreciation for his colleagues and his time serving Durham. Announcing his resignation was “emotionally challenging,” Reece said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. But he said he’s leaving Durham in capable hands. 

“I am confident that this council is moving our city in the right direction,” Reece said. “I know that they will appoint someone who loves Durham as much as I do, and that’s what matters.” 

Once Reece officially resigns next week, city council will have 60 days to appoint his successor, as required by Durham’s city charter. The council will choose a replacement from a pool of applicants. Any adult living within city limits and registered to vote in Durham is eligible to apply. 

The process of appointing Reece’s successor will be quite similar to previous years’, according to Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, who will oversee the procedure. The council had to fill a vacancy in 2018 when Mayor Bill Bell retired, and again in 2020 following council member Vernetta Alston’s resignation.

Council will post an application online shortly after Reece’s last day, Middleton said. The list of applicants will be made available to the public, he added.

Durham citizens will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on candidates for Reece’s seat, Middleton said. Finalists selected by city council will be invited to an interview with current council members, he said, and each finalists’ interview will be broadcast online.

After the interviews are complete, citizens will be able to submit comments as in past years, Middleton said. In 2018, the council held an in-person public comment session. In 2020, due to the pandemic, Durhamites were instead invited to call in or email their comments regarding the finalists. 

After receiving public comment, council members will vote to select Reece’s successor. A finalist needs four votes from the six council members in order to be appointed.

“I think it’s a really strong process,” Reece said. “It provides transparency and allows anybody who wants to to apply, and it allows the public to weigh in with us about their thoughts and concerns about the various applicants, especially at the finalist stage.”   

Reece said he chose to announce his resignation now so that his successor will have ample time to get acclimated to the role ahead of city budget decisions this June. 

“I want the appointee to have enough time to dig into what is a pretty dense process,” he said. 

While his wife conducts business with their company’s new partners, Reece does not plan to work when his family arrives in Europe. He will miss serving Durham immensely, he said, but he’s ready for the change. 

“I’m going to be a stay-at-home dad for the next little while,” Reece said. “There are pleasures and rewards for that life as well, and I look forward to discovering them.” 

Above: Durham City Council member Charlie Reece, who won reelection in 2019, will depart the Bull City later this spring. Photo by Cameron Beach – 9th Street Journal

Rent relief program shutting down — less than a month after opening

A program that helps Durham residents struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic will close on Feb. 6 after just 25 days of operation.

The Durham Rent Relief Program’s closure was announced Jan. 31 by Legal Aid of North Carolina.  

The program’s overwhelming popularity during its brief lifespan tells the story of a housing crisis in Durham that preceded the pandemic and was exacerbated by it. City officials say there simply isn’t enough federal funding to meet the needs of the many renters struggling to make ends meet. 

“We already had a challenge before COVID being able to provide affordable housing,” said Reginald J. Johnson, Community Development Director for the City of Durham. “We already had a high poverty rate for a city of our size, despite the growing economy here. Then you add COVID on top of that, and here we are.” 

Residents and landlords have until Feb. 6 to apply for assistance with rent and utilities on Legal Aid NC’s website. Renters who are at “imminent risk of eviction” or are unemployed will be given priority, according to the agency. 

The Durham Housing Authority and Legal Aid will host a rental assistance event to aid residents with their program applications from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the T.A. Grady Recreation Center..

The program, which is funded by the City of Durham through the federal American Rescue Plan Act and administered by Legal Aid of North Carolina, opened on Jan. 12, 2022. Within three weeks,  it received 1,700 completed applications, with 1,400 applications still in progress according to Legal Aid.

Many Durham residents have struggled to keep up after losing their jobs or taking pay cuts because of COVID-19. Meanwhile, rental prices have soared. According to a recent report, Durham’s median rental price jumped 39 percent between March 2019 and August 2021, the second-highest increase among all cities surveyed.  

Johnson said city officials weren’t surprised by the large number of applications.  Federal funding ultimately was dwarfed by the vast needs of renters, he said.

“We don’t pretend to know all the answers to this issue,” Johnson said. “But what we do know is that amount of money that the federal government gave was fairly significant, and it was still not enough to meet the challenge.” 

With federal funding running out, organizations such as Stop Evictions Now, Community Empowerment Fund and Legal Aid are working to keep residents housed.

Kevin Atkins, a former housing access coordinator for Community Empowerment Fund, works closely with Durham renters looking for help. Legal Aid North Carolina kept many people from being displaced and evicted during the pandemic, he said. Still, the problem is daunting.  

Last year once funding started to go out, we knew there was going to be an overwhelming number of people going through this situation,” Atkins said. “And nothing’s changed, and it’s been two years now. It’s a lot of people that have very high rents that they haven’t been able to pay.”

Atkins says it’s likely that there are many more Durham renters facing eviction who simply don’t know about rent relief programs.

These numbers are a reflection of what’s been going on the last few years,” Atkins said. “There’s going to be a lot of people evicted, so I think that’s something that you can’t ignore at this point.”

The shortage in rent relief funding extends beyond Durham. A similar program in Wake County stopped accepting new applications for relief in January, according to reports on WRAL. 

Legal Aid of North Carolina is helping other cities with rent relief programs similar to the one in Durham. The agency also operates the statewide Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Eviction Program.

After the Durham program closes on Feb. 6, renters facing eviction can call Legal Aid of North Carolina’s toll-free Housing Helpline at 1-877-201-6426. In addition, Legal Aid’s Housing Helpline webpage offers free legal resources on eviction and renters’ rights.

Above, a rent relief program run by Durham’s Community Development Department and Legal Aid of NC has been flooded with applications. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi – The 9th Street Journal

At a public hearing, views clash on proposed development near the Eno

​​Laura Jaramillo’s front yard turns into a huge lake every time it rains. 

Kimberly Hernandez watches as babies splash and play at West Point on the Eno, wondering whether the water will soon be unsafe for them to do so. 

Mary Sule fears that the thousands of hours she and fellow Eno River Association volunteers spent protecting the Eno will go to waste if the river is degraded.

These were a few of the worries expressed at a public hearing Thursday night by 26 citizens who spoke out against a large development proposed at Black Meadow Ridge, an area just south of West Point on the Eno city park. Developer Terramor Homes hopes to build about 400 housing units in the area.

“This development puts a huge environmental and financial stress on North Durham residents,” Jaramillo said.

Ten people spoke in support of the development, including five who are involved with Terramor Homes’ project. Supporters said that the project would enable hundreds of new families to come enjoy Durham—and the Eno. The hearing was conducted by the state Division of Water Resources, which is weighing whether or not to grant the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

“This development parallels the growth of the city of Durham,” said Pastor Ronnie Northam Jr. of Faith Community Church, which borders the Eno. “It’s a game changer.”

According to Rick Trone of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, the project will result in almost 16,000 square feet of permanent riparian buffer loss. Riparian buffers are areas that border streams and protect water quality by reducing erosion and filtering pollution.

Opponents pointed out that the Black Meadow Ridge area was identified in the city’s 2018 Critical Areas Protection Plan as a “keystone” parcel that should be protected. 

They also expressed concern over the increase in impervious surfaces that will result from the development. Impervious surfaces are hard areas, like roofs and parking lots, that force water to run off until it reaches a storm drain or body of water. Residents of the nearby Argonne Hills neighborhood said more runoff can mean more flooding.

“We’ve got more flooding than we can handle as it is,” said John Lloyd. “There’s already too much pressure.” 

Runoff can also collect pollution, other speakers said. “The development will bring more cars, lawns, parking lots, pet waste, fertilizer, pesticides and oil,” Nick Tansey said. “It will run off newly paved surfaces and nosedive the quality of the river.” 

Preston Royster, a designer for the project, said the project has been designed in order to minimize environmental harm and other negative effects.    

“The development meets all local stormwater ordinances and won’t result in flooding,” he said.

“Our clients are doing everything over and above what they need to do to be in compliance with the regulations,” added Bob Zarzecki, a consultant on the project.   

But opponents of the proposed development argued that compliance with regulations is not enough. 

“This plan might be above and beyond,” said Cathy Lewis. “But it’s above and beyond old standards. We have climate change. This plan follows the letter of the law, but it doesn’t follow the spirit of the law.” 

Ryan Vu said the plans fail to take into account other new developments in the area, such as the nearby new Northern High School under construction on 227 acres near the Eno. Once the school is complete, opponents pointed out, it will add to the impervious surface in the area, contributing to more runoff.

Several members of nearby Faith Community Church spoke in favor of the project.

“As a member of the church, I think a new subdivision with more people will assist the church in reaching the masses,” said Carena Lemons.

Alexander Fields also praised the project as a way to bring people to Faith Community Church. “It’s a catalyst to help people find Christ, community and financial freedom.”

Opponents of the development also acknowledged the need for growth. Tansey said, “We definitely need more housing—but there are few worse places to develop it than here.”

Hernandez agreed, saying the park provides a clean, inexpensive space where families feel welcome and safe. 

“The Hispanic population often doesn’t have access to this kind of forum,” Hernandez said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but the people I know and the families I have spoken to are definitely against this.” 

Information about the online hearing was not widely disseminated, several speakers said. Additionally, many who had registered for the hearing were unable to join. 

Douglas Dowden of the N.C. Division of Water Resources stated that the department will accept written comments until 5 p.m. on February 21. Equal weight will be given to written comments as to the oral comments voiced during the hearing, he said. No additional public hearings are scheduled for the project, but comments can be submitted by email to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov.

Dowden said he will make a recommendation to Danny Smith, director of the Division of Water Resources, based on public comments and input by Division of Water Resources staff.  

Smith will then make the final determination, considering the written record, Dowden’s recommendation, and any concerns expressed by other commissioners, Dowden said. 

The stakes are high. 

Proponents of the development spoke excitedly of what they see as an opportunity for necessary growth. “This area has to grow if you expect to bring in more money and develop these communities,” said Christine Lutterloh.

Opponents spoke in anxious tones as they called upon the Division of Water Resources to deny the proposal. 

“West Point is a jewel and it will be horribly damaged by this development,” Jennifer Nygard said, her voice shaking.

“Green spaces like West Point won’t continue to exist if we keep eating away at their edges like this,” Tansey said. “We have the responsibility right now, me and you, to protect the one that we have some say in—the one close to home for us.

“The Eno River is the inheritance you can leave to my generation.”

 

 

 

Council approves pay raises for police, firefighters

City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve pay raises for police officers and firefighters of every rank, in an effort to counter staff shortages in Durham’s police and fire departments.

The raises, which take effect immediately, are intended to bring Durham’s public safety salaries up to competitive levels, after years of falling behind. Police officers and firefighters will begin receiving increased pay as soon as their next paycheck, on Jan. 28. 

“Durham will be where I believe it belongs, right at the top of the list of our peer cities in terms of compensating our first responders,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton. 

Before the raises, pay for Durham’s police and firefighters trailed behind market levels. Market research conducted by the city in August across 13 municipalities in North Carolina and Virginia found that Durham Police Department salaries lagged behind that of other cities by 12.4%, while fire department salaries lagged by 10.4%. 

Police recruits will receive a 10.6% raise, increasing their annual pay from $38,511 to $42,593. Firefighter recruits will receive a 14.3% raise, from $35,592 to $40,682 annually. Employees of higher ranks will receive proportionately equal increases in pay. The raises will cost the city a total of just over $4 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

Many Durham community activists have advocated for reforming or defunding the police, and reform efforts are underway, including the city’s new Community Safety Department. However, advocates for police reform did not comment during Tuesday’s meeting. 

Instead, Durham community members voiced their support for the raises in the public chat alongside the meeting’s livestream. The commenters included numerous police officers and firefighters. 

“Hoping to see the right thing done for Durham’s firefighters tonight,” wrote one firefighter ahead of the vote. 

The new compensation plans were developed collaboratively by the Durham Human Resources Department and the city’s public safety staff. 

Under the newly approved pay plan, Durham’s police and fire departments now offer the highest or second-highest salaries among a group of peer cities including Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. City officials said they hope the increase in pay will help attract and retain new recruits to fill vacancies in both departments.

Turnover rates among police recruits have increased from 43.3% to 55.6% over a 12-month period as of November 2021. To make up for the lack of personnel, Police Chief Patrice Andrews announced in December that high-ranking officers and detectives would temporarily join patrol units.

The pay raises also come during a spike in crime and gun violence in Durham. A recent rash of shootings has taken the lives of many community members, while the city recorded its highest number of homicides ever committed in one year in 2021. 

Durham’s police and fire departments were overdue for a boost in salaries, based upon previously announced city goals.

A city pay plan adopted in 2017 calls for regular market adjustments to police and firefighters’ pay scales, along with merit raises for employees based on effective job performance. In recent years, however, both market adjustments and annual performance-based raises have been lacking.   

In 2018 and 2019, pay rates for police and fire department staff went unchanged. In 2020, due to pandemic-related budget constraints, there was again no market adjustment, and employees also failed to receive annual merit raises. In 2021, the city once again did not offer annual performance-based raises.

The new compensation plans approved on Tuesday will help the city recover ground lost in the past two years. 

“It’s not a final destination, but it’s an incredibly important step towards closing disparities in compensation for our workers here in Durham,” Middleton said.

As Martin Luther King Jr Day approaches, a new city councilman reflects on race and more

Leonardo Williams, co-owner of the Durham restaurant Zweli’s Kitchen and former educator, was sworn into office as a Durham City Council member in December. As he begins his work representing Ward 3, COVID-19 is exacerbating racial inequalities in Durham. Looking ahead to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The 9th Street Journal asked Williams about some of the complex challenges facing Durham, including wealth disparities, police reform and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

9th Street JournalDurham has obviously had prosperity in the last decade, but there’s a disparity: Roughly 18% of Durham’s Black residents and nearly a third of Hispanics live under the poverty line, while far fewer white people do. How can we heal these wounds?

Leonardo Williams: I’m a Black small business owner. I didn’t give up my job to run for office; we are still running our business. It’s important to have that perspective on the council. Folks naturally govern and analyze situations from their own perspective, their own lived experiences. And with Omicron being as transmissible as it is, when we shut the city down, you lose businesses, you’re going to lose jobs, and poverty is going to smack you harder than ever before. 

In regards to race and racial equity, the city made a significant move in establishing the Racial Equity Task Force. They’ve done their work and we have to follow through on those things. But also, it’s very important to ensure that we create equity. We can all do this together. We can fight for more equitable pay, pay transparency, pay worth and all of those things. And also, ask questions: Who has access to what jobs? We can be conscious of that. We can have a body of government say, “You may have a criminal record, but you can still work for the city, to a limit.” We have to shape the government to be more agile.

9th Street: The Racial Equity Task Force released some suggestions about how to deal with the wealth gap: for instance, a local reparations program, guaranteed basic income and raising the minimum wage. Do you think those are likely to take shape this year? 

LW: Those programs are great. They’re good ideas, and they’re in the right direction. But I think when we incorporate the community and partner with the private sector, we can go a lot further and can be a lot more sustainable and accountable. About reparations—for me, I do not think the most effective way to adhere to reparations is to have a one-time payout. Because our history and our disenfranchisement is so much more valuable than one payout. Generations have been taken away, I want generations back.

9th Street: The gun violence uptick has been central to the experience of Durham youth recently, including recent deaths of children. And, again, there are significant racial disparities in who is affected. What can the city do going forward on this issue?

LW: What is the most direct gateway to our youth? Education. So first of all, the city has to get more involved in  education. We can’t be disconnected from our youth because we don’t fund the education system. Teaching and learning is beyond the classroom—it’s everywhere. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has funding for afterschool programs that they are looking to disperse—additional funding that came in due to COVID. So I’ll be looking to see how we can get some of that funding in Durham. 

Our youth do not have enough to do. That’s why we find them going where they’re accepted, and that’s on the streets. I’m a Black male, a professional, I need to be spending time with other young Black men in this community. I start with my son, and just being present with him. And I have to do that for young boys in my neighborhood as well. It’s going to take engagement, basically. And I think the city can play some very formal roles in that.

9th Street: In terms of criminal justice reform, there’s the Community Safety and Wellness Task force, as well as the new Community Safety Department here in Durham. Is Durham looking towards more community-led initiatives to de-center policing?

LW: Those task forces are necessary, because if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have those ideas to build on. Ultimately, we do want to grow ourselves to be less reliant on policing the way we know it. 

We need good policing. And we have to make bad police officers feel very uncomfortable and unwelcome. You have to build a culture of policing internally where they are calling out their own. You also have to have the community doing its part. And I think that’s what the Community Safety and Wellness Taskforce does and I think that’s what the Racial Equity Task Force does. 

We’re gonna need institutional policing. I want us to rely on community policing more, but that’s the long game. 

9th Street: Housing in Durham has obviously been a huge issue that falls along racial divides, for instance when you look at who is evicted most often. And, this has been exacerbated by COVID. What can the city council do to more intentionally hit this issue? 

LW: Yeah, that’s a loaded one. I literally just got off a call with one of the residents at Braswell apartments—gosh, just emotional. I’m calling to the table property owners, residential and commercial. I’m passionate about this. First of all, housing stability is the basic foundation of doing anything that you need to do such as a jobs and transportation. 

You know, this woman I was speaking to is supposed to be looking for an apartment, but she can’t because she’s in her apartment right now with COVID. I can go on and on about these stories. So what I’m doing right now is I’m pulling together a few [leaders]. I want the government to be a partner with the private sector in  economic development. Yes, we’re gonna make money. We’re gonna be strong economically. But we’re not leaving anyone behind. We’re not pushing anybody out. And that’s what I’ll be working on. If I don’t get anything else done on city council in these four years, you will see that happen.

And what that looks like is developing a small, robust business support apparatus, where we’re not only providing technical assistance, but we’re actually going out finding business and building businesses. We’re going to honor risk-takers, we’re going to identify talent here locally, and invest in it. We’re going to bring venture capital firms here that invest in ideas here locally.

We have all of what it takes to be a beautiful, economically strong city without leaving anyone behind.

9th Street: Obviously, there’s a lot of pain there. Where is there hope for the future? 

LW: You know, COVID has provided us somewhat of a reset. And while it’s, yes, survival of the fittest, it’s also a time where the playing field gets even, is leveling out, where it’s hard for everybody.—where you can take a chance and better yourself. Because it’s hard for everybody. So I think that’s a reason for everybody to be hopeful, just creating more access to opportunity. That’s what we’re gonna focus on.

Officials, activists clash over plans to expand youth detention center

Durham officials clashed with prison abolitionists Thursday night over a $30 million plan to more than double the size of the county’s juvenile detention center.

Durham Beyond Policing, which advocates for diverting all funding for police and prisons into social programs, organized the virtual town hall. Over 120 Durhamites attended, many of them  opposed to county plans to replace the 14-bed Durham County Youth Home with a 36-bed facility.

County commissioners and Youth Home Director Angela Nunn pointed to the 38-year-old building’s outdated facilities and limited bedspace. But many community members say that  expanding the juvenile justice system would harm Durham’s youth.

This debate comes as communities throughout North Carolina and the United States grapple with a criminal justice system that disproportionately punishes poor people and racial minorities of all ages. 

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” Nunn said of the detention facility. “Our families are in crisis and we need to help.”

Said community member Nicole Cooper, “If [detained youth] didn’t have mental health issues when they were incarcerated, they will when they are released.”

The $30 million question

In a 2015 report to the county, Nunn identified several serious problems with the Youth Home.

She described “a dangerous environment for staff and residents,” plagued by faulty plumbing, fire code violations, bad lighting and a failing door control system. But the “greatest security concern” was the facility’s layout, which prevented staff from separating youth based on gender or security level.  

The report also raised doubts about the Youth Home’s ability to house Durham juveniles if the state were to start trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Raise the Age, the law that mandates that courts do this, passed in 2019—resulting in even less bedspace at the detention center.

“The facility is so bad, it’s sad to see anyone in that place, no matter what they have done,” Commissioner Chair Brenda Howerton said at the town hall.

That’s why commissioners agreed to an overhaul of the facility. The new Youth Home, which the city has been planning since 2015, would include an assessment center to determine children’s needs and connect them with programs and services. And the facility would still have enough room to expand into a 60-bed center if it ever needed to.

The expanded detention center would stand on the same plot of land as the current one, which would be demolished once the new one is completed.

But Durham activists argued that the $30-million expansion budget should go to social programs that address the root causes of youth delinquency. In an on-the-spot brainstorming session, community members suggested more than 50 alternative uses for the money.

Ideas included mental health services, counselors, drug rehabilitation programs, universal childcare, universal pre-K and a youth center.

“This is why public input is necessary!” the Durham Beyond Policing admin wrote in the Zoom chat. “Amazing ideas y’all.”

Advocates clash

For the first half of the town hall, which started at 7 p.m and ran until about 9:15 p.m., opponents of the new Youth Home raised a variety of concerns.

Organizer Tyler Whittenberg argued that detention centers isolate children and worsen preexisting issues. And Meghan McDowell, a professor of history and social justice at Winston-Salem State University, pointed out that youth incarceration rates have declined over the past ten years. Since 2016, the Youth Home has never averaged more than 12.6 detainees per quarter.

Other community members spoke emotionally about Durham County’s handling of children’s offenses and mental health crises.

One woman’s daughter was violent, lit fires in the house, showed signs of kleptomania and said she heard voices. But for six years, professionals told the mother that the girl had “no obvious mental health challenges.”

Another woman still grieves the death of her 16-year-old daughter, who died in the Durham County jail before Raise the Age passed.

When representatives from the county government took the virtual floor, however, the tone shifted dramatically.

Director Nunn’s voice was sharp with anger as she addressed organizers’ critiques. She noted that although the quarterly averages don’t show it, the Youth Home’s population fluctuates from day to day.

“We may have 14 [youth] today, 12 tomorrow and by the weekend we may empty to five,” she said.

This means the Youth Home “often” runs out of bed space and must send children to one of the state’s 11 other juvenile detention centers. The nearest of these is in Butner, 12 miles from downtown Durham.

In the chat, Durhamites heckled Nunn as she spoke, repeatedly asking why the Youth Home would ever need to expand to 60 beds. Some argued that having additional beds “creates an imperative” to fill them, even though the courts, not the Youth Home, control who gets sent there. And Whittenberg interrupted Nunn four times to urge officials to renovate the existing facility, rather than build a new one.  

“I just wanted to intervene for a second,” said organizer Ronda Taylor Bullock, closing out the argument. “Let’s take some deep breaths.”

Commissioners respond

In the last portion of the town hall, four of the Durham County Commissioners who attended — Brenda Howerton, Wendy Jacobs, Nida Allam and Heidi Carter — responded to community concerns. 

Howerton, the first to speak, blasted organizers for dismissing the reality of violent crimes.

“I’m a Black mother,” she said. “I don’t want my child to be in jail. But I also understand that when [a child] picks up a gun and murders someone else’s child, that child is in pain. And if you want to put them back on the street to murder someone else before they have a chance to be healed—is that what you’re looking to do?”

Jacobs, Allam and Carter were more conciliatory. All raised the possibility of shutting down the Youth Home if that’s what the public wants, although this would mean sending Durham youth to out-of-county detention centers.

Organizers, for their part, bemoaned a lack of communication prior to the town hall. While the five-member County Commission had discussed the Youth Home proposal at multiple public meetings, many Durhamites said they’d only recently heard about it.

Commissioners agreed to hold another public hearing on the Youth Home soon.  

Said Commissioner Allam, “I really appreciate you guys giving us this opportunity as commissioners to be a part of this conversation and listen.”

 

Rep. David Price reflects on 3 decades in U.S. House ahead of retirement

For Rep. David Price, there will never be a perfect moment to retire. 

“I don’t think it’s ever a safe time to step down,” he told The 9th Street Journal. “If you’re looking for closure, this isn’t the job for you.”

Imperfect as it may be, Price’s time to bow out of politics has come. He announced on Oct. 19 that he will not run for re-election after a 24-year career serving North Carolina’s 4th District. As his career comes to a close, Price reflected on his accomplishments and offered his thoughts on the future of America’s political institutions.

He had expected to retire earlier, but the 2016 presidential election halted his plans, he said. After spending a decade and a half helping other countries bolster democratic institutions through the House Democracy Partnership he founded, his own country’s democratic norms faced a new threat: Donald Trump. He couldn’t leave, he decided, and instead spent much of the next four years working with other Democrats to restrain Trump. 

Price also postponed his retirement because he anticipated Democrats winning back the House in 2018. With his party in control, he became the House’s Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcomitte’s chair and discovered a “long list of things” he could do as a leader.

“It has been very satisfying to serve in leadership roles and end up getting a lot of things done,” he said. 

The Institutionalist

Price has a simple recipe for success: He gets things done without fanfare. He first ran for office after watching Democrats get crushed in the 1984 election. He was serving as the state’s Democratic Party Chairman at the time, and when his party lost three congressional seats and a Senate race, he wondered — if the candidate’s he worked for were losing, could he win? 

It turned out he could. He was first elected as a representative in 1987.

Of the hundreds of pieces of legislation that have passed through Capitol Hill while he’s been in office, Price said he is proud that he helped enable students to deduct loans from taxes through the Education Affordability Act. He also highlighted how he expanded federal teacher training programs with the Teaching Fellows Act and required political candidates to say, “I approve of this message,” in ads with the Stand By Your Ad Act. 

Locally, Price’s fondest wins include helping to bring an Environmental Protection Agency hub to Research Triangle Park, expanding inner city rail in the Southeast, and elevating the issue of affordable housing.

Price strived for political change through institutional efforts such as campaign budget reform and improved the budget process as a leading member of the Appropriations Committee. On an individual level, he tried to lead through cooperation.

“You choose the way you conduct yourself everyday,” he said. “In your leadership positions, you can either put fuel on the fire or you set another kind of pattern where you can, cooperating where it’s possible to do so. I’ve tried to do the latter.”

Cooperation, however, has not always been feasible, Price added. While he has facilitated bipartisanship through efforts such as the House Democracy Partnership, he has also tried to recognize its limits and not “fetishize” it. Most recently, he refused to compromise with undemocratic components of the Trump-wing of the Republican party. 

“There are times when you need to stand your ground and fight either individually, or as a party,” he said. “You cooperate where you can, you fight where you must. And there’s a real political art in deciding which is which.”

While Price feels more comfortable retiring during a Biden presidency, he still worries about pervasive threats to democratic institutions from colleagues who are seduced by tribal politics and care little about making democratic institutions work. He won’t cooperate with colleagues who refuse to accept election results and want to restrict fair elections, he said.

“We’re in a new territory here with respect to the future of democracy and the ability to make a peaceful transition of power, and to recognize a legitimate election,” Price said. “Who ever thought we’d be worried about that in the USA?”

In the eyes of his colleagues

Asher Hildebrand, Price’s former chief of staff, believes Price is “somebody who probably doesn’t get as much respect as due.” 

That’s partly because he worked as a budget appropriator, a gig that receives little public attention, said Hildebrand, who now works as a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. But that was the least of Price’s concerns, he added. His goal was to legislate effectively. He wanted his staff to push him into unfamiliar policy territories. Price “valued policy entrepreneurship,” Hildebrand said, so he encouraged even his youngest interns to provide substantive input on pressing decisions. 

“His ability to maintain that sense of possibility, hope, and optimism for the future, despite the world burning around us, stands out as remarkable,” Hildebrand said.

Price’s Congressional expertise made him a particularly effective legislator, Hildebrand added. 

“There’s really nobody else in Congress today who understands how Congress as an institution functions and understands the vitality of the legislature as a key part of our democracy,” he said.

 Even now, Price’s experience and expertise carry weight. Folks across the political spectrum should listen to him when he shares concerns, Hildebrand said. 

State Sen. Wiley Nickel, who is running for Price’s seat, said Price is known as the “policy guy.”

The representative excels in the art of cooperation, Nickel said. “He is someone who avoided partisan political games” and has always “focused on making relationships with his colleagues rather than jumping in front of an issue and grandstanding,” Nickel added.

What comes next

The race for Price’s seat will be competitive. Regional political heavyweights like Durham Democratic state Sen. Mike Woodard and former state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. told The News & Observer that they’re considering running. Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam announced she’ll run on Monday. 

In his bid for the seat, Nickel hopes to continue Price’s legacy of policy-oriented public service focused on what he calls “dinner table issues” that matter most to the district’s families. Some of the core policies he plans to run on are universal health care, universal pre-K, and climate change. 

The primary will take place on March 8, 2022, and the general election will take place on Nov. 8th, 2022. The filing deadline is Dec. 17.

Price said he has not yet planned what he will do post-retirement: These last 14 months in office have his full attention. He still has to fight for Biden’s reconciliation bill, and his committee already wrote a budget appropriations bill that is awaiting senate approval. He will also continue to work on local policy projects such as housing and transportation.

Political uncertainties will loom over his activity up until his final days, but Price knows he will have to move on.

“This political juncture is more of an unknown quantity, but at some point, one has to pass the baton, despite whatever is ongoing,” Price said.

Ahead of the impending handoff, Price hesitates to determine own legacy. That is something he would prefer to leave to others, he said. Still, he has some thoughts about how he wants to be remembered.

“I hope I’m thought of as an institutionalist who has contributed to this institution,” he said. “There’s a mixed report card, I would say, about how this institution is faring. And I’ve tried to be part of the solution. But if there’s anything that’s a work in progress, it’s that: democracy.”

At top: U.S. Rep. David Price represents North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Durham County. Photo courtesy of Rep. David Price.