If there's one thing both sides agree on after the King's Motel fiasco in Raleigh last week, it's the lack of leadership they found in City Hall. "We didn't get any political cooperation," says Debra King, executive director of CASA, a well-regarded nonprofit organization that provides housing for the most disadvantaged folks among us. (King & King's? No relation.) "I would agree with that," says Nicole Sullivan, chair of the Central Citizens Advisory Council, after a City Council vote that went in favor of her CAC and against CASA, but disappointingly, helped neither.
"I think everyone agrees that process is a problem in the city," Sullivan says. "Any time I talk about King's Motel, I start with that."
You may remember the King's Motel from our description of it last May, when the Indy set out to find the worst fleabags in the Triangle. "The only items not secured--the shower curtain and complimentary soap--were themselves stolen from the Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn," our Randall Williams reported.
But, as with all real estate, location was the key, and the one-story King's scored high on our scale--or low, as you will--because it's next to a porn shop and literally in the shadow of the Cargill Corporation's oilseed processing plant, that huge thing you see on the east side of South Wilmington Street as you head out of downtown Raleigh.
Right after our visit, King's went up for sale. Looking it over, CASA found it to be structurally sound (it's solid concrete) and proposed to turn it into 30 apartments for needy people, some of whom would be "transitioning out of" Wake County's new homeless shelter, which stands directly opposite.
Just then, the city was seeking applications for the federal low-income housing money it receives. CASA, a best-bet group for this sort of thing (a certified CHODO, in the vernacular, it was created by the county 10 years ago), applied for a low-interest, $245,000 city loan, to which it could add $300,000 of county funding toward a total price tag of some $900,000.
That's 30 units, bought and renovated, for $30,000 each. And CASA would supply an on-site resident manager. Sound OK?
Well, it's a step up from King's, anyway, as Sullivan readily concedes. Nonetheless, the Central CAC voted to oppose city funding. "To draw a line in the sand," she says. You see, back in the '90s when the city was "helping the county find a location" for the new homeless shelter, Raleigh leaders promised--and hope to die--that they wouldn't just stick in Southeast Raleigh, where all the stuff for poor people is.
"We need a mix of housing here," Sullivan says. "Does something have to happen to King's Motel? Absolutely. But where's the rest of the mix?
"I totally understand their argument," King says. For nine months, King tried to convince city officials that they should offer Sullivan's South Park neighborhood and the nearby Caraleigh community "a win-win situation"--give them something they want in return for taking on more of the subsidized housing for the poor that Raleigh desperately needs. And, by the way, CASA's project "scored high on objective factors," according to City Manager Russell Allen, who brought it to the council for approval.
What could that something be? King suggested parks money (the county offered some on its own) or a job training program.
But finally, what the city came up with was--nothing. King isn't not anxious to get personal about it, since Raleigh has financed CASA projects before and, hopefully, it will finance others in the future. "We've had a long and great partnership with the city," she says. Suffice it to say that wherever she looked for help in City Hall, all she found were officials telling South Park that they didn't have to take the King's project. "You can't get a win-win by saying that."
All of which was predicate to the Alice-in-Wonderlandish debate Tuesday at the council. The Republicans backed CASA. The Democrats were opposed. "We have four Republicans who are fighting for the poor and handicapped," Republican Philip Isley huffed. "I've never even seen you in Southeast Raleigh," Democrat James West, the local councilor, snapped back.
But then Democrat Janet Cowell broke ranks, voting for CASA ... only to have Republican John Odom, who'd earlier backed CASA in a committee vote, change his mind and vote no. Odom's a candidate for mayor against Charles Meeker, Cowell's ally. What did Mayor Meeker think? "A tough decision," he mumbled. But Meeker'd promised not to go against the community. On the 4-4 tie, the funding failed.
Ah, but the project does not. CASA can build it anyway, King says, by getting a bank loan. Indeed, she adds, CASA's virtually compelled to build it given the crying need for such housing and her view that South Park's stated opposition to "yet another housing development designated for a special needs population" probably violates the fair housing laws.
The big difference, King says, is that the new Gateway Garden Apartments won't be quite as nice because of CASA's higher financing costs. And, of course, the community won't be getting anything in return. No "win-win."
Well, not yet, anyway. But Sullivan promises that South Park and Caraleigh aren't finished. Softly, but firmly, she adds: "We're continuing to be become better organized and better informed."
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