"Housing downtown is simply unaffordable," Rev. Susan Dunlap told a crowd of about five hundred at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon. Ain't that the truth.
Dunlap was addressing not a church congregation but a pre-election assembly of delegates for Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods). The event was a chance to hear from community stakeholders on issues plaguing Durham, even in its current era of prosperity. Affordable housing hovers right around the top of that list.
Dunlap relayed a story of an acquaintance who she recently heard say that it was "too late" for Durham to shut out the luxury developers who are slowly turning America's downtowns into prohibitively expensive playgrounds for the wealthy. And North Carolina cities are especially vulnerable, hobbled as they are by state law that forbids them from requiring developers to include affordable units.
Still, Dunlap was looking on the bright side. She explained that the city and the county still own several plots of land downtown. In selling that land to a developer, the city or county could make affordable housing part of the contract. Those properties include two acres at Jackson and Dillard streets, two acres on the 300 block of East Main Street, and four acres on the 500 block of East Main Street.
The Durham Housing Authority also has the option to repurchase twenty acres of property at Fayetteville and Umstead streets that is currently owned by a Philadelphia-based company.
All the candidates for Durham County Board of Commissioners were present at First Presbyterian. One by one, CAN leaders asked them if they would support: 1) 100 percent affordable units at the property on the 300 block of East Main Street; and 2) 60 percent affordable units at the property on the 500 block of East Main Street.
To a person, the commission candidates said they would.
"It's not too late for downtown Durham," Dunlap concluded. "We have land, we have time—and we have an election."