Durham Debates Whether an Affordable Housing Compromise Is Good Enough | Triangulator | Indy Week

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Durham Debates Whether an Affordable Housing Compromise Is Good Enough

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That old gambler's quandary—take your winnings and go home, or keep on pressing your luck—arose before the Durham City Council last Monday.

Wood Partners, a development group, wants twenty acres of land near the intersection of Interstate 40 and N.C. 54 rezoned so that it can build about six hundred apartment units and some office space.

The land is also near the Leigh Village station, a planned-for stop on the light-rail line. This is relevant because, in 2014, the council passed a resolution setting a goal of 15 percent affordable housing within a half-mile of all rail transit stops. Since there's currently very little in the way of housing in the area, that means roughly ninety of Wood Partners' new units would have to be marketed to low-income renters—hardly an enticing prospect for a developer.

Of course, due to a state law that prohibits inclusionary zoning, the city can't actually require developers to build affordable units. It has hired a consultant, Karen Lado, to strategize some tools the city can use to compel developers anyway. But her findings won't be unveiled until next month.

For now, pretty much the only thing the council can do is strongly suggest to developers that plans that include affordable housing are more likely to be given the go-ahead.

And so affordable-housing advocates showed up at council chambers all ginned up and ready to fight the development. In its presentation, though, Wood Partners introduced a twist. Its representative, Deb Anderson, announced that the firm would voluntarily build ten units for renters at 60 percent of area median income (households earning about $31,000/year) and another ten units at 80 percent (households earning roughly $41,000/year). Anderson noted that the addition would triple the amount of affordable housing in the area.

A concession, in other words. But did it amount to a good-enough compromise? Mayor Bill Bell appeared ready to cash in his chips. "This is a goal, not a requirement," Bell said of the 15 percent resolution.

But perhaps Lado's report would reveal new ways to coerce Wood Partners into including more affordable units? Councilman Don Moffitt didn't think so, but he was in the minority. To the consternation of Wood Partners, the council opted to delay the rezoning vote until March 21, by which time Lado will have presented her findings.

The odds aren't great that Wood Partners will voluntarily add more affordable units; Anderson told the council that the current proposal more or less represented its final offer. But historically it's a pretty safe bet that, despite their bluffs, developers are willing to endure the slow-grinding gauntlet of municipal government if there's a big pot of money for them on the other end.

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