It’s been over a year since the group Durham CAN pinpointed a nearly two-acre parcel of ripe-for-development land on Jackson Street as an opportunity to build affordable housing.
Last year, Self-Help Credit Union told the city council it would be interested in helping create a mixed-income development, where at least 80 percent of the units on will be available for renters making at or below 60 percent of the area median income. Last September, the council decided not to fast-track the project, saying it wanted its staff to review its options. In November, staff members gave the council three choices: a purely affordable development, mixed-income housing, and market-rate and/or “workforce” housing. The city opted for the mixed-income development—essentially what Self-Help wanted to do.
But there hasn’t been much movement since—and, in fact, it could be another four years before those downtown units ever appear, according to a timeline presented to the city council last week.
Members of CAN came to a council work session on Thursday prepared to fight—there was a rumor that the council was going to walk back its commitment to affordable housing on that site—but instead found the council assuring them they had nothing to worry about. “We might not move as fast as some would like us to move, but it’s a commitment,” said Mayor Bill Bell. “Sometimes it does get somewhat irritating when innuendos are made that we are trying to do something less than what we’ve committed to do.”
The city is currently preparing to seek bids on the project. The hope is to have a developer with experience with low-income housing tax credits establish a building plan that includes ground-floor retail and can integrate bus and rail transit.
As Richard Valzonis, senior project manager with the city’s Department of Community Development, notes, this federal LIHTC program is competitive—especially because Durham County competes against other countries facing affordable housing crises, including Wake, Buncombe, and Mecklenburg. Municipalities first have to seek a partner—for instance, Self-Help—but even after that, those applications aren’t always accepted. In 2015, Durham County had two projects accepted by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, which administers the LIHTC program. But 2016 had none.
That’s part of the reason the Jackson Street project will take so long to unfurl.
CAN has also identified multiple tracts of land owned by the city and Durham County for affordable housing downtown, including parking lots on East Main Street. Conversations on those have seemingly stalled, but this week county commissioners will take the issue up again.
On Monday night the Durham County Board of Commissioners voted to pitch in county-owned land for the prospect of affordable housing. Parking lots on 300 block of East Main Street and the large Health and Human Services parking lot on the 500 block of East Main street were offered up for an RFQ process to build structured parking that included directives to determine the feasibility and inclusion of retail and affordable housing.