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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Everyone Wants Affordable Housing--But How to Do It?

One sure thing came out of today's Durham City Council work session discussion on agenda item 29:  Affordable housing draws strong support from Durham's City Council.  What kind of development to carry out is where there is disagreement.  Some support a Durham Can proposal for a development that could provide 80-100 units of housing affordable for households making 40% to 60% of the Area Median Income, which would be up to $43,000 for a household of two people.  Working class, lower end of the middle class--about  40% of Durham's population is below that threshold.  They are people with steady jobs, earning a salary or a high hourly wage, starting families, building careers.  They are the backbone of our community.

Others insist any development should have a wider range of incomes, including some above the AMI.  One comment from Mayor Bell praised a development that has 40 units above AMI and 100 units below AMI.  That calculates to over 70% below AMI, and certainly there should be room for much or most of that to include the targeted population of 40 to 60% of AMI.

Others spoke in more vague language of "some" affordable housing.  Reasonably, a mixed-income development which targets affordable housing would not fall below offering homes to at least 15% of resident families who make below 60% of AMI.  But I think we can do better than that. 

The only sort of sour note in the conversation was the way that some people implied that Durham CAN was proposing to build a Cabrini-Green Homes style of housing structure.  The comparison is far off base.  Unlike that infamous Chicago development of thousands of highly concentrated public housing units, this proposal is for no more than 100 units.  It is not a public housing project, but a private venture supported through a public partnership.  The target income range, while below AMI, is at 40% AMI a higher base level than Habitat for Humanity housing (starting at 30% AMI) and has the same upper limit at 60% AMI.  Although I do not see why providing housing for very low income residents should be a problem for downtown planning, that is not what this particular proposal aims to do.  On the east end of downtown, Durham is having good success in building strong neighborhoods with even very low income levels. Higher income citizens are eagerly moving into East Durham.  People are not destined to remain so divided, unless market forces work alone to shape housing.  Several speakers praised diversity.  But diversity is exactly what current downtown development is preventing.

In conjunction with adjacent buildings, it would be part of a mixed-income neighborhood strategy and a strong head start to catch up with the goal of 15% affordable housing near the transit station.  Right now there is 0%, and none planned in the "pipeline" of development that will lead to 2200+ units within a half mile of Durham Station.  Even 100 units will be less than 5% of the goal for affordability.  There is much more to do, and getting this development underway will be a good start.

I remember getting a list of salaries for professors at one of the area universities a few years ago.  Barely a third of faculty at this historic university would make a salary above 60% of the AMI.  These are committed, hard-working, highly intelligent, community-minded citizens, many of whom live in Durham.  They are strong contributors to any community.  I think people like these university professors, along with school teachers, artists, construction workers, police officers, mechanics, and others who would fall in this income category are exactly the kinds of citizens we want living in any of our neighborhoods.

I believe there is still an opportunity to make this project happen at Durham Station.  Either Durham CAN's proposal or some other version of a development including significant affordable housing is right for this property.

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