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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, October 09, 2015

Affordable Housing: Can Durham Make Progress Soon?

Everyone running for city office in Durham has been talking about affordable housing.  There are many ideas bouncing back and forth.  The need for affordable housing is a big and complex problem that will require solutions from many sectors and with many strategies.  I don't think anyone doubts that.

Durham needs better wages from its employers.  While major employers in Durham have made commitments to paying a livable wage, still many of Durham's hard-working citizens make poverty wages.  Workers at many levels of income must work in various parts of the city and county, including downtown.  Durham City workers making a livable wage cannot afford housing downtown.  In fact, a livable wage worker makes less than half what the it would take to afford an apartment downtown at the average market rate.  The same goes for Durham County workers, Durham Public Schools workers, and Duke workers making a livable wage.  And those making minimum wage or a little more have even more difficulty finding affordable, quality housing.

Some might reply, "Everyone does not need to live downtown."  Of course that is true.  Yet good access to downtown with transit-based affordable housing and with affordable housing spread throughout the city, including downtown, makes sense.  Some downtown workers, at any income level, will want to live in various parts of the city and county.  Some also will prefer to be near their jobs.  Where it is possible to provide affordability in every part of town, it seems reasonable to take efforts to do so.

Everyone is talking about affordable housing, but it seems some have been talking past each other.  Mayor Bell has been promoting a rental subsidy from earmarked funds to make downtown affordable.  His plan could benefit many targeted families and persons whose income falls between 60% and 80% of the Area Median Income.  Yet many of Durham's workers, not necessarily living in poverty, fall below that 60% threshold. 

Councilwoman Catotti and other members of the council emphasized the need to have a comprehensive plan in mind as the City proposes and adopts specific affordable housing developments.  It is good that our Council is eager to plan rather than merely react.  A report that will contribute to promulgating a more comprehensive plan is already underway.  However, that does not in and of itself preclude moving ahead with a particular development which accords with the commitments the Council has already made as they continue to plan for even larger solutions.  Acting both now and in the future will help Durham work toward solving this complex problem.

Some approaches to subsidized housing are targeted toward very-low income citizens, some of whom are disabled or retired without adequate income to afford housing on their own.  Programs of the Housing Authority and other programs target providing housing to those people.  More is needed, as thousands of qualified households remain on waiting lists for years.

Between very low income and near median income, a group of workers are being squeezed out of housing.  Many of Durham's working citizens earn between 40% and 60% of AMI.  These workers and families would receive help from a project that draws upon the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program which allows a developer to reduce the cost of construction through tax credits.  Durham CAN, Self-Help Credit Union, and others have supported a downtown project that can build a large number of units of affordable housing next to the Durham Station Transit Center.

The Durham City Council primary elections have helped bring our focus onto affordable housing.  Everyone who received high percentages of the votes has been outspoken on the need for rapid and strong action to keep Durham affordable to all of its residents.  Now is the time to press forward on achieving success in developing affordable housing in all of Durham's neighborhoods, and with special focus on affordable housing near future transit stations.

Those who have talked past one another can arrive at proposals on which all can agree.  Affordable housing for citizens that brings together people of various income levels living in shared communities is a worthy goal.  It is achievable in steps we can take now and for the long haul.  As the November election approaches, citizens need to continue supporting candidates who are ready to solve the lack of affordable housing and make Durham a city open to all of its people.

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