This week, officials with a local limited liability company who proposed redeveloping the city’s foremost historic Black community into a residential, educational, and economic district announced that they have filed a letter of protest against the Durham Housing Authority (DHA). They say DHA left them out of plans to create affordable housing in the downtown district.

In the face of an acute affordable housing crisis, and an affordable housing bond that calls for less than six percent of home ownership, officials with Hayti Reborn say DHA’s approach to redevelop Hayti will only reinforce the gentrification already taking place throughout the district.

Officials with Hayti Reborn filed the letter of protest on February 4. The letter writers say they are “a community based and driven organization, and initiative supporting a vision of a more racially, socially, and economically equitable Durham, specifically in regards to the Historic Hayti District and [the] Fayetteville Street Corridor.”

DHA spokeswoman Aalayah Sanders on Wednesday told the INDY that the selection process for redeveloping the area was based on the criteria outlined in a request for proposals submitted to the agency, and the policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the DHA. Sanders did not share the criteria with the INDY.

“DHA will respond to the bid protest accordingly and has no further comments at this time,” Sanders wrote in an email.

This summer, Durham’s first federally sanctioned Juneteenth holiday marked the announcement of an intriguing community-based initiative, “Hayti Reborn,” which seeks to rebuild the community along the Fayetteville Street corridor. 

“The vision is to see the rebirth of the community utilizing the same dynamic entrepreneurship ecosystem that it was once internationally known for,” Henry McKoy, director of entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University’s business school, told the INDY in June. 

McKoy, who is the director of the project, generated a lot of excitement with that announcement and the unveiling of threefold economic, educational, and residential development that envisions home and business ownership that will not displace residents.

Hayti has languished for decades, traumatized by an urban renewal effort during the 1960s and early 1970s with the construction of Highway 147. The misnamed program destroyed 4,000 homes and 500 businesses in the neighborhood.

McKoy told the INDY that the loss of old Hayti “is incalculable, possibly billions of dollars in lost economic value.”

Fayette Place—20 acres of vacant land that was formerly the site of the Fayetteville Street public housing complex—was the linchpin of McKoy’s vision for a resurrected community. But Hayti Reborn appeared dead in the water this month when the DHA announced plans to build more than 1,700 residential units aimed at providing affordable housing and creating new residential communities in the downtown Durham area.

The DHA’s $470 million development plan calls for the construction of residential units across three sites that include the Fayette Place community, where the Hayti Reborn project proposed its development.

The News & Observer reported that Hayti Reborn was one of 12 development proposals across the three sites, but DHA instead opted to work with Durham Development Partners, a joint venture team that includes F7 International Development, Gilbane Development Company, and The Integral Group, LLC, an Atlanta-based group that specializes in urban community development.

Durham Development Partners will develop Fayette Place, with plans to build a new DHA Office and Criminal Justice Resource Center, along with over 1,000 mixed-income residential units and a new administrative office. 

The Integral Group will redevelop the Forest Hill Heights community, including a planned 700 mixed-income residential units and 73,000 square feet of commercial space.

Although the chosen developers have all expressed a commitment of “respecting, acknowledging, and honoring the history and heritage of the community,” that’s of no solace to Hayti Reborn officials, who say the basis for their protest includes a lack of community input, adding that the most recent conversation DHA officials had with the community about Fayette Place took place “some years ago.”

Hayti Reborn officials also state in the protest letter that DHA’s failure to include the community in the decision-making process of selecting a developer runs afoul of its original agreement with the City of Durham’s Community Development Department and a $4.2 million grant provision. They say a condition of the agreement states that DHA “must also work with the city to create ‘a community engagement program to provide meaningful opportunities for the Durham community, including but not limited to the Hayti and North Carolina Central University communities, to contribute input in connection with the redevelopment of the site and the surrounding area.’”

Hayti Reborn officials further assert the DHA did not place enough weight into the city’s commitment to “equity and shared prosperity.”

“Hayti Reborn believes its proposal offered the strongest plan for shared prosperity and equity” with regards to home and business ownership, “than any competing proposers.”

They also questioned the proposed land use of the developments, while criticizing what they see as DHA’s primary focus on housing. 

“Instead, a balance of housing and economic development/job creation/entrepreneurship that allows for upward community mobility of current community residents is what is believed by community stakeholders to be the highest and best use of the Fayette Place property,” the letter states. “A housing only, or primarily, approach will solidify gentrification of the community.”

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