Durham’s lack of affordable housing has dominated the public discourse for years.
In November 2019, Durham voters overwhelmingly passed a $95 million affordable housing bond with the goal of upgrading the city’s affordable housing options. The largest affordable housing bond ever passed in the state at the time, it was coupled with an existing $65 million in local and federal funding, ultimately creating the $160 million “Forever Home, Durham” program. The city aims to allocate all funds from the program for spending and in-contract by the end of the 2026 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2025 to June 30, 2026.
Forever Home, Durham plays a key role in Durham Housing Authority’s (DHA) Downtown Durham and Neighborhood Plan (DDNP), which aims to revitalize DHA’s existing downtown properties and ensure that Durham’s low-income residents benefit from its economic boom. Since Forever Home, Durham and DDNP launched, the Durham area has seen a massive increase in property values, the outbreak of a pandemic, an eviction crisis, and a staffing shortage in the city’s Community Development Department, that, according to its director, had seen a vacancy rate of 33 percent until recent weeks.
In light of the upcoming municipal elections, the INDY’s reporting on the state of housing in Durham, and the challenging circumstances facing these programs, the INDY checked on the progress of the Forever Home, Durham program and its goals.
All of the following metrics track progress since July 2019 on the bond’s stated goals. All budgetary figures were provided directly by the City of Durham and reflect spending as of February 28, 2023. All progress metrics come from an August presentation by the Forever Home, Durham team.
The majority of the expected units are in-pipeline. According to Reginald Johnson, director of the City of Durham’s Community Development Department, “in-pipeline” means that discussions with contractors and developers are underway and that money is being allocated for a project but that no contract has been executed. Details and finances of projects are still under discussion, and projects that are in-pipeline have the potential to fall through.
According to LSA Management, which manages both the Acadia and the Joyce, the Acadia is expected to be open by December 2023. Eighteen units will be available for families at 30 percent AMI (Area Median Income) or below, 46 units for families at 60 percent AMI or below, and 18 units available for families at 80 percent AMI or below.
Durham Housing Authority and LSA Management provided different numbers for affordability by unit for the Joyce. According to Durham Housing Authority, 20 units at the Joyce are reserved at 30 percent AMI or below, 32 units at 60 percent AMI or below, and 24 units are rented at market rate. According to LSA Management, 20 units are rented at 30 percent AMI or below, 32 units at 60 percent AMI or below, four units are at 70 percent AMI or below, and 24 units are at 80 percent AMI or below.
According to the Community Development Department, the majority of the 451 in-contract units should be completed by the end of 2024. The units are made up of five different apartment complexes, the largest being Cedar Trace Apartments (180 units), and Hardee Street Apartments (132 units).
The 355 completed renovations are made up of downtown Durham’s 177-unit JJ Henderson Apartments, and North Durham’s 178-unit JFK Towers. Both apartment complexes are targeted towards individuals age 62 and up and those with disabilities.
It is worth noting that, despite renovations being listed as completed and $1.5 million spent, there are 38 open cases for code violations at JFK Towers as of October 2, which the INDY confirmed with Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services (NIS) Department. JFK Towers is owned and operated by Millenia Housing Management, and received coverage for its poor living conditions in July.
The 56 units under contract for renovation are the 42-unit Ross Road apartments, and the 14-unit Fitts Powell apartments.
Regarding the remaining 362 units awaiting preservation, the City of Durham’s Community Development Department said it is planning to release Requests For Proposals (RFPs) for more preservation projects around the beginning of the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in July 2024.
Multi-family rental spending
Colin Davis, the homeless system manager for the city’s Community Development Department, credits Durham’s diversity of programs and funding designed to assist the city’s unhoused community members.
“We’ve been able to leverage housing choice vouchers, Rapid Rehousing projects, and permanent supportive housing, different funding streams that have come through,” Davis says. “We also got the bonus COVID funds that came through which assisted with additional Rapid Rehousing.”
This metric only includes those exiting emergency shelters to permanent housing and not unhoused residents gaining permanent housing via street outreach or other rapid rehousing programs. This number comes from Durham’s network of year-round and winter weather white-flag emergency shelters, with the bulk of the numbers coming from Families Moving Forward and Urban Ministries. Durham Rescue Mission, while one of the area’s largest shelters, does not provide data to Durham’s homeless management system and did not contribute to these numbers.
Despite these encouraging numbers, homelessness in Durham is on the rise, particularly among households with children. Those working in homeless services point to Durham’s rising cost of living and affordable housing crisis as major contributing factors.
“The challenges have gotten harder and the barriers to rehousing have gotten more difficult to overcome,” Davis says. “Homelessness is not the problem. Homelessness is the symptom of the larger failures of a variety of systems that create people experiencing homelessness.”
As well as the focus on moving homeless individuals from emergency shelters into permanent housing, Forever Home, Durham funding has been used to stabilize and expand Durham’s homelessness services as a whole. This includes Entry Point Durham, which connects unhoused residents with available services and works with local organizations such as Housing for New Hope, Durham Crisis Response Center, and Open Table Ministry.
Homeless services spending:
Compared to other programs in the Forever Home, Durham program, efforts to create affordable homeownership opportunities for first time buyers have largely stalled.
According to Johnson, the July re–launch of Durham’s Down Payment Assistance Program is expected to provide a significant boost to these numbers. Under the program, homebuyers making at or under 80 percent AMI may receive up to $80,000 in assistance for down payments and closing costs. Loans are forgivable, with 0 percent interest, and available on a first-come-first served basis. Money will be available until the DDNP fund’s $5.7 million runs out.
Smaller partnerships with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and the Durham Community Land Trust are expected to contribute to Forever Home, Durham’s affordable homeownership impact as well.
However, Johnson says, hitting the originally-projected 400 opportunities created for low income homebuyers is unlikely without additional funding, largely due to increased housing costs.
“The market has changed dramatically,” Johnson says. “Based on the amount of money that we have and how we revised the program, we’re probably not going to hit those numbers without an infusion of money at some point.”
So far, $75,700 has been spent on down payment assistance and affordable homeownership opportunities, with $6,274,300 remaining.
Housing Stability and Home Repair
Neighborhood stabilization programs funded by Forever Home, Durham include eviction diversion, run by Legal Aid of North Carolina, Housing Opportunities for Persons With Aids (HOPWA)-based financial assistance, and the substantial rehabilitation and minor repairs programs.
The bulk of the 1,810 number in this category comes from diversions conducted by NC Legal Aid’s Durham Eviction Diversion Program. Durham’s eviction crisis has been well-documented in local media and by organizations such as Dataworks NC.
While NC Legal Aid’s Eviction Diversion has contributed the majority of the numbers for Neighborhood Stabilization, and has served as the main line of defense for tenants in Durham’s eviction crisis, the program had nearly run through its Forever Home, Durham budget by the end of the 2023 fiscal year. An additional $500,000 addendum will allow Forever Home, Durham to continue financing the program through June 2024, although continued support afterwards is not guaranteed.
The city also provided Habitat for Humanity with a $985,383 two-year contract that expired in September 2023, and resulted in 53 minor home repairs, and six applications for substantial repairs (over $35,000 each) that the City of Durham has received but not yet approved.
Neighborhood stabilization spending:
Create At Least $130 Million in Contracting Opportunities for Minority- and Woman- Owned Businesses
In 2019, proponents asserted that passing the bond would create a total of “$443 million leveraged by city investment,” with a goal of at least 30 percent of those dollars being spent on contracting opportunities for Minority and Woman Owned Businesses (MWBEs). Thus far, $14,206,267 out of $54,572,385, or 26 percent of total contracting dollars spent have gone toward MWBEs.
This figure, although included in Forever Home, Durham’s metrics, references a larger pool of money, including total project costs for which Forever Home, Durham has provided gap financing. For instance, if Forever Home, Durham pays for $2 million of a $6.5 million project, all $6.5 million is factored in for this metric.
Summary of Takeaways
As of February 28, Forever Home, Durham has spent $30,732,683, with $14,299,963 allotted for spending by the end of the 2023 fiscal year (June 30, 2023).
Provided that this spending was on track, Forever Home, Durham had $114,923,382 left to spend beginning July 1, the start of the 2024 fiscal year. Forever Home, Durham is expected to spend $47,565,104 in fiscal year 2024, $18,188,743 in fiscal year 2025, and $49,169,535 in fiscal year 2026.
Johnson says he is proud of the progress that Forever Home, Durham has made and of Durham’s broader commitment to affordable housing and becoming an equitable city.
“Members of the community and the city council recognize that affordable housing is an issue, and they voted to put additional resources behind it,” Johnson says. “In many respects, Durham is a city that boxes above our weight. This affordable housing bond was the largest in the Carolinas. It’s not gonna solve affordable housing, but it moves us down the line.”
What exactly might address the complexities that contribute to Durham’s dearth of affordable housing remains unclear. Some of the challenges are cited in Forever Home, Durham presentations: rising rental prices, rising costs of for-sale housing, fewer landlords accepting housing choice vouchers, and the capacity of a short-staffed Community Development Department to handle an ever-increasing workload.
The realities of short-staffing and the pandemic have made many of Forever Home Durham’s original promises tenuous and difficult to track. Budgetary figures took the City of Durham around two weeks to procure, and the metrics on the program’s official website date back to November of last year.
Some of the program’s triumphs, such as the construction of the Joyce and the Acadia, are easy to point to. On the other hand, renovations at JFK Towers being marked as completed, with $1.5 million spent and many residents still living in hazardous conditions, is a cause for concern.
It is also difficult to measure the overall impact of a program that in its own words states “resources are not enough to address the need which is being exacerbated by the current economy and housing market.” And it’s overly optimistic to expect a city initiative, even the largest of its kind in state history, to act as a silver bullet for such a multifaceted issue.
A 2022 infusion of $40 million in federal funds to assist with DHA’s Downtown Durham and Neighborhood Development plan brought increased resources to the fight for affordable housing across the city.
Whether many of the other forces actively reshaping Durham—be they biotech, private equity, or medical companies—will contribute in a concrete or meaningful way remains to be seen.
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