On Thursday, Durham’s public housing chief announced that the more than 300 McDougald Terrace residents who were relocated three weeks ago because of unsafe conditions at the housing complex will remain at area hotels through the first week of February.

Anthony Scott, CEO of the Durham Housing Authority, says the agency needs more time for repairs to the complex’s plumbing and electrical systems and to address environmental conditions in the community.

Hours before Scott updated reporters on the progress at the 360-unit complex, McDougald Terrace residents staged a second round of protests at City Hall, where they upstaged a city council work session to complain about the time they’ve spent in 13 area hotels.

Ashley Canady, the McDougald Terrace residents council president, told council members that the macaroni-and-cheese cups that their children eat every day are making them sick.

During the work session, one Mac resident demanded a recall election. Another called council member Jillian Johnson the “Marie Antionette of Durham”—“let them eat mac and cheese.” Tara Parrish, the residents council president for the Hoover Road housing complex, reminded the city council that “this is not a housing crisis that happened overnight.”

No one cared about it until the media picked it up a few weeks ago, she added. 

Prior to entering the work session, where the residents shook the mac-and-cheese cups like maracas, Canady climbed in a cardboard box outside City Hall to emphasize that the hotel rooms are starting to feel like prisons. (Johnson later tweeted her approval of the “Theater of the Oppressed” tactics.)

On Tuesday, Canady had led a group of her fellow residents disrupted a city council meeting with complaints about their three-week relocation at the hotels.

“You go to eat at fancy restaurants every night, and we are eating macaroni-and-cheese cups,” shouted Canady, telling council members that “babies are going into cardiac arrest because of the high sodium.”

Scott, speaking to reporters Thursday at DHA’s downtown offices, said he could not confirm Canady’s assertion that babies have suffered cardiac arrest or that older residents have been transported to the hospital because of the high-sodium foods that have been donated to the displaced residents. Nor could he confirm reports that residents at Oxford Manor have been without gas since January 17 because of the carbon monoxide inspections that began last week.

Scott said his agency is trying to assist the residents “in as many ways as possible” through Canady and with other volunteers to ensure the relocated citizens have food, transportation, and toiletries.

As for “specific issues,” Scott said the DHA is handling those “on a one-on-one basis.” The public housing chief also said that mental health services for residents in duress are available through Alliance Health.

“We are asking residents to use them if they need them,” Scott said.

Scott said the DHA currently has contracts with 13 hotels to temporarily house the displaced residents, but the agency needs seven more.

“We are asking area hotels with available rooms to reach out to us,” he told reporters. “We want to make sure everyone is housed safely and securely.”

Scott and city leaders have been targets of the residents’ frustration and anger since January 3, when DHA began to evacuate 280 households from the Mac after inspectors discovered elevated levels of carbon monoxide in some of the apartments.

The residents have since complained of lead paint that’s been painted over, mold in their kitchens and bathrooms, gas leaks, pervasive sewage issues, bed bugs, roaches, and deadly gun violence.

Residents’ fears crescendoed between November 20 and January 1, when three infants died under unexplained circumstances. The state medical examiner has ruled out carbon monoxide poisoning as a cause of death, but state pathologists have not yet said how the infants died.

On Thursday, Scott said inspections have been completed at  McDougald Terrace, along with the DHA properties at Oxford Manor, Hoover Road, and Club Boulevard. The agency also kicked off a round of inspections at Edgemont Elms and Laurel Oaks that are expected to be completed on Friday.

Scott said the DHA will “finalize a timeframe for the repairs at McDougald Terrace.” He said the gas stoves in the Mac will be replaced with electric appliances, and licensed contractors will repair the kitchen vents in the apartments and begin mold remediation.

So far, the DHA has spent about $500,000 to house, transport, and provide weekly stipends to the residents.

Scott said the agency’s financial plan for repairs at the Mac includes dipping into its $7 million capital fund.

“At this juncture, we will be able to handle the repairs,” he said. Scott said the DHA has applied for a HUD emergency grant to reimburse the agency for the repairs.

“We recognize this is a crisis,” he said. “We are doing all we can to ensure our residents’ safety.” 

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at tmcdonald@indyweek.com. Additional reporting by Sara Pequeño.

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