In weighing their options for how to redevelop two county-owned parking lots on Main Street, county commissioners are leaning toward a plan that would include 277 units of affordable housing.
Commissioners discussed the two options for redeveloping lots on the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street during a work session Monday morning.
Plan A includes a total of 492 residential units, 180 of which would be affordable to households earning 30 to 80 percent of the area median income; 55,500-square-feet of commercial space and as many as 1,970 parking spaces across both sites. In that concept, the affordable housing units would cost the county about $4 million to $5 million.
Plan B includes 437 residential units, 277 of which would be affordable to housing earning 30 to 80 percent of the area median income; 34,700-square-feet of commercial space; and as many as 1,933 parking spaces across the two properties. Affordable housing under plan B would require a county subsidy of about $8 to $9 million.
(Thirty percent of the area median income is about $22,000 for a family of four. Eighty percent is about $58,000).
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With the disclaimer that they want to hear public input at the November 13 meeting where they are expected to vote on the matter, four of five commissioners stated their support for plan B. The fifth — commissioner Brenda Howerton — didn’t voice support or opposition.
The affordable housing costs come on top of what it would cost to build parking decks on both sites. Doug Carter, with DEC Associates and a financial adviser on the project, said the county would issue long-term debt to build the decks, and that’s already been factored into future debt modeling.
“Our firm believes the private development plan is sound, that the addition of housing (especially affordable) is highly warranted and the estimated County cost is currently affordable,” Carter said in his presentation to the board.
Typically, said Sarah Odio, project manager with the University of North Carolina School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, developments built with tax credits, like these would be, are affordable for fifteen to thirty years, at which point they need renovations – and likely more tax credits in order to make them. A ground lease could ensure the housing remains affordable into the future, she said.
Once a plan is selected, the county will get to work writing a solicitation for development partners and the criteria by which is will select one or more development partners.
Peri Manns, deputy director of the county’s Engineering and Environmental Services department, said the work would likely happen in phases because county employees and the public use both parking lots. Odio said “optimistically” ground could be broken two years from now.
The county aims to get the solicitation out in January, with an April deadline for developers to apply, and partner selection in summer 2019.
The Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit and Durham CAN — which have been successful advocates for affordable housing in Durham — support plan B because it includes more affordable housing, more units available to lower incomes, and more units that can house families. A representative from the local Democratic Socialists of America branch also spoke in support of that option during Monday’s meeting.
Public input so far shows a preference for the plan also favored by commissioners.
Jim Svara, with the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, analyzed the results of surveys completed online or during three public input meetings about the proposals. Out of 129 surveys, 71 percent preferred plan B.
Commissioner Heidi Carter says the board is undertaking “what feels like a really earthshaking decision for our community.” Either project would significantly increase housing available to low-wealth families downtown and along the planned Durham-Orange Light Rail line.
Currently, nearly six hundred people live in Durham Housing Authority properties in the downtown area, although the agency is planning a full-scale redevelopment that will likely increase the number of downtown units.
A city-backed project at the intersection of Jackson and Willard streets will include eighty-two units of affordable housing. The City Council has also said affordable housing is its top priority for how the current Durham Police Department property should be used when the agency finishes moving into its new headquarters.
The vote is set to be held during the county commissioners’ November 13 meeting, which begins at seven p.m.