McDougald Terrace residents council president Ashley Canady told the INDY that she’s received death threats on her news app and with private calls.

The death threats happened one day before supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hosted a town hall meeting in East Durham last week.

Hours before the start of the town hall, Canady assembled a security detail with the help of black liberation minister, Paul Scott, who stood in front of the stage during the event.

Durham is grappling with a housing crisis. The city’s housing stock is being gobbled up by wealthier newcomers while skyrocketing rents and home costs far outpace longtime residents’ income.

The crisis–which prompted visiting billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer to assert that race and housing are at the epicenter of inequality–was exacerbated this month by a public health emergency that has displaced 280 families from the McDougald Terrace public housing complex.

During his visit to McDougald Terrace, Steyer walked along Ridgeway Street, where he privately visited with Canady at her home, and later prayed with her and other residents inside an apartment-turned-resource center at Building 51B.

Into the vortex stepped the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign that arrived in heavily gentrified East Durham for a town hall meeting, last Friday.

Sanders, who is running a close second in the polls behind Joe Biden, was not at the event that was held at the Holton Resource Center at 421 North Driver Street.

However, former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, who is the national co-chair of the Sanders campaign, moderated the town hall. She was joined on stage by council member Jillian Johnson, Canady and Michelle Burton, president of the Durham Association of Educators.

Turner and Johnson both praised Sanders’ “Housing for All,” plan that proposes to end the nation’s housing crisis by investing $2.5 trillion over the next decade to build nearly 10 million affordable housing units, and investment another $70 billion to repair and “decarbonize” places like McDougald Terrace, where elevated carbon levels and other health hazards prompted housing authority officials to evacuate 280 families to area hotels.

The ambitious plan also calls for a national rent control standard and other tenant rights, along with purports to combat gentrification, exclusionary zoning, segregation and speculation.

Turner said the funds would come from a tax imposed on the nation’s wealthiest citizens.

“I have never seen a number like that [to address the national housing issue], and that’s what’s needed,” Johnson said. 

The city council member added that here in Durham, gentrification in the city “is growing year by year, and it’s getting worse.”

Johnson said that as a consequence of skyrocketing housing costs, each day Durham is losing longtime residents who can no longer afford to live here.

She took aim too, at Steyer’s visit to McDougald Terrace, calling his run for the Oval Office, “a doomed campaign.”

Most of us, Johnson said, “are closer to being in public housing than we are to being a billionaire.”

Johnson said that most city residents do not make $70,000 a year, the county’s average salary. Nor can they afford the $260,000 to 300,000 homes that are under construction.

Johnson also pointed to the $95 million affordable housing bond that won overwhelming support from voters in November, as a means of “filling in the gaps” over the next five years.

But there has been growing resentment directed at Johnson in recent months.

Last week, Canady led a group of the displaced residents –armed with macaroni and cheese cups–into a city council work session to protest living for several weeks at area hotels.

Most of the residents’ ire targeted Johnson. Nearly every time she spoke the residents shook their little cups like maracas to voice their displeasure.

One of the residents called Johnson the “Marie Antionette of Durham”–“let them eat mac and cheese.”

Impatience and resentment about Johnson simmered to the surface again at the town hall meeting.

The city council member was explaining that rent controls and zoning for affordable housing are illegal in this state.

“If you have ideas for things that we could do in Durham to get the developers to provide more affordable housing that’s legal in the state, I would love to hear them,” she said.

More than a few folk gathered in the auditorium hooted.

“That’s your job!” one woman yelled back at Johnson.

The day before the town hall, Canady gathered in front of the building her fellow residents and supporters, before getting into a cardboard box to protest displaced Mac families living in cramped hotels, and children getting sick from eating mac and cheese cups every day.

Johnson stood across the street while witnessing Canady inside the box. She later tweeted her approval of the “Theatre of the Oppressed” tactics.

Canady was apparently unimpressed by Johnson’s praise.

Canady also invited the current politicians and political candidates to not merely visit public housing communities, but stay “two or three days,” to experience the neighborhoods firsthand. And she took specific aim at Johnson.

“I hope Jillian will come down,” Canady said. “You got politicians running around thinking you owe them something. They owe you.”

Canady signaled that she plans to enter Durham’s political arena with a run for the city council. Canady said if the public health crisis at McDougald Terrace is not addressed with real actions, instead of words, then an election recall is in order, along with replacing the Durham Housing Authority’s board members and the resignation of Anthony Scott, the agency’s chief executive director.

“Because I feel the only way they are going to take us seriously is if we hit them in their pockets,” she said.

Johnson, before Canady spoke, talked about the need to “tax the obscene wealth that’s been hoarded in this country by super-wealthy people.”

She says those who have been most victimized by the housing crisis are looking for someone to blame.

Johnson pointed to years of disinvestment and racist housing policies as the real culprits behind the crisis.

And she added, “the truth is the most talented administration in the world can’t do much without funding.”

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at 

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