Early next year, fifty-eight-year-old artist and teacher Braima Moiwai will move out of the Arnette Street apartment he’s rented for more than two decades. The market is hot, and his landlord sold the property.
A few blocks away, on Fairview Street, two new homes, with V-shaped roofs, dramatic architectural features, and sloping lawns, are on the market for more than a half-million dollars each. They stand in contrast to the surrounding modest bungalows, all in need of repairs, where many residents have spent most of their adult lives.
Turn on to Carroll Street, and a recently built two-story home sits next to a tan-colored cinderblock duplex that, by comparison, looks old enough for its original owners to have secured their loan from the Freedman’s Bank during Reconstruction.
Gentrification is evident in Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood, and with it a growing resentment among long-time working-class residents who see the city pulling out the proverbial good china with road and infrastructure improvements to support the new developments and new people driving up their rents.
Later this year, the city will likely agree to spend $660,000 on another new development in Lakewood. But while this project is designed to turn the neighborhood into a cultural and recreational destination, with community gardens, a sculpture park, basketball court, an adventure playground, and a skateboard park—the kinds of things that presage rising rents—it won’t lead to anyone being displaced, supporters say.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Instead, the nonprofit Scrap Exchange is asking for the money to help finance a thirty-three-unit affordable housing development. The homes will anchor its planned 12.5-acre Reuse Arts District, which will be housed in what is now the parking lot of the Lakewood Shopping Center.
The Durham institution, which has sold repurposed salvageable materials since 1991, now wants to salvage living spaces for its working-class neighbors.
“This is a fantastic idea,” city council member Charlie Reece said after a Thursday work session in which city officials reviewed the proposal. “It’s easy to envision what could happen at that location, and what it means to working-class folk who live over there.”
The city’s contribution will cover a financing gap and enable The Scrap Exchange to build out commercial space in the Reuse Arts District, says project manager Doreen Sanfelici. That, in turn, will lead to permanent financing for phase one of the housing project.
“We’re very vested in the community,” says Sanfelici. “The [alternative] is that a private developer comes in, knocks everything down, and puts up a typical development.”
Founded in 1991, The Scrap Exchange bounced around for its first two decades—in Northgate Mall, the Liberty Warehouse, near Golden Belt—before purchasing the former Center Theater in Lakewood in 2013. Three years later, it secured a loan to purchase the northern end of the shopping center, and, along with Self-Help, met with city officials to discuss whether the city would kick in funds in exchange for affordable housing.
Under the agreement—which Sanfelici hopes the council will approve at its next meeting, on December 2—the nonprofit will develop at least thirty-three units that either rent to families earning 60 percent or less of the area median income or sell to families earning 80 percent of the AMI.
The Scrap Exchange currently counts as tenants several nonprofits and arts-focused businesses that reflect one of the most diverse communities in the city: The Latinx advocacy agencies El Centro and El Futuro have offices in the shopping center, as does the Durham Community Food Pantry. Freeman’s Creative, which sells fabric, yarn, handcrafts, and creative supplies, celebrated its second anniversary this month. The fourteen-thousand-square-foot Rhythms Live Music Hall has been here for almost a year. The Bulltown Magnetics recording studio just got the permits it needs to begin renovations.
Just twenty years ago, the Lakewood Shopping Center was a destination. Visitors could bite into hot slices of pizza or play pinball at Satisfaction restaurant, see a movie at the Center Theater, enjoy Ethiopian food at Blue Nile, or eat at the Back Porch restaurant.
Decades before that, it was home to the Lakewood Amusement Park, which had a swimming pool, diving horses, and a trolley line, but was off-limits to black kids, who could only peek through the fence.
By 2015, however, the shopping center had become a “forlorn, largely vacant lot,” city community development director Reginald J. Johnson wrote in a memo to council members earlier this month. “Today, the Lakewood Shopping Center is making a comeback, and the resulting gentrification pressures threaten to displace long-term residents.”
This housing project will help alleviate that pressure, Johnson continued.
Council member Javiera Caballero describes The Scrap Exchange’s ten-year plan for the arts district as “forward-looking.” She sees it as a way to push back against the displacement that often accompanies new development near downtown.
Sanfelici, an architect, says the project “will bring equity and ownership to the community.”
“It’s our opportunity to model development that does not displace and gentrify but rather enriches and supports the existing community,” she says. “Long-term, maybe the Reuse Arts District serves as an example for a national model for adaptive reuse.”
Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at email@example.com.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.