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Durham leaders to vote on acquiring Carver Creek apartments, maintaining them as affordable housing

Durham County Tax Administration

In the early 1990s, Carver Creek apartments in North Durham were built for low-income residents 55 and older.

But the protective covenant that preserves this property as affordable housing expires at the end of this year. That means the developer could buy it and raise rents.

Leaders in the city and county of Durham are considering a proposal to keep it affordable and expand it into a supportive housing campus for people transitioning out of homelessness. The idea is to provide services like substance abuse treatment, mental and physical health care on site.

An annual survey conducted in January 2023 found that 150 people in the city of Durham were unsheltered. Durham Community Development Manager Colin Davis said he noticed a sharp increase in families who do not have shelter compared with previous years.

WUNC's Will Michaels spoke with Russell Pierce, executive director of Housing for New Hope — the city and county's street outreach leader — about affordable housing in Durham, and why he thinks a supportive housing campus could work for Carver Creek.

WILL MICHAELS: How does what's going with Carver Creek fit into the issues surrounding the lack of affordable housing?

Will Michaels
A sign marks the entrance to the Carver Creek apartment complex in Durham, N.C.

RUSSELL PIERCE: What we've learned across North Carolina right now is that as many efforts as there are to create more affordable housing, because of properties losing their protective covenants and being converted to market rate, we're losing more than we're actually gaining. And so in a scenario like this, what can happen is the protections would run out at the end of December, then as those leases start to expire over the next 12 months, in theory, a different owner could come in and say, "You know, we're not gonna renew at these rates. We're converting to market rate." That is well within the new owners' purview to do.

MICHAELS: So, in order to avoid that, the city and county are proposing to provide about $3 million each toward buying Carver Creek apartments, and then day-to-day operations would be handed over to Housing for New Hope. What services do you envision providing at Carver Creek?

...if we could get them stably housed, and bring the services on site, their likelihood of long-term success is greater.
Russell Pierce, Housing for New Hope executive director

PIERCE: Part of what we're looking at is easy access to substance use supports, and the same with mental health supports. Could we get some, maybe, basic pharmacy services or some clinicians on site on a regular basis?

A lot of times, what we see in the larger system is you have folks who are regularly connecting with, say, the emergency department at Duke. And many times they're going without necessarily anything acute going on. The phrase we use is "familiar faces." And so part of what a campus like this can do is bring those services to one place, and serve folks who kind of fall in that category, "familiar faces."

They're using a lot of different services of the system on a regular basis. And if we could get them stably housed, and bring the services on site, their likelihood of long-term success is greater. And it's going to reduce the use of a lot of these things like the emergency department.

MICHAELS: The common thread here, I think, is really matching things that we know are already connected to stable housing: substance abuse recovery and mental health services. Improving those things for people also depends on having a stable home, right?

PIERCE: I mean, that's the piece that's become clearer and clearer over the years. We were born as an agency, really, from the fact that our first executive director and founder led the emergency shelter. We absolutely see a place for emergency shelters, but what he saw was folks who are going out into housing, and then coming back very quickly.

With these programs, what we're talking about is people who actually have leases. They're not just program participants, but everyone on one of our campuses has a lease for that unit that's in their own name. And then they have access to the supportive services. And we just see more and more people able to stay stably housed in that situation.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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