What's At Stake In The $95M Durham Housing Bond?

Nov 1, 2019

Marian Spicer campaigned at the downtown Durham early voting site in favor of the affordable housing bond in Durham.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

The sun had just taken a dip behind some heavy cloud cover when Marian Spicer set up a folding table with campaign fliers at the downtown Durham early voting site on a recent afternoon.

She mingled with other campaigners and approached voters to give them her pitch in favor of the proposed $95 million affordable housing bond.

"I was homeless at one time… I just see all the other homeless people that are on the streets, and I try to help out all that I can," she said. "I love people. I'm a people person, and I want to help everyone that I can."

In addition to choosing a mayor and three at-large council members Tuesday, Durham voters will consider what would be the largest housing bond in North Carolina's history.

Some Durham leaders have called the lack of affordable housing in the city a crisis. The median home sales price has increased by almost $100,000 since 2014. Some neighborhoods in east Durham have seen property values triple in just a few years. That's good for anyone selling a home, but bad for buyers and especially bad for renters, who are being edged out of the market.

"Durham is such a progressive city that we're thinking of solutions," said Sarah Meiners, the affordable housing bond campaign manager, who praises its goals. "We're not just talking about the problems, we're actually putting a plan in place. I think we can all agree that our citizens, our community, deserves better, no matter what level of income you're at."

Meiners and other supporters of the bond say it would help 15,000 people in Durham find stable housing. It includes a mix of projects that target both low and moderate income families. The $95 million bond is part of a $160 million plan to address homelessness and housing insecurity in the city. A big chunck - $100 million - of that total will expand the number of affordable rental units in the city, including the redevelopment of 30 acres of Durham Housing Authority  property in the core of downtown, at JJ Henderson, Oldham Towers, Liberty Street, the DHA office property, and Forest Hills Heights.

"These housing communities are aging, and the federal government is no longer providing enough funds for their maintenance and repair, so many of them are crumbling," according to the bond plan.

Funds will also support housing nonprofits like CASA, Housing for New Hope and others, and make low-interest mortgage loans available to families with moderate incomes, but who have difficulty securing credit.

Not everyone supports the affordable housing bond. This campaign sign at the early voting site in south Durham expresses that view.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

But not everyone supports the campaign. Terry McCann is with the Durham Republican Party. He's in favor of affordable housing for all Durham residents, but argues that housing bonds have been tried before in Durham and other cities.

"Some have worked well, but most of them really have not," he said. "And I just believe that we still can create more affordable housing options, but I don't think we need the bond to do that. I think there's free market solutions."

Others have expressed a deep-seated distrust of the Durham Housing Authority. In that camp, some support the bond, but want new city leadership to make sure the proposed projects help those who need it most. Others say the bond shouldn't pass at all until leadership changes.