The developers of the long-vacant Fayette Place site near downtown Durham are adding for-sale townhouses to their redevelopment plans, as longtime residents of the neighborhood have been urging.
So why isn’t everybody happy?
“These are not going to be opportunities for gentrification, but rather for purchase in the community,” Tom Liebel, managing principal at Moseley Architects, said at a meeting last week.
“Residents who have been here a long time or are starting to be displaced from here, they will have the opportunity to purchase these houses first,” he said.
But plans to keep the for-sale housing permanently affordable concerns some residents of the historically Black Hayti community who say it will prevent future generations from building the wealth they were historically denied.
Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott said it is essential that properties for sale be affordable forever. He said they’re considering limiting future pricing or a land trust model, in which only the home is sold, not the land underneath.
“Now, the criticism and the flip side of that, of course, is that you’re restricting how much equity a person can accumulate,” Scott acknowledged. “There’s lots of different models out there. And we’re going to explore all of those, but whatever we settle on, it will be a way to make sure that we have permanent affordable homeownership.”
Regina Mays told the group gathered in an N.C. Central University classroom Thursday night she liked the higher-quality affordable housing and amenities proposed in the overall redevelopment plan, like basketball courts and a community center.
“My kids may one day be some of those residents,” Mays said. “You want to talk about Black inheritance, well that’s where we got to start.”
“We want you to have generational wealth, OK,” Faye Calhoun, another community member, replied. “Not to pay $200,000 for a house and it appreciates to $400,000, but you don’t get it because they cut a deal with these people for 99 years. If you move out you don’t have any equity to carry with you.”
Durham Freeway construction splintered Hayti
Fayette Place is vacant today, home to the crumbling foundations of the Fayetteville Street Projects, built by the Durham Housing Authority in 1967. That housing development replaced some of the Black-owned homes razed to build N.C. 147, the Durham Freeway, The News & Observer previously reported.
Anita Scott Neville, director of the community group Hayti Reborn, said the plan was disappointing and insulting to those who had poured time into educating developers on the neighborhood and providing suggestions. Thursday’s meeting was the fourth DHA meeting with local residents this year.
“We can’t undo the highway but we can definitely do some things differently going forward,” she said. “This is just an upscale version of what was done before.”
In the early 1900s, Hayti was thriving with homes interspersed with Black-owned businesses, historians have described. It was splintered by the Freeway construction and urban renewal beginning in the 1950s.
The area containing Fayette Place, encircled by Merrick and Umstead streets between downtown and NCCU, was cut off from the city’s commercial core.
Hayti Reborn applied unsuccessfully to redevelop the site as an equitable development park hearkening to Durham’s rich history of Black entrepreneurship, but also including a residential tower and a grocery store.
But the housing authority, which owns the 20-acre site, instead selected Durham Community Partners, a joint venture between F7 International Development, Gilbane Development Company and Greystone Affordable Development.
The developers hired consultants to help get community feedback after being picked in January to redevelop the site.
The latest plans for Fayette Place
The plan presented Thursday calls for:
43 townhouses for purchase
252 walk-up apartments
A 202-unit apartment building geared toward families
A 68-unit apartment building designed for seniors
20,000 square feet of retail and commercial space
880 parking spaces
In conversations after the meeting, Gilbane’s development director Blaise Rastello said the anchor tenant occupying the largest commercial space could be a grocery, health care facility or early childhood education center.
The apartments will be priced for people at varying income levels.
“If we’re going to have market-rate housing included in this, it sure is going to have to be market-rate quality,” Liebel said. “We want to make sure that residents who live there don’t feel like they are living in second-class housing. The goal is to have this feel as nice and and as current as any other housing you’d find here today.”
The housing authority reported earlier this year that most of the units would be affordable as determined by the area’s median income:
18% for those earning 30% or less of the AMI
34% up to 50% AMI
22% up to 80% AMI
The developers quizzed the audience Thursday on architectural design and other preferences, with those present selecting a fairly modern aesthetic with pitched roofs and clean lines.
The top vote-getters on amenities included walking trails, community gardens, a playground for young children, outdoor seating, grilling stations and basketball courts.
Anica Green questioned whether the responses were truly representative.
“Do the demographics align up with the demographics of the people? Are you hearing from a good income range? Are you hearing from a good age range?” they asked.
“We know that there are people who were missing, we know that,” consultant Inger Swimpson said. “We rely on the folks who are here, and the folks who are here have a voice that we are able to use.”
The conversation was at times tense Thursday, with residents questioning the developers’ timing and intentions.
“We’re talking about responding to the Hayti community. We’re not talking about attracting non-Durham residents and others from out of town to come in and gentrify the community in a way that has been done before,” Scott Neville said the next day. “None of that was reflected last night and their response to the concern expressed was troublesome.”
Durham Community Partners hopes to line up funding and secure tax credit deals next year so construction can begin in 2024. They will apply for a mix of 4% and 9% low-income housing tax credits.
“There’s still a long ways to go. But what we’re trying to do now is make sure at least we’re getting more and more of what residents are asking for,” Scott said.
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