Durham is facing an affordable housing crisis and Duke can do more to help, panelists say

Thursday, September 27, 2018
Duke Chronicle

As the ongoing affordable housing crisis in Durham continues to strain residents, experts called for local efforts to help improve the situation at a panel Tuesday. 

Gentrification is a critical part of the ongoing housing crisis in Durham, panelists said. 

“I define gentrification as someone taking something that’s yours and selling it back to you for double the price,” said Jesse McCoy, James Scott Farrin lecturing fellow and supervising attorney at the Duke Law Civil Justice Clinic. 

A lack of investment is at the foundation of gentrification, said panelist Melissa Norton, project director of Bull City 150. The Duke-based initiative from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity studies the racial and economic injustices in Durham over the past 150 years. 

As downtown witnesses major investment, Norton said, other areas have not been meaningfully invested in. This led to their gentrification. 

“Evictions are devastating, and in Durham there’s no place to go," Norton said. "It’s such a deep structural problem.”

McCoy said as one in every 28 Durham residents received an eviction notice in 2015-2016 and long-term residents are kicked out of increasingly expensive leased homes, the first step is to “stop the bleeding.” 

The second step is to encourage long-term investment so that Durham residents can stay here. 

The number of neighborhoods with high poverty rates is increasing in Durham and the growth of its racial inequity has also outpaced that of the state and country, McCoy said. 

“As more and more black revenues and businesses are closing down…you see that trickle into neighborhoods,” he added. 

It is problematic that Durham residents living in areas with low valuations have to bear an additional tax as a result of people of color living there, known as a "black tax," said Henry McKoy, lecturer and director of entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University. 

McKoy also mentioned that the investment in Durham is excessively return-oriented. Panelists then turned their attention to Durham’s largest landowner and employer—Duke. 

Duke should do more to help alleviate the housing crisis because it it tax exempt, Norton said. 

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