Mayor Bill Bell Has Overseen a Bull City Renaissance. So Why Has Durham’s Poverty Rate Gone Up on His Watch

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
The Independent Weekly

In many ways, this story begins with Durham's incorporation in 1869. From the outset, a divide existed between the wealthy landowners who built the city's textile and tobacco factories and the people who worked in them. Those at the top accumulated wealth through their businesses and assets, while those at the bottom lived paycheck to paycheck.

"If you multiply that over one hundred and fifty years, you have some sense of why, say, in terms of housing, how hard it was for people who made really minimal wages," says Robert Korstad, a history and public policy professor at Duke University.

When Durham's factories began their slow decline in the 1950s and manufacturing jobs moved to other North Carolina cities, it was easier for the laid-off white workers to find new jobs. Segregation, discrimination, and policies like redlining, in which banks refused to give loans in black neighborhoods, reinforced the divide between working-class blacks and whites. Areas redlined by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation in 1937—including Hayti, Northeast Central Durham, and West End—still have some of the highest rates of poverty and lowest homeownership rates in Durham.

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