The Durham County commissioners have voted unanimously to use two county-owned lots on East Main Street near the planned Dillard Street light-rail stop in Durham as sites for development that includes both affordable and market-rate apartments.

The intention is to build approximately 437 residential units and to make 277 of them affordable to households earning 30 to 80 percent of the area median income. The plans for the two properties also include nearly 35,000 square feet of commercial space and up to 1,900 parking spaces.

Located in downtown Durham, the Dillard Street station of Durham and Orange counties’ light-rail project will provide convenient access to both the Golden Belt and Government Services districts. The light-rail line, when completed by 2028, will run 17.7 miles from UNC-Chapel Hill to Duke University through downtown Durham to NC Central University.

“We can’t talk about affordable housing without talking about transit. They go hand in hand,” says Wendy Jacobs, chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners. “We know that too many people in Durham are cost burdened -- meaning they spend more than 40 percent of their income on housing and transportation. And we can’t talk about affordable housing and transportation unless we talk about jobs, because people need to have good-paying jobs so they can afford their housing and other needs. This is why the Durham-Orange light-rail project is so critical to our community’s strategy around affordable housing.”

About 30 percent of all existing permanent affordable housing in Durham, including two-thirds of Durham Housing Authority property, is within a 10-minute walk of one of the light-rail stations. Several planned city and county affordable housing projects are near a light-rail station, as are most of the sites the Durham Housing Authority is planning to redevelop or expand, Jacobs said.

The Development Finance Initiative of the UNC School of Government researched and designed the plans presented to the commissioners. The board hopes to choose a developer by late spring, with the first project breaking ground in late 2020.

“We are all proud,” said Jacobs, who also sits on GoTriangle’s Board of Trustees, in a statement. “By pursuing a relatively new tool available to county governments, we will create a private-public partnership that will result in at least 277 units of affordable housing. We are leveraging county surface parking lots and plans already in the works for parking decks for staff and residents receiving county services to help address the affordable housing crisis in Durham. Permanent affordable housing will help create a downtown Durham for all.”

The residents living at 300 and 500 East Main Street will have access to jobs and educational opportunities near light-rail stations that include the county’s biggest employer Duke University and its medical center, the VA Medical Center, NCCU and UNC Hospitals and university. 

“Imagine the new world of opportunities now a short walk away for these residents,” Jacobs said. “Getting some exercise walking to the train, riding the train for the same amount as a bus but leaving the traffic behind as the travel time is always the same on the rail line. Less stress, more time with family and friends. Better health outcomes. This is the vision that we have for our community. Affordable housing. Transit. Jobs. This is the legacy we are creating now and for the future of Durham.”

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