McDougald Terrace residents look to return home — but worry about what they’ll find

Cassandra Cox picking up donated supplies for her family. (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)

The continued struggles of families displaced from McDougald Terrace have garnered national attention, but the reality on the ground is beyond what anyone on the outside could possibly imagine.

Even folks who come to the community knowing the history of the situation find themselves shocked by what they discover when they arrive.

Ashley Canady, president of McDougald Terrace’s resident council, stands in front of 51 B Ridgeway Ave, where she and other volunteers collect and distribute donated supplies to residents. (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)

On January 24, Senator Nina Turner D- OH, hosted a Town Hall in Durham to discuss some of the issues faced by the public housing community. After the event, Senator Turner reflected on what it felt like to walk through McDougald Terrace for herself.

“I mean going to McDougald Terrace, I wasn’t prepared,” she said. “My team, they did tell me, but it’s nothing like somebody telling you and then you get a chance to see it.

Turner was also able to speak face to face with some of the residents about what they’ve been through.

“I assembled with all the women there, and for them to tell their stories… I was prepared in terms of my briefing, but I was not prepared for being in it in a practical sense in real life,” she said.

Behind every story shared about McDougald Terrace, there is a family living through it in real life. Cassandra Cox is one of many mothers from McDougald doing her best to make it through. She was moved to a local motel in December, and later discovered that her son had higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in his system.

For Cox’s family and countless others, being evacuated to a motel came with another set of problems.

“Myself I’ve got five kids, so it’s like six of us and we only got one room,” she said. Before she can even worry about fitting her family of six into two beds in a one hotel room, however , Cox has to figure out how to feed herself and her children without a working kitchen. Many residents who are staying in hotels have no way to cook or prepare food. Some have access to a microwave at best, but others aren’t so lucky.

“[We eat] you know fast food, things like Oodles and Noodles,” she said. “Whatever they bring us, whatever they donate to us we eat. Sometimes they try to provide us with hot meals, but where I’m at we usually don’t get hot meals, so we’re really being forgotten about. That’s how I feel.”

The challenges of building a life in a hotel room come at a time when McDougald Terrace’s families are already going through a lot. The combined stress of the situation is difficult for folks to endure. “It’s really stressful,” Cox said. “We just pray it’ll get better.”

What comes next?

As residents look forward to returning home, however, there are growing concerns about what they’ll find when they get back. With the majority of the residents away from home, there have been several reports of theft and vandalism in McDougald Terrace apartments. While the matter is still being investigated, several residents have reported signs that indicate that the very contractors that are supposed to be repairing their homes are to blame.

Ashley Canady, president of the resident’s council, experienced this for herself earlier this week.  “My son came in from school and caught the contractor,” she said. She suspects the theft of 400$, along with several other items.

Canady was initially alarmed when she saw her son coming out of her apartment before she arrived because he didn’t have a key and would have no way of getting in without her.

“I’m like ‘How did you get in the house?’” she said. “He’s like, ‘Oh yeah, the contractor was in your room sitting on the bed counting the money.’ My son described the contractor down to a T. He’s like, ‘Yeah, mom, I didn’t get scared because he’s generally the contractor that comes in here.’”

Canady is not the only resident with a similar story: “We have over 20 residents complaining now about their apartments,” she said. In addition to theft, some people have described coming home to find their walls marked with pens or their clothes thrown out all over the floor. In one unsubstantiated case, a woman shared a video of what she said she thought was urine in her sink alongside her dishes.

One thing their stories have in common, however, is that there are no signs of forced entry. “They’re not broken in to, they’re coming in with a key,” Canady said.

President of McDougald Terrace’s resident council Ashley Canady, right, voices residents’ concerns to DHA CEO Anthony Scott, second from right. (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)

When asked about Canady’s experience, Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott promised to look in to the situation, but confirmed that no DHA contractors were scheduled to enter Canady’s apartment on that day.

“No one was supposed to be in your [Canady’s] unit, so it wasn’t even like it was any contractor that we were aware of,” Scott said.

For a community already under the strain of unlivable conditions at home, and logistical challenges while displaced, residents say having someone enter their homes and go through their things without permission is a step too far.

“You violated my home,” Canady said. “And not only my home… I have over 20 people that complained that they came back to their apartment today and stuff is missing. Stuff is thrown all about the apartment. It’s the most heartbreaking thing to hear residents calling me crying and telling me that this is happening to their apartment.”

Canady knows firsthand what residents have already experienced, and worries about what life looks like when they are able to return home. “Residents are already going through enough, and when you have supposed to have trusted people coming in your apartments, it’s a lot,” she said.

As her community looks towards the future, Canady worries that that coming home won’t be the end of their struggle.

Volunteers organize donated supplies for families impacted by the crisis in Public Housing. (Staff photo by Anthony DeHart)

“I wanted people to come home, but now I’m kind of scared for people to come home because some people are coming home to nothing. I have one resident that they done broke into her apartment, graffitied the walls, pretty much have wiped her out.”

“At first I was like, ‘Everybody come home, I’m ready for you to come home.’ But now it’s like when people come home, they’re going to be heartbroken.”