After 4.5 hours of discussion, the Durham County Commissioners on Monday voted 3-1 to approve Simplifying Codes for more Affordable Development — a decision which follows months of advocacy from various Durham community members against the implementation of SCAD to rural areas outside of the city of Durham limits.
On November 20, the Durham city council voted 4-3 to adopt SCAD, approving most text amendments. Donna Frederick, longtime Bragtown resident and a member of Mayor O’Neal’s August SCAD task force, said SCAD was, and still is, bad news for Durham.
According to Zillow, the median rent for all bedrooms and property types in Durham is $1,823. Higher rents and increased property taxes are ultimately driving out lower-income Durhamites, especially those from traditionally red-lined communities, such as Bragtown, Walltown and Merrick-Moore, who have generational wealth and ancestral ties to Durham, Frederick said.
“There’s nothing in SCAD that’s going to help with affordability,” she said. “Building more doesn’t make it cheaper.”
Frederick said that SCAD is designed to incentivize development from housing corporations outside Durham, who will invest in Durham and whose only motivation is to turn a profit.
“There are enough people that are coming in and building things,” she said. “But the key word is the percentage rate of people who are practically homeless, is just growing. And at a rate, the small ventures that we’ve gotten approved in our area where there’ll be some affordable and low- income, working people apartments — it’s just a drop in the bucket.”
Katie Lund Ross is a Bahama resident and retired lawyer, and she said while SCAD is marketed at allowing developers to occupy infill lots — small lots in the city which have sat empty due to preexisting Unified Development Ordinance regulations — the goal of SCAD and expanding its ordinances beyond city limits is to expand developers’ reach.
Ross first became concerned about development in Durham when she noticed construction for the Mason Farms Subdivision, which is right down the street from her house.
Since rural Durhamites depend on well water — and too many people living in one area would drain the aquifers — Ross became concerned for how city housing development and urbanization would affect the rest of Durham County. So, Ross got involved with Preserve Rural Durham and started researching development more in depth.
Ross said that the city council spontaneously dropping several SCAD provisions on Nov. 20 is in direct violation of UDO 3.19.5., which mandates that the governing body may either “approve the amendment, deny the amendment, or send the amendment back to the Planning Commission or a governing body for additional consideration.”
City council did none of these things, instead making changes themselves, then sending the document to the Planning Department to clean it up, she said.
In 2020, the Planning Department, utilizing data from Central Pines Regional County, found that Durham needs 60,000 housing development units by 2050 — 20,000 units per decade, starting in 2020. From 2020 to 2023, 23,000 housing units have already been built, are currently being built or have been approved by the Planning Department.
On Sunday, Ross presented this data, as well as information about UDO 3.19.5., in her letter to the County Commissioners, urging them to vote against SCAD, or decide on it at a later date after observing how SCAD’s various amendments might affect the city of Durham in the next few years.
According to Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services, Durham has a vacancy rate of 9.2%, which is three times greater than what Dustin Engleton of the Triangle Apartment Association testified is a healthy balance — an argument Ross included in a separate letter she sent to city council, before city council inevitably adopted SCAD.
“They’ve been building like crazy, and they’ve been building extremely fast under the current UDO,” she said. “Why do they need SCAD to grease the skids more?”
Ultimately, Ross said, the housing crisis was but a marketing tool utilized by developers to encourage public officials to pass SCAD.
Pamela Andrews is a southeast Durham resident and founder of the grassroots nonprofit Preserve Rural Durham, and she said not only does SCAD have the potential to worsen the environmental effects of development in southeast Durham, but she felt that County Commissioners did not have enough knowledge about SCAD to make an informed decision about it.
“It shouldn’t be that we just jump to pass more, when nobody’s really analyzed what we’ve already done out there,” she said. “And now you’re gonna open it up for potentially more damage? It’s insane.”
Frederick said developers worked to get SCAD approved as quickly as possible so pending projects could make headway — which meant community members were left in the dark and did not have enough time to follow all the text’s changes.
“We weren’t talking about changing a stoplight on a corner,” she said. “We’re talking about people’s lives that will forever be affected by this and without the oversight to see where it works and where it doesn’t.”
Ross said housing costs are disproportionately affecting lower-income and long-time residents of Durham, which has had a devastating effect on Black communities.
“They’re throwing people out of those houses that might be renting them, and where are they gonna go?” she said. “They’re tearing down the characters of the neighborhood, and it’s really insidious.