DCLT in NECD: A new friend to the community

An apartment complex on Ashe Street that DCLT purchased. (Staff photo by Chrissy Murphy)

In December 2016, Northeast Central Durham had a new friend arrive in the community. It happened quietly, as existing landlords attempted to sell their properties.

The Durham Community Land Trustees purchased the properties and started working on emergency repairs and community revitalization. What sets DCLT apart from other new landlords is that, instead of evicting current tenants, DCLT works with them on new leases without raising rent.

Lanier Blum, the interim manager of residential development at DCLT, said this is what DCLT is all about: making sure the homes they purchase and renovate keep a low price tag for members of the community.

“Our homes stay affordable and are designed to stay affordable for the long-haul, generation after generation,” Blum said.

When DCLT first made an offer on the 54 properties for the asking price, which they say was about $1.9 million, Blum says the offer was declined because the owner thought she could get more than the asking price in a market that negotiates up.

As the months passed, though, the landlord’s buyer didn’t come through, and in November of 2016 DCLT started the process of buying the properties. After the deal was finalized in December, the real work began for DCLT.

“It’s taken us almost a year to understand what exactly is going to be required, to make emergency repairs, to keep the homes safe and to raise funds,” Blum said.

Now that DCLT understands what repairs need to be made, they’ll be going to the City of Durham with their community partners to request funds for repairs this fall.

“We’re in an aggressive renovation mode,” Blum said.

DCLT’s board president, Melissa Norton, said that DCLT’s goals are displacing as few people as possible and improving the standard of living for low-income families. The biggest challenge, Norton said, is finding the funds to fix up the properties.

“I really hope the city can get behind permanent affordability,” Norton said. She lives in East Durham and believes that, “housing is a community value and a community right.”

After renovations, DCLT hopes their properties will be more than just a way for the families living in them to stay off the streets and stay in the area. They hope the properties will be something the families will be happy to call home.

Before DCLT, the families living in these properties were used to going without repairs because any repairs they called in meant the rent would be raised the next month, Blum said.

Without the security of a lease, tenants could experience rent surges for repairs as simple as repairing a heating and cooling unit or broken stoves. Blum recalled an example that happened shortly after DCLT purchased the properties.

“The tenant called us and said, ‘Will you please come and look at my floor?’” Blum said. “She was basically walking on the vinyl because the floor underneath had collapsed.”

This property is an example of one of the properties DCLT now owns and is working to repair in NECD. In this particular unit, the family has been relocated to West Durham until the property can be repaired.

“That house is one of our priorities for renovation so that they can move back home, which is what they want to do,” Blum said.

John Svara, DCLT’s East Durham tenant services provider, said there’s a lot of “deferred need” in these homes because for years, someone has been collecting rent from the tenants without providing service.

“They were collecting money from poor people and giving them nothing in return,” Svara said. “It’s an age-old model for achieving wealth.”

Despite the substandard conditions the tenants have been dealing with for years, there’s a strong sense of community at the properties, Svara said.

“I think one of our goals is to help strengthen the communities that are there, build ones that aren’t there or are barely there, but really with an emphasis on what is there and not allowing it to be decimated and pushed out of the way,” Svara said.

To learn more about DCLT’s commitment to affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization, call (919) 490-0063 or visit www.dclt.org.