McDougald Reisidents Want to Be In the Loop

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

By Mair Famet

The uncertain future of a historic community has left residents exhausted playing guessing games.

With a total of 360 units, McDougald Terrace (MAC), Durham’s largest public housing complex, has become a hotspot for numerous issues ranging from health concerns to crime in the latter decade. 

With a single turn onto 1100 E. Lawson Street, you are immediately greeted by barrack-style red brick buildings sitting atop patches of dry grass. Just past the leasing office, trash is scattered around bins, and boarded-up structures lie directly across from it. 

With an ailing mut roaming the premises, an eviction notice sits in the window crevice of Apartment 6A. Next to it lies another vacant unit with a crack just big enough to peek inside, revealing scattered children’s toys. 

In 1949, the Housing Act financed and authorized the development of the McDougald Terrace, which was developed on vacant land east of the Hayti Community and North Carolina Central University. According to Open Durham, McDougald (MAC) was one of two racially segregated projects in the early 1950s. Few Gardens, the second project, was built for white residents, while McDougald Terrace was developed strictly for African-American residents. 

Fast-forward to 2019. Decades of underfunding resulted in high levels of carbon monoxide within the complex. The neighborhood, once deemed the most dangerous part of the city, forced residents to evacuate to motels for months, while some were treated in hospitals.

Angela Steward, a long-time resident of MAC since 2003, was amongst the numerous evacuees but said she was one of the last residents to leave her unit.

Steward said during her stay in a motel, repairs to her unit were made, including new electronic appliances like stoves and heating fixtures in place of gas-operated machinery.

When Steward moved back to her own home, she noticed the difference in its efficiency. 

“I don’t bug [them] to pull out things, but now you can’t get stuff done,” Steward said, referring to the differences she noticed in her new stove. “Now it takes me about six hours to cook a meal I used to get done in two hours.”

Steward, said it was not until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that she noticed the lack of resources within her community.

“[They] come in here and circle things like they are going to fix things,” Steward said. “But they don’t fix nothing.”

Since then, Steward said maintenance issues are recurring in the community and her home. 

After receiving a new heater system in 2019, she requested maintenance repairs three times, most recently in early January when temperatures dropped to as low as 18 degrees.

“I’m waking up [and I’m] blowing smoke; I don’t want that. It took them about a month to get that straightened out,” Steward said. “So far, it is working, but I don’t know how long it will keep working.” 

So, What is being done to address these issues?

With cracks running up the walls and no working lighting fixture in her living room, the built-up inconveniences have reached a boiling point for Steward and other McDougald residents. Fearing another health scare in their complex, many are not opposed to moving.

Steward said she does not mind moving from her neighborhood but is adamant about staying in the city. 

“My mom grew up in the country sharecropping; I don’t want to go back there,” Steward said.

She said rumors of relocation to Bahama have surfaced, along with contradictory reports that nothing will be done to solve the issues. 

Daniel Hudgins, chair of the Durham Housing Authority board of commissioners since 2014, said he’s aware of the issues McDougald residents face. Hudgins said the maintenance delays are due to high turnover rates which cause discrepancies within communication.

“One of the things we tried to do was be more responsive. Communication is a problem,” Hudgins said. “Our biggest challenge right now is getting staffed. We have a lot of maintenance positions that are vacant” 

Hudgins also said that developers are pushing the DHA to sell their valuable downtown land, amid the growing economy in Durham. 

“I, and the board, believe, if it was alright for these folks to live downtown when nobody wanted to be downtown, is it fair to push them out into the county?” He said. “The services [the residents] need are downtown.”

In 2022, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told the DHA to renovate or shut down MAC —  the city’s largest public housing complex. The DHA has since proposed two housing scenarios, bringing 500-600 affordable units to the same community. 

Courtesy of Laurel Street

Hudgins says the DHA board is waiting on a decision by the end of 2024.


More recently, the DHA partnered with developers to bring a mix-usage 

“Its an exciting time to be involved in public housing,” Hudgins said when asked about the progress to the former Liberty Street apartments. 

The public housing rentals are all being demolished as part of DHA’s plan to improve the quality of public housing.

“We got serious problems with our [communities] — Mcdougald, Cornwallis and Oxford Commons are probably the three with the greatest need,” Hudgins said.

Cornwallis and Oxford Commons are two other DHA communities in Durham that received failing grades in the latest inspection in 2019 from HUD in addition to MAC — all three scoring in the 30th percentile.

The United States Census recognizes MAC as census tract 14. The area’s 2022 reported average per capita income is $18,935, compared to the city’s median income of $74,710. 

“We made the commitment [to the community] – we were the biggest land owners — we had 60 acres and used it as a way to invest back into the community,” Hudgins said. 


Steward says that in the midst of the gentrification going on around her, she want the developers to not let the stigmas of MAC overshadow their needs. 

“I want to know do they want to come live where we live, or live how we live,” she said. “They need to help us, you know, to shoppers. I know we are everybody isnt great. But there are still some greatness in this neighborhood.”

A home is what Stewards said she created for her and her son at MAC. 

“Its not where you live, its how you live,” she said.