New funds will help NECD non-profits like Habitat for Humanity

Over $1.5 million dollars of new funding in 2016 could help non-profits like Habitat for Humanity expand their work in Northeast Central Durham, according to a memorandum presented to the Durham City Council from the director of the Durham Department of Community Development.

Prospective Habitat homebuyer and NECD native Quashun Capers helps to build her family's new home in NECD. (Staff photo by Mark Lihn)

Prospective Habitat homebuyer and NECD native Quashun Capers helps to build her family’s new home in NECD. (Staff photo by Mark Lihn)

The Durham Department of Community Development presented descriptions and guidelines for small project development and neighborhood revitalization funds to the city council Oct. 6. Reginald J. Johnson, director of the Department of Community Development, said in an interview he expects the council to vote on the funds within a month of the meeting and to approve the funds.

The five-year funding plan will create a new process for companies and non-profits to apply for funding and have projects evaluated by the city, Johnson said.

“People have done these types of projects before but we have not necessarily funded them,” Johnson said. “We think this is a good way going forward to be able to assist communities.”

The small project development fund would allocate $500,000 in 2016 to work towards increasing the amount of affordable housing in Northeast Central Durham, Southwest Central Durham or Southeast Central Durham, according to the memorandum.

The neighborhood revitalization fund would be over $1 million in 2016 to increase affordable housing in Northeast Central Durham or Southeast Central Durham, the memorandum said.

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Capers works on the construction of her new home. (Staff photo by Mark Lihn)

Johnson said Northeast Central Durham is one of three areas his department was instructed to focus on several years ago by the city council.

“There is a great need because it is a disinvested area, and it’s pretty large and an important part of the city because it is close to the Research Triangle Park, for example, and a lot of the growth will be in that area in the future,” Johnson said.

The memorandum specifically mentioned Durham Habitat for Humanity as one possible beneficiary of the funds.

Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits do important work in NECD, Johnson said. He said his department has partnered with Habitat for a while and he expects that partnership to continue.

Blake Strayhorn, executive director of Durham Habitat for Humanity, said the funds could help Habitat buy more properties and build more houses in NECD.

“The city council is probably excited about the Habitat partnership in the mayor’s fight against poverty,” Strayhorn said. “I’m certainly excited about our work in Northeast Central Durham. These funds might be a good way to help accelerate our focus in Northeast Central Durham.”

Strayhorn said Habitat is focusing on NECD because there are lots of opportunities to increase home ownership and a number of boarded up houses and empty lots.

Habitat can acquire these unattractive lots of land and turn them into homes for hardworking families, Strayhorn said. Increasing the low percentage of home ownership in NECD would help end the cycle of poverty and reduce crime, he said.

Durham Habitat expects to sell 20 houses this year with 11 projects currently in NECD, Strayhorn said.

While the families buy their homes from Habitat, he said Habitat relies on a variety of sponsors, from businesses to churches to individuals. The city also helps Habitat by lending $20,000 per house for some of the houses at zero percent interest, he said.

“[The funds] might allow us to build more than 20 houses,” Strayhorn said. “We also need to acquire more properties and there might be some funds available through these funds to help reimburse us for the acquisition of property.”

Anna Benfield, volunteer manager for Habitat for Humanity of Durham, said the partnership with the city is important to Habitat and the potential to grow that partnership is encouraging.

Benfield said she believes that Habitat is part of a bigger change in the revitalization of Durham. She said she is excited about Habitat’s work in the NECD area in particular because of its incredible history, rich culture and abundant pride.