By Mia Khatib
DURHAM — In 2019, Durham received a federal grant to ramp up its affordable housing and the first phase is now underway. Elizabeth Street Apartments broke ground on May 19 at 131 Commerce St. and will complete construction in December 2024.
The site was home to Liberty Street Apartments, which was demolished late last year. All relocated residents will have the right to return. Laurel Street is the developer and Senior Vice President of Development Lee Cochran said the apartments will include one-, two-, and three- bedroom units for people earning 80% and below the area median income.
“This is just the first of what will be many phases that's going to transform this entire side of East Main Street… into a dynamic and inclusive neighborhood that’s really open to everyone,” he said. “It’s going to be many years in the making, but we’re excited to be a part of it.”
The complex will include an integrated clubhouse, multipurpose room, fitness center, computer center, laundry rooms, playground, and a covered picnic area. Twenty-one of the 72 units will have long-term rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Some finance partners are Fifth Third Bank, Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust, Durham Housing Authority and City of Durham. The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency awarded the project a tax credit. NCHFA Executive Director Scott Farmer said the tax credit program is highly competitive, and they only fund about 1 in 5 applications yearly.
“With our tax credit properties, we were able to fund 77 projects across our state and preserve the construction of more than 5,500 units,” he said. “There's no question about the need for housing in North Carolina and in Durham. The question is always about having those resources available.”
Jada Grandy-Mock, Fifth Third Bank chief community impact banking officer, said they established a multibillion-dollar racial equity, equality and inclusion initiative three years ago and have committed to intentionally supporting minority-owned developers, like Laurel Street, through their Neighborhood Investment Program, also known as Empowering Black Futures.
“We knew there was a better option to community and economic development, especially in areas that have been historically disinvested,” she said. “We know that this effort can be a springboard for economic mobility for residents, small business owners and the commercial corridors that helped to both fuel progress and celebrate the neighborhood's legacy.”
DHA Chief Executive Officer Anthony Scott said Durham’s AMI is $116,200 for a family of four, up from $95,500 last year. He said public housing is failing the city, and it's important to create sites like this to make housing affordable.
"It is truly a time for us to bring the two Main Streets together,” he said. “The goods and services that you see on the other side of Roxboro, we're trying to make them happen on this side."
Mia Khatib, who covers affordable housing and gentrification, is a Report for America corps member.