DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – More than 100 affordable housing advocates rallied Thursday outside the now empty Durham Police headquarters on Chapel Hill Street in support of future residents on the site.
The vacant police station and the 4.4 acre lot on which it sits are for sale, and the deadline for developers to submit proposals for the land’s use is Friday. The selected buyer will be required to build at least 80 affordable housing units on the property.
Dozens of members of Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighbors (CAN) gathered Thursday evening at the front doors of the former headquarters to make a final plea for many more inexpensive homes to occupy the space which opened nearly 60 years earlier as as the Home Security Life building.
Durham CAN organizer Ivan Parra said the group is pleased with the reception and response from city and county leaders, but he wants to make sure that council members and commissioners keep their promises.
“With the growth of the city, there’s a lot of new development. It’s very expensive, very exclusive, very unaffordable,” Parra said.
“We think the city and the county could make very good decisions and allow this part of the city that they call the gateway into Durham downtown to be very diverse.”
He said only 4 percent of downtown Durham private housing units are considered affordable. As new high-rises go up, that increases the number of expensive homes and shrinks the percentage of affordable apartments.
Wilbert “Pip” Pipkin spoke at the rally about the struggles he has faced to find affordable housing since his release from prison in April 2017. The 67-year-old spent more than half his life behind bars because of multiple convictions for crimes connected to drug addiction.
“I had 40 years and some odd months of doing heroin, and about 37 years of cocaine. I never dreamed that I would actually stop using,” Pipkin said. “I thought I would die. This might sound crazy but that’s what I was looking forward to.”
After decades of difficulty kicking his habit, Pipkin finally got clean. He planned to spend two months in a recovery house, but two years and two months later, he is still there.
Pipkin pays rent but he would like to move into a more secure and safer space.
“I love paying my bills. Some times I might have $10 or $15 out of my income when I pay all my bills, but I love paying them, and I love paying them on time. It’s never been like that before. Life is good now,” Pipkin said.
It will be better when he is able to find an apartment of his own. He said the recovery house is surrounded by streets with drug activity, prostitution, and other potential problems which could return Pipkin to his former life. He has avoided temptations and turned a new page through church involvement and support from his family, but said many people are not as fortunate.
Pipkin said he has had trouble finding housing and work because of his criminal record. In the past, that meant turning to crime again.
“We had no other means of getting money and being able to pay rent for these houses that are way over our income. I used to think the only way to create a living was to hustle. That’s the only way I could afford the apartments out here was to hustle,” Pipkin said.
“Selling drugs, robbery, or whatever — anything that could bring money that I can afford a decent apartment in an area that I feel comfortable in. That was the only way I could do that,” he said.
“Everything I seen (recently), it was indecent, and then it was right back in the type of community I come up out of, and I don’t want to go back into that.”
For fear of losing sobriety, and possibly his life.
Durham CAN leaders said the affordable housing crisis extends far beyond the former prison population and people who have found themselves homeless or potentially unable to pay rising rent costs.
“There’s thousands and thousands of people that are in that situation. That’s why the city, the housing authority, and the county are getting into this specific business of making sure that there’s more affordable housing,” Parra said.
“Developers on their own will not do it. It’s more expensive to build affordable housing than it is to build luxury housing. It’s just a matter of economics. The government is there to keep checks and balances and to make sure that developers provide for the affordable housing that is needed particularly on sites that (municipalities) own.”
Advocates from Durham CAN and affiliated groups hope affordable housing will also be built on two county-owned properties on Main Street within walking distance of the new Durham Police Department headquarters.
Pipkin said there is something humorous about the idea of living on a lot where he was brought by officers many times during his disorderly past.
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