Protesters call for immediate action as McDougald Terrace families remain in hotels

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Dozens of protesters rallied outside Durham City Hall on Thursday demanding immediate improvements to public housing as hundreds of McDougald Terrace families remain displaced.

More than 300 people voluntarily evacuated from the city’s largest public housing complex on Jan. 3 after more than a dozen people were exposed to carbon monoxide in their homes.

Since then, crews found high levels of carbon monoxide emitting from the gas stoves in 211 apartments at McDougald Terrace.

While the Durham Housing Authority develops a plan to make necessary repairs to the apartments at McDougald Terrace, the Durham Housing Authority officials said families will be forced to stay in hotels through at least Feb. 7.

On Thursday before the Durham city council work session, dozens rallied outside city hall with their signs and called for action from the city and the Durham Housing Authority.

McDougald Terrace residents wanted city leaders to understand how unlivable not just McDougald Terrace apartments are, but also the hotel rooms they are forced to stay in.

Ashley Canady, a resident at McDougald Terrace, sat in a box to represent how these families feel confined to these hotel rooms.

Inside the work session, protesters brought in boxes of macaroni and cheese that they shook throughout the meeting.

Families said they have been forced to eat macaroni and cheese because many hotel rooms don’t have microwaves.                 

“This right here has 640 grams of sodium, imagine eating this three times a day and we wonder why our babies are put in the hospital,” Canady said.

City leaders gave McDougald Terrace residents a chance to voice their concerns at the work session.

Many residents spoke about how they are not treated well at these hotels and some said their children are being stalked by pedophiles.                

“Why can’t we give them all housing vouchers and let them move into other apartments where it will be safe for them be in?” said Andrea Hudson, a resident who spoke during the work session.

City leaders responded at the end and told these families they are simply waiting for the Durham Housing Authority to send them a request for funding.

“We are going to deploy city resources in whatever way they are needed to resolve the situation,” said Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tempore for Durham City Council. “We just don’t have the information that we need yet to move those resources.”

“What everyone wants to know and certainly what I want for everybody is to be able to know when you can go home,” said Mayor Steve Schewel. “I get that. If I was in your situation I know I would really want to know when I could go home. When the apartments are ready, people will be able to move back in. I don’t want to speculate about how long that will take. I know it’s already been too long.”

Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott said the extended stay is so that contractors can begin repairs on the problematic public housing complex.

“We recognize that this is a crisis,” he said.

It’s a crisis Anthony McLendon and his family have been living for three weeks. They evacuated McDougald Terrace on January 6, after dangerous levels of carbon monoxide were detected in their unit. They’ve been living in a hotel ever since.​

“We just keep it moving, that’s the only thing we can do,” McLendon said. “I’m a survivor and teaching them to survive, it’s kind of hard”​

They’ll have to stay in their hotel through at least Feb. 7 while contractors replace stoves and make repairs to hundreds of units.​

“Part of this process, we will be making electrical upgrades on the units,” Scott said. “We will also be redoing the ventilation system and conducting mold remediation and extermination in every unit.”​

DHA doesn’t know how long the repairs will take. McLendon doubts it’ll be done by Feb. 7.

“You can’t do this job two weeks. I don’t care how many contractors you have,” he said.

With two adults and four kids in a hotel room, McLendon says it’s cramped. Even though he said he’s homesick, his spirits are high — and he’s hoping for the best.​

“I go check on my place every day,” he said. “If I don’t see nobody out there working Monday, I’ll know there’s a flaw somewhere down the line. I see it, I know it’s gonna come. It never fails. I’ll be watching.”​

DHA said contractors will begin repairs to McDougald Terrace no later than Monday. ​

City leaders decided on Thursday that they will take up McDougald Terrace at every council meeting and work session until displaced tenants move back home.

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