Cleveland-Holloway dollar land sale

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About

In the summer of 2007, the city of Durham announced plans to "sell" a tract of land within the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood to Housing for New Hope, a private charity, for the sum of $1, despite active interest in purchasing the land for something approaching market value. This violates the City's stated procedural rules.

The issue was apparently resolved (for the time being) in favor of the neighborhood, though the fate of the land is still undecided. I think the neighborhood has something like 30 days to offer bids on the land.

Arguments

  • Point: The City erred when it failed to inform the community about its decision to make surplus properties available to non-profit organizations for affordable housing.
    • HfNH: In hindsight, it is fairly evident that the citizens who had inquired about the property prior to it being designated by the Manager and the Council for non-profit marketing, should have been notified. However, though notification might have been desired, it is not detailed as a procedure in the policy. What is detailed quite clearly however in Council minutes, is that the Council approved setting aside the Roxboro/Elliot parcels for nonprofit bidding (01/16/07) and the Council approved Housing for New Hope's application (06/04/07). The City is poised to create a bigger error by rescinding what has been approved according to a written, approved policy and procedures in of favor what it now deems should have been stated in the policy. The supposed rights of a few people who expressed interest in buying the property to receive notification that it was not available are being held above the rights of 10 formerly homeless people with disabling conditions to have access to housing they can afford.
      • GED: The main argument here is that the 20+ people who were logged by the city (more than a few in my book) as expressing interest in the property were told that the parcels were "unavailable." Patrick Baker's concern in recommending that the transfer be rescinded is that - as he himself was under the impression that the properties has been marketed and, failing sale, had moved to non-profit status - the council would have voted differently had they been given full disclosure. I don't think anyone in the neighborhood would argue against housing for the disabled - the neighborhood has plenty of it.
    • HfNH: Further, I think a strong argument can be made that should the City rescind an agreement made following approved policy and procedures, it would demonstrate discrimination against people with disabilities, a class of people who are protected by fair housing laws.
      • GED: I think this is a specious claim. The property will still be available for Housing for New Hope to bid on in an open rather than a closed process. I think the neighborhood could make a legal claim that the entire non-profit policy is illegal per NCGS - by not providing adequate and open public notice of sale in order to discriminate against a class of people highly represented in the neighborhood.
  • Point: There is an over-concentration of social service projects, and this violates the City's Policy.
    • HfNH: Williams Square Apartments are not a social service program. They are permanent rental housing affordable to persons with monthly incomes as low as $624. Tenants will sign leases and have rights and responsibilities due leaseholders. Each tenant will have a demonstrated capacity to live independently, and will receive services as needed through agents of the Durham Center.
    • As verified by the City Manager at a recent work session of the City Council, Williams Square Apartments are in compliance with the City's Housing Location Policy, which protects areas against overcrowding of too much subsidized housing.
      • GED: The policy is explicitly to combat overconcentration of subsidized housing, like HFNH's project, in small areas. However, there is an exemption in the policy for 'special needs' populations with <12 units, which HFNH's project meets. So, while not entirely clear, the point here is correct - it does not violate the policy.
  • Point: The City erred when it conducted a "give-away" program with a valuable piece of land.
    • HfNH: It was quoted in numerous e-mails sent out to many neighborhood internet listserves that the City was giving away a piece of property worth $500,000 for $1. Unnamed developers were cited as the source of this information. It is highly unlikely that these parcels are worth anywhere near that amount on the open market. It is highly likely however that this misinformation has helped fuel community opposition and is influencing Council's current deliberations.
      • GED: Well, since I was present when the developer floated this figure for the land, I disagree that it is any more inaccurate than just saying that it's highly unlikely that it is worth anywhere near this much. If not for the drainage/slope issues on the site, I would say that an entire block face downtown would be worth this easily.
      • But, it seemed high to me too. So let's say that he's overestimated it because he neglected the drainage issues. Let's knock $150,000 off his estimate. I would still argue that the city giving away $349,999 is not fiscally responsible. But I don't think this is really the main point for me. I think the main point is - why is the city ignoring the aligned interests of the neighborhood and the private market in order to make exclusive deals with non-profits? I'll respond to the natural rebuttal to this below.
    • HfNH: The Council adopted the surplus property policy specifically to help with the development of affordable housing, both homeownership and rental, and to help implement the strategies of the Council approved 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness and the Consolidated Plan. These decisions were supported and promoted by the Manager and Council, and now due to some dissenting opinion given the particular kind of people that would occupy these 10 units, the City appears to be willing to set aside numerous plans, policies, and procedures.
      • GED: Would that anyone who came up with the 10 year plan to end homelessness and the affordable housing plan had ever taken a planning class. Because if they had, the first thing you would hope they would say is: why don't we have neighborhood plans if we have a homelessness plan? I think HFNH's HUD funders in Greensboro would be interested to know that they are developing in a neighborhood that hasn't had a small-area plan/neighborhood plan since - that I can find - 1989. How are the neighborhood's interests protected here? Because while much is made in this letter about the needs and protection of the 10 people, nothing is made of the needs and protection of the dozens and dozens of people who live in this neighborhood - many who are elderly, disabled, and impoverished. My point is - it's ludicrous to have a contest with Cleveland-Holloway as to whether the "10 people" or everyone living in this neighborhood have had more difficult, crappier, hardship-filled lives. Just because the people in the neighborhood haven't been labelled by a non-profit doesn't make their struggles any less real or poignant.
      • Coming back the core point - publicly-owned land in which the neighborhood and the private market hold great interest, documented by the city, is held out of a public bid process. The public is not notified - in fact, the interested public is misled as to the intended dispostion of public land when it is told that it is "not available". Members of the city council are not made aware that the land was never offered to the public, and thus vote based on the understanding that is failed to attract an offer in the open process.
      • Should the council vote to rescind the deal, Housing for New Hope will have an opportunity to bid on the land no less and no greater than that offered to the private market, including the neighborhood. That would be a fair deal.

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