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City slates low-income units for areas near campus

Within walking distance from Duke's Gothic Wonderland lie the neighborhoods of Southwest Central Durham-one of the city's poorest areas.

Three of these neighborhoods have a reported poverty rate of 38 percent and a home ownership rate of only 14 percent. Durham's 2007-2008 Annual Action Plan intends to change that, however, working with Duke and local non-profits to target Burch Avenue, Lyon Park and West End for development including new units of low-income housing.

Michael Barros, director of Durham's Department of Housing and Community Development, said although the neighborhoods have received developmental attention in the past, it has not been enough to make significant changes.

"We've been working in that area for a number of years," he said. "Currently we've been trying to accelerate that and work with local non-profits and revitalize the neighborhood for people there."

He added that the collaborative effort between Duke, Durham and local non-profits has significantly benefitted the selected neighborhoods.

"The relationship has been exceedingly good between Duke and Durham for a number of years," Barros said. "The work Duke has done really compliments the work of the city and local non-profits. Duke is an extremely valuable player in improvement and revitalization of these neighborhoods."

After construction on 98 new, energy efficient homes is finished in 2008, home ownership in the area will increase by approximately 12 percent, Shep Smith, a community development project manager, said. He added that the city has invested $1.19 million in the revitalization project over the past four to five years, which should generate new housing valued at over $8 million.

The Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project, an organization that unites community leaders of six neighborhoods of Southwest Central Durham, played a central role in the push for revitalization, said Mayme Webb, neighborhood coordinator for the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership and member of the Quality of Life steering committee.

Webb said the organization was established to strengthen relationships within the community and establish local programs for neighborhood development. The committee initially contacted non-profit organizations in an attempt to revitalize the neighborhoods.

Rebuild Durham, Inc., one of the non-profit organizations selected to assist with the revitalization, uses federal funds to purchase and renovate vacant housing. The group then rents the houses out to families earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income, said Gene Cook, executive director of Rebuild Durham.

Southwest Central Durham was selected for development because of the low home ownership rates in the area, Cook said. He added that Rebuild Durham, which seeks to add three homes from the area to its current 13 home inventory, will be able to benefit families who are unable to afford housing.

"All the non-profits involved are committed to providing and maintaining quality, affordable housing," Cook said. "Rebuild Durham offers a rental program, but the benefit to the community at large is that the families that move into our homes typically end up with more disposable income because we take less of their income for housing costs."

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