Local News

Durham Houses Not Up to Code Stir Debate

Posted May 1, 2007

— Last year, 75 structures in Durham were torn down because they weren't up to code. Some see those places as having hidden potential, while others call them eyesores.

Durham's downtown neighborhoods are filled with charming old houses, but some appear to be past their prime.

“Why do we as a community have to suffer because of neglect?” said community activist Rev. Melvin Whitley.

Whitley said boarded-up and abandoned houses open the door for crime. He also said the poor conditions of the residences bring down the rest of the neighborhood.

“This is a dream that's turned into a nightmare,” he said.

Whitley said a house should be torn down if it’s lost 50 percent of its value. Right now, if a building or home isn't up to code, the owner has 60 days to fix it up or the city may move in.

However, other people said some buildings can and should be saved. Their concern moved the city to temporarily stop demolishing old buildings.

“Rehab contributes more to the tax base than a teardown,” said Ellen Dagenhart, president of Preservation Durham.

Dagenhart said she thinks the city should encourage more people to rehab old places. She said an alternative approach would be for the city to make the improvements to a building and then force the owner to pay them back.

“In the event the property owner didn't comply, the city would be able to foreclose on the property and recoup its investment,” she said.

City leaders have not decided when they will end the demolition moratorium.


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  • Durham-Raleigh May 2, 2007

    MrGup2: Durham is a city of downtrodden homes... but also of $1m, $2m, even $4m homes. Sorry if this doesn't fit the image or stereotype you have. But we're a diverse city, that looks a lot more like America (for better and worse) than you may care to admit or to realize.

  • mslisac363 May 2, 2007

    They did the same in the big town of Enfield. Town looks better but the people have gotten worse. The only people that get upset over these falling down homes are the people that rent them for a little of nothing.

  • TheDude abides... May 2, 2007

    I hope they are not doing this to ALL of the run-down houses in Durham. There wont be much left!

  • Durham-Raleigh May 2, 2007

    Postscript: The reason that the Reverend asked "why the community has to suffer" is because Durham has a program to tear down houses that are well below minimum code... but that program is on hold at present. The "blame" for that hold has gone against preservationists and community activists who want to see better ends for houses than the bulldozer, but it's also apparently a function of exhausted city funds at this point.

    So, Whitley is asking for a resumption of an existing (20-year) city program. Others are saying... why not give tools to take these houses out of the hands of those who abuse and abandon them, and allow others to rehabilitate and live there as owner-occupied housing?

  • Durham-Raleigh May 2, 2007

    If a suburban mall is one's idea of something that makes a city "good," we're probably glad you live in Wake, etc. rather than Durham! :) Yes, it's nice having that mall close... but many folks who choose to live in Durham prefer it for the non-mall, non-suburbanized, non-big box store life you can have here.

    I've lived in Sunbelt suburban cities across the South, and the idea of living in a "KB Centex Bros." development whose only amenity is that is nestled against a Super Target is just nauseating to me. For those like me, Durham (and ITB Raleigh, and Carrboro) are great alternatives. (Hey, Clayton-to-RTP commuters... how ya liking $3/gal. gas?)

    I understand how Mel Whitley was quoted in the article. That said, Julia Lewis' reporting on this was, to be honest, not nearly as good as the Herald-Sun's, which offered a much more nuanced and balanced discussion of last night's meeting.

  • Steve Crisp May 2, 2007

    I lived in Durham for six months back in the 1970s as a change from Raleigh. That was six months too long and it seems to have only gotten worse, Streets at Southpoint notwithstanding.

    As to the right reverend, he may be a well intentioned guy, but the way he came across in the above story is the typical "give me stuff" liberal, always expecting the government to take care of the problem type of guy. I have absolutely no patience for those types of people.

  • Durham-Raleigh May 1, 2007


    If you weren't at the meeting, then why make a dig at liberals? Actually, a wide number of attendees (mostly liberals in all) supported exactly what you're talking about here... be it through a non-profit, or private sector, or programs such as those in use in other cities that allow neglected homes to be re-sold to new owners who commit to renovations.

    And, BTW, the reverend in question (whom I agree with on overall goal here, just not method) has been one of the most active in Durham at trying to help East Durham revitalize. A decent guy doing decent work.

    But then, so much easier to snipe from afar than to understand what's actually happening in a city you don't live in, I presume?

  • Steve Crisp May 1, 2007

    So why doesn't the good reverend set up an investment fund to purchase and rehap those houses. Then they could sell them on the open market and make a profit for the fund investors? Why expect government to do everything that is the responsibility of citizens? Oh wait...if liverals actually think of that they will have a seizure and die. Sorry I brought it up.