Durham, N.C. — Bare brick buildings and chain link fences – that’s what public housing used to be. Not anymore.
Raleigh's oldest housing project under a federal program is now part of the new downtown revitalization. The housing authority completed the project in record time. Durham is trying to do the same, but it's taking twice as long.
It is slow movement for a project with a muddied past. In 2003, crews started tearing down the Few Gardens public housing project. Four years later, work on a new neighborhood has just begun to take shape.
“It’s roughly two years behind schedule,” said Terrance Gerald, economic development director of the Durham Housing Authority.
The Hope VI project, as it’s called because of the federal program supporting it, stands in stark contrast to two in Raleigh in that program. That city's oldest public housing complex, Halifax Court, is filled with villas and single-family homes. Chavis Heights is nearly complete.
Crews spent 3½ years on each project. Raleigh could begin work on a third project before Durham is done with Few Gardens, which is expected to have 83 rental units and 42 single-family houses.
“It has a lot to do with partners, getting the right sources and commitments. And that's key,” Gerald said.
The deadline for Durham’s project is December, but housing officials recently asked for an extension to 2009. Some of it is due to increased cost for construction materials and labor. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development also put the project on hold for more than a year while investigating millions in misspent money at Durham's Housing Authority.
“What I always do is send pictures of the progress and send e-mails asking if anyone has questions or concerns,” Gerald said.
New management is in place. They insist transparency is their policy.
DHA came under scrutiny in 2003 and 2004 after missing construction deadlines. Then-director James Tabron resigned after it was revealed he had used a business credit card for personal purchases.
In 2004, HUD put the Few Gardens/Hope VI project on hold while it investigated DHA. That stop-work order lasted a little over a year.
New management was put in place in 2005. In late 2005, they got a federal OK to restart the project. At the end of July of this year, crews began pouring foundations and putting up frames for the new housing.
It will be a mixed-housing area. Some units will be owned, and others will be government-subsidized.
While the project is still behind schedule, several Hope VI projects across the country have run 10 years past due.