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Durham's Scrap Exchange looks to recycle parking lot into affordable housing

Posted December 6, 2019 9:22 p.m. EST

— The Scrap Exchange in Durham is 23,000 square feet of anything anyone could imagine, from rolls of film to twine to knickknacks and crafting items, all at affordable prices.

Now, the store's operators want to get into the business of another affordable commodity – housing.

Nothing in the Scrap Exchange goes to waste, and Executive Director Laura Nicholson said the same idea of reuse can be applied to an adjacent parking lot.

The nonprofit plans to put a five-story building on a section of the parking lot into apartments, with many of the 33 units targeted at low-income families. Durham officials are looking at providing $660,000 for the project.

"It’s us again preserving the original character of this neighborhood and bringing new life to it that doesn’t promote displacement of people in the neighborhood who have lived here for a long time and built lives here," Nicholson said,

The project is especially important as development booms and prices rise in the Lakewood neighborhood.

"Sometimes, in all of that building of new things, people forget that there are people that live here that struggle every day," Nicholson said. "We want to make sure we’re not displacing people."

The affordable housing is part of a larger project the Scrap Exchange is undertaking.

The organization purchased a portion of the Lakewood shopping center in 2016 to promote nonprofits and arts-focused businesses, naming the area the Reuse Arts District.

"We’re about reuse. We want to help people learn the creative and environmental potential of everyday items, giving them a second life," Nicholson said. "For us, purchasing the Lakewood shopping center is land development reuse."

Raafe Purnsley, who lives nearby, said she supports the Scrap Exchange's plans.

"Rent is already high here in Lakewood, and if the Scrap Exchange weren’t here, with the purchasing of this property, who knows what developer would’ve come in and already put up a skyscraper and already driven the prices up from there," Purnsley said. "They are an entity in Durham that people look to to provide these altruistic services, to be a community partner, and they’re trying to work with what the people need. And the people need affordable housing."

Ivy Shelton, who shops at the Scrap Exchange, agrees.

"They're really moving to do some positive things with these old-type strip malls," Shelton said. "I think that the whole plan is just long overdue, and every dime spent on it is well worth it."

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