Local News

Frustrated McDougald Terrace residents lash out at Durham leaders

Posted January 23, 2020 3:58 p.m. EST
Updated January 23, 2020 7:31 p.m. EST

— Fed up after living in hotels for much of the past three weeks with no end in sight, McDougald Terrace residents unleashed their frustrations on Durham City Council members Thursday.

Waving signs saying "Housing is a Human Right" and "Back the Mac," about two dozen people rallied outside City Hall before heading inside for a council work session, demanding that the council address problems at McDougald Terrace and other public housing complexes in Durham.

More than a dozen McDougald Terrace residents have been sent to area hospitals since late November with elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

About 270 of the 300-plus families who live in the complex have been staying at a dozen area hotels since early January so work crews could thoroughly check the gas-powered furnaces, water heaters and ovens in the units.

But those checks were finished more than a week ago, and Durham Housing Authority Chief Executive Anthony Scott said Thursday that it's unclear how long repairs will take.

McDougald Terrace residents will have to remain in hotels for at least two more weeks, Scott said, and DHA is even looking for another 20 hotels with available rooms to help with residents' housing needs.

DHA is spending close to $500,000 a week on the hotels, food and other expenses for the uprooted residents.

Sixty-one percent of the 346 McDougald Terrace units checked had at least one faulty appliance – 211 stoves, 38 furnaces and 35 water heaters – that will need to be repaired or replaced to eliminate the carbon monoxide issue.

Contractors will begin tackling the problem by Monday, replacing all of the gas stoves with electrical appliances, updating the electrical systems in apartments and redoing the gas vent systems, Scott said.

The furnaces date to the 1950s, when McDougald Terrace was built, and the system used to vent gas from them and the water heaters to the outside doesn't meet current building codes, he has said previously.

The contractors also will handle mold remediation and pest extermination in the apartments, as well as any plumbing issues, Scott said Thursday.

"We recognize this is a crisis, and we've taken these extraordinary measures to make sure our families are safe," he said at a news conference. "As soon as we can get them back to safe units, we will do so. It is not in any way giving us pleasure having residents in hotels."

Residents told City Council members that they're cramped trying to live in small hotel rooms and that hotel managers complain about children running around in their buildings. Some rattled cups of microwave macaroni and cheese, saying they have not been eating proper meals.

"The hotels are treating some of our residents like bottom-feeders. They won't give them supplies. They won't give them anything," said resident Ashley Canada, who organized the protest.

Canady said many residents have compared the situation to being in prison.

"Don't keep telling us, 'Oh, maybe another week,'" resident Leseanda Ormond said. "Be realistic. We're not going home this week. We're not going home next week."

Emanuel Foster, DHA's director of housing, defended the agency and its response to the problems.

"Whatever it is I want for my family, I want for your family," Foster said. "But I have to say this, right, without pointing blame: DHA has to get a lot of things right. I'm here to make sure, on the property side, we do get that right."

Canady noted that McDougald Terrace's problems weren't on the City Council's agenda during a Tuesday meeting and questioned what other issues are more pressing in Durham.

"We are here today because we are tired of the finger pointing. We're tired of, 'Go ask this person, Go ask that person.' We want to know what the solution is going to be," she said.

"The reason you don't know when you're going home yet is that Mr. Scott and the housing authority haven't quite figured that out yet," Mayor Steve Schewel told the angry residents. "As soon as everybody knows – and everybody won't go home at once – once apartments are fixed and ready, then they can move back in."

"We don't have enough money in our entire city checkbook to do what needs to be done for public housing. That's the reality," Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton said.

DHA has been checking carbon monoxide levels at its other complexes that use gas heat and appliances. All apartments at the Hoover Road, Oxford Manor and Club Boulevard complexes have been checked, and contractors started checks at Edgemont Elms on Thursday, Scott said. Those checks should be done by Friday, and crews can then start on Laurel Oaks, he said.

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