Nov 1, 2023 - News

Housing reform becomes an influential topic in Durham's elections

Illustration of a door with multiple door knockers.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Come Tuesday's city election, Durham will welcome a new mayor and up to three new city council members.

  • But one of the first issues the new leadership could grapple with is a hangover from the current council — what can be built in the city's neighborhoods.

Driving the news: The current Durham City Council spent most of the year debating changes to the city's building codes — an developer-led effort called Simplifying Codes for Affordable Development, or SCAD.

  • In late August, the council postponed its vote on the new rules until Nov. 20, which is after the election but before the new council takes its place in December.

Why it matters: Cities in the Triangle, like many across the U.S., are struggling with rising housing costs amid a growing population.

Flashback: This has proven to be controversial with existing residents in those neighborhoods.

State of play: Now a similar dynamic is taking shape in the Durham election, where opponents of SCAD believe it will negatively alter neighborhood character and hasten gentrification in lower-income neighborhoods.

Details: The changes proposed in SCAD would make many tweaks to the city's unified development ordinance — the rulebook for building in Durham.

  • Some would change current neighborhoods by encouraging denser housing and commercial spaces on smaller lots and allowing more types of accessory dwelling units.
  • Others would encourage more mixed-use development, such as letting places of worship to build housing on their grounds or requiring large residential buildings to include civic or commercial space.

Of note: Two amendments in particular have proven to be the most controversial, the News & Observer reported.

  • One would eliminate parking minimums for new buildings, like Raleigh has done.
  • Another would change the city's affordable housing density bonus — which lets developers add more units or build higher in exchange for affordable units — to require more affordable units but for a much shorter period of time.

What we're watching: Whether the current council again delays a decision on SCAD to let the new council take up the issue.

Bottom line: Housing reform has become one of the primary issues in the Triangle's municipal elections — and Durham's new leaders could influence how far reform goes in the Bull City.


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