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Monday, February 25, 2013

Number of Durham homeless increases

Posted by on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

On a late January evening, despite heavy rains and fierce winds, at least 759 people in Durham had no place to call home.

The figure was announced last week as a result of the Point-In-Time Count, an annual one-night tally of the homeless.

On Jan. 30, 2013, Durham County officials collaborated with 13 local shelters and organizations and about 50 community volunteers to count the unsheltered population—those in cars, on the streets or in the woods—as well as those staying in transitional housing and emergency shelters.

Of the 759 homeless counted that evening, 118 were children. Fifty-three were unsheltered—7 percent of the overall count, lower than the national average of 38 percent. Nearly 300 have chronic substance abuse issues, 126 struggle with severe mental illness and 100 were victims of domestic violence, according to the report by Durham’s Community Development Department.

It was challenging to locate people who weren’t staying in shelters because of the thunderstorm that night. “It's a difficult undertaking since you don't know where they'll be staying,” Minnie Forte-Brown, vice chairwoman of the Durham Board of Education and member of Durham's Homeless Services Advisory Committee, said at the press conference. “They did the absolute best they could, but it doesn’t mean we got everybody.”

Bo Glenn, chairman of the Homeless Services Advisory Committee, suspects that many of Durham’s poor are still unaccounted for. “It doesn't count those sleeping on someone's couch, those staying with family or friends, in an unheated garage, or in the woods so deep we can't find them. It doesn't count the people who are in jail, or those who have to decide between rent, heat, medicine, food.”

Though most of this year's numbers rose slightly from last year’s total of 698 homeless, the number of “chronically homeless” dropped from 134 to 87. The number of veterans also fell from 116 to 93.

The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to participate in the count in order to receive federal stimulus dollars. Durham has participated since 1999, dispatching volunteers one night per year to canvass the streets. They report the numbers to HUD, which analyzes the results and provides feedback on which programs are working and which need adjustment.

“For most people it takes just a little bit of help. A little bit can stop the downward spiral,” said Glenn.

Continue reading…

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    Durham officials project homeless numbers could rise further because of cuts to social safety net

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Bo Lozoff killed in motorcycle crash in Hawai'i

Posted by on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 8:16 PM

(Update, 9:03 p.m.: The Indy independently confirmed Lozoff's death through a musician and friend of his in Hawaii.)

Bo Lozoff, who ran Kindness House, an intentional community near Durham for ex-offenders and spiritual seekers, was killed yesterday in a motorcycle crash in Hawai'i, where he lived, according to news reports.

Lozoff, 65, died after his 2003 Suzuki motorcycle was struck by a 1999 Lexus SUV whose driver failed to yield the right of way and pulled in front of him. Neither the driver of the car nor the passenger were seriously hurt. News reports quoted police as saying Lozoff was not wearing a helmet.

In 2008, the Indy published a story critical of Lozoff after several female volunteers and one female parolee at the Kindness House came forward and alleged that Lozoff had sexual encounters with them during one-on-one counseling sessions, in which he initiated kissing, touching, and oral and manual sex as a method of spiritual healing.

A prison minister and author, Lozoff moved to Hawai'i around the time the story was published. He gave tours of lava fields and performed in a country band. He recently released his fourth CD, Bo Goes Country.

In 2004, Lozoff was the subject of an Indy story about his efforts to raise $1.5 million for a bio-diesel initiative in Hillsborough that would employ ex-offenders.

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    Bo Lozoff killed in motorcycle crash in Hawai'i

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Lincoln residents allowed to stay through December

Posted by on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 1:37 PM

The remaining tenants of Lincoln Apartments will be allowed to stay in their homes through the end of the year, Sendolo Diaminah, a community organizer with People's Durham.

Diaminah told the Indy that Lincoln Hospital Foundation President Larry Suitt has agreed to let people remain at Lincoln during that time as long as they pay their rent in full each month. The Foundation owns Lincoln Apartments. It announced in late September that the low-income housing complex would close Oct. 31 because it could not longer afford the utilities and maintenance costs.

Lincoln Apartments receives no subsidies; as a privately owned business, it relied on rents to cover expenses.

The Indy has covered the situation at Lincoln since early October.
Read our previous coverage here:

"Unable to pay bills, landlord to evict Lincoln Apartments tenants," Oct. 3

"Financial questions loom over Lincoln Apartments," Oct. 10

"Durham's affordable housing crisis," Oct. 17

"On the verge of eviction, Lincoln residents hope apartment complex gets new owners," Oct. 24

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    Lincoln Apartments residents allowed to stay through December

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Durham City Council Legalizes Patio Drinking

Posted by on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 10:00 AM

As expected, the Durham City Council last night unanimously approved a long-gestating revision to outdoor seating regulations that will allow for the consumption of beer and booze on city sidewalks.

The council's approval comes despite opposition from Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, who'd expressed concern about the inclusion of private clubs (also read: bars) in the revised ordinance. A previous version of the ordinance that excluded nightclubs and bars was introduced to the public in May, prompting complaints from a cadre of interests—Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc. and a handful of local bar owners—that the rule would inhibit business growth in the heart of downtown.

Council members opted to side with the bar owners. Of course, eateries, restaurants and nightclub owners have actually been allowing patrons to consume alcoholic beverages on their patios for months. Only now, those who successfully apply for the new version of the outdoor dining permit can facilitate patio drinking with the city's full blessing.

One other interesting note from last night's agenda: Chapel Hill will pay the city of Durham $30,000 for law enforcement assistance on Halloween night.

The Town of Chapel Hill has, in recent years, clamped down, citing the ballooning number of costumed revelers that head to Franklin Street on Halloween night each year. Some 80,000 people attended the event in 2007, according to official estimates. Annual attendance has since dropped significantly as the city began limiting access into Franklin Street and to park-and-ride service.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Lincoln Apartments residents petition Durham County Commissioners over evictions

Posted by on Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 8:30 PM

A sign on Property Manager Leila James' door stated the office was closed due to illness. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

This is the story of Lincoln Apartments as Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants tells it: The majority of the 50-plus households at the low-income housing community don't pay rent, or if they do, it's late. And without rent collections, the real estate company can't pay its bills and must evict all the residents, effective Oct. 31.

But residents of Lincoln Apartments told Durham County Commissioners a much different version of events Monday night. And the residents' comments raise questions about the company's financial practices and overall management of the property.

"We are not here to hand over our community," said Bernadette Toomer. "We're here to fight."

The property manager, Leila James, has accepted rents in cash, but not provided receipts, residents say. James also allegedly wrote—and then rewrote—leases that drastically changed the terms. And at the very least, Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants failed to hold up their end of the deal in providing a safe, clean living environment.

Now residents want Lincoln Apartments to stay open while city and county officials investigate the financial records and other aspects of the management company.

Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants, which oversees the property for the now-defunct Lincoln Hospital Foundation, sent eviction notices to residents on Sept. 28, telling them they had a little more than a month to leave their homes. Some residents have lived at Lincoln Apartments as long as 30 years. At least 50 households, as many as 200 tenants, received notices.

Lincoln Apartments on Durham's East Side serves low-income residents. Rents range from $350 to $500 a month. The apartments are privately owned and are not subsidized, operating solely on rent collections, Howard Williams of Southern Real Estate told the Indy last week.

Although the nonprofit foundation dissolved in 2010, according to Secretary of State records, it still ostensibly operates the apartment complex. And as a nonprofit, it is exempt from paying property taxes.

But even with that financial break, Williams told the Indy and residents the complex has to close because rent collections are insufficient to cover the water and electric bills. Williams alleged that in some months as few as 25 percent of residents pay rent.

However, without a proper accounting of the payments—and confirmation of where the money went—it is difficult to determine the extent and truth of the management company's financial problems.

James could not be reached by the Indy for comment last week. A sign on the property manager's door stated the office was closed due to illness.

Shirekia Shackleford said she was allowed to move in on Sept. 17, only to receive the eviction notice on Sept. 28. "We don't have the money laying round to move every 30 days," she said, adding that she received broken appliances in her apartment. "I'm unemployed and trying to leave within my means."

There are also inconsistencies in leases, residents said. Bernadette Toomer, who has lived at Lincoln Apartment for four months, showed the Indy a copy of her original lease, signed this August. It ran from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30, 2012, and showed that Toomer paid a $450 security deposit.

Yet Toomer said that just weeks ago James asked her to sign a new lease; this one was backdated to be effective from Aug. 1 to 31, 2012. It also indicated Toomer paid no security deposit.

Look for additional coverage in the Oct. 10 edition of the Indy.

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    Lincoln Apartments tenants tell county commissioners they want to stay in their homes.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Updated: Durham's occupancy tax collections are down again

Posted by on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 5:09 PM

Update: Bob Klaus, general manager of the Durham Performing Arts Center, emailed over the weekend to remind that DPAC has had significant overall impact on the city's economy. His input has been added below.

*Original post
For all of the Durham Performing Arts Center's success—it ranks No. 1 in the country in ticket sales—there's one area in which the theater seems to be falling short: the generation of hotel/motel occupancy tax money to the city.

One of the selling points for constructing DPAC was that it would boost the number of overnight stays at Durham hotels. To help pay for DPAC's $32 million in construction debt, the City of Durham diverts a portion of the total occupancy tax collections into a fund.

But even as Durham City Council agrees, as it did on Monday night, to provide tax incentives for the construction of additional downtown hotel space, city officials admit that occupancy tax collections aren't as good as they could be.

More than $1.3 million: That's the total hotel and motel occupancy tax monies contributed to the DPAC fund. And while that sum is actually $52,866 more than projections by city officials and the Durham Convention Center & Visitors Bureau, it's still short of the $1.5 million collected in 2008, the year DPAC open. In fact, collections for the DPAC fund have fallen short of the $1.4 million goal every year since.

At least one explanation for the funding gap is the recession, says Shelly Green, CEO of the Durham Convention Center & Visitor's Bureau. Another is the domino effect that occurs when hotels lower their room rates, which according to Green started shortly after the market collapsed back in 2008. "When occupancy slips even a little bit, hotel owners start managing that rate and discounting their rooms more often," Greens says.

So, when hotel patrons pay lower prices, the city collects less in occupancy tax revenue. And yet in the last two months, the city council has approved tax incentive deals that will add an additional 175 hotel rooms to the citywide tally.

Nonetheless, Green was among a handful of downtown Durham boosters who spoke in favor of the deal at Monday night's city council meeting. Adding more rooms, especially higher-end rooms, will make the city more attractive to convention planners, Green says.

It's a well-tread argument. With more hotel space, Durham could accommodate more convention business. But which should come first: demand for hotel space or the hotel space itself? Chicken or egg?

The City of Durham seems to be banking on the former. Meanwhile, convention traffic at the Durham Convention Center, like city occupancy tax collections, has not returned to pre-recession levels.

According to tracking numbers obtained from the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, 78,640 "delegates" attended meetings at the center in 2012. That's down from 82,091 that attended at least one meeting at the center in 2008.

But Green, who describes herself as "bullish" on motel construction, says she remains confident that the demand will be there when the new downtown hotels open. Says Green: "As the market starts to improve, as the business comes back, the rates come back."

Update: DPAC patrons spent $49 million at local restaurants, gas stations and retailers, according to figures released by the Durham News Service. That's up from $43.3 million in 2010.

In emails received over the weekend, Klaus also provides figures indicating that the 2011 total actually translates into $2.4 million in tax revenue to local governments. Those numbers surpass projections made prior to DPAC's opening, Klaus writes.

The original version of the story cited figures from 2011 showing that DPAC ranked No. 2 in ticket sales; more recent figures from 2012 put it at No. 1.

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    Durham hotel/motel occupancy tax collections still short of pre-recession levels

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Durham City Council Ok's Another Hotel Deal

Posted by on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 11:17 AM

For the second time in as many months, the Durham City Council has approved an incentive laden deal to convert a languishing downtown building into a hotel.

The Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve $605,000 in tax incentives for the redevelopment of the former Mutual Community Savings Bank at 315 East Chapel Hill Street.

Local developer Gentian Group LLC plans to renovate the building into a 54-room “select service” hotel. (According to city economic development director, the “select service” designation indicates that it will offer a similar, if not as opulent, list of amenities as a “luxury” hotel).

The vote comes just weeks after the council approved a similarly structured $5.7 million incentive offer to 21c Museum Hotels for the redevelopment of the former Sun Trust Tower. The Kentucky-based company plans to purchase the Greenfire Development-owned building and convert it into a 125-room luxury hotel. Construction on the property is scheduled to begin in June of next year.

As was the case with the council’s vote on the 21c offer, representatives from the regular cast of downtown boosters were on-hand to advocate for adding additional hotel space in the city center. Even with the added hotel space that the Gentian project will bring, some 800 rooms are needed to make Durham an attractive destination for convention business, they told council members.

The city has nearly 3,000 available hotel rooms, but only a fraction of those allow for convenient access to downtown Durham, said Shelly Green, President and CEO of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Much like the city’s offer to 21c, the Gentian deal requires that renovations to the building are completed, and the hotel open to occupants by April 2014, before any of the incentive money is paid.

Daniel Robinson, a partner in the Gentian Group, said the developers have also approached Durham County about contributing an matching incentive offer.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

University officials urge confidentiality in search for new NCCU chancellor

Posted by on Fri, Sep 7, 2012 at 11:23 AM

The search for Charlie Nelms' successor has officially begun. Representatives from 19-member committee met for the first time yesterday on the North Carolina Central University campus to discuss what could be a months-long process of finding a replacement for the university's outgoing chancellor.

Among the topics of discussion: How long the search process could potentially take, the qualities of a suitable candidate and the finalization of the draft "leadership statement" that will serve as the de facto job description. But among these other, preliminary decisions, committee members will also have decide how transparent the search process will be.

Members of the committee—a cross-section of alumni, community leaders, students and faculty—have all signed confidentiality agreements that bar each from speaking publicly about the search process. But on-hand representatives from the University of North Carolina said that there is nothing in state law that prevents the committee as a whole from releasing names of the candidates being considered. They still advise against it, however.

"In my experience, doing so limits the pool of potential candidates," said Ann Lemmon, UNC Vice President for Human Resources. Of course, it might also narrow the field to those candidates who are serious about committing to the university.

According to UNC system president Tom Ross, recruitment won't be a problem. "This particular institution, I'll tell you, will attract some very, very strong candidates because it's a plumb job," he told the assembled committee. Once the field is narrowed down to 3 candidates by the committee, Ross will decide to whom to extend the offer. Afterward, the UNC Board of Governors will decide to approve or not approve that decision.

But Ross too cautioned the committee against making the process public. "To get the very best people, you're going to be going after people who already have jobs," he said. "And if that's made public, it can hurt a candidate's career."

Still, there is a precedent for not making the process opaque. In 2004, Kenneth Peacock, Chancellor of Appalachian State University, was selected via an open search process, says Lemmon. Universities in the UNC system have replaced chancellors several times since then, she says. But none have opted to make the names of candidates public.

Which route the NCCU search committee will take will be decided in the coming weeks. University officials estimate that the entire search process should take no more than 4 to 6 months.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Former Liberty Warehouse Tenants Sue Greenfire

Posted by on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Five one-time tenants of the Liberty Warehouse in Durham are taking building owner Greenfire Development to court in what may be the most predictable lawsuit ever.

The plaintiffs—Andrew Preiss of ARP Design Studio, Donna Sutton of Southern Portico Inc, Deborah Pratt, Adelaide Banks of Read Seed Inc. and James Nuss—were all renting space in the converted tobacco warehouse in May 2011 when a portion of the roof caved in during heavy rains. On Tuesday afternoon, all five filed separate lawsuits against the beleaguered development company for alleged negligence related to the collapse.

The court documents themselves read like an abstract of the Warehouse's most recent history. Purchased by Greenfire in 2006 for $3,500,000. Inspected in March of 2011 by the Durham Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services after numerous complaints from tenants about the failing roof. In the span of the next two months: Condemned. Declared unsafe. Crash.

Now the plaintiffs want compensation for their alleged losses. In court documents, each now claims that Greenfire officials, in their capacity as landlord, failed to take "reasonable care" in the maintenance of the the warehouse roof. All five are asking for compensation in excess of $10,000, plus punitive damages.

Calls to Greenfire Development officials for comment were not immediately returned. As for the Liberty Warehouse, Greenfire Managing Partner Paul Smith had previously told the Indy that the company is committed to finding a viable use for the 2.6 acre property. The Durham City-County Planning Department declared the southern portion of the building in a state of "demolition by neglect" eaerlier this year. The company has until October 15 to complete repairs. The northern portion of the property is currently being rented out as storage space.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Xscape Lounge escapes the rent

Posted by on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 5:39 PM

The nightclub’s official Twitter account hints at the story: The Xscape Lounge, one of just a handful of nightclubs in downtown Durham, has changed hands. “So to all the new followers of the @TheXscapeLounge, we appreciate y’all and value your business. #UnderNewManagement,” reads a recent entry.

Frank White, owner of the building at 119 W. Main St. in Durham, also home to the MarVell Event Center, has, via court order, seized the business from his former tenant because of tardy rent payments.

That tenant, Parker Holdings of Carolina LLC, was ordered evicted from the building in August by a Durham district court judge. Court documents allege Xscape Lounge owner Anthony Parker failed to submit the monthly $3,500 rent payment.

A sign on the door reads that the building has been padlocked by order of the Durham County Sheriff. According to court documents, it wasn’t the first time Parker had issues with the rent. In May, White, who owns the club property and the attached space that houses the MarVell Event Center, complained that Parker had missed a previous monthly rent payment, the court documents state. But at that time, White rescinded the order to lock Parker’s group out of the premises after Parker later paid the rent in full, plus court fees.

As for the latest eviction, neither Parker nor White could not be reached for comment.

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