The Willard Street Apartments Provide Affordable Housing and Nonprofit Dental Care in Durham
Located adjacent to the Durham Station Transportation Center, the 82-unit Willard Street Apartments is the first affordable housing project built in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Affordable housing developer DHIC and nonprofit loan provider Self-Help Ventures Fund codeveloped the project with support from both the city of Durham and the community. The development includes an onsite nonprofit dental clinic, Local Start Dental, and a landscaped amenity plaza two stories above street level. Willard Street Apartments is the first of two planned phases; the second phase, a 51-unit affordable senior development, is expected to begin construction in summer 2022.
Housing and Amenities
The Willard Street Apartments is an L-shaped building consisting of four residential stories above two levels of garage parking. The development has 39 one-bedroom and 43 two-bedroom apartments, 19 of which have private balconies. Three units have patios with stairs that allow residents to descend to the sidewalk, and 10 units are accessible. The Durham Housing Authority subsidizes the cost of rent and utilities for 21 of the units with project-based housing choice vouchers. Eligible tenants must earn no more than 30 percent of the area median income (AMI) for the voucher units and no more than 60 percent of AMI for the remaining 61 units.
The development’s amenities include a multipurpose room with a kitchen, seating area, and television; a business center with computers and printers; a fitness room; a third-floor library and reading room; and a fourth-floor game room. Willard Street’s most unique feature is Dr. Phail Wynn Plaza, an 11,000-square-foot landscaped area three stories above street level that functions as the building’s outdoor space. Accessible from the building’s interior and from the street by two staircases, the plaza features a picnic shelter with tables, a grilling station, and a playground. Muraled stucco panels painted by local artist Gabriel Eng-Goetz cover the sides of the pavilion, obscuring onlookers’ view into the parking structure beneath.
The Transformation of a Leftover Lot
The lot that the Willard Street Apartments now occupies was the result of efficient land use by the developers of the neighboring Durham Station Transportation Center. A bus depot with architectural provisions for a future bridge to the adjacent passenger rail station, the transportation center was completed in 2008 but left 1.8 acres to its south unused. The city of Durham retained this unused land for the next 11 years.
During this period, Durham saw sustained citizen advocacy for the construction of affordable housing. “We’re fortunate in Durham to have an engaged community that really values inclusion and wants to see more affordable housing,” remarked Michael Rodgers, director of real estate business development for the Raleigh-based affordable housing developer DHIC. In 2016, Durham officials, responding to citizen interest and the city’s housing needs, solicited a developer for 1.25 acres of the vacant Willard Street site. Because the proposed project would be Durham’s first affordable housing development in the downtown area, the city envisioned a building encompassing both housing and commercial applications that could accommodate mixed-income tenants.
DHIC partnered with the Self-Help Ventures Fund, the nonprofit loan arm of the Self-Help Credit Union, to respond to the city’s call. The city selected the partnership to develop the site and broke ground in July 2019. The building was completed and ready for new residents in late March 2021.
An Unusual Funding Structure To Secure a Future Phase
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019 both slowed the construction of the Willard Street Apartments and increased its cost. The project had a total permanent development cost of $21 million. The developers, however, took the unusual step of dividing the property into two legally distinct entities, or “condominiums,” which they financed separately. The reason, Rodgers explained, was to satisfy the requirements of the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, which was able to secure funding for the building’s residential portion but not for the commercial space and its associated parking. The first condominium was composed of the residential units, all associated amenities, and 69 parking spaces on the second level of the parking garage. The second condominium consisted of the 5,000-square-foot retail space and the 55 parking spaces on the first level of the garage. The residential portion of the development, owned by DHIC and the Self-Help Ventures Fund in partnership, cost $17.4 million, of which approximately $9.2 million was equity from the sale of low-income housing tax credits; $4.3 million was a mortgage from Freddie Mac, and $3.6 million was a contribution from the city of Durham. The developers deferred more than $300,000 of their fee.
The First in a Series of Affordable Downtown Developments
The Willard Street Apartments currently are fully occupied. In addition to the large piece of public art outside of the building, approximately a dozen smaller pieces by local artists are displayed inside. These works depict people and places important to Durham, including civil rights leaders such as Ann Atwater. The commercial tenant, Local Start Dental, provides free or discounted dental care to underserved adults; the clinic partners with the Adams School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina to train fourth-year students who are performing their clinical rotations. Although Willard Street Apartments does not offer in-house services, DHIC’s resident services team works closely with the building management, the Winston-Salem-based Community Management Corporation, to keep alert for unmet community needs. Rodgers reports that in addition to the senior housing, four additional affordable housing projects are underway in the area around Willard Street. In addition, the Durham Housing Authority has devised its own ambitious neighborhood development plan for the city’s downtown, separate from these development efforts.
City of Durham. 2019. "Durham Partners Celebrate Groundbreaking for 82 Affordable Apartments," news, 12 July. Accessed 19 November 2021; DHIC. n.d. "Ashton Place." Accessed 6 December 2021; Self Help Ventures Fund. n.d. "Who We Are."" Accessed 19 November 2021. ×
DHIC. n.d. "Family Apartments: Willard Street." Accessed 18 November 2021; City of Durham. 2019. "Durham Partners Celebrate Groundbreaking for 82 Affordable Apartments," news, 12 July. Accessed 19 November 2021. ×
Interview with Michael Rodgers, director of real estate development, DHIC, 3 December 2021; Correspondence from Michael Rodgers, DHIC, 6 December 2021; DHIC. 2021. "Willard Street Apartments: A New Model for Affordable Housing," Youtube.com. Accessed 18 November 2021; DHIC, Self-Help Ventures Fund, and City of Durham Cultural and Public Art Program. n.d. "Request for Qualifications: Public Art for Downtown Public Housing." Accessed 19 November 2021. ×
Stewart. 2021. "Durham Multimodal Center and West Village Revitalization." Accessed 13 December 2021; City of Durham. n.d. "Durham Station." Accessed 13 December 2021; Interview with Michael Rodgers, director of real estate development, DHIC, 3 December 2021. ×
Interview with Michael Rodgers, 3 December 2021. ×
Interview with Michael Rodgers, 3 December 2021. ×
DHIC. n.d. "Family Apartments: Willard Street." Accessed 18 November 2021; Correspondence from Michael Rodgers, 6 December 2021; Local Start Dental. 2020. "New Free and Low-Cost Dental Clinic Coming to Durham," press release, 17 February. Accessed 18 November 2021; Interview with Michael Rodgers, 3 December 2021; Correspondence from Michael Rodgers, 3 December 2021. ×
Interview with Michael Rodgers, 3 December 2021; Local Start Dental. 2020. "New Free and Low-Cost Dental Clinic Coming to Durham," press release, 17 February. Accessed 18 November 2021. ×