'It's another option': Developers build alternative housing in a Durham backyard

Anthony Wilson Image
Sunday, October 2, 2022
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Developers in Durham build alternative housing in the backyards of existing homes.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's plenty of construction activity in Triangle cities and towns these days. Some of the fanciest housing options can be seen in Durham.

Bull City neighborhoods close to downtown are a mix of traditional single family homes, shiny new apartments of various heights, and townhomes critics say are too expensive for the average wage earner or families that need affordable housing.

One solution could be accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. They're smaller homes, built behind existing homes with enough room to accommodate another dwelling. That's what's happening near North Carolina Central University where developers Barry and Kim Hill own property that will eventually have several ADUs.

Barry Hill said their latest project grew from conversations he had with a woman who lives next to a home the couple renovated.

"We got to be talking neighbors and I would cut down a tree, and ask her if she wanted hers cut too. 'Probably not,'" was her answer, he said. "She's 80 years old. So eventually I said 'Miss Claudette, would you ever think of selling your house? And she said no, because I've lived here so long and my best friend lives next door. So I said well. why don't we build you a new house, and you can stay right here? Because your house probably needs some work? And she said, that sounds like a great idea.'"

They're working now on a smaller home for her, right behind the one she currently occupies.

"It's an ADU and it's 800 square feet, the maximum (allowed). We've future proofed it, it has wheelchair width doors, shower that's curbless," said Kim Hill.

The couple said the woman won't be charged rent for ten years.

"It's another option. Building an ADU, whether you live in it yourself and rent out your home or you just use it for extra income, it's a way to unlock equity in your house and stay where you are," Kim Hill said. "Miss Claudette had this huge garden and it was useless. It was basically jungle, and so this was a perfect solution.'

They have plans for nearby property, including the home they've renovated next door.

"This is a duplex, and we're going to build an accessory unit here," he said. "So we can have four or five, six families, living right here where there used to be just two."

"We love the old houses in Durham, and it's actually been to our benefit to look at houses in the historic area because developers don't want those houses. You've got to renovate them to a certain standard. But we love the old houses and we've found a way to save them if you can just repurpose them," said Kim Hill.

Ultimately, the couple says they plan to build about 15 units on property they own in Durham, creating a village in this area near NCCU.

"We have always thought that there was a lot of good housing stock that was wasted in Durham, all these old houses. And part of it is zoning, part of it is simply the current owners don't have enough money to fix them up," Barry Hill said. "So that became our obsession, that's how we started with very old houses in downtown Durham, and we've managed to reconfigure and renovate and now, doing some new construction. So we've managed to keep our average rent, over 50 properties, under a thousand dollars."

Kim Hill said they've also repurposed old houses into studio flats with a bathroom, kitchenette and a shared laundry room, ranging in price from $600 to $900 depending on size.