Historical Durham YWCA to be renovated for affordable housing

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Civil Rights activist Virginia Williams came to Durham in 1956, the Harriet Tubman YWCA sustained a hub for community events, classes and gatherings.

Today, the building stands empty, but change is coming.

Durham community members met with elected officials on Monday to accept $1 million in community project funding toward renovating the Harriet Tubman YWCA into affordable housing.

"We are really going to have some more good times here, I can see it," Williams said. "And these people who put this together, they have the belief and the know-how to do it and they know they can do it and we're going to back them."

The economic development investment grant, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, serves as a reward for the initiative in the community, according to Congressman David Price, Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee and representative of the 4th District of NC.

"This is support that rewards initiative, and that rewards partnership and that rewards those that get their act together and decide what they're going to do in the community and get it done and that's the spirit here," Price said. "I think it's the spirit that's behind this project and it's certainly the spirit that's behind this funding."

The building will provide housing for individuals making 30 percent and 60 percent or below the area median income, with at least four units allocated for those who formerly experienced homeless or those representing other special needs groups.

Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton expressed hope that the renovation would impact the community, highlighting the housing problems existing in the area.

"What I've seen -- this project can impact the lives of so many people. And what I've seen is the devastation of the communities and people not having a place to live. Housing is one of the major issues that -as a county representative - that we confront around housing and food."

According to Peter Skillern, executive director of the nonprofit Reinvestment Partners which purchased the Harriet Tubman YWCA, the building holds a great amount of history for the African American community.

Skillern said he hopes the renovation will bring about healing to the community surviving segregation and disinvestment.

According to Reinvestment Partners, the building was built in 1953. Williams, a resident of the former YWCA remembered many positive moments spent with fellow community members in the building.

"We had a lot of good times and I can just close my eyes and remember them now," Williams said. "And that's why I stayed 20 years. I was the last one to leave."

Durham Mayor Elaine O'Neal recalled spending time as a young person at the building and expressed hope that the new renovations bring about more memories to be made on the same property.

"Thank you for bringing a part of my life back alive and for all of those young people and all of the memories that were made. We want them to now have a chance of a new generation of memories like I did, and they too can grow up and be mayor," O'Neal said.

According to Skillern, the renovation will make efforts to keep the building as historically preserved as possible.

The newly refurbished building will feature an elevator, and hold six studio apartments on the second and third floors respectively, with three on the first floor. The building will also include a congregate area and provide offices, computers and a kitchen, Skillern said.

"We'll be able to provide both services and housing here," Skillern said. "That's building back better."

In addition to funding from the economic development investment grant, the renovations will receive a $600,000 zero credit percent interest supportive housing development loan from the North Carolina finance agency. Durham city staff recommend a $1.6 million affordable housing grant, pending a Durham City Council vote, Skillern said, with more funds needed.

The renovation will be completed in approximately 18 months, Skillern said.

"This is how we are gonna renovate and rehabilitate and rebuild this neighborhood for these children and for the folks who are going to live here," said North Carolina state Sen. Mike Woodard. "And it's through this community partnership."
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