'It's become more urgent': Durham mayor Steve Schewel to shuffle funding for McDougald Terrace

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
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DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- ABC11 is getting answers from Durham's mayor as the carbon monoxide crisis at McDougald Terrace uncovers ongoing issues at the city's largest and oldest housing project.

The ABC11 I-team dug up HUD physical inspection reports in which DHA properties received failing scores.

Meanwhile Durham's mayor Steve Schewel, a former DHA liason familiar with the state of DHA properties, said the most recent carbon monoxide crisis makes the situation critical.

"It's become more urgent. The urgency is much higher now and it ought to be," said Schewel.

Patting DHA CEO Anthony Scott on the back, Schewel said the slack comes from HUD.

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"I'm also concerned that as we all know that McDougald Terrace and other public housing in Durham and public housing across the country is substandard. The funding has been squeezed way down by the federal government and that's why we as a city has to step up and do the work that the federal government ought to be doing," said Schewel.

Durham's mayor hopes to unravel decades of deficient funding, touting his $95 million bond that voters just passed.

ABC11 learned only $65 million will go to redevelopment of DHA properties. Despite McDougald being the oldest and the one with the most dangerous conditions, the beleaguered property is not first on the list.

''McDougald is next for other work. Not for redevelopment because McDougald is very large and it would be very expensive to do that," Schewel said.

RELATED: How to help families forced to leave McDougald Terrace amid carbon monoxide scare

ABC11 has been asking HUD about its spending and allocations for Durham. Mayor Schewel said the city intends to help with funding to mitigate the carbon monoxide issues in the short term, but said he's working to figure out where the money will come from.

"It may not be bond money. Bond money takes a little bit more time to issue but we have other funds as well. We don't know exactly what pot of funds it will come out of to stabilize McDougald in the short term but I am certain that additional funding will be needed," Schewel said.

The cries for funding are getting the attention from lawmakers. Congressman David Price released the following statement to ABC11:

""I am deeply concerned about the carbon monoxide exposures at McDougald Terrace, and I remain in touch with Durham Housing Authority leadership about this serious incident. My thoughts are with all the families and individuals affected by this emergency, including those still awaiting relocation.

"For far too long, Congress has failed to adequately invest in our public housing stock, putting vulnerable residents at risk. I've been working to reverse years of disinvestment as well as boost funding specifically to combat health hazards like carbon monoxide, lead, and mold. We can't be satisfied until every resident has a safe place to call home."

Congressman Price is the Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. In April 2019, Chairman Price used his time at the committee hearing to question Secretary Carson on carbon monoxide issues in public housing.

Meanwhile Congressman Butterfield released the following statement to ABC11:

"I am deeply saddened by reports of carbon monoxide exposure in the McDougald Terrace community. Public housing developments exist to provide safe and sanitary housing for low income families. The Durham Housing Authority has an obligation to protect those individuals who reside in McDougald and other public housing communities.In recent days, I have been in conversation with Mayor Steve Schewel and Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott to offer my assistance in seeking federal intervention to alleviate the conditions that are obviously harmful to the residents. I await any official request from the DHA Board of Commissioners for my assistance in requesting assistance from any relevant federal agency.We cannot overlook the need to determine if DHA has been negligent in maintaining the housing units. The allegations of negligence are very serious and troubling. At the very least, they require a full and transparent investigation to determine if residents have become ill or died as a result of poisonous gases in their homes."

Long term, Mayor Schewel agreed that McDougald is due for redevelopment but says due to the size and age, the timeline could be as far out as five years from now. In the meantime, he said his focus will be on increasing affordable housing inventory in Durham.

"You see the market rate housing here in downtown Durham? That's what the housing will be. It will be that market rate housing but it will be affordable," Schewel said.