I graduated from Duke in 2018 as the first generation in my family to go to college. At a student luncheon on affordable housing with an elected official in 2017, I shared, “Durham feels like home now. I love its people and their energy for change. I’m hoping to stay and serve as an AmeriCorps member in Durham public schools after I graduate… but how do I move off campus and into Durham without gentrifying Durham?”
The response was, “Well, don’t move to Durham.”
They later went on to add that the city would likely benefit from the addition of a thoughtful student, but their comment still left me whirling. I ended up moving into a duplex with a roommate in Ward 3. After connecting with DataWorks NC, I learned that between 2013 and 2016, there had been two families before us evicted from that residence. And, not only that, but there have been a tremendous number of evictions in my neighborhood, as you can see in Figure 1 below.
As an AmeriCorps service member, I went into the year knowing that my stipend would be considerably below living wage. What’s painful and striking to me, if—let’s say—rising rent was the cause of the evictions for the previous residents, is that a housing unit that was affordable on a volunteer stipend was still too expensive for two previous families. Now, I don’t know if it was rising rent, but regardless of the reason, evictions are happening a few steps from my front door in every direction. And, because my street isn’t socially connected, these life changing events take place without folks down the street even knowing about it.
This reality is so far from my hope for a world with more supportive, self-sufficient neighborhoods. When I think about it, at the end of the day, all I really want is a sense of home and connectedness, a space where I can ground myself every night and feel safe. Everyone deserves that, and many have it and then are torn from it.
As I wrap up the AmeriCorps year and transition into three part-time jobs and paying for my health insurance, I am looking to move into a more affordable housing option and to do so intentionally. So, I’m spending some time trying to educate myself and get more involved. I acknowledge that having the time and energy to think through housing options in this way comes with a lot of privilege… but I think if I have that time and energy, I should.
At DataWorks NC’s first event on ‘Who Owns Durham?’ in May, I met a community of people ready to engage and support one another in this work. I learned that evictions in our city happen at a greater rate when commercial apartment complexes change ownership and that more and more rental units are being bought by corporations that have no local connection to their tenants. To be honest, I’m still not very knowledgeable about all this and need to learn more.
I plan to attend the second session of ‘Who Owns Durham?’ which will be more action-focused; we’ll learn about the work community members are currently doing and the ways we can do more. The event will be on Tuesday, June 25 from 7:00-9:00 pm at the Episcopal Center at Duke, 505 Alexander Avenue in Durham. I hope you’ll join me.
Nathalie Kauz is finishing up her volunteer year as an urban agriculture educator in public elementary schools here in Durham. She engages in community-led projects promoting overall wellbeing, especially around food access and public space, supports documentary work on these topics, and is a doula-in-training.