Places in Peril 2013: Historic Duplexes and Apartments

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Historic duplexes


Why it’s important:

Historically, duplexes and multi-family structures were constructed in all of Durham’s urban neighborhoods, from Cleveland-Holloway to Morehead Hill.  Only Forest Hills and Hope Valley are without these types of multi-family homes. Their construction illustrates the gradual development of these areas over time and the need to keep residents of all income levels close to the city center.  The continued presence of multi-family dwellings contributes to the diversity and stability of urban neighborhoods.

Small to mid-sized units within Durham’s established neighborhoods allow for singles, young couples, and older residents to live alongside families and established professionals, contributing not only to the diversity of our neighborhoods, but also to the ability to remain within a particular neighborhood even as an individual’s housing needs change. A range of housing sizes within a single neighborhood, including duplexes and apartment buildings, allows for a continuity of residents, resulting in more stable neighborhoods.

Just as continuity is important, so is vitality, and the ability to accommodate newcomers brought by Duke, Research Triangle Park, and start-ups. Many of these workers, recruited to the area specifically for their creative professions, bring energy and new ideas to our community. Without rental options available in our historic districts, we deny the opportunity for new or transitioning residents to reside in our oldest and most established neighborhoods. These areas foster connections between neighbors, allowing residents to put down roots and eventually buy homes in Durham.

Why it’s in peril:

As property values continue to rise in Durham’s historic districts, small duplexes are being routinely converted to modest single-family homes.  The architectural changes that result from these conversions often eliminate historic material and visual evidence of their construction as duplexes.  However, the loss of architectural fabric is secondary to the loss of small-scale rental options in these neighborhoods, resulting in new and short-term residents clustering in downtown or suburban apartment complexes rather than integrating into Durham’s more established neighborhoods.

What’s needed:

In established neighborhoods, a balance of large and small, owner-occupied and rental housing is necessary to retain diversity and stability.  Preservation Durham advocates for this balanced approach to rental and owner-occupied structures in Durham’s historic districts.  Use of the income-producing historic preservation tax credits make this an attractive and viable strategy.