DURHAM — David Steinbrenner stood at the back of the crowd while dignitaries spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week for the Bungalows at Southside.
Steinbrenner, though, had more of a stake in what was going on than any of the dignitaries among the 150 or so people who were on hand, because the ribbon was being cut at his house. In the long-time-coming revitalization near downtown, Steinbrenner was the first person literally to buy in.
“The opportunity presented itself,” he said. “I’m a month away from 40, and I’m finally getting a new house.”
He is the first owner of one of 48 new single-family houses in “Southside West,” an owner-occupant development in conjunction with the apartments at “Southside East,” formerly known as “Rolling Hills.”
“I never would have thought I would be buying a home ... a brand new home in a historic neighborhood,” Steinbrenner said.
Steinbrenner‘s sale closed June 5 and he planned to spend last weekend moving into his 1,450 square-foot, four-bedroom home at South and Fargo streets – part of a long-blighted section the city intends to make into a neighborhood revitalized but not gentrified.
Several other finished, landscaped houses form an arc along the streets on either side of the corner, several with Sold signs out front. Around Fargo Street they blend into the old, established neighborhood, but up South Street and along Hillside Avenue and Chestnut Street to the east are construction zones where an electric generator’s hum provided background for the ceremonial words.
“This is a good place to be this morning, because this is my home,” said Marie Hunter, neighborhood association president and long-time Southside resident who offered her new neighbors an “official welcome home.”
“This has been an adventure,” Hunter said. “For 20 years I’ve seen these streets look dark. Now, I see light.”
There were a good number of current and future Southside residents on hand, and Steinbrenner was called up to have a hand in when the ribbon was actually cut, along with the politicians, contractors and financiers who had had lots of nice words to say.
The new houses – 21 of which are under sale contracts – are the first brick-and-mortar products of a $12 million phase of a long-term, many-millions city investment in reviving 125 acres between South Roxboro Street and the American Tobacco Trail, just off the Durham Freeway.
“A new day in Southside is finally here,” said Mayor Bill Bell, almost seven years after he first went to tell residents how the city planned to invigorate their neighborhood, and almost 50 years since freeway construction and urban renewal obliterated much of the area formerly Hayti, Durham’s original black neighborhood.
“This is a big day for all of us,” Bell said.
Steinbrenner, a staff assistant at Duke University, bought his house with a university program to help qualifying employees buy Southside houses, which come in a variety of sizes and designs with prices from $162,000 to about $198,000.
The city has incentives, too, to accommodate buyers of low and moderate income including current Southside residents who want to keep living where they are; while also attracting market-rate buyers who could live anywhere they like.
“I’ve been looking for a house for about a year in the downtown area and I just happened to drive by here and saw the signs,” said Stefan Dudoff. He called the broker whose name was on the sign, put down a deposit and now is waiting for the builders to get under way.
“We’re hoping ... completion will be in November or December,” said Dudoff works for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Butner, but lives in Durham. “I’m excited to meet the new neighbors.”
Aileen Womack-Montes was as excited as anyone in the crowd that went touring the completed houses after the ribbon had been cut. A Durham Public Schools teacher of children with disabilities, she’s becoming a first-time homeowner.
“Always rented, raised my children and always felt like, as a public-school teacher ... we have to live on a budget. And you have to be responsible,” she said.
“When this (incentive) program came around I thought, How sweet it would be if I could qualify, because my salary is $38,000 a year but I raised two kids, no debt, just by being a community person and being responsible,” Womack-Montes said.
“And that’s my house,” she said, pointing up Hillside Avenue to a light-blue bungalow. “I couldn’t believe it. ... They say my house might close on July 15.”
To qualify for a city loan, she had to go through nine months of counseling on “all aspects of being a homeowner. (They) made sure I didn’t get into something I can’t afford,” she said. “I’ve learned so much. ... I want to stay here the rest of my life and put roots and build community
“I want to be part of that neighborhood that’s mixed income, that’s mixed cultures, mixed backgrounds where we can connect instead of alienate each other and come together.”