Innovations in Affordable Housing




Pictured above: Habitat volunteers work to rehab a Durham home into an efficient and attractive duplex for their HIP program.  

By Blake Strayhorn

Durham is booming, and cranes dot our skyline. New restaurants pop up regularly in our vibrant downtown.  But with all the positive things going on in Durham, it’s sometimes easy to forget that not all of our Durham neighbors are sharing in the good times. 

Durham has an affordable housing crisis.

Karen Lado, the City of Durham’s affordable housing consultant, estimates 15,000 families in Durham are severely cost burdened, meaning they pay 50 percent - or more - of their income on their housing.  Many Habitat homeowner applicants rent leaky, drafty, often moldy substandard housing.

Durham Habitat aspires to eliminate substandard housing in Durham. We envision a Durham where all our neighbors have a safe, warm and affordable place to sleep at night.

Habitat has been building in Durham since 1985, and we’ve built - and sold - more than 330 homes in partnership with hard-working, low-income neighbors in Durham.  We’ve also repaired more than 250 homes for low-income neighbors, often elderly, who own their homes.  And yet, we need to do more. 

I’ve spent most of my career in the entrepreneurial, for-profit world.  I love Durham Habitat’s entrepreneurial side - the opportunity to help meet our neighbors’ needs by innovating and leveraging our strengths: building homes, and community, through strong partnerships.

Innovation starts with listening and understanding needs.  My team and I spend a lot of time talking with our neighbors in Northeast Central Durham, and we hear the needs.  Durham Habitat is currently piloting two new programs - Homeowner Incubation Program (HIP) and Tiny Homes – that we believe will help serve more families in Durham.  And, Habitat is taking action. 

The impetus for our HIP initiative is a homeowner applicant named Karen who applied in late 2014. When Karen applied, she and her family of four were paying $1,000 a month for rent - for a motel room!  Karen met all criteria for Habitat homeownership except she had an outstanding judgment of a few thousand dollars on her credit.  Habitat requires Karen to clear the judgment before she can be approved to buy her home.  We invited her to reapply when she cleared her judgment.

The reality is that Karen will not come back to Habitat.  She's doing everything she can to make ends meet working long hours to cover her $1,000 monthly rent.

We take Karen’s situation personally.  I want to offer a better option than “fix your problem and come back later.”  So, Habitat purchased a dilapidated duplex on North Hyde Park recently and we've renovated it to provide two units for our HIP pilot.  We can now provide a short term Habitat rental at a more reasonable rate.  We invite HIP partners to use their savings in monthly rent to clear their judgment, as they work on sweat equity and other aspects of preparing for Habitat homeownership.  HIP partners will be prepared to buy a Habitat home in about a year.

Next month I’ll introduce you to Habitat’s first HIP partner and share about another Habitat innovation - Tiny Homes.  Until then, I invite you to join our Durham Habitat community – we need your help!  Visit to donate or volunteer.  If you’d like a HabiTour, an hourish tour of Habitat’s work in North East Central Durham, please contact Roxanne at or 919-698-3910.


Habitat Success Stories

Lucy has led construction volunteers in more than five Women Builds. A civil engineer, Lucy has volunteered to teach hundreds of neighbors who have no construction experience how to build beautiful homes, and she can teach you as well.