Duke gave its former medical center laundry in the Burch Avenue neighborhood to the Durham Housing
Authority to turn into housing for low-income senior citizens. Members of the Durham Planning Commission unanimously approved two separate rezoning and special use reviews for the property.
After the city council approved the necessary zoning changes, Duke handed over the laundry, valued at about $400,000, for a nominal amount and the cost of legal fees associated with the transfer. James Tabron, director of the Durham Housing Authority, says he is pursuing tax credits from the state's housing finance agency to turn the Sixties-era industrial building into as many as forty-eight apartments. "We are optimistic that we are not only going to be able to design an attractive, functional complex but also get the funds to make it come together. We have a waiting list of seniors who need public housing."
The idea of productively using the former laundry to benefit Durham came from Bill Donelan, chief financial officer for the Duke University Health System. Once the medical center opened its new laundry near Durham Technical College about two years ago, Donelan suggested that the old building and parking lot, which sits on 3.5 acres in the corner of the Burch Avenue neighborhood, be used to further the goals of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership
Through the partnership, the university works with twelve neighborhoods near campus, including Burch Avenue, to improve the quality of life. Increasing affordable housing opportunities, improving the stability of neighborhoods, and bringing services to senior citizens were among priorities identified by Neighborhood Partnership residents in 1996.
To date, Duke has helped finance more than forty affordable houses in the Walltown neighborhood near East Campus. In the Burch Avenue neighborhood, Duke donated a property for a community garden and sold about ten properties at much reduced rates to low-income homeowners.
Providing health care for underserved populations is also a Duke priority. To that end, the university will also consider installing a medical clinic at the seniors' residence, say Duke officials. "This will enable us to offer more services to seniors," says Michael Palmer, director of Duke's Office of Community Affairs.