Durham Legislators File Bill To Let Durham Public Schools Become A Landlord

Legislators from Durham filed a bill last week that would let Durham Public Schools become a landlord – for their own teachers.

Durham Representatives Maryann Black, Marcia Morey, and Zack Hawkins along with Chatham Representative Robert Reives are the primary sponsors of House Bill 31.  All four are Democrats. In fact, so far the only supporters of the bill appear to be Democrats.

The idea is to give teachers affordable housing options as a way of trying to keep them teaching in Durham Public Schools. What’s next? Barracks in all new schools?

They way they are proposing it in HB 31, might be problematic. The language makes public school district a landlord using district property at a time when district schools are in need of major repair and/or require new schools need to be built.

“Durham Public Schools Board of Education may contract with any person, partnership, corporation, or other business entity to construct, provide, or maintain affordable rental housing on property owned by the Durham Public Schools Board of Education or by Durham County.”

The idea of offering affordable housing to teachers is not outrageous by any means, but in an instance like HB 31, isn’t renting housing from your employer, in essence, funding part of your own paycheck?

If a teacher opts to rent an apartment or home this way of their own accord, who’s to say that’s wrong? No one. However, what if some districts employing this same scenario as a recruiting tool are the only decent game rental in town?

And this bill proposes it be accomplished with ‘below-market rates’.

“The Board shall restrict the rental of such units exclusively to Durham Public Schools teachers or other Durham Public Schools employees.
The Board shall have the authority to establish reasonable rents for housing units and may in its discretion charge below-market rates.”

How far below? What happens when the units of whatever housing complex is provided are not fully rented?

There is more going on here than just an alleged need for ‘teacher housing’. The Durham County Commissioners had been talking about “affordable housing” for months at their meetings during 2018. At the November 26th meeting, it seems like the real estate boom in the Triangle can be tied to ‘affordable housing’?

“Commissioner Reckhow discussed the Urban Land Institutes meeting on Growth Trends and Affordable Housing. She highlighted the trends of the Raleigh/Durham area being recognized as the third highest prospect for real estate growth in [the] country.”

Durham was supposed to get $20.3 million if the school bond that was being kicked around went on the ballot last Fall.  One has to wonder what the far-Left NC Justice Center thinks of a bill putting teacher ‘affordable housing’ ahead of building new schools? The Justice Center was the one who formed the NC Bond group to push for more school construction and whose website is already gone.

In 2016, Durham passed four bonds of which $170 million went to education. It was somewhere around $91 million that was supposed to be used to improve school buildings in Durham Public Schools (DPS).

Fast forward to 2018, DPS was told they were only getting $3 million in new money because their enrollment keeps dropping.  Guess where the students went? Mainly to public charter schools, which DPS has been trying to kill off for years and on whom they and their allies are stepping up their attacks.

For example, at the end of January 2019, the Durham Board of Education fired off a concern-troll letter about the new charter, Discovery Academy. The DPS board’s pals over at the Durham City Council have shamelessly been trying to kill school choice in order to preserve an education system of mediocrity and failure.

Gee, wonder why these families are leaving?

DPSB Slide - Career College Ready Jan 17 2019 mtg

Slide from Presentation on DPS’ 2018 Accountability – Jan. 19, 2019


Guess who also has left for Public charter schools? Teachers. Draw your own conclusions, but to me, it looks like affordable housing for teachers is at least in part tied to trying to get teachers to come back to the traditional district schools.

House Bill 31, The Durham Board of Education and Durham Legislators

Hypothesis: This bill is the result of the Durham Board of Education not putting forth their bad idea of making their district a landlord until they had more favorable numbers in the General Assembly.

Proof: The November 20, 2018, County Commissioner and Durham Board joint meeting.
Near the end of the meeting, Durham School Board Chair Mike Lee updates the board and commissioners present on ‘teacher housing’.


DPS Board Chairman Mike Lee           Screenshot via YouTube

Lee can barely control his smirking when he talks about the reason for the delay in pushing legislation forward.

Lee says twice that they didn’t push ‘local legislation’ not because their idea isn’t a bad one, but it is because of the horrible, mean, nasty super-majority general assembly.

Here’s the video clip (below), which I had to download and cut myself because Durham Public Schools blocked embedding of their videos. Yay transparency of public records?

The video begins at the 1:44:22 mark and discussion runs for some time. I’ll be visiting remarks beyond Chairman Lee’s comment in a separate article. There is a transcript following the video and one more point of interest, so don’t stop reading here.


“We met a few weeks ago – maybe a month ago about this before the election and based on the back and forth, we tried to do the local bill – local legislation – that didn’t work out well because of the make-up of the state legislature.”

“So we kinda put our heads together to figure out what the next steps would be.
There’s not really good next steps, tell ya the truth. It’s just… we didn’t have really good options.”

“So what we landed on was, um, waiting for the election (laughter in background) and for the results of the election to have better opportunities to pass a local legislation.”

“For those who are wondering, the local legislation would allow us to move the land that we’re talking about building a teacher housing on over to a third party. Which at that time it was CASA.”

“And allow them to build and we’d make an arrangement as far as leasing back or whatever that might be but in order for us to build something other than a school on that land, we would need that local legislation — which has been done in North Carolina a few times. However, the makeup of the state legislature did not even allow us to bring that bill forward in the Senate or the House.”

“So, the election happened and the super-majority – thank goodness – was broken. And now there is reason for the more conserv… the Republican party to discuss or work with um, the minority party. And so, now we have a better opportunity to have these bills pushed forward and pass.”

Around the 1:47:25 Lee gets the NCGA representation working on their ‘teacher housing’ solution all wrong and has to be corrected by multiple off-camera speakers.

“What we are going to be working with is our local delegation. Maryann Black did it in the Senate and Morey… was it Marcia Morey that did it in the House?

[Someone off camera speaks up]

“Mike Woodard in the House?”

[More cross talk]

“Mike Woodard in the Senate? And then Maryann Black did it in the House?”

“They’re gonna contin.. they’re gonna use the same language and push it forward once the um, once the new members are seated. So we are looking forward to that. We should have another update at our next joint board of county commissioners and board of education meeting. And so that would be our teacher housing update.”


After Lee wrapped up his remarks, Board Member Steve Unruhe suggested that it was the DPS attornies that said they had to go the ‘legislation route’ but doesn’t give a reason why the attornies are saying that.

“What the attornies are saying to us is, in their opinion, our best option continues to be local legislation and their recommendation to us, given the changes, was ‘let’s give this one more shot’ because it’s cleaner, it’s a more efficient way to do it,” said Unruhe at the meeting.

There was more to Chairman Lee’s remarks, but it ties in with what I found out about other options that have been pursued and implemented in the state.  I’ll be doing a follow-up digging into the additional details of where this teacher housing idea came from. For now, it suffices to say that the alternatives brought up in the November 2018 meeting suggest that DPS does have other options for ‘affordable teacher housing’ than legislation and that DPS is likely going the HB 31 route for political purposes.

One more point of interest comes from the DPS Board meeting on February 7th of this year. At that meeting, Durham School Board member Natalie Beyer, who is the legislative liaison, said that she had drafted a starting place for the conversation with local legislators on “Durham’s priorities.”

She said she “borrowed widely” from “North Carolina’s School Board Association, from Public Schools First NC, from Charlotte-Mecklenburg – I’ll borrow from anybody….um NCAE…”

“I do think there is interest because the composition of the General Assembly has changed, there is not a veto-proof majority anymore and there could be some room,” said Beyers. “I’ve been heartened to see some bills recently introduced for restoring master pay, for calendar flexibility, just in the early days of the General Assembly’s work over there. I look forward to more bills coming.”

“I think there is a moratorium on charter schools bill that is coming. I think Durham should lead with the most progressive legislative agenda in the state. So, as you guys look through this and have ideas – um, I welcome edits maybe before we get to our meeting in a couple weeks,” Beyers said.

You can listen to Beyer’s remarks here.

Steve Unruhe comments afterward that he wants to make sure that “we clearly had the request for teacher housing” included in their list of legislative wishes. ‘Teacher housing’ was then added under “recruiting and retaining top talent” to a list being kept.

At around the 2:18:00 mark, DPS Board member Unruhe talks about taxpayer accountability and charters.

“I’m trying to get off this ‘close ’em’ you know, lack of whatever… but… to get at the local angle that they are using local money that they need to be accountable to taxpayers… so that is the direction of this request,” said Unruhe.

What Unruhe is referring to above is an assault ‘wish list’ of sorts on Public Charter Schools.

Unruhe’s list includes the idea of forcing new charters to “obtain local district approval” and existing charters being forced to answer “any and all questions” that any local government body asks them before being able to receive local funding.


For those interested, the next joint meeting of the school board and county commissioners is February 19th.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips: APDillon@Protonmail.com
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1 Response to Durham Legislators File Bill To Let Durham Public Schools Become A Landlord

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