Meet The Man In Charge of Increasing Durham’s Affordable Housing Supply
No one enters adulthood with the intention of making decisions that will make it difficult to find safe housing. But for Durham, NC residents who do end up in that situation, there’s someone fighting for them.
In Durham County, there are too many individuals and families needing safe, quality, and affordable housing and Kevin Atkins, Housing Access Coordinator for Community Empowerment Fund, is working tirelessly to increase the inventory of affordable housing units available to them.
Kevin’s role is just one piece of the intricate puzzle that seeks to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness through effective and coordinated community-wide efforts and services but it’s an important one. It’s a piece that’s focused on decreasing homelessness and housing challenges from a justice-focused perspective.
No, Kevin isn’t physically building more housing. There’s plenty out there already. His job is to convince landlords to accept tenants with the less desirable backgrounds that often come hand-in-hand with the challenges of poverty: prior evictions, income barriers, and poor credit.
Kevin is a landlord himself and it’s actually how he got this job. Back in 2017, Kevin was in his 9th year working within Duke University’s Athletic Department. But he says he’s always had a passion for helping people and when Families Together, a United Way-funded partner in Wake County, posted a Housing Navigator position, Kevin jumped at the chance.
“I’ve always really wanted to do something to help the homeless and I feel like once I saw the housing portion, it fit my personality because I wanted to help people but also still dabble in my own real estate. I got into it by chance,” he said. “This position is unique to this sector because it’s housing and housing is its own entity. You have to really be able to understand the local housing market and market rates on rent. My background in being a landlord really helped me tap into it.”
Despite working for a Wake County-based organization, part of Kevin’s role involved a partnership with Durham County and that’s where he met Community Empowerment Fund, a United Way-funded nonprofit with a mission to end the racial wealth gap by supporting individuals in reaching their employment, housing, and finance goals. Their Executive Director at the time dreamed of a position like Kevin’s specifically for the Durham community.
So they made it happen. And it has branched out considerably since then to support individuals’ housing needs from start to finish and from typical needs, like landlord mediation, to atypical challenges, like potential eviction as a result of a global pandemic.
He also was integral in creating a special fund that incentivizes landlords by offering $700 for each client that is approved.
[Note for reader: On December 30, 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 184, “extending North Carolina’s evictions moratorium through January 31, 2021.” Kevin Atkins and the Durham Continuum of Care, which “seeks to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness through effective and coordinated community-wide efforts and services,” expect that when the moratorium is over, the Durham court systems will be overwhelmed with eviction cases directly caused my challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their team is actively working with legal aid to figure out how to combat this situation before it becomes too challenging.]
Kevin dreams of a world where his role is no longer needed. But doing so would require a new system in which the barriers to affordable housing no longer exist in the first place. Justice to Kevin, looks like a community without homelessness but getting there will be far more complicated than making more affordable homes available.
“As I started doing more of the work, I started to understand the social part of it. Like what these people go through, how the system and the cycle of poverty, education, and low income works. It all really ties into one another,” Kevin explained. “It really opens your eyes when you work with these people every day and see what they’re going through. It’s not just the housing thing they go through. It’s lack of income, lack of education, lack of resources, lack of transportation… it’s a lot of lacks for these people and housing is a big part of it but it’s also so much more.”
If you’re a landlord interested in offering your rental properties as affordable housing, please feel free to contact Kevin Atkins via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re in need of affordable housing in Durham County or Orange County, NC, contact Community Empowerment Fund through their website: https://communityempowermentfund.org/