Promoting Racial Equity and Housing Stability in Durham Through Financial Relief (2023-2024)


Like many cities in the southern United States, Durham is experiencing significant reinvestment and revitalization. While these changes have brought economic opportunities and improvements in infrastructure for some, they have also increased the cost of living for all. 

These increasing costs are especially apparent in the local housing market where the house-price index has grown by over 113% in the last 10 years. For many low-income homeowners, this growth has meant that annual property tax payments — along with increases in the costs of things like groceries and utilities — are a burden on tight budgets. Falling behind on property taxes can lead to foreclosure or coerced sale by real estate investors. 

Recent research has found that property taxes are assessed at disproportionately high rates for Black Americans. Recent growth in real estate investing and property taxes have also been concentrated in majority-Black neighborhoods in southern cities, leading to higher rates of evictions, foreclosures and outmigration for Black residents in these neighborhoods. 

While these economic and social forces of gentrification clearly have strong implications for racial inequality, there is little research on how low-income households cope with and resist gentrification and displacement.

Project Description

Building on the work of the 2022-2023 project team, this team will investigate three interrelated questions concerning gentrification, displacement, housing insecurity and race in Durham:

  1. How do low-income homeowners cope with and react to rising costs of living in gentrifying cities?
  2. How do low-income homeowners interact with real estate investors, and what can this tell us about power, leverage and exploitation in housing markets in gentrifying cities?
  3. How do low-income homeowners advocate and organize to remain stably housed and receive the services and supports they need?

To answer these questions, the research team will continue to partner with the Durham County Department of Social Services (DSS). In response to growing financial burdens on low-income homeowners in the county, DSS launched the Low-Income Homeowners Relief (LIHR) program in 2021, which significantly reduces property tax costs for income-eligible households. 

Team members will conduct interviews with participants of the LIHR program to learn more about how they navigate rising housing costs, what relief the program has provided to them and what other issues their families might be facing in remaining stably housed.

The team will then work to combine this qualitative interview data with geospatial analysis of property tax and deed records to provide novel evidence on the interrelated processes of gentrification, displacement and housing insecurity. Ultimately, the project aims to produce evidence-based policy recommendations to Durham’s city and county governments on how best to support the housing stability of low-income families.

Anticipated Outputs

Data and analysis to share with local policy partners and community members; academic publications; broader dissemination of recommendations to national policymakers

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate and 4 undergraduate students. Prospective applicants may come from any major or department but must have strong interests in the research questions and areas outlined above.

Team members will receive formal training in team-based, qualitative data analysis. They will learn how to code qualitative data, develop and refine theoretically relevant codes, and use qualitative data analysis software. Students will also learn how to synthesize and analyze qualitative data to answer research questions.

Additionally, students will play a key role in the project’s data dissemination efforts by contributing to academic papers for publication as well as policy briefs and other nonacademic papers or materials. They will also have opportunities to present project-specific research findings with community stakeholders. 

Graduate students will gain invaluable mentorship experience through leading subteams of undergraduates and may have the opportunity to attend conferences to present the team’s findings to academic audiences.

Optional summer components will occur in the summers of 2023 and 2024. Participating students will work a minimum of 10 hours per week during Summer Session I or II. 

Warren Lowell will serve as the project manager.


Summer 2023 – Summer 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Complete training on study protocol; submit IRB amendment; clean transcripts
  • Fall 2023: Complete training on study protocol; conduct further interviews; clean transcripts; code qualitative data
  • Spring 2024: Analyze data; write and review academic papers for publication; disseminate findings to community stakeholders
  • Summer 2024 (optional): Prepare manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

This Team in the News

The Sullivan Award: Honoring Three Who Aid Others at Duke and in the Community

See earlier related team, Examining Racial Inequality and Reform Through Driver's License Access (2022-2023).


Image: Sunrise over Durham, by Bill Snead/Duke University

Durham skyline at sunrise.

Team Leaders

  • Clinton Boyd Jr, Samuel DuBois Cook Ctr on Social Equity
  • Anna Gassman-Pines, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Adrienne Jones, Public Policy and Sociology–Ph.D. Student
  • Warren Lowell, Public Policy and Sociology–Ph.D. Student

/graduate Team Members

  • Ademali Sengal, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Christina Aaron, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Aria Assil
  • Courtney Lucius
  • Audrey Patterson
  • Alexandria Thomas

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham County Department of Social Services
  • City of Durham