Map from Realtor.com identifying the most affordable retirement towns in the nation.
Realtor.com listed New Bern as the fourth least expensive retirement town in the nation.
With a median home list price of $209,800 and a share of residents aged 60 and up at 26.8 percent, New Bern ranked fourth after Sebring, Fla., Sierra Vista, Ariz., and Ocala, Fla.
“Not everyone wants to retire on the ocean, especially in the wake of last year’s devastating Hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” the website said. “For the well-known town of New Bern, located along Neuse River, this has actually worked to its advantage.
“‘People are scared of hurricanes and don’t want to be on the beach,’ says Steve Tyson, a broker in New Bern. New Bern is close enough for a day trip to the shore, but just far enough away for when storms roll through. And retirees like that New Bern isn’t packed with tourists either, despite its historical chops. (Fun fact: This is the original state capital of North Carolina, not Raleigh.)
“Folks here are pleasantly surprised to learn that their 2,500-square-foot home will have a property tax bill of only around $2,500—a bargain compared with what they were paying up north.
“In addition to all the outdoorsy opportunities, many boomers are lured to the area by the commercial airport in town. The Coastal Regional Airport has direct flights to Atlanta and Charlotte—something many small retirement towns can’t say.”
The most expensive retirement town? San Luis Obispo, Calif., where a median home list price is $729,600.
No one disputes the success of the 30-year transformation of Downtown New Bern from a run-down blighted mess, to the vibrant tourist attraction it has become.
One thing that made the transformation so successful is that it restored 19th and early 20th century buildings to their original glory.
Now, armed with a new redevelopment agency and a roadmap called the Greater Five Points Transformation Plan, the City of New Bern turns its attention to a collection of historically black neighborhoods collectively called “Greater Duffyfield.”
(Note: I put “Greater Duffyfield” in quotes, because historically, they were different neighborhoods, not the least of which is Dryborough. “Greater Duffyfield” was coined by City Hall as a way to group these neighborhoods together for planning and management purposes, although some would say there were more nefarious reasons.)
If you gather any number of people in a room and ask them to envision what “Greater Duffyfield” should look like 30 years from now, the number of answers will probably be close to the number of people in the room.
UNC-TV has been holding a series of community sessions in New Bern this week, including one at Riverfront Convention Center about New Bern’s future. Three stellar panels of New Bern leaders spoke during the five-hour session. By the end, they said almost nothing about the future.
So I thought I’d throw out one idea.
Instead of bulldozing “Greater Duffyfield” and replacing it with condominiums and strip malls, please, please, please respect its distinctive cultural heritage the way New Bern’s Main Street program respected downtown’s distinctive history.
The neighborhoods have already been added to New Bern’s overarching historic district, and for good reason.
West Street, for example, is chock full of historic sites from the days of segregation including a hospital, a school, a library, and the former home of none other than Grover C. Fields.
Dryborough, one of New Bern’s earliest subdivisions, was eventually to become a significant place in New Bern’s African American culture.
African American neighborhoods south of Queen Street were supplanted by first neglect and segregation, and than gentrification. They migrated north of Queen Street, which became the racial dividing line in Old New Bern. (Riverside, which used the railroad as its dividing line, remained a white-only neighborhood and likes to refer to itself as New Bern’s first suburb.)
As neighborhoods north of Queen Street became populated by African Americans, city planners and public works did what they usually did in the segregated South. Streets were narrow and it was a long time before they became paved. There were no sidewalks, curbs, or gutters. Street lights were rare. Much of the area was subject to flooding and remains so to this very day.
But these neighborhoods were self-supporting. They included a hospital, a nursing home, shopping districts, lawyers and doctors offices, a hotel, and a library. It even had its own fire department.
When segregation became illegal in the 1960s, African Americans could shop at places like J.C. Penny and Belk, and dine at previously all-white restaurants, at the expense of mom-and-pop businesses in the Five Points area and along Main Street in Duffyfield. When they called the fire department, white firefighters would respond. When they went to the hospital, they could go to the same hospital as white people. And they went to school at the same schools as white children.
Those African-American-owned businesses and institutions became the victims of unintended consequences and many went out of business. But their empty shells remain scattered throughout the neighborhoods.
While most of the streets today are paved, there remains a distinctive flavor to the neighborhoods that can be preserved and elevated.
I propose that efforts be made to preserve those houses and buildings that are worth preserving. For those beyond repair, replacements be subject to design standards so that they retain the distinctive nature of the neighborhoods.
I propose that the city identify neighborhood commercial zones such as Main Street and at Five Points, with redevelopment funding targeting the revitalization of these areas to highlight New Bern’s rich, vibrant, and significant African American history.
Great cities like New York and San Francisco have sections that celebrate different ethnicities. Look at Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, and so on. “Greater Duffyfield” could be one such neighborhood, one that celebrates history and culture rather than replacing it with townhouses and strip malls.
Many people aren’t aware of the important role that New Bern played in African American history. Following its fall to Union forces during the Civil War, it became a center of freedom for emancipated and escaped slaves.
New Bern needs to tell the world about this, and preserving its African American neighborhoods is one way to do it.
The city inched forward in a process that could lead to an 80-unit apartment complex off Carolina Avenue that would house some Trent Court residents to enable the New Bern Housing Authority to begin razing and replacing buildings in Trent Court.
The Housing Authority has offered $200,000 for an 8-acre parcel off Carolina Avenue, which is off Trent Road.
The Carolina Avenue property sought for purchase by the New Bern Housing Authority is shown boxed in yellow. The Pembroke Community is above and to the right of the lake shown in this aerial view.
Aldermen voted 6-1 to have the parcel appraised, a non-committal way of keeping the concept alive without actually approving it. Baby steps … baby steps.
The motion was made by Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham and seconded by Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster. What’s interesting about that is its break from tradition. Often a motion is made by the alderman in whose ward a project is located.
Carolina Avenue is in Alderwoman Jameesha Harris’s Ward 2, but Harris has opposed the proposed property sale and building project, echoing strong opposition from residents of the nearby Pembroke neighborhood.
Pembroke residents have opposed the idea of Trent Court residents moving near their community, fearing that doing so would bring Trent Court problems to Pembroke.
The Carolina Avenue is near Pembroke, although there is no direct access between the two locations.
Housing Authority Executive Director Martin Blaney, left, and Housing Authority Board Member Joseph Anderson speak to the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday. Randy Foster/Post
Housing Authority Executive Director Martin Blaney in a previous interview with the Post said there had been a lengthy search for a property suitable for a 80-unit apartment complex that would qualify for low income tax credits. The credits are awarded competitively, once a year. Higher scores go to projects that are close to shopping, far from microwave transmitters and railroad tracks, as well as several other factors.
The project must also fit the Housing Authority’s budget.
A search of the New Bern area turned up no suitable leads until it stumbled across the Carolina Avenue property, which is owned by the city. It scored highly on all the requirements, so Blaney approached the city to inquire about a sale.
That’s where Harris entered the picture, along with residents of the Pembroke Community. Following several community meetings in Pembroke, representatives appeared before the Board of Aldermen during the early July meeting to oppose the Carolina Avenue project.
Harris has been outspoken about the proposal, previously calling it “gentrification. Although she opposed even an appraisal of the property, she was less vigorous in her opposition during Tuesday’s meeting.
But if anyone was waiting for her to make any motion that would move the process forward, they were in for a long wait. That’s when Odham stepped in, making the motion for the appraisal.
The plan to raze and replace Trent Court is part of a larger Greater Five Points Transformation Plan that was released in 2016. Recommendations in the plan have already been implemented in the Craven Terrace neighborhood, which is also a Housing Authority project.
Many of Trent Court’s pre- and post-World War II buildings are located in a Lawson Creek flood zone. No more money will be put into repairing the buildings the next time flooding occurs, thus the Housing Authority is under the gun to move forward with the plan.
The plan calls for replacing dilapidated buildings and replacing them with townhouse-style apartments catering to mixed income levels. Areas directly in the flood zone would be turned into parkland and open space.
A representative of the development company that won the contract to rebuild Trent Court listens to Tuesday’s discussion about Carolina Avenue. Randy Foster/Post
The City of New Bern is teaming up with Habitat for Humanity of Craven County and Garris Evans for the third year of Paint Your Heart Out New Bern!
Paint Your Heart Out New Bern is an annual volunteer-based program where local private and public partners provide free painting and cosmetic repairs to low-moderate income, elderly, and disabled homeowners within the community. Eligibility requirements for homeowners are listed below.
Own and live in the home as primary residence
Be physically or financially unable to complete the work
Homes selected must be located within New Bern City limits
The home must be in NEED of repair to improve its appearance
If your home is selected someone from your household or an authorized representative must be present while work is being done. Work is scheduled for the week of June 11-16.
For more information about applying for help or volunteering, contact Deedra Durocher, Habitat for Humanity, at 252-633-9599 or Landa Gaskins, City of New Bern Development Services, at 252-639-7586.
A group spearheaded by Ebenezer Presbyterian Church Pastor Robert and retired chemist Anne Schout is taking the initiative to fix problems in the Duffyfield neighborhood of New Bern.
The group is called Duffyfield Phoenix Project, and it plans to lead a wide range of projects in Duffyfield, including:
Assessment of Duffyfield’s properties, their conditions and their owners. Determine which properties need upgrade or repair, whether owners want or need assistance, and which properties could be razed.
Obtain grants for infrastructure and housing improvements.
Improve the appearance of two cemeteries and apply for a grant to pay for a brick entrance to Evergreen Cemetery.
Reinter 13 African Americans whose remains were moved from Cedar Grove Cemetery to Evergreen Cemetery in 1913.
Education workshops for GED, basic finances, money management, credit repair, etc.
Establish a Farmers Market in Duffyfield.
Start and sponsor regular Duffyfield Clean Up events.
Request the city install public trash receptacles.
List all properties that are subject to flooding, and work with the city to find permanent solutions.
Clean up and enlarge the Duffyfield Canal to stop erosion and improve drainage.
Identify which streets in Duffyfield need repair or paving.
Work with the city to strengthen and enforce housing ordinances to encourage property owners to fix their properties.
Establish transportation, partnering with the city and county, to grocery stores, doctors and pharmacies.
Develop a program for housing subsidies for police, firefighters, and teachers to live in Duffyfield.
Close-up of a map inventorying properties in Duffyfield. The inventory identifies the type of property ownership, whether owner-occupied, rental, city-owned, or divided among heirs.
The group also wants to develop a plan for vacant, buildable lots by enlarging the scope of the Duffyfield Phoenix Project to include a community housing development organization that will focus on revitalization of Duffyfield and the surrounding area. The group hopes this would encourage new home construction.
Johnson and Schout met when Schout was running for Ward 1 alderman in the 2017 municipal elections. Schout noticed a huge need in the Duffyfield area while she was knocking on doors campaigning for office, while Johnson has worked on behalf of the poor and homeless in New Bern since 1980.
“When anyone walks the streets of Duffyfield, they see an area that is forgotten, neglected and in serious need of attention. What was once a thriving, vibrant community is suffering the effects of years of decline,” according to a presentation by the group.
Schout and Johnson formed the Phoenix Group and started recruiting board members in November 2017. The group is operating as a 501(c)3) under the aegis of the James City Historical Society.
On the board, Johnson is chairman and Schout is vice chairman and secretary.
Other members are Coleman “Sully” Sullivan (treasurer) and board members Robert Benjamin, Elijah Brown, Sharon Bryant, Grace Hudson, the Rev. Ethel Sampson, Jim Schout, Ben Watford, and John Young.
The group has already made a presentation to Duffyfield area residents. Anyone interested in learning more about the group can contact Anne Schout to schedule a presentation. Email her here.
Now that the Craven Terrace low-income housing project has been outsourced, downsized, and renovated, the New Bern Housing Authority is turning its sights on what to do about Trent Court.
In a memo to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (members listed here), Housing Authority Executive Director Martin Blaney said the agency is going to apply for a 9 percent low-income housing tax credit from the N.C, Housing Finance Agency, but first must “secure site control of an eligible and competitive location.”
The “competitive location” would be used to build new low-income housing to add to, and in some cases replace, housing stocks in Trent Court.
As of now, that competitive location is a 30.8-acre, city-owned property off Carolina Avenue between the Pembroke Community, Trent Road and U.S. 70 (maps, left and below left).
The parcel is more than twice the 14 acres the Housing Authority owns that includes Trent Court, New Bern Tower, and numerous other residential structures, although, according to Housing Authority Commissioner Bill Frederick, only 9.7 acres are not subject to flooding and would be usable for housing.
Google Maps close-up shows the location of the Carolina Avenue property.
Little has been discussed publicly about the Housing Authority’s plans for Trent Court over the past seven years, while at the same time it was privatizing and renovating Craven Terrace, a larger housing project located north of Broad Street.
Craven Terrace was quickly identified as an area worth preserving for public housing, mainly because of its lack of market potential. Surrounded by small parcels with low property values, Craven Terrace is much larger than Trent Court and presented a bigger problem in terms of relocating residents there.
In the end, the Housing Authority secured historic status for the buildings in Craven Terrace, which in turn allowed for tax credits that helped pay for renovations, razing several buildings subject to flooding, and adding amenities including a playground and laundry facility. The Housing Authority also outsourced management of Craven Terrace.
Trent Court is less than half the size of Craven Terrace in acreage and number of residents. But more importantly, its proximity to Tryon Palace, the Historic Downtown District, and a navigable waterway make it much more commercially attractive for would-be developers.
The 30-acre Carolina Avenue property is wooded and undeveloped. It stretches from the lower left center to the upper right corner of this picture. Google Maps photo
Enter Carolina Avenue. The largest single undeveloped parcel owned by the city at more than 30 acres, it is not included on the city’s surplus properties for sale website. Wooded without any buildings, it is unique in New Bern in that it is both a waterfront property (there’s a small lake formed when N.C. DOT quarried dirt and gravel to build the U.S. 70 bypass) and has access to Trent Road.
Still, due to the wetlands, only a third is developable.
Housing Authority officials have been quietly approaching city officials, the Board of Aldermen, and the Pembroke Community about acquiring the Carolina Avenue property for subsidized and low-income housing.
“The NBHA bid was $200,000,” Commissioner Frederick told the Post.
“Initial discussions with the city were promising,” Blaney said in his memo. “However, more recent discussions have been frustrating with aldermen indicating they would be willing to ‘swap’ the Carolina Avenue site for complete control of the Trent Court property. This was not acceptable. Also, our offer to simply purchase the land was rejected before a bid could be submitted.”
When Blaney refers to promising initial discussions, he’s mainly referring to when E.T. Mitchell, a wealthy appointee to the Board of Aldermen who is now running for county commissioner, was on the board and heard the proposal. (Mitchell was also instrumental in developing and executing plans for Craven Terrace and was a Housing Authority commission member for a time.)
When Blaney refers to more recent frustrating discussions, he’s referring to Ward 2 Alderman Jameesha Harris, who has reservations about the plan and who called it “gentrification” in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Her ward includes the Pembroke community as well as the Carolina Avenue property the Housing Authority is interested in.
The plan has a lot of moving parts but boils down to this: The Housing Authority wants the Carolina Avenue property so it can secure funding to build affordable housing there. It would then move residents of Trent Court and others living on Housing Authority land in that area to the new housing off Carolina Avenue. That would enable the Housing Authority to raze many if not all of Trent Court’s buildings and replace them with a mixed-income residential development that it would still manage, either directly or indirectly.
It would involve moving low-income residents from Trent Court, ostensibly on a temporary basis, and moving them to housing to be constructed on Carolina Avenue adjacent to the Pembroke community. Once a new and improved Trent Court emerges, former residents would be given the opportunity to move back if housing is available.
“The proposal made to Ms. Harris was that the city donate the property to NBHA, freeing up our proposed $200,000 bid to rehabilitate the Taylor Building in Trent Court as a permanent home for the Boys & Girls Club,” Commissioner Frederick told the Post.
As it appears now, what would be built where Trent Court exists now would be a mix of high-, middle- and low-end housing and subsidized housing. The Housing Authority plans to leave a waterfront green space between Walt Bellamy Drive and Lawson Creek, and according to a source, that waterfront property is what the Housing Authority is willing to trade to the city for the Carolina Avenue acreage.
Trent Court and Carolina Avenue Compared
Trent Court area
30.81 undeveloped but mostly wetland
Tax value per acre
One problem with Trent Court is that the next time it floods in that area, affected buildings will have to be vacated and razed. No more money will be spent to bring them back to habitability. That puts a gun to the Housing Authority’s head to find substitute housing quickly.
“This is a complicated matter practically and politically,” Blaney said in his his memo. “Strategies such as improving Trent Court, seeking other land, approaching aldermen, public relations, etc., need to be devised.”
He said in his memo that he has spoken with three Pembroke residents about the proposal. “Two of the three indicated that my explanation was not exactly as an earlier one given by their alderman. They still expressed misgivings, however.
“I expect to be invited to the next Pembroke Residents’ Association meeting in early April. My belief is that if we disagree, at least let us disagree based on honest fact.”
Blaney has scheduled an interview with the Post on Tuesday morning to provide further information about this issue.
Facing opposition from Alderman Harris, proponents of the plan have attempted to sweeten the pot in an effort to gain her support, including promises for a new Boys & Girls Club location and public works improvements in her ward, she told the Post.
Harris, who represents the Pembroke Community as part of her ward, released Blaney’s memo on her alderman Facebook page on Thursday evening and explained her involvement in the plan.
“I was invited to a meeting to talk about the city possibly donating a very big plot of land that is located in my ward in Pembroke,” Harris said on her alderman Facebook page. “They also wanted us to pay the cost of demolition of some Trent Court Buildings and they would in return give the city some waterfront wetlands.
“It was stated that they wanted to relocate Trent Court Residents to the property they would build in Pembroke area but also give them a right to come back to the Trent Court area after they rebuild new homes and condos.”
Harris said she didn’t agree with the plan and said it sounded like a case of gentrification (although she also said she would support the deal if the Housing Authority paid full price for the Carolina Avenue property).
“Then I was asked to a second meeting but this time they added the Boys & Girls Club into to the mix,” Harris said. “Basically what I got out of the meeting is, we would help the Boys & Girls Club if the city once again provides the big plot of land in Pembroke. At this meeting, I personally made it clear that I am not in favor of any deal.
“I have never given misleading information,” she wrote, referring to Blaney’s memo describing his version of the plan as different from hers. “I never stated that the city wants control over the property and I simply stated that I would only vote yes if full price was offered for the land.
“I am doing the job that I was voted into office to do. I refuse to be a ‘Yes Man’! If I don’t like the idea and I ask my constituents about the idea and they don’t like it as well, then leave it alone.”
Commissioner Frederick said he was not aware of any request for the city to pay for any demolition in Trent Court, or any promises to pay for public works projects in her ward.