Saturday, May 24, 2014

Affordable Veterans Housing in Durham named for Durham County Master Gardener

Groundbreaking February 2014.
The Denson Apartments for Veterans Phase 1, May 20, 2014.
Phase 2 funding was approved by the City of Durham on May 5.
Photos by CASA.
This Memorial Day, Durham veterans have a Durham County Extension Master Gardener to honor for his singular leadership and commitment to their housing needs.

Alex B. Denson, a Durham County EMG, Naval veteran, retired US Magistrate Judge, and long-time advocate for the Triangle community’s homeless, is working in partnership with the nonprofit Community Alternatives for Supportive Abodes (CASA) to build The Denson Apartments for Veterans.  The construction project will offer a total of 23 units of permanent, supportive housing for homeless Durham veterans with disabilities.

“Any of us could suffer a tragedy, accident, illness or bad luck at any time that could cause us to lose our jobs, our possessions, and our homes causing us to become homeless. If that happens, we are the same people we always were, but we need a hand up to be able to return to independent living in safe, comfortable housing.

As a veteran, I feel that I am in a special group of people who have served their country, often at great sacrifice to themselves and their families. We enjoy the freedoms of our democracy today because of the many people who have made this sacrifice. They were there for us when we needed them. We need to be there for them when they need us, and CASA is,“ Denson said.

Denson served as CASA’s third Board Chair, from 1992 to 2000, and is humbly honored CASA named the project for him. Since 1992, CASA has provided permanent homes in the Triangle for more than 1,000 low-wealth persons with disabilities. It is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness, and the North Carolina Housing Coalition.

Alex B. Denson: 
Durham County Extension Master Gardener,
Naval veteran, retired US Magistrate Judge,
and retired CASA Chairman.
Tenants at the Denson Apartments for Veterans will sign a lease and pay rent like any apartment, but their rent to CASA will be only 30% of their income. Utilities will be covered by CASA, and tenants will have access to services and supports through a variety of community-based service partners including the VA Medical Center and Healing with CAARE.

Phase 1 of The Denson Apartments for Veterans offers 11 apartments at the corner of Guess and Sedgefield Roads in Durham. Groundbreaking took place February 2014 with an opening set for October-November 2014. More than $1.3M in combined funding has been pledged from the City of Durham, the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, and the Home Depot Foundation.

Phase 2 of the project will consist of a second building with an additional 12 units. Financing for Phase 2 was approved in early May by the City of Durham and will cover approximately 75% of costs, but construction will not until late 2015. Fundraising for Phase 2 has not yet begun.  

Distinguished Military and Law Careers, and a Durham County Master Gardener

Denson served in the United States Navy, attending Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., in 1959; was commissioned in 1960, served as a Line Officer (and Legal Officer) aboard the USS NORTHAMPTON in the 2nd Fleet until 1963.  His ship was the "mobile Pentagon" that would have served as the command post for US forces had the Pentagon been destroyed in a first attack by the Soviet Union (as was feared at the time).  Denson’s ship was at the Bay of Pigs and also the Cuban Missile Crisis while he was on board.

To test the naval facility, President John F. Kennedy visited the ship on one occasion.  The ship's officers were required to dine at the early seating the evening while Kennedy and his retinue were on board. However, Denson was on watch as the Officer of the Deck during the early seating, and had the rare fortune to dine with the President and dignitaries during main seating.  In the Wardroom, officers are seated by rank.  LTJG Denson was the junior officer; the second most junior was Admiral Arleigh Burke who sat on his right, and the third was General David Shoop, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who sat on Burke’s left. 

Denson was a United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, covering 44 of NC's 100 counties, from Wake County to the coast.  He tried civil jury and non-jury trials and some limited criminal matters.  He served a total of 22 years, retiring in 2002. Denson earned a law degree from Duke Law School and was in private practice in Raleigh specializing in civil trials before being selected for the bench.
Members of the Town & Country Garden Club present a
$5,000 check for landscaping. Photo by CASA.
Denson earned certification as a Durham County Extension Master Gardener in 2003 with wife Mary. (Mary Denson serves as the Town & Country Garden Club Treasurer and is a Durham Council of Garden Clubs Past Vice President and Special Events Chairman. She has chaired the GCNC District 9 and Council Joint Meetings as well as the 2012 GCNC Fall Board Meeting.) As an Extension Master Gardener, Denson said he reviewed CASA’s landscaping plan for the veterans’ apartments and only made a few adjustments.

Landscaping Support

The Denson Apartments for Veterans project hopes to raise about $20,000 for landscaping. Plants chosen include varieties of hollies, maples, crepe myrtles, elms, dogwoods, azaleas, viburnum, redbuds, compact juniper, and others. About $9,000 has been raised with additional pledges from Durham area organizations.

Donors include garden clubs and individuals from the Durham Council of Garden Clubs: Town & Country Garden Club donated $5,000: DCGC President Marcia Loudon gave $100: the Council donated about $110; and Blossom Garden Club gave $54.

To speak with CASA about supporting landscaping for The Denson Apartments for Veterans, please contact Missy Hatley at 919.754-9960, x42.

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