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Tuesday June 6th

The Human Rights Center settles on Barnes Street as new location

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The Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro has found a new home on Barnes Street, but volunteers worry the location might limit access to its services.

Judith Blau, the center’s director, said she put down money on a three-bedroom house at 107 Barnes St. on Dec. 23 and plans to close on the house at the end of the week. Blau said the house cost $155,000, and she has taken out personal loans to pay for it.

“I’m taking some personal risk there,” she said.

The nonprofit center located in Abbey Court Condominiums since 2009 was notified in November that it would be fined $300 per day for infractions, including using its two units for non-residential purposes.

After volunteers organized a petition and march in December, the Abbey Court homeowners association granted the center an extension until March 1.

Blau said the pressing need for a new location and her ties to the center, where students from her UNC service-learning classes volunteer, compelled her to personally buy the house.

“Funding agencies take a long time,” she said. “This came very suddenly.”

She said she will try to recoup some money but understands she won’t recover the full cost of the house.

“I have so much commitment to the classes that I teach that are connected to the Human Rights Center, and I see that this is transformative both to the students and residents of Abbey Court,” she said. “That’s so rewarding to me.”

After looking for a house for about two months, the center settled on the Barnes Street house because of the welcoming attitude of the neighbors and its two-block walk from the Latino community in Abbey Court, Blau said.

But the center will no longer be right next door to its main clients.

“The best part about the Human Rights Center before was it was literally in the community,” said Will Thomason, who volunteers at the center through Technology Without Borders.

“It’s going to be a little harder to be working as directly and efficiently with the community,” he added.

The move will make it harder for Latinos to use the center for services like accessing the Internet and organizing soccer teams.

Lauren Kennedy, who teaches cooking classes to women at the center, said she is still disappointed with the move.

“When they have to make a journey, even if it’s just one or two blocks, it’s a huge obstacle,” she said.

But volunteers are already trying to overcome the distance.

Blau said she has talked with faculty at Mary Scroggs Elementary School about creating a buddy system where adults would walk children in the center’s after-school program from their Abbey Court bus stop to the Barnes Street house.

Kennedy said the main benefit of the house will be the freedom for the center’s programs.

“I think that’s really cool to say that we have a space that is ours in our community,” she said.

Blau said the center plans to remodel parts of the house before its move this spring by adding a new roof and possibly another room, among other changes.

“A house after 35 years or so needs to be spiffed up,” she said.

The center must also obtain a home occupation permit, which usually takes about a week, said Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton.

Blau would like to start a workers center at the house, but to do so, the house will need some type of rezoning approved by the Board of Aldermen, which Chilton said usually takes about four to six months.

The workers center would serve day laborers who wait for work on the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads.

Chilton said the aldermen seem to support a workers center, but he is unsure if they will think Barnes Street is the right location.

Blau said she has already begun the application processes for both the permit and rezoning.

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