Renters in North Carolina could lose affordable housing after apartment sale
Residents of an apartment complex near downtown Durham have been told they have to leave by the end of the year.
Now some of the last there could face evictions.
Janice Sanchez, 60, was among those who had until Dec. 31 to vacate her apartment on North Buchanan Boulevard after Braswell Properties sold the complex in October.
But only six of the 12 families – many of whom are low-income, disabled, elderly or with young children – were able to do so.
Sanchez currently lives seven minutes from Duke University Hospital. So when the only affordable housing option she could find was in the countryside of Bahama in northern County Durham, she couldn’t take it.
âI had triple bypass surgery, four heart attacks, a stroke, and I have a carpal tunnel,â Sanchez said. “It was somewhere off Roxboro Road and if anything happened to me I don’t think the paramedics would be able to reach me in time.”
Sanchez and the other tenants were told in late November that they had to vacate the property. Around this time, she and the other tenants began working with Bull City Tenants United, a tenants group working to strengthen tenant protection in the city.
Lily Lasher, a BCTU organizer, said she called the new property manager, but was told tenants still had to leave by December 31 to avoid being evicted.
Former property owner Vinston Braswell sold the apartment complex buildings through the brokerage firm Reformation Asset Management (RAM) to Andrea Robin Shaw and Kenneth Gorfkle, records show
Despite the November notice, RAM owner Charles Bulthuis wrote in a letter to residents: âThe tenants were never evicted on 01/01/2022.
All of the tenants were on “suspension of leases,” he explained, which expire after termination of the lease by one party with 30 days written notice to the other party.
Additionally, the eviction process in Durham begins with a 30-day notice of possession request based on an important cause, such as non-renewal of contract, non-payment, breach of lease, etc. In this case, the notice arrived on November 29, 2021.
After the 30 days, the owner can then request an eviction, which can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on the appeals.
In 2019, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to extend legal aid to these tenants. Duke University also has an eviction clinic, but advocates say demand far exceeds available help.
âThe eviction system is incredibly quick and unfair,â Lasher said. “In North Carolina, if tenants don’t have attorneys, which aren’t provided to tenants free of charge, then the eviction process can only take a few weeks.”
According to the NC Housing Coalition, 46% of County Durham households that rent are overcharged, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. The coalition estimated that a family needed $ 46,360 in annual income last year to afford the typical two-bedroom county apartment.
As of Wednesday, the new owners had not requested the eviction of any of the tenants in Braswell. But if they did, it would become part of renters’ credit history, which could make it more difficult for them to find housing in the future.
RAM offered to help some tenants relocate, with transportation to its offices, free assistance finding new homes, waived application fees, deposits and the first month’s rent paid by Durham Housing for New Hope.
But Sanchez said she and others needed more time.
âWe have tried to find accommodation, but it is not easy because everything is so high and we have no income,â she said. âWe try to wait for all types of assistance to see which direction we can go; at the moment we don’t know where to go.
Bulthuis told ABC11, the media partner of The News & Observer, that the apartments needed more than $ 700,000 in repairs.
The tenants are wondering about it.
âIf they say they need us to do repairs, we know that’s not true,â Sanchez added. âWe brought in the city inspectors. They say none of them are unlivable, so they can’t use that as an excuse to kick us out. “
Vivian Cogwell, 81, who has lived in her unit for 21 years, is among those who find another place that she can afford.
“It would take [my] any Social Security check just to pay the rent for the premises [I am] find it right now, âshe said.
Members of Durham City Council are looking for ways to strengthen protections for tenants in the city.
âWe have provided residents with information about the services they can access and which we fund with public funds. But we cannot get involved in these contractual conditions, unless we are the ones buying these units, âsaid Javiera Caballero, member of the Board.
The local tenant coalition, BCTU, presented a draft Tenants Bill of Rights to council in November.
Staff from the city’s neighborhood improvement services are expected to offer their response to the project at a council working session on Thursday.