‘They’re going to be in the streets.’ Renters in 177 low-income units must leave home

Tenants in nearly 200 units of a large west Charlotte apartment complex that has housed the poor must leave their homes, many of them within 30 days.

The owner of the Lake Arbor Apartments on Tuckaseegee Road near Interstate 85 notified renters late Tuesday they need to relocate, according to a letter sent to Charlotte City Council.

The letter says 78 of the 177 occupied units have expired or otherwise invalid leases and must be out by the end of August All other tenants must leave by Dec. 31.

Lake Arbor is among a shrinking number of low-cost apartment buildings across Charlotte for the formerly homeless, families with extremely low incomes and others with limited options for housing. Rents are typically under $900 a month.

The complex received significant attention from city leaders and housing activists earlier this year after tenants alleged that mold, roaches and rats had possibly compromised their health.

Many Lake Arbor tenants came home to the news Tuesday evening. Around the complex, letters were attached to front doorknobs with rubber bands. Other units appeared to be already vacant, with “private property” signs taped in the windows.

“I think it’s sorry the way they’re doing this,” said Eric Johnson, 49, who has lived in the complex with his five children for more than three years. “First they said they were going to fix the place up and then they change their mind and decide to throw everybody out. That’s not fair.”

One month is not nearly enough, he said.

“I’m not putting my kids in the street,” he said. “They’ve got to give me some time. You can’t do it overnight.”

City code enforcement officials had ordered improvements after inspecting units and finding homes with no working heat or air conditioning, decaying floors, exposed electrical wires and other unsafe and squalid conditions. The city has said the repairs were underway.

But the property owner, Lake Arbor Dean TIC LLC, now plans to renovate the entire property. Erik Rosenwood, an attorney for owner, said it was too difficult to do necessary renovations while tenants remain on site, calling it “economically unfeasible to keep it open.”

“We know it hurts residents in the short term,” he said, which is why the owners are forgiving past-due balances and offering an “incentive package” for residents who leave peaceably. Tenant letters encouraged residents to meet with various housing and social services groups on site to assess if they are eligible for relocation or other financial assistance.

“We are focused on trying to complete as many assessments as possible over the next two weeks, to understand what the needs are and try to corral resources to ensure that we can minimize the impact,” said Liana Humphrey, spokeswoman for Crisis Assistance Ministry.

Robert Dawkins of Action NC, a social justice group that has launched an effort to improve living conditions at Lake Arbor, said many of the residents being displaced could wind up homeless.

Some are behind on their rent payments. Others do not have good credit and would likely have trouble finding another landlord willing to rent to them.

“They’re going to be in the streets,” Dawkins said.

Resident Doris Deese had a look of disbelief as she read the letter while sitting outside the home of her sister, who also lives in the complex. Deese, 46, said she’s had to wear a mask to clean the vents in her apartment, but her breathing problems persist.

They’ve also dealt with mold, a refrigerator that caught fire, and unreliable wiring, she said. Now, she’s weighing her options for when she and her two grown sons have to leave.

“I’m frustrated,” she said. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another. We’re struggling to pay our rent, then they threaten to put us out again. It’s too much.”

City officials have been working with Lake Arbor’s owners daily for more than a week to minimize displacement, according to the city’s letter, provided by council member Braxton Winston.

“The city remains committed to protecting the quality of life of all residents,” the letter states. “This effort between the city and Lake Arbor property owners is intended to ensure that tenants are not subject to undue hardship due to abrupt displacement, and are aware of their rights and resources as they seek to secure new housing.”

Winston refused an interview request, saying he did not want to comment before tenants received notification.

Keith Richardson, assistant director for the city’s housing and neighborhood services, refused comment and referred questions to Lake Arbor’s owners.

A woman who answered the phone at the Lake Arbor business office Tuesday afternoon took down a reporter’s phone number but would not answer questions. She said someone would call the Observer, but they did not do so.

Dawkins said the events at Lake Arbor shows how the city remains vexed by a severe shortage of affordable housing, he said.

City Council last week approved spending $17.7 million from the Housing Trust Fund and city-owned land for eight affordable housing projects.

Dawkins said the city has failed to document how many affordable housing units are being lost to redevelopment and other factors.

“While the city is busy patting itself on the back, people are still hurting,” he said. “Charlotte needs to get its priorities straight and come up with a strategy that keeps people from being displaced.”

This work was made possible in part by grant funding from Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Foundation For The Carolinas.

Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about the state’s opioid crisis and childhood lead poisoning. Lauren is a Wisconsin native, a Northwestern University graduate and a 2019 Report for America corps member.
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