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Moving residents from west Charlotte complex to cost at least $350,000, nonprofits say

Latoya Wilson shows a broken sink flooding her kithchen at Lake Arbor apartments. Research shows families living in substandard housing experience higher rates of health problems — including chronic illnesses, infectious diseases and poor mental health — compared to families in standard housing. But when tenants at Lake Arbor asked for help to determine if their health had been impacted, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County refused to investigate.
Latoya Wilson shows a broken sink flooding her kithchen at Lake Arbor apartments. Research shows families living in substandard housing experience higher rates of health problems — including chronic illnesses, infectious diseases and poor mental health — compared to families in standard housing. But when tenants at Lake Arbor asked for help to determine if their health had been impacted, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County refused to investigate.

Estimated relocation costs for residents forced to leave a west Charlotte apartment complex will be at least $350,000, according to a coalition of nonprofits that assessed tenant needs.

That figure could be greater, representatives from those nonprofits said, because not all Lake Arbor tenants participated in the assessments, but findings reported Wednesday show a significant financial need.

“The situation at Lake Arbor was not one that one agency could address alone,” said Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, chief impact officer at the United Way of Central Carolinas. “It really did take all of the agencies working together and it’s going to take the entire community to find a solution.”

Last month Lake Arbor apartments owners notified tenants of their plans to vacate all units and renovate them. The nearly 300-unit complex on Tuckaseegee Road near Interstate 85 has been mired by dozens of code violations and resident complaints of rodents, water damage, and unsafe wiring.

Tenants, many low-income, have been told to leave by the end of the year — some as soon Aug. 31 — though legal advocates have been meeting with residents about their rights.

Over two weeks in August the assessment team met with 72 households and determined relocation needs include temporary hotel accommodations, moving costs and security deposits, and short-term rental subsidies.

The United Way is collecting donations for residents through its Critical Need Relief Fund. Donors can also text HELPCLT to 71777 Fundraising through Facebook is coming, organizers said.

An attorney for the owners previously told the Observer that it wasn’t feasible to renovate and fix violations unit-by-unit with the outstanding violations, prompting the decision to remove everyone.

“We know we’re going to have to lean hard on the landlord to help fund the support for the residents,” Firmin-Sellers said, adding that no agreement has been reached.

The coalition is creating “comprehensive plan to support tenants longer term,” she said, including how to allocate assistance. That will include involvement from the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, coalition members said, though those roles have not been set.

“As details of those plans come together, we are prepared and committed to do whatever we can to help,” said County Manager Dena Diori said.

Pamela Wideman, Charlotte’s housing and neighborhood services director, said her office was briefed on the preliminary assessment findings. The department will continue to address Lake Arbor’s code enforcement violations, she said, but it’s too soon to determine any additional city involvement.

Tenants and housing advocates have warned of dire consequences of displacing people with few resources on short notice.

“A high percentage” of Lake Arbor tenants are at 30% of the area median income or below, said Crisis Assistance Ministry spokeswoman Liana Humphrey.

“As we all know, that is a particular challenge in terms of finding affordable housing in Charlotte at that price point,” she said.

Finding units priced similarly to Lake Arbor may be a challenge, according to a report from Real Data, which tracks apartment construction and vacancy rates in the Southeast, the Observer previously reported.

“Class C” apartments, which are the cheapest and typically include the fewest amenities, have an average rent between $701 and $986 for one to four bedroom units, and have a 2.5% vacancy rate, the lowest in Charlotte, according to the March 2019 analysis of buildings with at least 50 units. It shows fewer than 550 available units in that classification.

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

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Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing issues. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about topics including 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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