Sex-for-rent accusations prompt lawsuit against Hickory public housing agency

Exterior of the City Of Hickory Public Housing Authority.
Exterior of the City Of Hickory Public Housing Authority. dduffey@charlotteobserver.com

Five women who live in Hickory public housing have filed a lawsuit alleging that a former administrator sexually harassed and threatened them.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, accuses former property operations manager Montele Burton of offering to pay tenants’ rent in exchange for sexual favors and threatening to evict those who did not go along. The women also claim the Hickory Public Housing Authority repeatedly ignored their complaints.

In one case, a 23-year-old single mother alleges Burton stalked her by going through her laundry, coming to her unit after hours and watching her home from a parking lot. She reported her concerns to the Housing Authority, but the agency directed her to address the issue with Burton, the suit says.

The suit says Burton propositioned another tenant while touching himself. He told her she could provide him sexual favors instead of paying rent, the lawsuit alleges. The woman says that she reported the behavior to the Housing Authority, which refused to take action until she produced more proof.

Many of the allegations contained in the suit became public last year after a series of Observer reports detailed complaints by tenants and former agency workers. Two women told the Observer they consented to perform sex acts for Burton because they needed money and feared eviction.

Burton resigned from his post in February 2015 while under investigation for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a female tenant.

Burton on Wednesday called the lawsuit part of a “witch hunt.” The allegations, he said, “are based on lies” started by former co-workers.

Burton said the tenants are seeking revenge because he was in charge of making sure rent payments were timely.

Housing Authority Executive Director Alanda Richardson did not return phone calls seeking comment. She has previously denied the accusations.

Richardson has said she was unaware of the harassment accusation until last summer when an attorney distributed mailings asking tenants whether they had been harassed by Burton.

Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027