31 Oct 2012
They Stole My Joy
By Jade Brooks
October 29th, 2012
“It feels like they stole my joy,” Sherri Mason, a resident of Lincoln Apartments said about her eviction in front of Durham City Hall Monday evening, as ice-cold wind whipped through the alleyway. About twenty Lincoln residents and supporters from People’s Durham marched from the Department of Social Services to City Hall carrying signs that read “Save Lincoln Apartments,” “Don’t Be Unfair, Care,” and “Need Our Community Back” in the first of two actions Lincoln leaders have planned for this week.
Back at the end of September the company that owns Lincoln Apartments sent notices to everyone living in the 150-unit apartment complex and told them they had to move out by Halloween. Soon after, residents started to fight back. They began holding weekly meetings, inviting city officials, and demanding the city do something to be sure they have a place to live.
Last week, city officials claimed there were only 20 families left in Lincoln looking for places to go. But Lincoln residents and People’s Durham volunteers have been canvassing all week to let folks know they don’t have to leave by the October 31 deadline. Legally the company can’t begin formal eviction proceedings until 10 days after the order to vacate, which would cost $250 per unit. During the door knocking, we counted 57 families, 152 people total, with no place to go–facing homelessness just in time for the holidays.
“This is the cold season,” says Darielle Poole, who hasn’t found any other housing for herself, her husband Tamario, and their two young children. Since it’s owned by a private company and not part of public housing, the city is refusing to take responsibility for helping the people at Lincoln. But the lack of affordable housing options in Durham IS the city’s responsibility. They’re willing to put a waterfall in the American Tobacco Historic District, but not spend money to make sure people have a warm place to come home to after work?
Many obstacles stand in the way of people finding new places to live. When Cary Howard tried to apply for a new apartment, the landlord refused his application saying his income was too low even though Cary was willing to pay the $525 per month in rent. Mr. Howard worked for 46 years as an optical technician at Lens Crafters and other eye centers. His income now comes from Social Security, but he says–because of the eviction–he’s looking for a part time job (although he’s doubtful of his chances to find work as a senior citizen). Other Lincoln residents can’t afford the fees required to even submit an application for a new place to rent. And Lincoln residents are competing for places to live with their neighbors. “Now there’s 152 people all looking for a place to stay,” Darielle Poole says. And when Durham’s Section 8 has a closed waiting list of 2,300 and there are more than 1,000 people waiting for public housing, it seems nearly impossible to find a place that is affordable and safe.
Loretha McClendon has 12 grandkids who live close to Lincoln that she is used to seeing regularly. Although she’s looking for a place to go, she doesn’t want to be too far away from her family. She also wants to be able to stay at Lincoln until she can find a new place. She thinks they should’ve waited to kick everyone out at least until tax time–when people might have more resources. It takes awhile to “get updated at your life,” Loretha says, since she knows some of her fellow Lincoln residents will have to pull their kids out of school and get them adjusted to a new one. Even getting the lights turned on at a new place takes time.
The property managers and the owners of Lincoln Apartments were clearly taking advantage of the residents–they collected rent money without using it to pay the utility bills that were supposed to be included and failed to keep up the properties. Now there is trash rotting in dumpsters outside and black mold growing in some of the rental units while others have roofs caving in or crumbling foundations. But as much as the owners may come off as the bad guys, the crisis at Lincoln is also about the city’s neglect and failure to create enough affordable housing for the people who live in Durham.
Many stories in the media continue to misrepresent the facts, shifting blame onto the Lincoln residents and diverting attention from the city’s affordable housing crisis. “We are not squatters,” Jacqueline Anderson said to television cameras outside City Hall. “We pay our rent.” This is in direct contrast to an October 6th story in The Durham News, in which the reporter claimed “few of Lincoln’s approximately 100 residents were current on their rent payments.” No source was offered to back up that claim.
Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell met with the residents Monday and offered to look into the misinformation in media reports about Lincoln. Chadwell promised to meet with them again within 48 hours to continue discussing their concerns. However, he didn’t promise any real solutions and that is what just what the leaders at Lincoln are demanding.
In spite of the unclear outcome, Yvonne Monroe felt good about the protest and press conference in downtown Durham on Monday. “It has taken hold,” she said, “and minds need to be fertilized.” Darielle Poole is confident that if Keith Chadwell doesn’t follow through with his promise, Lincoln folks will be back in his office soon. Lincoln residents won’t back down until every resident has a place to stay.