3 Nov 2012
Lincoln Residents Have City Reps Running Scared, But Why?
By Aiden Graham
This Monday residents from Lincoln Apartments took a stand. A delegation went down to the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Services office in hopes of getting an inspection report listing the code violations that were reported to the owners of the apartment complex earlier this fall. Despite conflicting claims about the reason for the Lincoln Foundation’s financial troubles, in many ways these code violations were the final straw. Because the Foundation couldn’t afford to fix them they sent all the tenants in their 150-unit complex a 30-day eviction notice on September 28.
After one of the several meetings among the residents to organize resistance to the closure, NIS representative Rick Hester had promised Bernadette Currie a copy of the report. Yet when residents showed up at NIS a week or so later with a handful of community supporters and a reporter and photographer from The Indy, that story changed, and not for the first time. For more than three weeks Lincoln residents and members of the press have been trying to access these reports. Three weeks may not seem like an unreasonable amount of time to navigate local government bureaucracy, but when you only have 30 days to find a new place to live, it’s more time than anyone should have to wait.
Mr. Hester’s new claim when we arrived Monday was that, actually, no report existed listing all of the violations found at the complex. He could only provide a report on a single apartment to the tenant who lived there. He also claimed access to the code violations would make no difference to the residents’ plight because the “real” reason tenants were being evicted was that they never pay their rent. This runs counter to the original claim by the owners (but reflects a story that residents have heard again since that morning). Claiming the reason they’re being evicted is because they don’t pay rent conveniently puts the blame back onto the residents and shifts attention away from the decades that the city has neglected to the building and maintaining public and affordable housing.
As we plead our case some of the residents claimed that they would rather pool their resources and attempt the repairs themselves rather than be put out of their homes. Their move-out date loomed, potentially rendering folks homeless. Attempts to get the Durham Housing Authority to take over the property so that people could stay have also proved fruitless, mostly because DHA and other potential buyers claim the repairs are too costly. Without evidence to support or contradict those claims, however, residents’ hopes of finding someone to buy Lincoln Apartments looked increasingly slim.
Mr. Hester flipped through papers, his face red and hands shaking, checking to see if any of the other residents present lived in apartments that had been inspected. He was visibly flustered and sputtered conflicting claims. He told advocates there in support of the residents that we had no right to speak since we don’t live at Lincoln. He eventually left the room with one of the tenants, allegedly to give her the inspection report for her apartment. But he said anyone else who wanted to access a report would have to contact the city attorney.
The remaining representative from NIS asked everyone to leave the conference room because they had another meeting scheduled there that was about to start. As we made our way back to the lobby we were somewhat surprised to find a police officer waiting at the front desk. After lingering a few moments waiting for the last people in our party that surprise turned to shock as another SEVEN police officers filed out of the elevator. By the time K Shyrl and Sendolo rejoined our group, still without a copy of the inspection report for her apartment, there were EIGHT cops there to escort a group of TEN out of an office. We were leaving peacefully and voluntarily, right after they had asked us to. Yet, EIGHT cops were necessary to watch us? What were these city representatives so afraid of that they had to call in such a show of force? Was it our claim for justice? Or was it simply that terrifying to be around a group of African American poor folks, even with the media present?
We went straight to the City Attorney’s office. And, of course, the person we needed to speak with had just left. Residents then had to choose between coming back an hour later to meet with him or holding the press conference and march they’d previously scheduled for later in the day. Folks chose to march.
(Note: NIS released the inspection report to reporter Lisa Sorg from The Indy the next day. Read her take on the incident and the inspection report here)