Homelessness prevention, support group steps in to help displaced Durham tenants

jsmialek@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2012 

  • How to help Contributions by check should be made to Housing for New Hope and mailed to: Housing for New Hope/Lincoln Fund 18 West Colony Place, Suite 250 Durham, NC 27705 All contributions are tax-deductible. Contact: Melissa Hartzell at 919-489-6282 or melissa@housingfornewhope.org.

— At least 20 Durham households are still scrambling to relocate after being evicted from Lincoln Apartments, and community groups are finding an affordable housing shortage makes it difficult to place the low-income tenants.

Into that void – created in late September when the 150-unit complex’s renters received notice that they would be evicted Oct. 31 – has stepped Durham-based Housing for New Hope. The homelessness prevention and support-focused nonprofit group has announced it will help relocate Lincoln Apartment tenants.

“Housing for New Hope has a lot of experience with rapid re-housing,” Steve Schewel, a member of Durham’s City Council who has worked on the situation from its outset, said Saturday. “That experience makes them unique in the community.”

The group replaces Bless Durham, a church collaboration that helped place 30 households before exhausting its emergency funds. Schewel said the remaining tenants mostly lack resources to move and, although they say their landlord has granted them an extension, still face eviction at the end of the year.

Housing for New Hope had planned to wait until the city approved funding in late December or early January to restart its “Rapid Re-housing” program. However, the Lincoln Apartment situation prompted them to start early, executive director Terry Allebaugh said Saturday.

“We felt that we should try to respond to the crisis,” Allebaugh said.

Search for funding

The Rapid Re-housing program relocated 173 homeless households from January 2010 to August 2012 as part of a federal stimulus program, and the group expects to reinvigorate the effort with about $300,000 in city and federal funding, which has yet to be approved.

Because the funds aren’t yet available, Allebaugh said, Housing for New Hope will use private donations and money already in its coffers to relocate the tenants, whose imminent eviction qualifies them as homeless.

The organization will match up to $5,000 in private donations, and the funds will go toward deposits, start-up rent and utility expenses.

Housing for New Hope will analyze each household’s situation to determine what help it needs, Allebaugh said, and will offer services such as housing placement, help with moving and follow-up coaching and financial assistance for the relocated renters.

“They will have to have sufficient income to assume their rent,” he said. “For some people, it might take longer because their income is so low.”

Creative solutions

Cynthia Harris, who coordinates the Re-housing program, said it might be hard to find rents as low as the $350 to $400 the Lincoln Apartments tenants pay.

“I may not be able to find anything as affordable as what they’re paying now, but I won’t go much higher,” said Harris. “Sometimes we’re pretty creative with the landlords.”

Harris aims to place clients within 30 days, she said, and can often find one- to two-bedroom apartments within weeks. If the tenants aren’t placed before they are evicted, the organization will place them in temporary housing, she said.

Lincoln Apartments were built in 1967 and are privately owned by Lincoln Hospital Foundation. Group. Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants oversees the property and notified the tenants that the apartments would close.

The shuttering follows financial difficulties. The foundation’s expenses exceeded revenue by about $33,000 in 2011 and $184,000 in 2010, according to its most recent tax filings. The complex also has a $30,000 unpaid utility bill with the city, Schewel said, but Durham has agreed to keep the water on until the tenants leave.

That effort by the city of Durham paired with outreach from community groups has been crucial in helping tenants, Schewel said, but the crisis requires further dedication of money and time. He and New Hope are encouraging local congregations and residents to donate.

“Right now, we need to meet the emergency needs of these people,” he said. “This isn’t a hurricane, but in the lives of these people it’s like a hurricane.”

Smialek: 919-829-4954

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