City and county workers pledged to do what they can to improve living conditions at a low-income apartment complex after meeting with some of its residents last week.
The grassroots organization Action NC is helping to organize residents of Bentwood Apartments, at 322 Junction Road in East Durham, spurred by the pending closure of another low-cost apartment complex, Lincoln Apartments. The group hopes the same will not happen at Bentwood, which is three times the size of Lincoln.
“It’s one thing to complain about it,” said the Rev. Melvin Whitley, the president of Action NC, which organized Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s another thing to do something about it.”
“This meeting is about: What do we do about it? To displace that many people would be a tragedy.”
Several tenants and a Bentwood landlord at the meeting asked for more aggressive police patrolling to combat drug dealing. Shirley Asher, a Bentwood resident of 19 years, said drugs have taken hold in the community.
Most drug dealers and buyers come from outside the complex, said tenant Mary Everett, who has called police repeatedly. Dealers use police scanner apps on their phones, however, and spread the word with walkie-talkies when they know police are coming.
The Police Department’s Crime Mapper website lists 62 incidents this year through October within a quarter-mile of Bentwood Apartments. About 40 of the incidents – mostly assaults, burglary and breaking and entering – were reported at 322 Junction Road.
Residents asked the police officers present Tuesday why they do not patrol Bentwood more, since they know it is a high-crime area.
“You wouldn’t tolerate it being downtown, you wouldn’t tolerate it in Hope Valley,” Everett said. “Please don’t tolerate it in East Durham.”
Capt. Alonzo Jaynes said residents of many other high-crime areas also request additional patrols.
“I know when you’re a victim, that doesn’t mean anything to you, but we’re here to help you,” he said. “This is not something that can’t be fixed. This is doable, now that we’ve got some teammates.”
Several police officers gave residents their direct phone numbers to call when they saw any suspicious activity.
City housing inspector Rick Hester said he would investigate some of the more severe safety hazards raised at the meeting, including part of an apartment building tenants said is held up by a plank after a car crashed into it.
One woman wrote on an Action NC neighborhood survey how she repeatedly complained to her landlord that chipped ceiling paint was falling into her pots on the stove. The landlord told her to switch to the back burners on the stove, she said.
Hester said he would like to inspect individual apartments, but it’s tricky because the approximately 450 units have 128 individual owners. Hester said his office can only respond to issues upon complaint, and he received just seven calls this past year from Bentwood.
Tenant Joy Overton said many residents do not know they can call the city to complain if a landlord does not fix a safety issue.
“If someone has a ceiling falling on them, don’t you think they’ve asked their landlord to fix it?” she said. “Most residents are intimidated by their landlord. No one wants to get put out.”
Meeting organizers showed a video they made of unsafe conditions, including mold, and fire hazards such as exposed outdoor lighting in a Bentwood building.
The homeowner’s association does not communicate with all landlords or residents, which makes it hard to solve problems affecting the whole complex, said Dennis Garrett, a building owner.