Shaffer: Raleigh uproots 83-year-old widow

jshaffer@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2013 

— Nettie Grove shuffled to the door on her walker, still wearing her nightgown in the late afternoon, and invited me in for a cup of Sanka and half a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

I’d come to hear how Raleigh bought the house she rents on Carver Street and gave her 90 days to move. At age 83. After a stroke.

“Bless your cotton-pickin’ heart,” Nettie said, glad for any company.

She sat me at the coffee table where she keeps her Bible and her Ava Gardner biography.

She told me she used to be a third-grade teacher and the wife of a Navy test pilot – back when anybody remembered her name.

She told me that once a month, a volunteer drives her to the credit union and the Harris Teeter, where she picks up four weeks’ worth of groceries.

Then she handed me the news that made me swallow my Sanka down the wrong pipe: Raleigh wants Nettie gone even though there’s no pressing need. Nothing imminent is getting built on her lot. The city can’t even say for sure whether her house will be demolished.

Nettie frowned and leaned forward on her walker.

“You wouldn’t want your grandmother treated this way,” she said.

I wouldn’t.

But my grandmother drove a car until she died at age 94. She served lunch to people 20 years her junior as a volunteer for Meals On Wheels. She had three children to look in on her.

Nettie has none of those things. The only assurance she’ll sleep under the roof on Carver Street is a Section 8 voucher, which covers all but $26 of the rent.

It’s a mobile document that shuttles federal dollars to the Raleigh Housing Authority, so all Nettie has to do is find some other landlord to take it. Raleigh has promised to help her with logistics and money.

But Nettie worries. She won’t know her neighbors. She won’t know her street. What if she gets moved someplace too far for the man to take her grocery shopping?

“They are trying to look for someplace suitable for me,” she said. “No drinking. No doping. No hanky-panky.”

Nettie’s corner of Southeast Raleigh, which sits a few houses down from St. Augustine’s University, is accustomed to having the city government move in next door.

Raleigh already owns most of the houses on Nettie’s block, a redevelopment area. But the letter Nettie got back in March said the city might be interested in her house for a possible federal project.

“I called the mayor’s office,” Nettie said. “She wasn’t there. I put it down on the machine. I was mad as fire.”

I ran all of this by Octavia Rainey, who lives a block away from Nettie and is something of a force of nature when it comes to neighborhood politics. She hadn’t heard of any new building on the way, and she hadn’t heard about Raleigh uprooting a senior citizen on a walker.

“I do not want her moved, period!” she insisted. “There’s no reason to do that to an 83-year-old woman.”

Twenty minutes later, I got a call from Mitchell Silver, Raleigh’s planning director.

“Octavia called,” he said.

Silver explained that the Carver Street move isn’t part of his specific bailiwick, but it does fall under his jurisdiction.

“We try to be sensitive with seniors,” he said. “We try to use all care when we sit down with them.”

So why move her out?

Raleigh wants to redevelop her area, but it can’t until all the underground pipes and wires have been updated. If you’ve driven down Oakwood Avenue recently, you’ve seen this update in progress.

But that’s blocks and blocks away from Nettie’s house. Nobody knows when a new development might go up on Carver Street. Why put her out now?

Basically, Raleigh doesn’t want to be a landlord.

“We typically aren’t property managers,” Silver said. “We have a lot of options. Ninety days is negotiable. It’s my hope she’ll be able to stay in the area.”

It’s clean in Nettie’s house. She’s got a nice set of Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham books, and a collection of old movies on VHS. “Caine Mutiny.” “Casablanca.”

Let her enjoy them.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4818

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