When the Palms Apartments opened nearly 50 years ago along what was then the western edge of Raleigh, it was an indicator of the fast growth the area would see as high-tech companies discovered the Triangle. Its 212 apartments were an ideal location for young professionals just starting their careers.
By the mid-2000s, the complex had faded into a place of last resort – a de facto low-income complex in a city with a dearth of affordable housing. But it became a lifeline for dozens of immigrants fleeing poverty and strife in places such as Myanmar, Iraq and Somalia.
That destination function is about to end, as the owner looks to redevelop the complex into more upscale apartments. It means scores of families, some of whom struggle to speak English, need to find new homes and, possibly, new schools for their children.
Tenants are being told to be out of the complex by Nov. 30. Real estate developer Gordon Grubb is providing a $100 relocation check for those tenants in good standing who leave before November; and a $250 check for those who leave during November. He is also inviting representatives of similarly priced rental communities to another housing fair at the Palms from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday.
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“Clearly we want to help everybody find a good, safe place to live, and hopefully not too far from here,” he said.
Two nearby churches sought to help with that transition Sunday by holding a housing fair to link families to housing organizations and school officials. About 200 volunteers from the churches served pizza, sodas, chips and cookies to families from the complex and invited the kids to play volleyball, football and other games so their parents would be free to talk about their needs. A DJ spun popular tunes and two face-painters worked their magic on the young.
Vickie Adamson, a member of the Highland United Methodist Church’s mission committee, said the church and Forest Hills Baptist Church joined together on the event because so many families were going to need help at the same time. Both churches have long helped residents with financial and educational issues.
“As a mission committee we’ve never had this much need before,” Adamson said. “It’s overwhelming to us that there are this many families who need assistance.”
Residents said they live at the Palms because it is affordable, but they also are fans of the schools they attend: Lacy Elementary, Martin Middle and Broughton High.
Tiba Al Rashid, 11, is a refugee from the Middle East, who speaks English well for someone who has been in the United States, and Raleigh in particular, for little more than a year. She said she enjoys art classes at Martin Middle School and hopes she can stay there, though her family may end up moving to an apartment complex outside the school’s territory. Wake’s policy would allow her to finish the school year at Martin, but only if she can find her own transportation.
“I like Martin. I don’t want to change it,” she said. “I like my friends too.”
Too expensive to fix
Some are seeing the forced move as an opportunity. Khaja Mohammad and his family of six are from India. He is studying software engineering at Wake Tech, and said the apartments are in poor condition, infested with roaches.
“It was not sad; it was happy,” he said of the complex’s closing. He didn’t think moving will be too bad financially.
Grubb bought the complex in 2008 with plans to redevelop it. But the Great Recession stalled those plans, which meant the low-priced units stayed on the market until now.
Grubb understands the predicament of his tenants, but he said the complex’s age and condition made it too expensive to renovate without raising the rent. He is tearing the roughly 20 buildings down and replacing them with a 280-unit apartment complex that will charge higher rents. A retirement community will also go up on the site, which is just inside the Interstate 440 Beltline off Lake Boone Trail.
While Sunday’s housing fair had the feel of a block party, Wake School Board President Christine Kushner, who attended the event, said the Palms closing pointed to a serious issue, the lack of affordable housing and the impact it has on kids’ educations.
“That’s truly the bigger picture of the snapshot you saw today,” she said.