Garner Cleveland Record

A month to clear out, and dozens of apartment residents have yet to find a new home

Forest Hills Apartments residents prepare to speak before the Wake County Board of Commissioners in Raleigh on March 20.
Forest Hills Apartments residents prepare to speak before the Wake County Board of Commissioners in Raleigh on March 20. amoody@newsobserver.com

Many of the residents being forced out of the Forest Hills Apartments complex have yet to find new housing, according to a county report issued this week.

While searching for a place to live, residents have also had to deal with confusion over how much longer they can stay in their Seventh Avenue apartments before being shown the door.

“We have been told on multiple occasions that the landlord does not intend to force anyone out before June 15,” Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria, whose district includes Garner, said Thursday.

Nearly all of the 136-unit complex was occupied when a new owner announced renovation plans March 15, requiring tenants to clear out of the 35-year-old buildings by April 30 or be evicted.

Along with the renovation notice, Eller Capital Partners told residents it would no longer accept housing-assistance payments. Most of the Forest Hills residents rely on federal subsidies.

Though some of those come as vouchers that residents can take with them to their next home, others were tied to the apartments. A past owner of the complex was required to maintain a percentage of low-income apartments, but that requirement died when the property went into foreclosure two years ago.

The county got involved after a group from Forest Hills pleaded with commissioners for help in March.

A week later, Wake commissioners announced they had brokered a deal that would allow residents to pay their usual rent rates through June 15. The deal was intended to give children time to finish the school year and the residents more time to secure new housing.

But on April 26, Forest Hills management issued another notice similar to the first one, telling residents they must move out by the original April 30 date and listing move-out instructions.

Calabria said it was his understanding the owner provided the earlier date as a way of conveying its right to reclaim the property.

“It caused a lot of confusion among the residents, who were told originally they had to leave quickly, then told June 15, then back to April 30,” Calabria. “And it fell on commissioners to try and get clarity from the landlord.”

The update by Wake County Human Services staff indicated 60 of the residents or families were still looking for a new place to live – an endeavor complicated by limited affordable housing in the area. The report included information about the efforts of multiple agencies to relocate residents.

Sixty of the tenants had left or were in the process of leaving the apartments. Eighteen had received financial assistance for rent and utility deposits, first month’s rent or application fees. Fourteen had not responded to outreach efforts conducted by phone and in person. Seven of the units were no longer occupied, with the whereabouts of the residents unknown.

Several commissioners accepted a challenge from community activist Octavia Rainey to walk in the residents’ shoes.

Commissioner Jessica Holmes, who created Wake’s affordable housing task force, joined a pair of residents Friday. Their first attempt turned up a year and a half waiting list. The office was closed on their second stop and they were met with another waiting list at the third.

“For me, it’s one thing to set policy and base that off of theory and data,” Holmes said. “It’s another thing to see what they see and literally walk in their shoes. As the chair of the affordable housing steering committee, it’s important for me to have that first-hand perspective.”

Wake is using the Southeast Regional Library, also on Seventh Avenue, as a housing resource center for the residents. The center opens for two hours twice a week through June 1.

The nonprofit and government groups working to assist the residents met May 5 and plan to meet again May 19 at the Wake County Human Services building.

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