The Raleigh Inn and its guests came to the public’s attention last week after a discarded cigarette smoldered in the mattress of a second-floor room, sparking a fire that displaced nearly 60 people who call this former Red Roof Inn home.
Families live in single rooms at the Raleigh Inn and similar hotels throughout the city because they don’t earn enough to pay the one month’s rent and one month’s security deposit required at most Raleigh apartment complexes. For many residents, the hotels are the only thing between them and homelessness.
A digital sign outside the Raleigh Inn advertises rooms for $39.99 a day, with weekly rates of $276 and monthly rates set at $676. Those rates are among the lowest in the Triangle, but front desk clerk Duane Colbert said it’s not unusual for someone to ask if he can take a partial payment.
“When I tell them no, they just stand there,” Colbert said. “Then they ask me, ‘What am I gonna do?’ ”
Colbert recommends they seek assistance through a church or a homeless shelter.
“If you have compassion in your heart, it will affect you,” he said. “But we’re not listed as a shelter or a house for the poverty-stricken. This is a motel. Human services will send someone here with $10, and I have to tell them, ‘I can sell you a room, but it’s not a shelter.’ ”
The rooms at the Raleigh Inn are nice enough if guests are staying for one or two nights. A room includes a flat-screen television atop a low-slung bureau dresser, a small microwave oven, a dormitory-sized refrigerator, two beds, a sink and small bathroom with a tub and shower.
But staying at the hotel on Maitland Drive, off New Bern Avenue, becomes a different proposition for people who live there for months, even years, especially if they have children.
April and Dwight Carroll have been living with their four children in a second-floor room at the Raleigh Inn for more than a month. The Carroll children were still talking about what they saw and heard last week when the fire broke out in Room 217.
Neveah, 4, and Naomi, 2, took a break from their McDonald’s Happy Meals and the board game they were playing when their brother, 13-year-old Christian, pulled out his camera to show video he shot of the fire.
“That’s the fire,” Neveah said, pointing at the camera. “I was crying.”
April Carroll, 33, moved to Raleigh six years ago from Newburgh, N.Y. Her stay has been nomadic, with stops at apartment complexes in Raleigh and Cary, a mobile home and a homeless shelter off Method Road.
The Carrolls applied for a Section 8 housing voucher nearly two years ago that would allow them to get a subsidized apartment. They expect to wait five years or more before their application will even be considered.
“That’s why we ended up here,” April Carroll said. “Because it was the cheapest and most affordable.”
Prior eviction, no lease
The Carrolls keep getting knocked down by a fact that looms large each time they apply for an apartment: an eviction from a Cary apartment several years ago.
“Once they hear you have an eviction, it’s over,” April Carroll said. “One day I went to 22 places, and every one was an automatic denial. They make it very hard.”
Dwight Carroll works for a moving company. His wife works one day a week at a KFC-Taco Bell. The couple can’t afford day care. April applied for day care vouchers with social services three weeks ago. She has not heard from the agency.
“We try to pay by the week. Sometimes we pay for four days, then another three days. It all depends on the income,” April Carroll said. “We actually pay over $1,000 (a month). It’s a lot of money, but at the end of the day, it’s the cheapest. I gotta do it.”
Many Raleigh Inn guests cannot afford to pay the monthly rate. For them, the best-case scenario is the weekly rate, which totals $1,104 a month. Others pay every three or four days at a time, and end up shelling out more than $1,300 a month.
That’s well over the $775 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $900 to $1,100 for a two-bedroom at the newly constructed Walnut Terrace public housing near downtown Raleigh.
The Walnut Terrace developers tried to create an affordable housing niche near downtown, by designating 145 of the units for public housing, with the remaining 147 offered for sale at market rates. It’s not enough to meet demand. Last year, officials with the Raleigh Housing Authority reported that the city had more than 10,000 residents on its public housing waiting list.
One floor below the Carrolls, space is also an issue for Helen Person, a full-time nursing assistant at WakeMed. Person, 52, lives in a first-floor room with her three teenage children: Latasha, 19, who struggles with diabetes; Winston, 15, diagnosed with autism, and Volonda, a 12-year-old who was busy completing her homework one night last week.
The Persons have been living at the Raleigh Inn since they moved from Knightdale last year. Helen Person said she wanted to be closer to her job at WakeMed, where she has worked for the past six years.
Helen Person said she can’t come up with the first month’s rent and full month deposit required at most Raleigh apartments. The challenge is all the more exacting after she pays $1,104 each month to stay in the room.
“That’s more than most mortgages,” she said.
Like the Carrolls, the Persons say the biggest issue is space and lack of privacy, especially for her teenage daughters.
Still, she said, the family doesn’t get frustrated. “We pray and talk about it,” she said.
The Persons dream of a home where everyone has their own bedroom, a family room, a yard and a kitchen.
“I cook our meals in a crock pot and microwave,” Helen Person said. “But it’s not like a soul food meal.”
April Carroll uses a portable stovetop burner and a crock pot that sits on the sink. The family’s room is crowded, but not cluttered. There’s order.
Four large, covered plastic bins stacked two high near the entrance of the room are used for storage. Another uncovered bin on the floor is used as a toy box. Underneath the sink are suitcases used to store clothes. Non-perishable snack foods sit atop a hanging clothes rack.
“I try, I try,” April Carroll said. “Space is a big thing. No one has personal space. All the kids are in one bed. My husband and I and maybe one of the girls are in the other one. We used to have an air mattress. I got the portable burner so I can make my kids’ meals instead of using the microwave or takeout.”
Dwight and April Carroll said they already have enough money to move. They are hoping a Raleigh rental agent will give them another chance to move into an apartment or house.
“I just need someone to understand where I’m coming from,” April Carroll said. “Just give us a chance. Just let us prove ourselves.”