These Raleigh seniors are being kicked out and don’t know where they will go
Nine-year-old Jaleeah Phauls has never known a summer without her grandma, Gwendolyn Ramsey.
The pair are inseparable during the summer months, both staying in the Wintershaven Apartments in downtown Raleigh, within walking distance of the Marbles Kids Museum.
But this year, Ramsey is worried that not knowing where she'll be living at the end of the summer could keep her granddaughter away.
"My grandbaby called me and she's supposed to come and her mom is like, 'Aren't you supposed to be moving? Where are you going to stay if she comes? I don't want y'all to be from pillar to post,'" Ramsey said. "That made me feel really bad, and she's never been a summer without me. We have always been together every summer, and it's putting a damper on things."
Ramsey, 59, is one of several Wintershaven Apartment residents searching for a new place to live because their affordable apartments will turn into market rate apartments in August. The complex, 60 rooms at the corner of East and Hargett streets, was purchased last year by an investment group in Austin, Texas.
For years the property has been federally subsidized for low-income residents, including seniors and people with disabilities. Most of the current residents pay about $215 per month for their one-bedroom apartment. They've watched in recent months as the units have been upgraded, knowing they won't be able to afford the new market rooms, with rents ranging from $1,100 to $1,200 each month.
The property management company, Trademark Residential, told the residents they'd have to move out last year. It has been trying to help them find a new place to live ever since.
Part of that work was applying for housing vouchers from the U.S. Housing and Development Department on behalf of the residents. But Trademark isn't sure when the vouchers will come in or whether they will arrive before the deadline for residents to leave, said Fearna Tyndall, affordable housing manager for Trademark.
"The vouchers are coming directly from HUD, and it's not something we have control over," she said. "We applied for the vouchers back in March. The first day that we were eligible to apply for them, I applied for them and sent them the information for the residents who were left."
She hoped they'd arrive in May to give people 90 to 120 days to find a place, but that hasn't happened.
"I would have thought they would have come back for now," she said, adding that the deadline for people to be out of their homes is Aug. 23.
If people are looking and have something available in the next few weeks, Trademark said it would work with them.
"We're not going to go in and shut the door, obviously, but the anticipated date is the 23rd of August," she said.
Ramsey looked for places to stay in Maryland to be near her daughter and granddaughter. She found two places she could have moved into this summer, but she was rejected both times because she didn't have her housing vouchers.
"Everywhere I apply there is a waiting list," she said. "One- or two-year waiting list. Most of the people who are here are much older than me. So I want to move into a regular apartment, and if I have to go back to Maryland, that's fine. But I need a voucher to go back. I've lost two apartments because I didn't have a voucher. If I had had that voucher I could have moved in June."
Joseph Phillips, a spokesperson for HUD, said "we continue to expeditiously process the application in order to provide ample time for the housing authority to issue them in a timely fashion to meet the needs of the affected residents," but he would not set a date of when those vouchers would come in.
"Money is the main factor here," Ramsey said. "That is what I think. So, therefore, I don't mind doing what they have to do. But if you call meetings and got it in writing and pass us those papers and say you are going to give us section 8 vouchers ... and we are still waiting."
Even if those seniors get vouchers, it may not be enough.
There aren't enough subsidized and naturally affordable housing homes or apartments in Raleigh and Wake County to meet the demand. Both the city of Raleigh and Wake County have raised local property tax rates to put money toward their affordable housing efforts.
Between 2009 and 2015, Wake County has lost 5,000 affordable housing units, including naturally occurring affordable units and subsidized units. In 2015, there was an unmet housing need of about 56,000 affordable housing rooms, but that number could jump to 150,000 rooms within the next 20 years.
Several affordable housing developers, including those funded by the city of Raleigh and DHIC Inc., are trying to get Wintershaven residents bumped up to the top of the waiting list. It's expected that will happen, but there would still be some residents ahead of them who have priority through North Carolina's Health and Human Services' targeted program.
Yet if they are at the top of the wait lists and have the vouchers, rooms might not be available. Some people have been on the wait lists for years.
The need for affordable housing near and in downtown is critical, Ramsey said, adding that she's now able to walk to places in downtown because she doesn't have a car. She occasionally watches children and likes to take them places downtown.
"They live in the projects, and I just go get them to get out and see other stuff than what they are seeing," she said. "It's needed."
She wants her granddaughter to still come down to North Carolina this summer, even if they don't know where they will stay in August.
"She said 'Grandma, wherever you go, I go,'" Ramsey said. "So I am going to let her come anyway because I don't want to disappoint her."