Barry Saunders

‘They think that just because we’re poor, we’re stupid’ – This was no way to treat people

The Forest Hills Apartment complex in Garner.
The Forest Hills Apartment complex in Garner. N&O file photo

I apologize. Mea culpa, homes. My bad, yo.

For goodness’ sake, how many ways can a dude say that he’s sorry?

When I wrote this week that developers shouldn’t be allowed to just kick poor people out of apartments in which they’ve lived for decades simply because the market is suddenly hot and a neighborhood suddenly trendy, some people read that as saying “poor people should be able to live wherever they want whether they can afford it or not.”

How do I know?

Because one caller, whose message I saved, said, “Why do you think poor people should be able to live wherever they want whether they can afford it or not? Should I be able to live in San Francisco if I can’t afford it?”

He was referring to imminent evictions of hundreds of old people from the Sir Walter Apartments in downtown Raleigh so that the area can become even hipper and more expensive. The same scenario is being enacted at Forest Hills Apartments in Garner and elsewhere in the Triangle and state.

His argument is, of course, ludicrous, and nowhere near anything I wrote.

Not even the people directly affected would go that far.

Take Yolanda Smith, who received a notice from the new owners of Forest Hills Apartments telling her to pack up and get outta Dodge so they could fix up that complex and rent it at the market rate. She understood – even sympathized with – Eller Capital Partners’ desire to make money off their recently acquired property.

“There’s a way to do everything,” she told me while leading me on a tour of the apartment complex, where harried residents were packing their stuff in U-Hauls, pickups and cars, “but this ain’t no way to do anything. They think that just because we’re poor, we’re stupid.”

George Hausen, executive director of Legal Aid, called the letter telling the residents to scat a “fear tactic” meant to chase the residents out prematurely. He questioned its legality.

“That building has always been subsidized since its construction in 1982,” Hausen said. “In 1998, the owners applied for a tax credit for renovations. ... In 2015, the building was foreclosed on, and the new owner thought the subsidies had ended.

“They had not,” he said. Those subsidies provide, he said, “protection under the law that gives the tenants the right to remain on the premises for three years without any change to their tenancy, without a rent increase, and they can only be evicted for good cause.”

Under the law Hausen cited, apparently, simply wanting to maximize investors’ profits is not “good cause.”

Hooray.

Negotiations between the new landlord and Legal Aid, he said, have allowed about 25 families to remain in the complex for now.

Hausen praised Wake County commissioners Jessica Holmes, Sig Hutchinson and James West.

“They’ve done a terrific job” for displaced residents, he said. “Wake County Human Services and Triangle Family Services have really stepped up, helping people move, establishing a resource center ... helping people with application fees. We don’t want people couch-surfing or sleeping in cars.”

Despite what those who worship at the altar of Darwin or Ayn Rand argue, that’s precisely what government should be doing – helping its most vulnerable citizens, instead of leaving them at the mercy of deep-pocketed developers.

I apologize, also, for one mistake in my earlier column. I said the Forest Hills tenants were given two months to split. They were actually given one.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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