City officials were trying last week to talk Lincoln Apartments’ owners out of evicting their tenants and closing the complex at the end of October.
“It’s a moving target,” Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell said Thursday afternoon. “They’re willing to talk to us.”
Chadwell said that, after a Wednesday meeting, he thought the parties had agreed to put off closing the financially strapped low-income complex for 60 to 90 days, after Chadwell and Neighborhood Improvement Services Director Constance Stancil met with them Wednesday.
In a memo to City Manager Tom Bonfield, Chadwell said the Lincoln Hospital Foundation, which owns the complex, agreed to “some technical assistance” from the city to “dig further into the issues that caused them to make the eviction decision.”
But on Thursday he said the situation had changed.
Howard Williams, president of Southern Real Estate, the apartments’ manager, said he had received no word from the owners on a delay. The complex faced an imminent water shutoff because it could not pay a water bill, he said, and few of Lincoln’s approximately 100 residents were current on their rent payments. Rent is the apartments’ only source of income.
“We can’t keep the basic necessities on,” Williams said. Lincoln Apartments receive no government subsidy, and after recent city inspections the owners were facing repair expenses they had no way to pay for.
Chadwell said the city water department has agreed not to cut the apartments’ water off “for now.”
Larry Suitt, who is listed as chairman of the Lincoln Hospital Foundation’s board on the nonprofit’s 2010 tax return, could not be reached for comment.
Tenants at the 150-unit complex, most of it built in the 1960s, learned by hand-delivered notices Sept. 28 that “unfavorable financial conditions” had led Southern Real Estate Management and Consultants Inc., the management company, and the Lincoln Apartments’ board to “cease operations” as of Oct. 31.
“They dropped this on us at the last minute,” said Rosa MacLean, before the agreements were reached. MacLean said she has lived at Lincoln for about a year.who moved in to Lincoln Apartments about a year ago. “That’s too quick a notice for anybody to move.”
MacLean said she doesn’t know where she’ll go. Neither does Johnetta Pemberton, an 11-year resident.
“Nobody has the money to move,” she said.110 families
“Where are 110 families going?” said City Councilman Steve Schewel, after attending a tenants’ meeting last week.
Schewel said he met residents who have lived at Lincoln for more than 30 years; “a lot of children, a lot of elderly people, a lot of disabled people.
“There needs to be some community effort to figure this out before 110 families are out on the street,” Schewel said.
Durham Housing Authority Director Dallas Parks said the DHA’s units are full and there are no Section 8 vouchers available. Durham County Social Services is available to help with relocations, and Schewel and County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow have urged the local governments to help out.
Williams said his company would “work with (the residents) to the best of our ability” to help them find new places to live.
“That sounds like a Herculean task,” said Ray Eurquhart, a neighborhood organizer who has worked with Lincoln tenants in previous disputes with Southern Real Estate. “These are poor people, where are they going to be moving?”In the red
The Lincoln complex occupies most of four blocks fronting on Lakeland Street, east of South Alston Avenue and close to the Durham Housing Authority’s MacDougald Terrace apartments.
According to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, the Lincoln Hospital Foundation was dissolved in 2009, but the foundation paid off a mortgage in late 2011 according to county records. The apartments’ tax valuation is $4.5 million, and its property taxes are up to date. The foundation’s 2010 income-tax return, the latest available, shows met assets at the beginning of 2010 were $721,671; at the end of the year, down to $537,985. Its expenses exceeded assets by $184,277, following a 2009 deficit of $79,523. The return also listed $129,149 in “bad debt” owed the foundation.
Chadwell said the foundation wants to sell the complex. Parks said Lincoln’s managers approached DHA about buying the property two years ago for “a nominal cost.”
“We did due diligence,” Parks said, and even had signed a contract, but backed out, unwilling “to take on the risk of liability.” There were problems with hazardous material, a low occupancy rate, and problems with squatters and tenants unable to pay their rent.
Deterioration is evident from the apartments’ exterior. Stancil said August inspections found one occupied apartment to be “uninhabitable” and 27 code compliant only because tenants did their own maintenance.
“It’s not the best of places, but for what it is – “ said resident Robert Price, letting his voice trail off.
Pemberton said that when she moved in, “everything was right on point.” The grass was cut, exterminators kept vermin out and any complaint was immediately taken care of. That is not the case any longer, she said, and with the eviction notice, “We’re being punished for the (bad) management.
“We’re trying to organize and fight,” she said. “It’s not fabulous, but it’s home.”