by Lisa Sorg
This is the story of Lincoln Apartments as Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants tells it: The majority of the 50-plus households at the low-income housing community don't pay rent, or if they do, it's late. And without rent collections, the real estate company can't pay its bills and must evict all the residents, effective Oct. 31.
But residents of Lincoln Apartments told Durham County Commissioners a much different version of events Monday night. And the residents' comments raise questions about the company's financial practices and overall management of the property.
"We are not here to hand over our community," said Bernadette Toomer. "We're here to fight."
The property manager, Leila James, has accepted rents in cash, but not provided receipts, residents say. James also allegedly wrote—and then rewrote—leases that drastically changed the terms. And at the very least, Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants failed to hold up their end of the deal in providing a safe, clean living environment.
Now residents want Lincoln Apartments to stay open while city and county officials investigate the financial records and other aspects of the management company.
Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants, which oversees the property for the now-defunct Lincoln Hospital Foundation, sent eviction notices to residents on Sept. 28, telling them they had a little more than a month to leave their homes. Some residents have lived at Lincoln Apartments as long as 30 years. At least 50 households, as many as 200 tenants, received notices.
Lincoln Apartments on Durham's East Side serves low-income residents. Rents range from $350 to $500 a month. The apartments are privately owned and are not subsidized, operating solely on rent collections, Howard Williams of Southern Real Estate told the Indy last week.
Although the nonprofit foundation dissolved in 2010, according to Secretary of State records, it still ostensibly operates the apartment complex. And as a nonprofit, it is exempt from paying property taxes.
But even with that financial break, Williams told the Indy and residents the complex has to close because rent collections are insufficient to cover the water and electric bills. Williams alleged that in some months as few as 25 percent of residents pay rent.
However, without a proper accounting of the payments—and confirmation of where the money went—it is difficult to determine the extent and truth of the management company's financial problems.
James could not be reached by the Indy for comment last week. A sign on the property manager's door stated the office was closed due to illness.
Shirekia Shackleford said she was allowed to move in on Sept. 17, only to receive the eviction notice on Sept. 28. "We don't have the money laying round to move every 30 days," she said, adding that she received broken appliances in her apartment. "I'm unemployed and trying to leave within my means."
There are also inconsistencies in leases, residents said. Bernadette Toomer, who has lived at Lincoln Apartment for four months, showed the Indy a copy of her original lease, signed this August. It ran from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30, 2012, and showed that Toomer paid a $450 security deposit.
Yet Toomer said that just weeks ago James asked her to sign a new lease; this one was backdated to be effective from Aug. 1 to 31, 2012. It also indicated Toomer paid no security deposit.
Look for additional coverage in the Oct. 10 edition of the Indy.