Veteran east Raleigh activist Octavia Rainey quickly got the word when residents of a Garner apartment complex learned that their subsidized rents would quintuple to market rates by April 1—which meant, in short, that they were facing eviction. On Monday, she headed a delegation of more than two dozen residents of Forest Hills Apartments during Wake County commissioners' public comment period.
Rainey and dozens of people who live in the Garner complex said they recently received letters from owners EPC LLC, of Chapel Hill, telling them they would have to pay market rent on April 1, and that they could be evicted if they weren’t out of their subsidized apartments by April 30.
“There was no human integrity in how they did this,” Rainey told the board. “They won't even talk to us. This is Wake County and it should be a place for all of us in here.”
Commission chairman Sig Hutchinson thanked them for showing up, and the county agreed to look into the situation.
A call to Cyndi Perry, the EPC manager who drafted the first-class letters that were sent to residents, was not immediately returned Tuesday. But her letter spoke volumes.
"In purchasing Forest Hills Apartments, ECP has made the business decision to completely renovate and rehabilitate the community and its individual apartment homes; as such, Forest Hills will not be renewing any expired lease agreements, nor continuing month to month terms," the letter read.
Cecilia Ebron, whose mother lives in Forest Hills Apartments, was near tears after the meeting because her mother, who has dementia, would see her rent rise from $91 monthly to $655, she said.
“Some people’s checks don’t even amount to the market rent,” Ebron told the INDY
. “And the kids in school will be uprooted with three months left in school.”
In addressing commissioners, Rainey noted that the action by the landlords will affect residents during Fair Housing Month, a federally designated celebration of the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We thought it would be for integration, not segregation,” Rainey said, noting that many of the residents are African American.
“I'm black, too,” replied Commissioner Jessica Holmes. “I wanted to say specifically that I care about your issues.”
Among the Forest Hills residents facing eviction are people with significant disabilities, including some placed there by Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, a provider that contracts with Wake County to treat people with mental, developmental, and substance-abuse problems. That was enough to prompt Commissioner James West to break protocol and respond, which is something commissioners don’t typically do during the public comment period.
“I am concerned about folks that were placed there through Alliance. The most vulnerable are being exploited in this process is my concern.”