The last departing residents of Forest Hills Apartments spent an angry, emotional final day at the Garner complex, which is taking on a new name and a new set of renters.
Now that people who lived at Forest Hills Apartments are gone, owners Eller Capital are giving the Garner complete a new name, Flats on 7th.
When a reporter visited the Garner complex in the early afternoon, bleach was being sprayed against the complex, spreading into the open air, and puddling on the ground as people were still moving out. They complained of burning eyes and difficulty breathing.
Complex owner Daniel Eller said in an email Thursday afternoon that the procedure was routine maintenance.
Earlier in the day, a tow truck pursued vehicles that had arrived to carry off belongings and people, pulling up to the back entrance of an apartment. Four Garner policeman and the town manager showed up to moderate the loud argument that followed.
"It is my understanding that a vehicle was improperly parked on a landscaped area of the property and was towed only after multiple warnings were issued to the driver," Eller says.
Thursday was the conclusion of a nearly a half-year's struggle between Chapel-Hill-based Eller Capital Properties and the more than 130 residents
of the subsidized complex. On March 20, residents appeared before the county's Board of Commissioners to say they were being kicked out of Forest Hills with little notice from the new owner.
"It's been nasty from day one; I didn't expect it to end pretty either," says community activist Octavia Rainey, who first brought the residents' situation to the attention of Wake County commissioniers and was at the complex Thursday.
County commissioners, school board members, a U.S. representative, local clergy, legal aid, housing authorities, and others have worked to ensure that most former residents moved into permanent housing, often having to resolve complicated federal and local housing regulations along the way. The Board of Commissioners voted to set aside $25,000 so that residents could be housed in motels if housing arrangements were incomplete.
Also Thursday, a sign on Garner's Seventh Avenue, where city hall and police headquarters are located, announced that leases were available at the 1980s-era complex under a new name, Flats on 7th. Although the rents were higher than residents had paid with the help of vouchers, the prices were lower than at the new high-rises near downtown: $825 for a one-bedroom up to $975 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit.
"He took his prices where he knew a voucher would not pay that for a one-bedroom," Rainey says.
Asked whether he had originally intended to keep rents at a lower rate or modified them after Wake County devoted its attention to the changeover at Forest Hills, Ellers responded: "The Flats on 7th is not located in downtown Raleigh. Wake County has been nothing but supportive of our project to revitalize an apartment community that has been neglected and fallen into serious disrepair. The county has no role in establishing rental rates at a privately owned apartment community."
Residents who had battled eviction since March said they had felt forced to sign the nondisclosure agreement from Eller's law firm, prohibiting them from talking to media about their situation or face early eviction. Eller maintained that no one was forced to sign an agreement.
Some residents were so frustrated that they talked anyway, asking that their names not be disclosed.
"My food! My food! I don't have a place to take it," a thirty-eight-year old resident said as she finished packing belongings for herself and her ten-year-old son.
Workers power-wash the former Forest Hills apartments with bleach as the complex transitions to a new clientele.
As the last handful of residents packed, a group of eight to ten workers stood on the ground or climbed tall ladders to power-spray bleach on exterior walls and interior hallways of the apartment complex.
"Contractors are pressure washing the building exteriors, just as would take place from time to time on fully occupied buildings," Eller wrote.
Described as a harmful ingredient by the American Lung Association, the concentrated bleach dripped down on people as they walked in and out of their former dwellings.
"My baby has asthma, and they came to spray this today," the mother of the 10-year-old said.
Two of the residents interviewed had not yet secured permanent housing and were headed to a motel Thursday night.
"We are in an affordable housing desert," Rainey says. "People are being priced out, forced out, and shut out."