Residents of Forest Hills Apartments in Garner appeared March 20 with little fanfare to tell Wake County commissioners their story: they’d received short notice that they’d have to pay much higher rents and/or move.
Ten days later, dozens of residents drew a larger crowd to a meeting in a Garner church, and action at the federal and local level was underway to help.
Those who showed up included an aide to U.S. Representative David Price, six of the seven county commissioners, the chair of the Wake County Board of Education, the director of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, and numerous city and county housing officials.
“I have never seen the kind of passion that I have seen tonight,” Commissioner Jessica Holmes told residents gathered at Wake Baptist Grove Church. “All of these people are here tonight because we care about you. We’re not promising hotel space, but we are going to do everything that’s within our power to make sure your head doesn’t hit the street.”
Despite the turnout of people in power, obstacles remain, both for the residents of Forest Hills and for other low-income people in an increasingly pricey Wake County housing market.
“As our county grows, it’s going to put the squeeze on the poor,” Commissioner James West told the INDY before the meeting. “This gap between the haves and the have-nots must be corrected.”
Chapel Hill developers ECP LLC bought Forest Hills Apartments for $7.2 million in February, with the intention of renovating the complex and attracting renters at market rates.
After the INDY and other media outlets reported on his plans, company principal Daniel Eller agreed to extend renters’ stays until June 15 and allow them to keep paying subsidized rents.
“Once this hit the news, my email, my Facebook, my Twitter were all being blown up,” Holmes said. “People in Cary were calling me.”
After hearing about developments at the complex, HUD offered special vouchers to twenty-eight residents whose assistance was tied to living at that location, which was built with government financial backing. Now, like other residents, they can use vouchers at any housing where the landlord accepts subsidies.
“In my experience, it’s extraordinary for HUD to step up like that,” said Legal Aid director George Hausen.
This article appeared in print with the headline “+THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS.”