James Upchurch has lived at Wayside Apartments on Garner Road in Raleigh for eight years. The complex, located a few miles south of downtown, has served as affordable housing for many low-income residents for decades.
But this month might be Upchurch’s and the other residents’ last living there.
In mid-May, residents received a door notice that the complex had been sold, and the new landlords would be terminating all leases effective at the end of June, leaving Upchurch and dozens of others worried about housing. With Raleigh’s average monthly rent for a 956-square-foot apartment estimated at $1,287—up 57 percent since 2010, according to the apartment listing website RENTCafé— the Wayside tenants filed a petition asking for their housing termination date to be extended.
“There’s 32 families here that are being put out,” Upchurch says. “So a couple of them have already found something. But me, I’m a handicapped individual, so I can’t get around, and we’re waiting to try to find something.”
The petition was sent to TradeMark Residential, a residential management firm working for the complex’s new owner, shortly after residents received the notices. Since then, many residents started contacting the Raleigh City Council and local activists for help.
Diana Powell, executive director of Justice Served NC, says Upchurch contacted her about two weeks ago, shortly after he received his lease notice.
“This is the part where we have to come in and work together with our resources that are being funded and the community as well, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Powell says. “If individuals find themselves totally with no support, nowhere to go, no family, no couch, nowhere to go, then we as a community, and these other programs, must come together and figure it out.”
While tenants may reapply for housing in the renovated apartment complex, Powell says, many of the new requirements set by the new landlords are difficult for the current residents to meet. Rent, for example, is set to triple, and background and credit checks will now be part of the application process, on top of an application fee.
“I would say probably 80 percent would not be able to continue to live there,” Powell says. “Their options are just to find somewhere else or to become homeless.”
In a conversation with the INDY, Upchurch said that while he could manage to afford the higher rent, he would not be able to afford anything else. With the lease expiring soon, Upchurch contacted Corey Branch, the Raleigh City Council representative for District C, where the apartment complex is located.
“I feel like he’s trying, and they tell us that they’re talking to the mayor,” Upchurch says. “All I have to go on is what they tell us. All any of us have to go on is what they tell us.”
Branch says he has been in contact with several of the residents at the Garner Road apartment complex as well as with TradeMark Residential. Branch told the INDY that the new landlords are working on ways to extend the housing deadline for current residents. But the residents still face challenges, since the housing market in Raleigh has not only become more expensive but more competitive as well.
“Right now, because of the very low vacancy rate in the county, it’s really challenging to find a place for anyone,” Branch says. “For just someone moving here, looking for a space, there’s a lot of competing factors, so I think about that situation, but my overall goal is to work with the residents to keep them there.”
Ed Batchelor, the president of TradeMark Residential, told the INDY that the management firm is working with the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness to help the current residents find homes after the lease deadline. Batchelor also confirmed he’s been working with Branch and the Raleigh City Council to find ways to house the residents.
To combat the housing crisis, Branch says the city council is working on multiple affordable housing projects, including increasing Raleigh property taxes to cover upcoming affordable housing construction. But these complexes take months to build, Branch says. With the minimum wage in North Carolina still at $7.25 an hour, and the housing market expected to get more competitive in the coming years, many residents are finding the City of Oaks increasingly unaffordable.
“We need more landlords that are willing to not go for the market rate, that are willing to say ‘Hey, I can take a little less because I’m helping someone and that person is consistent with their payments,’” Branch says. “There’s a lot of people who are willing to pay and consistently pay, but they can’t afford the rate at which things are going or are increasing.”
The residents’ June deadline is likely to be extended for a few more months, according to Branch and Powell. But residents who will be unable to meet the new housing requirements will now have to find backup plans for housing—and fast.
For many, this means finding family, friends, or community groups who have space for them to temporarily reside, Powell told the INDY.
As for Upchurch, he hasn’t been able to find any tangible housing plans yet with his family.
“There ain’t but three of us left in all,” Upchurch says. “One lives in Richmond, and I’m here.”
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