CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - As the Charlotte Housing Authority moves forward with plans to redevelop the aging Tall Oaks subsidized housing in the fast-gentrifying Cherry neighborhood, the last two families there say they can't move out, in part because of improper evictions from CHA on their records.
Most of the buildings at Tall Oaks, a 50-unit housing complex owned by CHA on Cherry Street near the Metropolitan shopping complex, have already been torn down. In its place, CHA is developing 81 units of new subsidized housing. The next phase of the project could include building up to 200 units of "workforce housing" for families making $38,500-$77,040. That plan is still in the rezoning process.
For now, Jacqueline Sherrill and Crystal Goode, along with their children, are the final residents of the former Tall Oaks complex. They say the eviction proceedings on their records – which they contend stem from CHA's mistakes – are causing potential landlords to turn them down as they seek new housing with vouchers.
"They're not going to call and say 'What happened?'" said Goode. "They're just going to deny me."
She wanted to move to Georgia, where she has family and said she can get a job, but said the landlord at a house she applied to rent turned her down after a credit check showed CHA started eviction proceedings last year. Goode said that case stemmed from CHA claiming she was late paying her rent, which she says she had put into a dropbox on time.
Their struggles highlight the challenges residents face as the Housing Authority redevelops older properties, including Tall Oaks and the Strawn Village development on South Boulevard. CHA leaders want to bring more mixed-income developments, with heavily subsidized renters alongside middle-class workers such as nurses, teachers and firefighters. But for the residents who are displaced, even if only temporarily, the effects are disruptive. And finding a landlord who will take a housing voucher in the interim is often difficult – especially with an eviction proceeding that shows up on a credit report.
Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for CHA, said she couldn't comment on legal proceedings related to specific residents' complaints because CHA is bound by confidentiality rules.
"I cannot specifically talk about these two people," said Porter.
But she said all residents at Tall Oaks have had access to supportive services to help them find new housing for almost a year, and that CHA will pay for costs such as a deposit, application costs and utility connection fees for residents using a housing voucher to relocate from Tall Oaks to another landlord.
"We understand we're working with folks with limited incomes, and we understand the stress of that," said Porter. She said Tall Oaks residents also have the option to move to other CHA-owned properties. "We engaged residents through community wide meetings, resident one-on-one counseling sessions, and through a resident needs assessment."
Sherrill said the 2012 eviction proceeding on her record stemmed from assessments for utility bills. She disputed the way CHA apportioned the costs, which she said amounted to overcharging her. The agency took her to court. After a judge ordered the bills paid, she said Crisis Assistance Ministry, which makes utility payments for people in need, satisfied the bill.
Porter said she couldn't discuss specific cases, but said CHA will provide tenants with a letter to show future landlords after a court case has been filed.
"If in fact there was a nonpayment of rent or expenses and those tenants eventually satisfied those debts, we would provide a letter that said these debts have been satisfied," said Porter.
Goode and Sherill said those letters aren't enough. Goode's letter from CHA, which acknowledged the money in dispute had been paid, didn't satisfy the Georgia landlord.
"The letter of satisfaction only states that the bill has been satisfied," said Sherill. "When I want to try to rent a house, who's going to go rent to me with an eviction?"
Will Tall Oaks residents return?
Sherrill and Goode said the offer to move to a different CHA property doesn't take into account what they're losing at the Tall Oaks location: Convenient access to groceries and shopping with Target and Trader Joe's across the street, a good school district, walking distance to medical facilities. It's the close-in location that's made Cherry such a hotbed for gentrification in recent years, with new houses starting at $600,000 replacing old bungalows.
"I'm trying to find at least something equal," said Sherrill, who has a niece, nephew and grandchild who live with her.
Goode recalled living in Charlotte without a car in Savannah Woods, another CHA property, before she moved to Tall Oaks. When her daughter had an asthma attack, she would call a cab to take them to the emergency room – three times in a week, in one instance. That cost $90, but was cheaper than an ambulance.
CHA said displaced residents will have priority to move back into the 81 new subsidized units when they're completed.
"Our goal would be for 100 percent of the tenants who live there to come back," said Porter. "Everyone who lived at Tall Oaks who said they wanted to come back, will have a new home waiting for them."
Sherill and Goode don't buy that. They point to the different mix in unit sizes: Nine four-bedroom units at the old Tall Oaks will be replaced with two four-bedrooms when it reopens. Instead of the current 16 three-bedroom units, there will be nine three-bedrooms. The number of two-bedroom units will increase from 17 to 45, while the number of one-bedroom units will go from eight to 25.
That changing mix of apartments, with more smaller units and fewer three- and four-bedrooms, will make it hard for families with multiple children to return, Sherrill said.