‘Don’t close your eyes on them.’ Displaced tenants urge city action at Lake Arbor

Updated: Aug. 27, 2019 at 12:17 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Lauren Lindstrom/The Charlotte Observer) - Days before the first deadline for Lake Arbor residents’ removal, dozens of tenants and their supporters implored Charlotte City Council to intervene.

Wearing matching black T-shirts and holding signs with messages such as “Hold Landlords Accountable” and “Housing is a Human Right,” tenants spoke of financial and emotional distress after apartment management announced plans to vacate all units and renovate the west Charlotte apartment complex that has been plagued with code violations.

Resident Jasmine Johnson, who was among the first residents to be removed last month, described her experience as “traumatizing.”

“Since then we’ve been homeless, we’ve been going from place to place,” she told council. “The situation has been stressful and frustrating, especially when you have a 1-year-old child.”

Conditions in the complex off Tuckaseegee Road have deteriorated so much — prompting dozens of code violations and resident complaints of mold, vermin and unsafe wiring — owners said it couldn’t be fixed without removing everyone.

That decision left hundreds of families scrambling to find new accommodations, some as soon as Saturday. Many families there are low-income, elderly or receive disability payments.

“At the end of the day, we need some help,” said longtime activist Blanche Penn. “And if you close your eyes again to displacement for our citizens in Charlotte, you close your eyes to the words you always say about affordable housing, so don’t close your eyes on them.”

Many expressed anger and accused council members of inaction, despite tenant complaints at previous public meetings.

“It’s been a year since we came here to urge city council to do something about the living conditions within Lake Arbor,” said Apryl Lewis, an organizer with the Tenant Organizing Resource Center.

“We came with broken spirits and confusion seeking support and action,” she said. “Now we’re here with anger, we’re here with frustration, and we are demanding action when it comes to displacement of residents and families, especially youth.”

Council member Lawana Mayfield, whose District 3 contains Lake Arbor, said there has been a disconnect in what information has been shared between city staff, council and the community, which has hampered earlier outreach efforts.

Council member Braxton Winston asked how the city can respond to Lake Arbor as a matter of public safety.

“It doesn’t always have to be about law enforcement, but when you have massive displacement like this and potentially dozens of families ending up on the street, I feel like that is a matter of public safety,” he said.