You know that creeping anxiety you feel when you know you have to move soon? You could be six months out and the thought of having to go look for apartments or houses forms like a dark cloud over your head. The cloud is always there, hovering over your current thought process, reminding you that if you don’t get your shit together and figure something out soon you won’t have anywhere to live.
Maybe I’m projecting, but that’s how I experience the moving process. It’s not just the hassle of paperwork and driving around to meet those godawful leasing agents with fake smiles, but for a person like me who’s lived paycheck-to-paycheck for just about all of their adult life, the idea of security deposits and first-and-last months’ rent is enough to send me into a panic if I think about it too hard.
With that in mind, I try to consider what it would be like to be told you need to be out of your home by month’s end, or worse yet, to come home from work one day to find your apartment padlocked with an eviction notice on the door.
That’s been the real-life experience of many Lake Arbor residents over the last year — not to mention countless Charlotteans in similar situations around the city.
Hundreds of households have dealt silently for years with dangerous living conditions and refusals to fix simple maintenance issues. Once residents finally spoke out about these deplorable practices, they began to be targeted for evictions, and they fought back until July 30, when ownership at Lake Arbor announced that they would be shutting the entire complex down by the end of the year.
Just like that, 177 Lake Arbors households — families with kids just starting school, people with disabilities on fixed income, elderly people with no income — faced the reality that if they couldn’t find someplace to move to soon, they would be living on the streets or in shelters. For this week’s cover story, I spent time reporting on the response from organizations both governmental and grassroots to the July 30 announcement.
During that time, city leaders threw up their arms in defeat at what was happening in Lake Arbor. Though city code enforcement could have put an end to the criminally negligent behavior of Lake Arbor’s ownership some years ago, the blame was placed on faceless organizations.
“We’ve tried every attempt that we could within the city’s power and authority to do something but we have an out-of-town owner,” said Mayor Vi Lyles at an Aug. 29 panel discussion about affordable housing in west Charlotte. “I really want to know this guy’s name because he really ought to be named in the open, and I’ll never know his name because it’s an LLC corporation where investors buy something and they are just going to drive it into the ground, which is what happened here in Charlotte.”
David Sentendrey of Fox 46 reported more than a year ago on the name of the owner originally responsible for what was happening there: Robert Wolf of the New York-based Lake Arbor Dean TIC, LLC. Fox 46’s investigation also found that the company’s license had been revoked by the North Carolina secretary of state’s office in 2015, and yet they were still signing leases and checks under the same name.
The issue here is that someone wasn’t paying attention. To be sure, that someone wasn’t Lyles, although it would be refreshing to hear someone take accountability for what’s happened under the city’s nose while leaders have celebrated their own steps toward developing more affordable housing.
As Robert Dawkins of Action NC pointed out at that same August panel discussion, however, it’s hard to take responsibility for an issue that nobody’s acknowledging in the first place. Dawkins noted that, while the city is careful to announce every new unit of affordable housing that goes up in Charlotte, nobody’s tracking the ones that are shutting down.
“What we’ve got to figure out is how the county, how the city, how the state, how the federal government can work to come up with indicators so that when you see this problem coming, you can figure out what you can do on the front end,” Dawkins said. “It’s easier to figure out how not to displace 1,000 people than it is to figure out how you’re going to pay for 1,000 people to move.”
So while folks discuss the new developments coming to their favorite neighborhoods and share headlines about affordable housing with applause, what we need to be paying attention to are the communities we already have. There were 10 Lake Arbors before that complex became a local story, and I have no doubt that there are 10 more waiting in the wings. We need to find those before it’s too late for them, too.