'It's like a stab in the heart': Durham residents scramble to find new homes by end of year

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Residents at the Braswell Properties in Durham started December with a ticking clock.

About a dozen families received a letter stating they had 30 days to vacate their units on Buchanan Boulevard.

"Never missed a rent and never been late and to be treated like this it's like a stab in the heart," said Lathonia Roberts who's lived at the property for 18 years.

Multiple other families have also lived in their homes for decades and are shocked by the news.

"This is just crazy that you take it upon yourself to tell 12 families that they have to be out in 30 days, with no reason," said Donna Dumas who has lived at the property for 40 years. "I could see if we weren't paying our rent, if we were tearing up their apartments, none of that is going on."

The properties around a mile from Duke University are being sold. Charles Bulthuis, the owner of the new property management company told ABC11 that the units need more than $700,000 worth of repairs.

Dumas said the residents understand the units need to be renovated but wish they were given more time. She said many residents are on fixed incomes and are struggling to find affordable options.

"When you try to find places, it's expensive. Durham is very expensive to live in at the time. So you know, it's like even if you want us to leave, we don't have a problem leaving. But if you could give us more than 30 days and during this holiday time. So it's like, what do you do?" Dumas said.

Residents said they've felt as if they have been left in the dark and have trouble getting information and answers from the new management.

Bulthuis said they are willing and trying to work with residents to help them find alternative properties and could even assist in waiving application fees. He said while more notice has been given to other residents in the past, there's no incentive for landlords to give more than 30 days' notice.

North Carolina law also doesn't require renters to get more notice. In fact, in month-to-month leases, the landlord only has to provide a seven-day notice.

"The scandal here is what is legal," said Nick MacLeod, the local organizing director at NC Housing. The statewide housing nonprofit has heard from a few residents from the complex but MacLeod said this isn't an isolated incident.

"It's upsettingly common," he said. "Even though it's common, it's still awful."

He said situations like this will only increase as the area's housing market remains hot.

He said there are interventions that city leaders should be taking now to prevent further mass evictions and to preserve affordable housing. MacLeod said leaders can change how they give out building permits.

"If cities could structure their building permit process to say, okay, part of the requirement for building permits, go to your current occupant and get them to sign off and say, 'Yep, I'm agreeing to do this.' And part of what's so important about that is that can really disrupt the sort of economic incentive to displace tenants," he explained.

Cities could also subsidize buildings and directly buy units to preserve affordable housing options.

"There's a really valuable role for cities, counties, the larger state apparatus to intervene, buy some of these properties, and putting them into regulatory agreements so that's kind of long term affordable housing," he said.

But for the residents on Buchanan Boulevard, as the deadline gets closer they are still scrambling to find options and feel slighted.

"I just want people to know of what's going on. When you look at it, it's wrong on so many levels," Dumas said.
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