A Warren Apartments tenant will appeal what she says is a wrongful eviction following an altercation with a property manager that stemmed from a years-long black mold infestation and neglect on behalf of LEDIC Management and the Global Ministries Foundation (GMF).
"I have been dealing with black mold since day one," said Warren Apartments Tenant Association co-founder Cynthia Crawford, who moved into the complex with her two children in February 2013. "I went to the maintenance office and asked [about it]. They told me to use bleach. Every time I did, it came back. In June of 2015, the previous property manager had a code enforcement retiree inspect the apartment, who said it was black mold."
Crawford's complaints come as a voice among a chorus of tenants at the Warren and Tulane apartment complexes. Despite GMF spending more than $300,000 on repairs, both complexes failed twice last year to meet the minimum score of 60 required to pass a federal inspection — falling eight points below at 52. Hundreds of residents from the Section 8 housing will now be forced to relocate as the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) cracks down on GMF for failure to maintain livable conditions.
LEDIC did not respond to a request for an update on the relocation. Residents will receive a relocation voucher. HUD officials met with residents last week and said the process would likely begin in March.
GMF is an affordable housing initiative that seeks to provide shelter to low- and moderate-income residents around the United States. GMF CEO Reverend Richard Hamlet proposed a multi-million-dollar rehabilitation program for the two complexes that would use private capital funds. HUD denied the request.
"We're all on poverty level, but I think we should at least have decent housing," Crawford said. "We're not asking for mansions or gold fixtures. We're just asking for basic, decent housing."
Three maintenance workers visited Crawford's unit on Nov. 30th to repair water damage in her bathroom and attend to the mold. Property manager Betsy Waugh entered her apartment around 6:30 p.m., according to Crawford, and asked, "What's the holdup?" When a senior maintenance attendant told Waugh about the mold, Crawford, unseen in the hallway, allegedly overheard Waugh say, "Don't say that, just go ahead and cover it up [with sheetrock]."
Waugh, Crawford said, returned an hour later. Waugh allegedly became argumentative and started videotaping Crawford, which led Crawford to "get in [Waugh's] face and curse her" before asking her to leave the unit. Waugh left and called the police, allegedly claiming Crawford assaulted her, which Crawford says did not occur. A police report was filed, and LEDIC Management issued Crawford a three-day eviction notice on Dec. 2nd. Crawford will appeal the eviction on March 3rd.
The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center (MSPJC) helped the Warren Apartments Tenant Association create a strategy to bridge the gap between management and tenants. The Association has 26 members. Members who have spoken up at Shelby County Commission meetings have been threatened with eviction, says MSPJC executive director Brad Watkins.
"As most tenants do not know their rights, many landlords get over on people all the time for things that the law clearly states are landlord responsibilities," Watkins said.
Renters often mistakenly make verbal agreements, Watkins says. People don't fully understand their renter's rights and other resources available to them.
"We see so many cases where if a person had just known what their rights were they could have avoided being taken advantage of by an unethical landlord," Watkins said.
MSPJC will attempt to change this through their new renters' rights project. The immediate goal is to train tenants on how to better understand their rights as renters and form their own associations. Watkins would like to create a Memphis Tenants Union.
"We have allowed slumlords to run amok for so long that now all of our chickens are coming home to roost, and Memphis is on the verge of a crisis in affordable housing," Watkins said.