Four County Community Services recently changed its name and moved its headquarters from Laurinburg to Lumberton.
LAURINBURG, N.C. -
A federal judge in Greensboro issued a complainant a new Section 8 voucher and sufficient time to find a new home after she and other women complained Four-County Community Services (FCSS) demanded sexual favors so the women could qualify for federal housing.
Legal Aid of North Carolina's Fair Housing Project and Greensboro attorney Craig Hensel filed a temporary restraining order asking a United States district court to prevent Southeastern Community and Family Services (formerly FCSS), John Wesley and Eric Pender from retaliating against the eight women. The women claimed Wesley and Pender extorted sex in exchange for facilitating their participation in the Section 8 housing program.
The women first brought charges against the Laurinburg-based Four-County Community Services in state superior court in September 2012. They said that from 2011 to 2013, Wesley and Pender demanded sexual favors in exchange for granting the vouchers and conducting favorable home inspections so the women could qualify for the program.
“If you need to get into this house, have you ever had anyone pay you for sex?”is what the initial complainant said Pender asked her when she was trying to move into a home in 2012. “He basically was saying if you have sex with me, if you have oral sex with me, I’m going to sign off on this signature for your house to pass inspection.”
Another woman said she was in Wesley’s office with her six-months-old daughter when he made sexual advances. She said he locked the door and asked for a sexual favor.
“Then he went to say that if I had sex with him and with Pender I could have benefits that week, if not I would have to wait four months,” the woman said.
The women claim the non-profit agency has given them trouble because of the lawsuit. For the original complainant, the problems were recently leading to an eviction without much notice. Hensel said the judge ruled that Southeastern Community and Family Services (SCFS) should give the woman a new voucher and extend the housing assistance payments (HAP) contract with her landlord.
Hensel said since filing the lawsuit, the group has sought to terminate the woman's Section 8 voucher, alleging that her home did not pass inspection, although Hensel said it always did when the harassment was occurring.
The order also prevents the agency’s employees from communicating with the woman regarding her current Section 8 voucher and the HAP contract.
“I know it's going to relieve a lot of stress off me, a lot,” said the initial complainant.
Hensel said in a future filing he will request that court approval be required for SCFS to alter any of the women's vouchers.
Hensel said as their case continues they still hope other women will come forward if they have had similar experiences.
“It's not right what they're doing to women,” one of the complainants said Thursday. “They don't have to degrade themselves like that.”
Southeastern Community and Family Services covers Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, Pender, Robeson and Scotland counties. Hensel asks anyone who has a similar story and would like to join the lawsuit to call him at 336-218-6466 or email email@example.com.
Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon.More>>