JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Residents from Town Center Apartments in Jacksonville learned they have 60 days to vacate the property due to safety.

They said they were told the City of Jacksonville has different plans for the complex come October or tear it all down at Tuesday nights city council meeting, but they have gotten no answers on if they will be assisted in moving or where they can move.

Felisha Benson, her mother and three children are facing this issue now. Benson said last week she got a yellow sticker on her door deeming her apartment was unsafe. She cannot afford to move.

A memo taped on a door in Town Center Apartments.
(Claire Curry, WNCT photo)

Benson said she has lived in the same conditions for three years. She is confused as to why it is a problem now plus why nothing is being done to help fix it. She also said she has been told she will be relocated to the Sandy Run Apartments or Holiday City but says it is not a safe living area for her family. 

“Zero answers, zero ideas the lady that is running it now is just like us, she doesn’t even have answers. So someone that knows something needs to come out and say something. We have a lot of people stressed, worried and everything,” said Benson.

She wants a definite answer to what is going to happen as she is concerned her family will be left on the street. Benson adds a lot of people in the complex are in the same boat and cannot afford to move.

Another resident, Scott Haber is also in the same boat. He says he cannot handle being out on the street again.

Haber was homeless in New York previously and has been living at the complex for the last year.

He says the stress and anxiety over trying to find a place to go is starting to affect his health.

“There is nothing. I have to stay in city limits because I don’t drive, I can’t depend on anyone to take me to doctors appointments, grocery store. What is going to happen to me and my family?”

Scott Haber, Town Center Resident

A Town Center Apartments representative said they have a meeting with the City of Jacksonville this Thursday to discuss the matter.

They also add they are now having to sign residents up for the HOPE program, as a lot of them cannot afford living and moving expenses.

They say over 300 residents are in the same boat. An official statement from the complex is below.

Town Center Apartments Statement:

To whom it may concern,

This letter is to serve as a personal statement concerning Town Center Apartment Homes and a response to the tenant concerns at the Jacksonville City Council meeting on 8/17/21 at 5:00 pm.

The tenants who went to that meeting have legitimate concerns regarding their apartment and their neighbor’s apartments. The City of Jacksonville came to the property in October of 2020 and marked 236 apartments as unsafe. At that time, a large number of the units they marked were occupied. All of those occupied units were vacated. In April of 2021, I was hired on by the current owner for a short term basis to oversee the property and to manage the existing staff, as well as coordinate the management of unsafe apartments and monitor city progress on the property. On April 23, 2021, a letter was personally delivered to the leasing office by Danny Bryan, the head of the city of Jacksonville inspections department that stated that Town Center had 180 days to vacate all of the additional units.

There were no tenants in any units that were not adjacent to a unit that was marked unsafe. At that time, I stopped all lease renewals and also stopped all marketing for this property. This was a huge effort in order to identify units that were not unsafe to transfer current tenants that were possibly living in unsafe conditions.

Due to the onset of COVID 19 in April of 2020, there was very little construction done on this property due to lack of construction follow through with contractors and permits that were not followed through on behalf of the contractors that were hired. There was also a very stringent set of rules for repair that was put in to place by the city of Jacksonville specifically for this property which also made it difficult to hire qualified staff or find any reputable contractors to take on a project of this size, due to the reputation of the property and also the large scope of the unsafe signs and coordinating the vacating and transfer of tenants. I advised all TC staff that the way the maintenance was handled as well making sure all staff were following fair housing laws. I established the rule that I would do a personal inspection within 24 hours of any tenant who reported unsafe mold, maintenance that was not completed and etc. I personally have inspected over 200 units that are occupied and have notified Section 8 and Trillium and have been seeking funds for construction as well as alternate housing for these tenants. I also visited the local homeless shelter close to property to let them know that some residents may have to be vacated. I also reached out to the city office to let them know that I had a concern about #1 tenant safety and #2 the huge increase in the homeless population if this property was vacated in October. I was told hat the owner would have to find somewhere for these tenants to go, but where do we vacate them to when there is virtually no rental properties that any of our tenants could afford as well as so many mentally ill and so many tenants here in serious financial hardship due to this pandemic that we are all still facing?

In May, I received word that the NC Hope program had more funding available. I hired on two staff to come in to the office with me short term to start contacting all of our tenants who were due for eviction and also assist any and all low income families that we could assist in getting the HOPE funds. This program also protects the tenants for 60 days past their award from eviction. To me, this was the most immediate focus to protect these families from possibly facing homelessness in the middle of a pandemic. Since May, I have secured HOPE funds for 89 tenants here and have only had to evict one tenant out of the 50 that were due to be evicted at the end of the moratorium. This is progress, but it is not enough. We received some days over 50 calls per day from current tenants worried about eviction and the City of Jacksonville’s notice. We also receive hundreds of calls from people that are desperately seeking a rental apartment due to the lack of housing in Jacksonville at this time. I also have been contacted by Camp LeJeune because they are looking for adequate housing for the military and former military members.

I have established a very good working relationship with the City of Jacksonville and they have assisted me on numerous occasions to vacate tenants, notify DSS of tenants that were in unsafe situations, and etc. Danny Bryan personally gave me his cell number as well as assigned an inspector who I speak to on a daily basis as well as we have inspected countless vacate and occupied units together to try to find more adequate areas of the property to move tenants to. They have also stressed their appreciation to me for the change and the collaboration that we have been able to establish in the last few months. The city manager has been very accommodating and helpful as well as the City of Jacksonville police department go above and beyond to make this a safer community and area of Jacksonville, which we are well aware has been targeted by police as a problem area for some time.

We have plans in place now with Duke Energy to replace all of the street lights that have still been down since Hurricane Florence and have meetings in place with security companies to secure the property for all concerned. We have a meeting in place tomorrow August 19th with the City of Jacksonville Inspections Department and I am hopeful that this will be a productive meeting for all involved.

I challenge and propose to the current tenants, owner, management companies, staff, and the residents of the City of Jacksonville to come together in a new initiative to turn this negative image and financial hardship for all of the families who have lived here into a positive “NEW” New River for these families and for Jacksonville as a whole. If you could speak to some of the tenants have lived here for over 30 years then you would see that there is a sense of community here that is waiting and ready for a change to change the lives of hundreds of families instead of creating fear, panic, and further hardship for the impoverished during this difficult time in our history. We are facing record breaking numbers now with Covid in Onslow County and we need to come forward with all involved to come up with a solid plan so that these tenants and families as a whole will have a sense of peace and less worry for their immediate future, as well as the long term future for this community.