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Leaving Lincoln, ‘out of jail’



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Alta Green shifted boxes to make a place to sit, and waited. It was 9:15 Friday morning, moving day, and her living room at Lincoln Apartments was stacked with boxes packed and ready, but there were still the sofa, the huge aquarium, a grandfather clock and more to somehow deal with.

By 1:30 that afternoon, Green, 64, would be at a new home in a familiar neighborhood and her 13-year-old grandson would come home from school to a promise of order and stability. But now it was 9:15 and the expected moving crew had not arrived. Cynthia Harris, the rehousing coordinator from Housing for New Hope, was with her – on the phone, making and re-making arrangements – but for Green, at the moment, there was little to do but wait some more.

Waiting had worn on her: since Sept. 28, when she got the notice Lincoln Apartments was being closed, she had waited to see a future.

“You wake up one morning and you have to move. ... My mind went blank,” she said.

The Lincoln Hospital Foundation owns the apartments, and tenants’ rent is its only of income. After years of deepening red ink, and facing a water bill and repair mandates from the city it could not pay, the foundation board decided to cease operations.

That left Green, and 100 or so households like hers, with little between them and being homeless.

“It really devastated me,” she said. She has some income and her rent was paid up but she had just used all her savings moving to Durham from Harnett County. She is disabled, her eye needs surgery and her car needs work. She was better off than many of her neighbors.

“There’s plenty of children who don’t have nowhere to go,” Green said. “There’s got to be 55 more families here.”

Originally, the move-out deadline was Oct. 31. County, city and the nonprofit Bless Durham stepped in to help, tenants organized themselves and the foundation gave tenants a two-month reprieve. At that point, the nonprofit Housing for New Hope took the lead in finding places for Lincoln tenants to go and helping them get moved.

“Thank God,” Green said.

Afraid to sleep

Sam Fisher, Melissa Hartzell and Veronica Mial from Housing for New Hope, and Oziah McDonald, a volunteer, arrived to help. Fisher and Harris were on their phones to find who had trucks to rent nearby. Outside, it was overcast and a drizzle turned into a downpour. Green, still waiting, nodded toward the vacated apartments across the street.

All the tenants were gone, she said, but break-ins were regular occurrences and drug dealers had moved in. She heard shots at night and a patrol car parked down the block was the first police presence she had seen. She had set a lamp outside her door since the hall and stairway lights were out, and she was afraid to sleep at night. Her doctor said her health was getting worse.

Fisher and Hartzell drove a first load to Green’s new place, a two-bedroom house with a basement and yard. Green’s son, Torrey, and great-nephew, DeAndre Anderson, arrived to help.

Housing for New Hope has been able to move about 10 families, Harris said. One other tenant, Jennifer Hunter, was moving Friday and three were scheduled this week. But her phone rings constantly with more people needing help, she said.

“Most of the people over here, they pay from $360 to $500 a month for rent. ... Some of them have three-bedroom apartments paying that much,” Harris said. “Problem is, I can’t find anything like that that’s affordable.”

Harris has a long list of landlords willing to work with her, but some landlords hear “Lincoln Apartments” and say they have nothing to rent, said Hunter, who has lived at Lincoln “six or seven years.” Green’s niece, Kay Lee, said she had heard the same thing. She was helping her aunt move out, but she has nowhere to go herself.

“Everywhere I go, they turn me down,” she said.

‘Out of jail’

About 12:30, the rental truck was full. Green’s dining room table and chairs, the beds, the aquarium, the candlesticks from her wedding and her grandson’s drum set were packed and she walked down the front steps for the last time.

Green just moved to Lincoln in June, but family members had lived in that same apartment for more than 10 years. Her sister died there, she said. Some of her neighbors have lived in the complex more than 30 years, Harris said. “They raised all their children here. It’s like home.”

But Green was ready to go.

As her niece drove her away the sun was coming out. It was just more than a mile to the new house, where the helpers were already unloading furniture. Green went inside and came out with a potted plant and hung it on her front porch.

“I feel better already,” she said.

Green knew the neighborhood. She lived there, she said, when an accident at work left her disabled and the neighbors kept her going.

The backyard had a steep dropoff down to a stream, and Green said she’d get a fence put in so the grandchildren wouldn’t fall when they came to play. As soon as she gets her car fixed, she’ll be doing fine, she said.

“When things get good, I’m going to try and go back to school,” she said. “Take some refresher courses in math.”

She said she’d be unpacked by 5 o’clock. She had hugs for everyone, especially Harris.

“You helped me get out of jail,” she said. “You made my bail.”

Then Harris and the others left. They had another move to make. Green’s niece Kay Lee left, too. She had more looking left to do.

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