Property owners with outstanding housing code violations in Greensboro vary widely by type

by Jordan Green

A Greensboro city inspector issued a 48-hour order to Wells Fargo to board up this house at 3504 N. Church St. in March, noting police service calls because of vagrants going in and out and that the property is next to a bus stop. (photo by Jordan Green)

Serious housing code violations crop up all over Greensboro, not just in the swath of working-class and poor southeastern portion east of US Highway 29 and High Point Road that correlates with the city’s predominately African-American neighborhoods.

Many of them are scattered throughout the western suburban fringe of the city, such as a padlocked unit at 5737-J Bramblegate Road with a “for sale” sign on its front lawn in a sprawling multi-family complex off of Guilford College Road. Among its outstanding violations, according to city records, is sheetrock contaminated with and possibly hiding mold, exposed wiring, loose outlets and an inoperable smoke detector.

Many of the violation letters issued by the city over the past six months reflect the scars of the foreclosure crisis, as former owners left their homes, banks let the properties slide into disrepair and then addicts and homeless people moved in. Some of the individuals cited for violations are owneroccupants, or at least the people who once lived in the padlocked homes before their mortgages went underwater. Others are landlords who live in Greensboro, High Point or, less frequently, out of state.

Some of the property owners have obtained a measure of notoriety in tenant advocacy circles that is amplified in news media accounts. Such is the case with the Agapion family, cited with violations for 10 properties since Jan. 14, of which city records reflect that three are still active.

Some properties are owned by individuals who have made contributions to the campaigns of sitting city council members, such as an apartment on Avalon Road that was cited for being occupied without running water. The apartment complex is owned by Shannon Enterprises of the Southeast, a company owned in part by Thomas L. White Jr. A house on Park Avenue in the Aycock Historical District that is owned in part by Greensboro Landlords Association President Bobby Akin was cited for several violations that appear to be largely tenant related. A note on the violation sheet states, “Advise the tenant… that it’s his responsibility to keep his unit cleaned and organized.”

Another citation references “excessive use of extension cords.” Charles Irvin Jr., another political contributor, was ordered to board up a house on Maywood Street in the Piedmont

Heights neighborhood near the Greensboro Coliseum. City records reflect that the property is currently in compliance.

The transition from owner-occupied to the rental market has brought some properties to the attention of city inspectors.

When inspector Roddy Covington visited 2100 Colson St. near Dudley High School on Feb. 10, he found the lawn covered in debris, paint peeling and flaking on the outside of the house, weak flooring around the toilet, missing or damaged light switches and receptacle plates, exposed wiring and an inoperable smoke alarm. The house is owned by New Light Missionary Baptist Church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Cardes Brown, is president of the Greensboro chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, and a member of the Pulpit Forum, a group of African- American pastors who advocate for racial fairness in the police department and in the community at large.

Brown said the house has been unoccupied for about two years, since the former tenants left. County tax records show that the church bought the property in 2001. Brown said the church bought the house from the couple to help them get out from under an onerous mortgage with an exploding interest rate, and then rented the house back to them at the equivalent of their original monthly mortgage. Now, the house is unoccupied, and the church is fixing it up to rent to disabled individuals through a US Department of Housing & Urban Development, or HUD program. The church requested the city inspection, Brown said, so that it could meet HUD’s stringent requirements.

“Now that no one’s living in it,” Brown said, “I’ve had many people come and say, ‘Can we live in that house?’ They are repairing the house. I would invite you to go look at it because the house is in better condition than most houses that are rented in Greensboro.”

Several improvements have been made.

The yard is generally clean, although a pile of paint chips still lies at the base of a side door. A hot water heater and at least two smoke alarms have been installed. The bathroom has a new tile floor. Undine DeSuze, a trustee tasked with leading the church’s renovation efforts, looked over the city’s records during a reporter’s visit last week to the house. She noted that the city’s violation

report states that the exposed wiring violation has not been corrected and acknowledged that could be the case. DeSuze said the inspector has made periodic visits to check on the trustees’ progress and has extended the deadline to fix the violations in 30-day increments. The last visit took place in May, and DeSuze admitted that the most recent deadline, in June, has come and gone.

DeSuze herself has worked for HUD, and she noted with pride that she has a special facility for record keeping.

“I know how to be thorough,” she said, adding later: “There’s no way I will allow anyone to be in there until it’s up to code.”

One other church has also been cited for a housing code violation.

On March 12, St. Paul Baptist Church was ordered to board up a house next door. James Fisher, the pastor, said the church took action before any fines had been assessed. It had previously been occupied as a rental property, but the pastor said his church plans to tear it down and convert it into a parking lot.

Other owners of dilapidated and unoccupied properties are more distant and impersonal.

Wells Fargo is listed as the owner for three dilapidated houses across from a low-income apartment complex and near bus stops on the Route 3 line on North Church Street. A city housing inspector ordered Wells Fargo to board up all three houses at 3500, 3502 and 3504 N. Church St. in March, and correct numerous other violations. Each violation report said more or less the same thing:

“Vagrants going in and out of unsecured unit. School bus stop nearby. Police have been called to this unit several times by neighbors because of vagrants.”

Josh Dunn, a Wells Fargo spokesman in Charlotte, said that while Wells Fargo is the title holder for the three addresses, two separate companies are responsible for management and disposition of the properties. Florida-based Ocwen Financial Corp. is servicing 3500 and 3504 N. Church St., Dunn said, adding that Wells Fargo was “not able to identify the third property. A call to a contact at Ocwen provided by Dunn was not returned on Monday.

A recent visit to the houses found that one was unsecured and open from the back, with a piece of graying chipboard lying on the steps. Rotting boards with protruding rusty nails rested near the mailbox at one house. Shattered glass lay under a set of weathered wooden steps. Downed tree limbs sprawled across the grounds. The plastic cover was torn off an electrical box, leaving wires exposed.

“Any home that is open or is vacant is a problem for a number of reasons,” Loosemore said. “It could be drug users, prostitutes, people that sleep there for shelters. And then they might start fires.”