Residents discontent despite narrow settlement between city of Greensboro and Hairston apartments

by Jordan Green

Resident LaTonya Stimpson (left), her daughter and community organizer Melva Florance demonstrate outside of the JT Hairston Memorial Apartments management office earlier this year. (file photo)

An agreement was reached last month between the city of Greensboro, JT Hairston Memorial Apartments and a property management company to settle a lawsuit filed by the city on behalf of resident LaTonya Stimpson.

The city had contended in its lawsuit that the property management company and its employees had shown “a pattern and practice of discrimination against families, had treated tenants with children disrespectfully and had carried out acts of retaliation against tenants who complained about the employees’ treatment in violation of the city’s fair housing ordinance. Stimpson had been threatened with eviction over disputed fees.

The settlement, which was signed by city officials, various employees of Westminster Co. and the chairwoman of JT Hairston Memorial Apartments, allows Stimpson to retain possession of her apartment, requires Westminster Co. to revoke all lease violations against Stimpson, erase any alleged debts and revise the public housing community’s practices, rules and regulations.

Those revisions include abolishing separate days and times for children and adults to use the apartment complex’s computer room and a stipulation that children may play in all common areas, with the exception of the laundry room. Previously the city had cited published rules and regulations stating that children at the apartment complex have playgrounds provided for them, but a city investigator found that there actually was no playground. Parents had been threatened with lease violations and eventual termination for not disciplining their children when they were seen hanging on dumpsters in improvised play.

Employees will also attend a training session to learn the provisions of the fairhousing ordinance provided by the city. The agreement gives city officials the right to inspect the premises of the apartment complex to ensure compliance.

“The fact that we wound up in court indicates there was a finding of violation of the city’s fair-housing ordinance,” Human Relations Director Anthony Wade said. “The settlement agreement is a way of addressing the issues that have been raised, and meeting the expectations of the complainant. They agreed to do that, and we are satisfied that this case is closed.”

Stimpson said she did not agree to the settlement, and hopes to initiate a lawsuit against the Hairston apartments independent of the city. The apartment complex still has no playground. Stimpson complained that off-duty police officers hired by Westminster Co. appear to turn a blind eye to drug dealing and disturbances created by people who live elsewhere, but then harass and arrest teenage boys who live in the complex. Also, several apartment units are infested with bedbugs.

“We’re not safe,” Stimpson said. “It’s hazardous, it’s violent, it’s crime-ridden. I don’t understand why the city just brushes my case under the rug.”

Toni Curtis and Starlyn Nelson, along with Donte Townsend and Iris Alston, said they have recently learned that the human relations department made findings of discrimination based on familial status on their behalf and against Hairston apartments. Curtis, Townsend and Alston have been evicted. Nelson still lives in the apartment complex. Curtis said the human relations department is just now beginning investigations into complaints filed by two other residents.

The tenants have been speaking to lawyer Romallus Murphy about a possible lawsuit against Hairston apartments and Westminster Co. Curtis said they will likely wait for determinations on the other two investigations before proceeding with legal action.

Stimpson and Nelson have recently returned from the US Social Forum, a national networking forum for people engaged in a range of progressive causes that took place in Detroit on June 22-26. Inspired by her experience, Stimpson said she’s planning a press conference and considering turning her apartment into a “museum” to showcase the reality of public housing.

Meanwhile, the provisions of the settlement made on Stimpson’s behalf appear to have made little impression on residents, and tensions in the community have been running high. Stimpson said the Greensboro police showed up in force over the weekend and arrested five young men from the community who were upset about hostilities instigated by outsiders. Stimpson said she planned to file a complaint for excessive force against the police with the city’s complaint review committee on Monday.

Stimpson and Nelson also returned from Detroit to find that their apartments had been sprayed for bedbugs, but both remained frustrated because Nelson had been asking property management to do something about the pests since January and both contend that since the bedbugs are in the walls of several units they’re likely to migrate to adjacent apartments and return once the spray wears off. The two women said they want Westminster Co. to pay for their mattresses and furniture to be replaced, but the property management company instead purchased mattress covers. Stimpson said all of her belongings are packed because she doesn’t trust the bedbugs to not return.

“Every one of the [apartments] is infested top to bottom,” she said. “The women are not complaining because of their pride and self-esteem. Their children have bite marks all over their bodies. When they remodeled, the bedbugs were inside the wall. When they remodeled, they stirred them up.”

Stimpson said she recently told Westminster Co. Executive Vice President: “Y’all are going to have to remove everybody from here and remove the walls.”

On top of other frustrations, sleep deprivation has taken a toll on the families living at Hairston apartments.

“I can’t get any sleep,” Stimpson said.

“My 16-year-old had to go sleep elsewhere. When he doesn’t sleep somewhere else, he’s trying to sleep on the kitchen table. He had a messed-up ninth-grade year. He was not promoted. He’s smart; it’s because of inadequate sleep. Now my son’s life is in jeopardy. I got a newborn. I constantly got to get up in the middle of the night to make sure the bedbugs are not crawling on her. All of us are being inconvenienced due to JT Hairston apartments’ neglect. It’s not fair.”

Stimpson said Westminster Co. gave her the option to move to another apartment complex, but she decided to stay and fight at Hairston apartments because she doesn’t want to abandon the other tenants that are trying to obtain justice, and she doesn’t believe conditions are necessarily better some place else.

“Why move to another property when it’s managed by the same company?” she asked. “It’s like slavery. It’s like moving from one plantation to another. It’s one big plantation. We’re living in modernized, legalized slavery.”