8 local families face eviction

Published 8:47 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

LINDEN – Eight families living at the Linden housing units may spend the Thanksgiving holiday moving out.

The families have not complied with HUD stipulations requiring residents to spend eight hours a month performing some kind of community service.

They will face being evicted next weekend unless a compromise can be reached in an escalating situation between the Linden Housing Authority and the residents.

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Congressman Artur Davis’ office has stepped in and has offered to mediate a meeting between the families and the housing board.

“There is always a need to respect and uphold the law,” Davis said. “At the same time. Many of the affected tenants are elderly and many others are very young children. As there are very few options for housing in the area and the proposed eviction date is approaching rapidly, (this office) will moderate a meeting Monday morning amongst involved parties and hopes to find a solution somewhere in the middle.”

A compromise may not be in the minds of the housing board, who approved the evictions on Oct. 27 – one year after notifying 15 households they needed to begin contributing community service hours as a requirement for staying in the housing unit.

The Linden Housing Authority has 50 household units. Tim Speed, executive director for the Linden Housing Authority, said most of the tenants pay a reduced rent. Some pay none at all depending on income and they are not charged for utilities.

“HUD sent us a letter last year saying we had several residents who were not complying with guidelines,” he said.

The contract each tenant signs when they move in, Speed said, has always included a clause that requires residents between the ages of 18-62, who are not employed, not full-time students, not elderly and not disabled, to give eight hours of their time toward community service as a way of contributing back for the services they are receiving.

“After we were notified in October 2007, we began informing the residents,” Speed said. “We sent letters every other month reminding them they needed to complete the hours and have it documented to comply with HUD regulations. We also included a list of places where they could volunteer to complete their hours.”

That list included the Marengo County Nursing Home, Meals on Wheels, Asera Care Hospice, Theo Ratliff Activity Center and Ann Braxton Senior Daycare. Speed said it could have even included watching another tenant’s children so they could volunteer someplace.

Out of 15, four tenants began to comply and two moved. A third tenant moved after eviction notices went out.

The Linden Housing Authority board, which is appointed by the city’s mayor and includes a housing tenant, voted last month to evict those who had not yet complied.

“The board spent hours deliberating this issue before coming to their decision,” said Speed. “It was not something they took lightly.”

The eviction notices went out Nov. 11, giving the eight households 14 days to leave. The board later extended it to Dec. 1.

“No one wants to see families evicted just before the holidays,” Linden mayor Mitzi Gates said. “But, the rules and regulations that are set by HUD also have to be enforced by the board. They are the same for everyone. It’s a tough situation that I hope we can resolve.”

“We believe the optimal outcome would be a negotiation amongst all parties involved to provide for one of the following options: the first is extension of tenants’ leases to allow them to secure other living arrangements before final eviction from their current homes; and the second option would allow the tenants a window of time to meet their community service requirements for the year retroactively. Above all, we would like to see a compromise that respects the interests of all parties involved,” Davis said.