Residents of the Fort Mill Apartments complex on Drane Circle and Bolin Circle are anxious over a change in ownership.
The previous owners offered leases to renters receiving federal Section 8 housing subsidies. Residents include many senior citizens and others on fixed incomes, and they have been been up in arms for weeks after hearing about rent increases that will come with the change in ownership.
The rent hikes will put the apartments in market range, company officials said. Vickie Atkinson, a resident for nearly two years, said the apartments are not worth the price they are going to cost under the new owner.
“These apartments are not worth market value,” Atkinson said. “We don’t even have dishwashers. They’re half painted. They don’t keep the bugs away. It’s just not like living in regular apartments.”
Although rent is going to increase, it was announced at an Aug. 26 community meeting called by Boyd Management that Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 vouchers will continue to be accepted, which means tenants under that program would not be forced to pay more out of pocket. However, those without the HUD vouchers have still expressed displeasure about the rent increase.
A representative from Boyd Management, the company that manages the complex, and a representative from the U.S. Agriculture Department organized the meeting with residents to inform them about their options.
At the meeting, residents were told that everyone living in the 98-unit apartment complex – as well as others in the area now managed by Boyd – would also be eligible for the Rural Development Voucher as long as they fall below the moderate income level of $39,000 for a single person, are a legal U.S. citizen and live in the apartment complex on the date it is sold to its new owner.
The exact date ownership changes hands is not clear, but residents were told the transaction would be closed soon.
“We looked at all the records of all the residents at Edgewood, Fort Mill One and Fort Mill Two, and based on the data that’s in our computer now, that’s up to date, it appears that everyone is eligible,” said Babbie Jaco, vice president of Boyd Management.
“We really believe that everyone living in these three properties are eligible for a voucher.”
In answer to Atkinson’s complaint, Jaco said “it is the new owner’s desire to maintain these (units) in a very good way.”
Under the Rural Development Voucher, the USDA would pay the difference between residents’ current rent and the rent dictated by the new owner, which means occupants would see no change in what they pay. Two-bedroom units currently range from $440 for an apartment to $680 for a townhouse.
Residents were told if they apply for and accept the voucher, the only change they would experience would be filing more paperwork.
Longtime tenant Renee Lewis said she’s concerned about how her neighbors would be able to afford the rising costs – especially the elderly, disabled and single parents. Finding out about the vouchers eased her mind about the situation.
“I’m thankful to the owners for allowing these people to keep their government assistance, and I’m thankful for the USDA for stepping in and assisting with the rent for those who need it,” Lewis said.
Although the rate may not increase for current residents who obtain the USDA voucher, those who move in after the complex is sold will be paying higher rates than they would under the current owner.
Atkinson said she would feel better about the rate increases if it meant the new owners were going to make improvements to benefit tenants.
“They’re not willing to give anything,” Atkinson said.
“Why not give us incentive if you’re going to buy the place from under us? And the government helps supplement us for (the new owners) to make no improvement.”
Current leases will be honored, so residents will only have to apply for the voucher once their lease ends. They may also update their lease early in order to get the voucher sooner.
Once the Rural Development Voucher is secured, those living in the complex can stay, or move and use the voucher at any other housing development that accepts them.
Although they have the opportunity to take their voucher and leave, Lewis said she feels the reason residents have been so upset is because the apartment complex is more than just a place to live.
“This is their home. It’s just not an apartment,” Lewis said. “This is where their heart is. This is where they raised their kids or they’re living out the rest of their lives here.”
After being approved, the voucher is only guaranteed for 12 months; each year, Congress must decide to renew the program. If Congress renews the program, residents would be able to gain the voucher again for the next 12-month period.
Although her neighbors are being informed about the vouchers, Atkinson said the whole issue makes her worry about the future of low-income housing in increasingly upscale Fort Mill.
“It looks like Fort Mill wants to do away with any kind of low-income housing for people,” she said. “You can’t really afford to move to Rock Hill or anywhere else if you work in Fort Mill. That’s my biggest concern.”