This is Ellie Kinnaird.

Last year, a Virginia investment firm bought seventeen apartment complexes in Durham and Chapel Hill. The units were old, and the company is renovating them and raising the rent significantly as a result. The higher rents already have affected many middle class folks who are having a hard time paying the increased rent.

But there were 80 families who were put out entirely. These out-of-state landlords decided to no longer accept housing choice vouchers which enable the disabled, elderly and some poor people to rent decent homes. The voucher pays the difference between the market rate rent and what the person can pay within their limited income. These landlords sent notices to the voucher holders that their leases would not be renewed, and they had to move out.

So 80 families were without a home and only a slim possibility of finding another place to live, since this company owns the majority of rental housing in our area.

In addition, many local landlords don’t accept housing choice vouchers. Why? Some don’t like the red tape involved, or  losing a month’s rent waiting for the inspector. But once in the program, that rent check comes regularly, never misses and is deposited directly into the landlord’s bank account. Some landlords had bad experiences with Section 8 voucher holders.  But landlords have had bad experiences with other renters.  And some won’t rent to voucher holders because of the stigma surrounding poor people. But these renters are folks who have lived in our community for years. They may be firefighters, nurses or teacher’s assistants, the clerk at your grocery or drug store, the fellow who repairs your car at your garage. And many are elderly or disabled.

Now put this together: 80 people have to move out of their homes. 80 disabled, elderly and poor families. But there is no place for them to move to, because the same company that didn’t renew their leases owns most of the rental units.

What do we do now? While some of those families found homes in other areas or  moved in with relatives, about 23 people could become homeless by October. And then what? Our shelter doesn’t have room for 23 families. So what then?

An ad hoc housing crisis group is  working with the mayors to encourage our landlords to change their policy and accept housing choice vouchers. We are also looking for emergency funds to help with deposits if they can find apartments.

So I say to our community, what now?