Today, many Charlotteans woke up planning their holiday menus, reveling in the chance to bundle up and actually enjoy a pumpkin spice latte and shopping their Christmas lists. While innocuous enough, all of those signs point to privilege. One that many of our neighbors in J.T. Williams and other seemingly forgotten Charlotte neighborhoods no longer have.
In the past few weeks, families in impoverished communities have been padlocked out of their homes, with property owners stating that they no longer want money. They just want their tenants gone. Gone.
In many cases, these residents are being displaced for affluent communities to be built in their place, boasting amenities, new construction and high price tags.
One J.T. Williams resident named Constance was recently told by her property owner that she had until 9:30 one morning to pay her $400 rent.
She met the property manager with the $400 in cash at the agreed upon time, only to be told cash wasn’t an acceptable form of payment. She was told to obtain a money order, so with equal amounts of relief and inconvenience, Constance began the walk to exchange her cash for a money order.
Her walk was interrupted, however, by a call from the property manager informing her that, actually, her money would not be accepted at all, and she would arrive home to padlocks on her doors with all of her belongings inside.
She was forced to meet her children after school, telling them that they no longer had a home, that their uniforms were locked inside, and they would be temporarily moving to a motel until they could determine their next steps (the property owner eventually helped her with temp housing).
Constance is not a deadbeat. She is a mother of four who has been employed by a fast food restaurant for 11 years, making $9.75 an hour, working to provide stability and better opportunities for her children.
Thanks to the ever-growing problem of gentrification in Charlotte, Constance’s family is becoming an all too common, heartbreaking statistic.
J.T. Williams, situated off of Statesville Avenue, is flanked by signs of impending gentrification. The city’s skyline is blocked by numerous cranes and construction equipment, and the formerly diverse and thriving Double Oaks community has been replaced by craftsman architecture and BMWs in the driveways of Brightwalk.
Understandably, for J.T. Williams property owners, chasing chronically late rent is an exhaustive task. Last month alone, a property owner with 18 units in J.T. Williams reported 14 were late in their payments. Additionally, many owners discover that drug or gang activity are present in their units.
The difficulties are abundant. It’s a hard problem. But, solutions cannot be identified by simple check marks of “paid,” “unpaid,” “late.” The domino effect of gentrification and forced evictions is too great for that black and white categorization.
I don’t have all the answers, but I urge city leaders, community influencers and government lawmakers, to spend time in J.T. Williams each Saturday morning alongside organizations that are joining hands. Meet these families. Learn their circumstances.