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Five years from home

Forced out of two NoDa mills in 2006, former residents dream of moving back

Carletta Jackson said it makes her "blood start to boil" whenever she drives by Mecklenburg Mill. "But I'm still trying to hold out, and hopefully I can get a place there again if and when it opens," she says. Photo by Nell Redmond

Carletta Jackson wants to move back to the home that she was kicked out of.

It happened in 2006, on Mother’s Day weekend. Jackson had just come home from work and was in the kitchen making food and cocktails for a neighborhood cookout when there was a knock on her door.

It was a Charlotte police officer. He’d come to tell her that she had an hour to pack up as much as she could and vacate her unit in Mecklenburg Mill.

“There was no notice, no nothing,” Jackson said. “Just ‘get out.’ People were in a panic.”

Jackson, along with her teenage daughter, had moved into the historic textile mill in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood three years earlier. Mecklenburg and Johnston mills, both dating to the late 1800s, had been converted to affordable housing in the early 1990s. Between 1990 and 2004, the city invested about $6.3 million to rehabilitate the buildings in the north Charlotte neighborhood.

But in 2006 the project went bankrupt, and the city took possession of the buildings. That same year, the city said there was termite damage in the mills. The buildings were deemed unsafe and residents ordered to leave. Jackson said about 60 families were living there at the time.

In 2007, the city selected Tuscan Development to turn the mills into a mixed-use development that would include low-income housing. But that deal fell through in late 2008 because of the complexity of the project and the lagging economy.

Now the properties are being sold as one parcel through a public bidding process. Whoever wins will turn the mills into housing once again. On March 23, The Community Builders, a Washington, D.C.-based affordable-housing developer, submitted an upset bid of $1.24 million, kicking off round six of a bidding battle. The other three companies — all Charlotte-based — vying for the property have until Monday to submit another bid of at least $1,364,000 to upset TCB’s bid, said Peter Zeiler, Charlotte’s transit station area development coordinator.

Zeiler said the city’s deed covenants require the developer to preserve 20 percent of the units to households earning 60 percent of the area median income. That’s $67,200 for a family of four, which would have to earn no more than $40,320 to qualify. For a one-person household, the AMI is $47,040, restricting the income to qualify to no more than $28,224.

Watching the process

Jackson, 49, is closely watching the back-and-forth bidding. She’d love to move back to the mills.

When she lived in Mecklenburg Mill, Jackson and her daughter shared a roomy two-bedroom loft apartment for $575 a month.

They enjoyed the neighborhood, especially the spacious sidewalks, the mix of shops and restaurants, the nearby YMCA, the easy access to public transportation.

Jackson said the people who lived in the mills, mostly single parents and senior citizens, had grown into a close-knit community that often got together for cookouts and parties. Five years after the residents were forced out, she still keeps in touch with some of her old neighbors, including Trena Woodland.

Like Jackson, Woodland is a single mom. She was at work one day when her landlord called and told her that everybody had to vacate their units immediately.

Woodland, who had moved to Mecklenburg Mill in 2004, shared a three-bedroom loft apartment with her son. After the call from her landlord, she rushed home to discover police officers and the fire department securing the area.

At first, she was told she couldn’t enter the building, but then officers relented and gave her 10 minutes to take what she needed out of her apartment, she said. Woodland and her son grabbed some toiletries and as many clothes as they could carry, then stuffed it all inside their car.

Jackson and her daughter were there for the chaos.

“People were upset and crying,” Jackson said.

Some lived in hotels

Leaving the majority of their possessions behind, Woodland, Jackson and the other residents had to find somewhere else to stay. Some found shelter with friends or family. Others moved into hotel rooms.

After dropping the family dog off at her mother’s, Jackson and her daughter moved into a hotel in south Charlotte. The city’s risk management department provided a list of hotel options and paid for their hotel stay, as well as a credit card to buy food for two weeks, Jackson said.

The hotel in south Charlotte was the closest one available to her daughter’s school and Jackson’s job at Optima Engineering in South End. But it was further away than the mills were from her daughter’s school and Jackson’s job. Jackson and her daughter were rattled over being moved.

“It was devastating,” Jackson said.

Woodland and her son ended up in a hotel near the intersection of Tyvola Road and Tryon Street. She said the hotel was in a rough section of town, and she sent her son to stay with her brother.

“This was a hotel where the police were always busting drug dealers and prostitutes,” she said. “The city kept telling me it was all they could offer us.”

Jackson and Woodland said they were told by the city that they’d be able to go back to their homes and get the rest of their stuff in a few weeks. But after several weeks passed, they were told it was too risky to enter the building and that the city would pack up their belongings and deliver it to them, Jackson said.

By the time their belongings arrived — more than a month after they had vacated Mecklenburg Mill — Jackson and her daughter were living at Maple Run Apartments on North Tryon Street. Jackson said a lot of her belongings were missing, including a microwave, silverware, jewelry and clothes.

The city gave her a check for $1,200 to cover lost and damaged items, Jackson said, but she estimates her lost possessions were worth at least $2,000.

Woodland said the same thing happened to her. She and her son were living in a rental house when their belongings arrived. Some things were missing, she said, including pots and pans, a TV, jewelry and heirlooms. The city gave her a check for $1,100, but she estimates she lost at least $3,000 in belongings.

“But of course, my family heirlooms were priceless,” she said.

Jamie Banks, Charlotte’s communications manager, said the city hired an outside moving company to move residents out of the mills. After the move, some residents claimed that items were lost, stolen or broken, he said, adding that the moving company began adjusting the claims and issued many denials for lack of proof.

Eventually, the city’s risk management department was asked to take over the claims and the replacement value of items was determined and depreciated by 5 percent, Banks said. In Jackson’s case, she claimed $1,960.90 in lost and damaged items. The city paid her $1,778.31. In Woodland’s case, she claimed $1,711.91. The city paid $1,132.31. After the claims were adjusted, the city received signed releases from the residents in which they agreed to the amounts paid, Banks said.

‘A great community’

Woodland, who works in Bank of America’s loss mitigation department, said she has moved two more times since being kicked out of the mills. She now lives in a duplex in northwest Charlotte.

Like Jackson, she wants to move back to the mills.

“It was a great community,” she said. “All the kids played together. We had cookouts and parties. When they moved us, it’s like they tore a family apart.”

Jackson said that whenever she drives by the mills she thinks of what happened. It makes her “blood start to boil,” she said.

She said she’s paying $750 in rent for her apartment, which she doesn’t like nearly as much as the mills.

“A lot of us are not happy where we ended up,” she said. “But I’m still trying to hold out, and hopefully I can get a place there again if and when it opens.”

Sam Boykin can be reached at [email protected].

Bidding builders

The companies competing to redevelop Johnston and Mecklenburg mills

1. The Community Builders

Headquarters: Washington, D.C.

President: Patrick Clancy

Year founded: 1964

2. Merrifield Patrick Vermillion

Headquarters: Charlotte

Managing partners: Garland Hughes, Brad Murr, Eric Nichols, Jim Merrifield, Bailey Patrick and Steve Vermillion

Year founded: 2010

3. ARK Management Inc.

Headquarters: Charlotte

President: Noah Lazes

Year founded: 1989

4. M&J Realty

Headquarters: Charlotte

Description: A consortium of the Conformity Corp, Argos Real Estate Advisors, Belmont Sayre, Aptus Management and The Benoit Group

Year founded: 2010

Source: Mecklenburg Times staff research


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