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Wilmington residents not legally obligated to leave supportive housing development by end of the month

Future of Driftwood remains unclear
Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 6:04 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Questions remain about the future of the residents and the buildings that have housed some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens for the past 16 years.

Tenants at Driftwood apartments were told on Jan. 4, that the buildings were going up for sale and everyone had to leave by the end of the month. The search for housing has proven difficult and many fear they’ll be homeless in a matter of days.

Legal experts say Driftwood residents are not legally obligated to leave quite yet. The management company hasn’t gone through the legal process for filing for evictions.

Because there’s government funding involved in the housing development, experts believe residents could have stronger rights to stay in their homes. To make them leave, the landlord will have to prove to the court that the residents deserve to be removed.

“There’s no sale… there’s discussion of a sale and there’s a big difference. And until we know more about what that entails, we can’t know for sure know what avenue the landlords can take to remove the residents,” said Bradley Setzer, staff attorney at North Carolina Legal Aid.

The announcement that residents could be displaced caught local housing advocates and service providers off guard as well. Katrina Knight of the Good Shepherd Center says organizations like the Cape Fear Housing Coalition have made efforts to contact the nonprofit that runs Driftwood and look for solutions.

“I think whether you’re a part of that coalition or you’re an affordable housing advocate or social service provider, I think everyone stands ready to collaborate,” said Good Shepherd Executive Director Katrina Knight.

First and foremost, advocates want to rally around the residents now facing homelessness and make every effort to keep the property a supportive housing development, or at the least, an affordable housing option, should it go up for sale.

So far, those attempts to connect have gone unanswered by Wilmington Housing Finance and Development.

“Until WHFD opens communication, we’re kind of at an impasse. The legal minds will have to help the residents figure out what their options are and in terms of the property, all we can do is try and be invitational and say ‘we would love the opportunity to brainstorm with you.’ If you have to sell it, so be it, but maybe we can help you find someone appropriate who would buy it from you,” said Knight.

Those legal minds say little is known about the contracts between Driftwood and their owners. The buildings haven’t sold and any potential buyer must be approved by HUD and NC Housing Finance Agency.

Until the sale moves forward, its too cloudy to tell whats next for the residents or the fate of the property itself, but hope still remains.

“We just don’t know. I can tell you no one’s gonna be on the street February 1, because they have to file for evictions, but even if this place gets sold, we could end up in a situation where everyone gets to stay anyway so I would say that everyone just needs to wait… it’s the hardest thing to do, is just wait and see,” said Setzer.

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