Sandalwood-Heritage Park Residents Win Big!

IMG_20120712_182352.jpgCharlotte, NC is not a hotbed of political unrest.  I doubt many people would consider ours a "protest-friendly" city.  Frankly, it's difficult to get even the most maligned and abused to take a stand.  However, in the apartment complex formerly known as Sandalwood, residents got a good idea of what their collective voices could accomplish.  Last night, after months of organizing, and years of bitter degredation, the people of Sandalwood got their first real taste of victory...and it was sweet.

Sandalwood, nicknamed "Scandal Hood" has been renamed "Heritage Park."  Residents are establishing a new heritage there, one of community and cooperation.  Action NC began organizing in the complex in February, a scant five months ago.  In those months, organizers encountered a lot of trepidation from residents, fear of being singled out, of losing their apartments or other retaliation by management.  They had every right to fear: Ambling Management had developed a reputation for heavy-handedness and intimidation, going so far as to ban Action NC from the premises, a ban that would be struck down by both police and city lawyers as being in direct violation of Federal laws.  Those laws protect people's right to peaceful organize. 

Bolstered by this small victory, tenants continued to demand accountability from both the management and the owners, taking their issues to anyone who would listen, including local media outlets and city government.  This got the attention they were looking for and both management, and the owners, agreed to a mediated sit-down with tenants.  At this meeting, tenants made their issues clear in a concise list of eight demands which included: more responsiveness from management, interior repairs, third-party inspections of apartments and not only new maintenance staff standards but also the ousting of the head maintenance-man, whose sub-par work had garnered him the distaste of nearly everyone in attendance.

Only weeks before, these "demands" had been merely hopes, with little chance of becoming real.  That night, Ambling Management, along with the maintenance man, got their walking papers.  LEDIC management took over the following day and the new maintenance man understood that shoddy work would no longer be tolerated. 

It was time for everyone to "get real."

The owners promised to return in six weeks with a comprehensive plan that would address the demands.  Last night, they sat down with tenants again to listen to issues and to come to agreements on how those demands would be met.  Instead of simply sitting back and watching things happen around them, the tenants of Heritage Park now had a say in how their apartment complex would be run, maintained, and improved.  Chief amongst the desires of the group was that the electrical system of the complex be fixed.  The owner-representative, Torian Priestly, laid out an investment plan that would see $50,000 put into the complex in the short term and another $500,000 after six months.  Residents, the management, owners and representatives of both the city and HUD, for the most part, left very satisfied with the trajectory Heritage Park is now on, one of improvement.  According to police statistics, crime is down in "The Park" 47% from this time last year, an improvement due, in large part, to higher resident vigilance.  A Neighborhood Watch is being organized and there were even a few volunteers in the crowd. 

Heritage Park will be a place where people can be proud of their homes, of their communities; where parents can feel safe with their children.  It will help establish a reputation for East Charlotte as a place where people can, once again, find safe, decent, affordable housing for themselves and their loved ones.  This will improve the lives of renters, homeowners and business-owners alike. 

This is the power of organizing.  This is the power of people, working together.  The issues faced in Heritage Park (faulty electricity, black mold, windows and doors without weatherization or secure latches, bug infestations, etc.) are issues that thousands of tenants all over the city face.  These are conditions that people have come to live with and accept.  But the residents of "Scandal Hood" can tell anyone living in sub-par conditions: "It doesn't have to be this way!" 

When we fight...we win.  If you are facing issues that seem insurmountable, that you know others face as well, get organized. 

Action NC can help.