Woodward Tenants Are On A Roll

On a daily basis, the media bombards us with images of catastrophes and conspiracies. We cannot escape all of the horrible things happening in our world. Every time I turn on the television, read a newspaper, or view a web article all I see is people going hungry and big banks and corporations getting rich off of the poor. All of this negative imagery is enough to make you just give up and succumb to apathy.

Every once in a while, the occasional uplifting story sneaks through the cracks and shows us that the big dogs don't always win. These are the stories of people who don't just accept things as they are. Instead, they fight hard against those that take advantage of their families, neighbors, and community. On these rare occasions, we as a community are uplifted and know that if we work together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

Yesterday the residents of Woodward Village -located on the Eastside of Charlotte- celebrated their most recent victory. At a press conference, Woodard residents told the world about how they as a small group came together and became powerful enough to achieve victory against a landlord who has been abusing them and shaking their purses empty.

What was this latest victory? The North Carolina Utilities Commission is compelling Woodward Communities LLC to pay out over $28,000 in water bill overcharges to residents.

How did they achieve this victory?

Residents of the Woodward Village have for a while been living at the mercy of a repressive property management that has refused to address resident concerns. Issues have included high water bills; a property management that does not turn over leases, when residents pay off their homes; illegal billing practices; a need for bilingual staff; roads in disrepair; racial discrimination based on nationality; and a host of other concerns.

According to Action NC member Irene Simón, “I never received a water bill at the beginning of the month. When I asked about it, Kay told me that she would figure it out. Now, I am receiving a notice saying that I am late. She does this all the time to all of my neighbors too”.

In January, residents of Woodward Village decided that they were tired of being treated like atm's with no benefits for the community. So, they made the decision to organize their own chapter of Action NC, in order to find a solution to their issues. Since initiating the campaign, Woodward residents have met weekly, held 2 community-organizing trainings, and several neighborhood marches.

Together with the Charlotte Community Relations Committee, residents began an investigation into allegations of discrimination and have gotten their landlord to agree to hiring bilingual staff; translating all documents; and commit to putting staff through cultural diversity, conflict management, and fair housing training.

Together with the NC Utilities Commission, Action NC members living in Woodward Village have investigated the company’s billing practices and found that the company was illegally telling residents they would not accept rent without water bill payments. This caused many to pay their rent late and incur a late penalty. Because of their hard work, tenants now have 25 days from receipt of water bills to pay them. Most recently, the NC Utilities commission found that Woodward Communities has been overcharging residents for water. Last week, several residents recieved a notice from the Utilities Commission stating that Woodward Communities LLC will have to reimburse residents for up to 3 years of overcharges. According to the most recent estimates their landlord must pay back around $28,000.

This has been a tiring process for many of those involved in the organizing effort. But, each victory gives everyone a little more hope and re-energizes them to fight harder. According to Nery Navas “we will not stop until we find a fair and just solution to our grievances”. She goes on to say, "thanks to Action NC, we now know what our rights are and how to protect them". Neighborhood chapter president Julie Morgan says, “we will keep fighting until this company respects us and treats us right”.