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Wilmington’s Driftwood Apartments will remain affordable housing

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William Johnson has lived in Driftwood Apartments for over nine years.

Johnson is one of two residents who still live in Driftwood. The sale of the 15-unit affordable housing complex closed to Cape Fear Collective, a Wilmington-based nonprofit, on June 15.

A sale of the complex has been in the works for months.

Johnson first heard of a possible sale in early January when he found a flyer on his apartment door announcing a residents’ meeting.

At a meeting in the compound’s courtyard, representatives from Wilmington Housing Finance and Development, the non-profit organization that previously managed the property, told residents they are expected to vacate their homes within the next 30 days.

“It was a shock,†Johnson said. “What shocked me and everyone is how not knowing this was going to happen? And you could have warned someone months in advance.”

One of two apartments occupied at Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Cape Fear Collective recently completed the purchase of the 15 unit apartment complex near Princess Place Drive in Wilmington.   [MATT BORN/STARNEWS]

Wilmington Housing Finance and Development was looking to sell the complex because it had become too expensive to operate, Betty Bisbee, the group’s executive director, told StarNews in January.

Some residents said that at the time, the resort’s listing for sale seemed rushed and lacked transparency. Then, in early February, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended all pending sales to review how they were handled.

The concerns of the Department of Housing and Urban Development included the status of residents of the facility and the money owed by the complex. Wilmington Housing Finance and Development owed approximately $ 14,000 on a 20-year commitment, in which they received $ 70,000 in federal money to purchase the Driftwood property. There are four years left in the 20-year commitment.

The sale of the complex may have reduced the number of affordable units in Wilmington, which are desperately needed.

“We are so badly in need of subsidized housing for the most vulnerable that even losing 15 units was a major looming crisis,” said Katrina Knight, director of the Good Shepherd Center.

Background:After federal scrutiny, Driftwood Apartments sell for $ 1.2 million

Related:Sale of Wilmington homeless housing development halted due to concerns from federal agencies

Related:Wilmington homeless housing complex sold, residents have weeks to leave

Over the next two months or so, Johnson’s neighbors moved one by one.

Being moved from the complex was stressful and traumatic for residents of Driftwood, Knight said. Driftwood cared for chronically homeless people with disabilities.

Prior to moving to Driftwood, Johnson was homeless and lived in the Salvation Army.

“It’s a really fragile group to start with,†she said. “It just turned their world upside down.”

All but two of the Driftwood Apartments are vacant in Wilmington, NC on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Cape Fear Collective recently completed the purchase of the 15-unit apartment complex off Princess Place Drive in Wilmington.   [MATT BORN/STARNEWS]

While some found places in other affordable housing projects, “others were afraid to move and moved to places they couldn’t afford,” Knight said. It is not known where some of the displaced residents currently live, she added.

Johnson, too, tried to find another place to live. He applied to two apartments near Monkey Junction, but both were fully occupied.

“I was struggling,†he said. “It was very, very stressful trying to find a place.”

While continuing to live in Driftwood, Johnson felt compelled to move and was even threatened with an eviction notice. Unable to find another affordable option, Johnson continued to live there.

Eventually, the lights that illuminated the interior courtyard and the resort parking lot at night were turned off. “It’s pretty much dark in here, except for the lights coming from the Howard Johnson and our two back porch lights,†he said.

The complex has a new calm now that all but two of its units are vacant. “It’s just calm,†Johnson said, “really, really calm.â€

The lights will be back on soon when Cape Fear Collective takes over the complex. Before new residents move into existing units, the 16-year-old complex will receive a facelift.

“Driftwood has been around for over a decade and needs a new coat of paint, new floors and a little maintenance,†wrote Patrick Brien, CEO of Cape Fear Collective, in an e- mail to StarNews.

The nonprofit is consulting with general contractors to determine if other infrastructure like the complex’s roof or the HVAC unit will need repairs, according to Brien.

The renovations will begin in the next few weeks and are expected to be completed in early fall, Brien wrote.

One of two apartments occupied at Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Cape Fear Collective recently completed the purchase of the 15 unit apartment complex near Princess Place Drive in Wilmington.   [MATT BORN/STARNEWS]

The remaining two residents will be allowed to stay in Driftwood during the renovations.

“We have no plans to remove the current residents of Driftwood and will be working with them during the renovation period to complete the repairs,†Brien wrote. “This is their home and we will respect that.”

Driftwood has traditionally provided ongoing support at 30% of the region’s median income, and this is expected to continue, Brien said. According to Knight, permanent supportive housing is a combination of affordable housing and supports that some people with disabilities may need to maintain their housing.

The complex will be part of Collective Ventures, an initiative in which Cape Fear Collective purchases rental properties and maintains them as affordable housing units.

Cape Fear Collective will partner with the Good Shepherd Center to provide support to residents of Driftwood. That support could take the form of an on-site social worker or transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, Knight said.

For Knight, Cape Fear Collective buying Driftwood shows the value of local organizations working together to buy and preserve affordable housing.

“A lot of times the developments get sold and as a community we find out after the fact,†Knight said.

Johnson said he felt “grateful” that Cape Fear Collective bought the property and kept rental rates affordable.

“I’ve been here for so long, I’d rather just stay,” he said. “It’s a great wave of relief.”

Journalist Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]


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