Helen Hawkins, a resident at Pines of Lanier apartments in Gainesville, walked down the stairs outside her home to talk about her possible eviction after 22 years.
“Everybody’s my friend over here,” said Hawkins, 54. “They’re trying to run us out of here.”
Hawkins is referring to the complex’s property owner, Alexander Properties Group, which sent out eviction notices March 1 to her and 70 other residents.
She and the others are part of a program administered by Avita Community Partners, a local public agency that provides services to people with mental health disorders, disabilities and addiction.
Avita pays the bulk of these residents’ rent and has an office on the property with five full-time staff who assist with everything from grocery shopping, to administering medication, to scheduling doctor’s appointments.
After the eviction notices went out, Avita CEO Cindy Levi threatened litigation alleging discrimination, and Alexander Properties Group agreed to extend the move-out date to May 1.
Levi said she met with the group April 14, and while the property owner has again agreed to extend the move-out date, this time to the end of May, they are still insisting on evicting roughly half of her clients.
“What they told us,” Levi said, “was that out of the 44 units, they're comfortable with renewing leases on 24 of the units, and it's their preference at this point that 20 of the units not be renewed.”
Alexander Properties Group has declined repeated requests for comment.
Levi said the group has decided to evict these residents due to lease violations, but she says that reasoning doesn’t hold up.
“We had asked prior to the meeting for them to send us any lease violations that they had on record, so that we could respond to them,” Levi said. “They just brought a stack of papers with them … and then before they left handed them to me. I took the time to look through and there was evidence really of one lease violation, and we knew about that. And we've already started the eviction process for that person, because it truly was a lease violation.”
“But we don't see any substantiation for them saying they don't want to renew the others,” she said. “Basically, what they said is, ‘We just really don't want those people there. They have to go.’”
She will meet with Alexander Properties Group again on May 5.
“As we try to work through this, I think they will hear very clearly that they don't have grounds for non-renewal,” she said.
She said Avita has supported residents there for more than 15 years, and there has never been a single non-renewal, a point that the property owner conceded, she added.
Alexander Properties Group provided some examples of lease violations, she said, but “they were over several years, so it wasn't even necessarily anything that was recent.”
One incident involved a resident painting their own Georgia Bulldogs welcome mat in front of their door, she said.
“Really, you want to evict somebody because of that?” she said.
In preparation for evictions, Levi said she has scoured the county for affordable apartments and found only two or three units that may become available in the next couple of months.
“It just continues to support the fact that we do not have enough affordable housing in our area,” she said.
She said the property owner is raising rent by about $400, a concern also raised by residents who spoke with The Times.
James Hill, a 65-year-old truck driver, said he has been living at Pines of Lanier since 2010. He is not part of Avita’s program. He said his rent increased from $748 to $993 for a one-bedroom unit. His lease is set to end in October, but should he decide to move out, he said his options are scarce.
“I don’t know if I’m going to find anything,” he said. “Rent just keeps going up. … It’s ridiculous.”
Ruben Ortiz-Vega, 63, is an Avita resident, and he said he has faith that Avita will find them somewhere else to live if the evictions go through.
“I can’t do anything but hope for the best,” he said.