Affordable Housing Complex in Davidson Riddled with Complaints, Code Violations

The Bungalows, a 32-unit affordable housing multiplex. Photo by Hunter Callaway ‘22

HUNTER CALLAWAY ‘22 (HE/HIM), POLITICS CO-EDITOR

IAN MACEL ‘24 (HE/HIM), POLITICS CO-EDITOR

The Bungalows is a 32-unit affordable housing multiplex located on Jetton Street in Davidson, North Carolina. Opened in 2000, The Bungalows was the first affordable rental complex built in Davidson in over twenty years. Recognizing the need for affordable housing choices, the town of Davidson donated land for the project to Davidson Housing Coalition, a non-profit organization, and their partner, an experienced developer named The Affordable Housing Group (now Mosaic Development). In 2002, the two partners won the Fannie Mae Foundation’s Maxwell Award for Affordable Housing and an accompanying $50,000 grant. However, The Bungalows has changed a lot in the twenty years since that award.

Although Davidson Housing Coalition built The Bungalows, they are not the majority owners. The project is now owned through a partnership among Davidson Housing Coalition, Mosaic Development Group, and an outside tax credit investor. The outside, anonymous investor has 99.9% ownership of the partnership to benefit from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).

The LIHTC is a federal tax subsidy that awards a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for any investments into affordable housing developments. Developers use limited partnerships–as in the case of The Bungalows–to structure property ownership so that an outside investor can claim the tax credit while local developers and management companies oversee the property. Although neither Davidson Housing Coalition nor Mosaic Development Group are majority owners of The Bungalows, they hold responsibility for managing the property.

Residents end up at The Bungalows for many reasons, but they have one thing in common: they all want a safe, stable, and affordable place to live. The first resident we spoke to, Shelli Roberts, had no idea where to take her family after her husband passed away. A member of her church directed her
to The Bungalows, which she thought was, “a beautiful place with affordable rent.”

Another source, who prefers to remain anonymous, became a single mother after a difficult divorce. For the past eight years, she has also raised her granddaughter alone. She said of her experience, “I had to be her backbone, as well as the strength of a single mom and putting all the pieces back together.” For her, The Bungalows offered stability and a safe place to care for her family.

For another resident, the Bungalows is the first affordable housing unit they’ve lived in. After retiring and previously living in Davidson, they became interested in the “darling” units at the Bungalows and walked in to inquire about renting one. The Housing Coalition and property manager helped throughout the application process, and they’ve lived there since.

As time passed, some of the residents began to encounter problems with Jack Orr, their maintenance contractor. Shelli thought that he was a pleasant man when he first began working at The Bungalows around 2013. She soon noticed a change: Orr became more abrasive towards residents while the quality of his repairs deteriorated. Another resident shared this anecdote about Orr:

“I know he told the children once if he found their bike out in the yard that he would take it to the dump and they wouldn’t have a bike anymore. And I thought well, you just don’t tell
little kids that you’re going to take their bike.”

That resident also complained about Orr’s tendency to enter units unannounced when he needed to make a repair. She requested a lock change for her front door and, upon returning home one day, saw contractors already working on her unit. She said that she only knew about the repairs because she “happened to pull up at the same time, which was fortunate. I would have never known.” Shelli also had a frightening experience with Orr; her 14-year old daughter was home alone and he tried to enter the apartment without prior notice. Shelli complained to the office manager without result. 

Residents began speaking to each other as conditions at The Bungalows deteriorated. In May 2021, a group of residents wrote a letter to Excel Property Management stating that, “many residents of the Bungalows are not receiving the promise of quality, affordable, or decent housing.” 

Responding both to the above letter and other resident complaints, Mosaic hosted a June 9 tenant meeting at The Bungalows also attended by representatives from Davidson Housing Coalition and Excel. Lisa Lemos, an asset manager from Mosaic, facilitated the meeting. She stated at the beginning, “one of the primary reasons to come tonight was to discuss the resident grievance procedure.” 

After outlining the proper method for submitting a grievance and appealing decisions by the property manager, Lemos turned to a section of the lease regarding entry into residents’ units to make repairs. From section 16-3 of the lease, Lemos read, “a request by the tenant for the landlord to enter and make repairs shall be deemed consent to access waiver of the 24 hour written notice.” 

One resident responded that they had received no written notice before repairs or inspections in their units. Lemos disputed this at first, and argued, “that’s not been the operation here.” However, several residents shared experiences that proved the opposite. One speaker related an incident where Orr waited until she left to enter her unit—where her daughter was home alone. 

“And as soon as I left, Jack was trying to get in my unit.” 

The problems at The Bungalows go beyond interpersonal issues. Elements of the property are in severe disrepair. Although each unit has unique problems, residents uniformly agree that the exterior stairs are a safety hazard. Seven buildings at The Bungalows have second-floor units; residents who live on that floor reach their door by an uncovered stairway attached to the side of the building. 

Shelli lives in one of these upstairs units. In late 2021, unsatisfied with the progress of repairs to her unit, she requested a county inspection. The inspector identified several violations of the Davidson Minimum Housing Code, the first of which was, “exterior stairway to unit severely rusted and in urgent need of replacement.” 

Despite the inspector’s report, Mosaic has been slow to permanently replace the stairwells. Mosaic retained the firm Tise- Keister Architects to assess the exterior stairway; they reported that, “the stairs appear to be currently safe for use until such time as a schedule for replacement can be established.” The letter with the architects’ conclusions is dated more than three months after the county inspection: March 3, 2022. 

The Town of Davidson has been aware of the code violations at The Bungalows. In a September 28, 2021 public meeting, town commissioners heard from residents and community members about living conditions at The Bungalows. A few weeks later, Shelli requested and received the first county inspection for her unit. Word spread among the residents. According to Eugene Bradley, the Town of Davidson’s Housing and Equity Director, the town noticed the uptick in inspection requests and said, “let’s just clear the air, let’s have all the units inspected.” 

In public town meetings, commissioners have received updates on the situation from Bradley. In a meeting on February 8th, 2022, he informed the town that 20 of the 32 units had been inspected by the county. There were 36 code violations found, and 17 of them had already been corrected. Although he stated there was no set timetable for the corrections, Bradley was hopeful that all the violations would be fixed by the beginning of April. 

Mayor Rusty Knox expressed pleasure with the results, stating “It’s good to see we’ve started moving forward on this.” 

However, some residents are not so pleased with the inspection results. One resident spent months filing work orders for different kitchen appliances. When the inspector came to her unit, however, she felt that he paid no attention to the kitchen. 

“I was there, I really didn’t see him inspect anything in the kitchen, not even open the stove, the microwave, you know, the dishwashers or fridge, you know, sinks, stove anything, he just kind of scooted right on through that room.” 

Anothr resident does not believe the code violations are being adequately addressed. When this resident had leaky windows in their units, the county only fixed one of four leaky windows. 

“What they’re doing, that’s called a square filler. They’re checking the box that they fixed it, but whatever they say that they’re repairing, they’re doing half of the job.” 

More generally, residentd feel as if they’re not valued by the Housing Coalition. 

“The way they make us feel is that we’re supposed to live in a crappy place because it’s 20 years old.” 

In their opinion, The Bungalows are not treated like an apartment complex and management doesn’t care about the tenants. The carpet in their unit, like many others, has never been changed. When the city came to dig up a tree that had fallen over, they left a pile of dirt and a hole in their front yard. 

Infractions like these add up overtime, leaving residents upset with cheap fixes and square-filler solutions. Now, residents at The Bungalows are struggling to get even the most fundamental aspects of the complex repaired––like a staircase––20 years after the project was nationally recognized. 

In early 2021, the Davidson Town Board approved a plan to build an 81-unit townhome development across the street from The Bungalows. Eight of the new units—under 10%—will be affordable to low-income residents. The town has committed $400,000 from the affordable housing fund for this project. Across the street, however, the property managers of The Bungalows continue to cite lack of money to do basic repairs on residents’ units. 

One resident shared that, if the property owners can “maintain what they have already got there in the community, that would be great. Building new stuff, I’m all for that too—restoring these old houses and stuff— but I think it speaks loudly of our whole town by taking care of the community.” 

This is the first installment of a two-part investigation. The final installment will be published in next week’s edition of the Davidsonian, on March 30.