Summit Avenue apartments

African refugee families return to Summit Avenue apartments after an Aug. 4 meeting where Greensboro City Council members listened to refugees and refugee advocates’ concerns about housing standards.

GREENSBORO — City housing inspectors have condemned 41 apartments at the Summit Avenue apartment complex where five children died earlier this year in a fire.

Families that live in any of those units must leave them within 30 days, according to a news release from the city of Greensboro.

A local nonprofit agency that deals with affordable housing said the order affects 30 families.

The complex, at 3100, 3102 and 3104 Summit Ave., includes 42 apartments in three buildings.

The complex’s manager said her company is working as quickly as possible to repair code violations.

The city said Wednesday that inspectors visited the apartments Monday and found 696 violations of the city’s minimum housing code. The city also said that 144 violations that inspectors found in May have been fixed.

Five refugee children died in a fire May 12 at an apartment at 3100 Summit Ave. Fire officials said it was caused by unattended cooking. But the deaths have opened community discussions about living conditions and housing standards violations at the complex.

The complex has been attractive to families and resettlement agencies because management accepted refugees without work histories or credit. Even as resettlement agencies stopped placing people in the apartments over complaints about living conditions, some families stayed and others joined them.

The property manager, Arco Realty, requested a 30-day extension Monday to address the violations, which was denied, city officials said (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at end of story. Aug. 16, 2018, 2:07 p.m.) The city issued a notice of condemnation, which means the residents in occupied units must leave within 30 days.

Irene Agapion-Martinez, of Arco, said the city’s math is wrong.

She said that two other apartments have passed inspection and that leaves 39 with violations. Crews are working to fix problems in eight vacant apartments and those should be brought into compliance soon, she said. She said her company would like to move families into those apartments if the city would clear them.

Brett Byerly, the executive director of the nonprofit Greensboro Housing Coalition, said the group is working on an emergency plan to help the affected families find new affordable housing. Many of the families are large, he said, with an average size of six people.

Byerly said the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro has set up a fund that the coalition will be using to help pay for families’ rent deposits and fees to turn on utilities at their new housing.

The city had granted an extension to Arco in July to fix violations but Byerly said he and his group anticipated that no more extensions would be granted and tenants would be forced to move.

“We kind of saw this potentially coming very far out — at least a month ago,” he said.

His group works regularly with tenants who are displaced by housing that violates minimum standards and has a program that grants up to $1,500 per resident to pay first month’s rent and fees to turn on utilities for new housing.

“If it’s through no fault of the person living there then we assist those household members in getting into a new place,” he said.

Byerly said the Housing Coalition can help residents in find housing using the internet, find interpreters if they need them and inspect the new apartments or homes for code violations.

He stressed that the coalition finds housing for people, but they must choose where to go. It’s not a forced relocation service, he said.

Byerly said his group has already been busy this year helping nearly 100 families who were displaced by the April tornado that ravaged east Greensboro.

Greensboro is suffering from an affordable housing crunch and most of the families from the Summit Avenue apartments can’t afford more than the $500 to $600 in monthly rent they pay now, he said.

Agapion-Martinez said the company is working on all 39 apartments, but it has been unable to start work on the interiors of 14 of those units.

Agapion said it’s difficult to quickly repair all of the apartments because crews work during the daytime and many of the residents work second- and third-shift jobs and the construction work interferes with their sleep.

She said she is already meeting with some residents who want to move into single-family housing that the company owns that fits their budgets.

Agapion-Martinez said Mayor Nancy Vaughan has turned the apartments into a political issue that makes it harder to bring them into compliance.

“We support her using her power to find them housing that they deem would be more affordable and better,” Agapion-Martinez said.

Vaughan said, “I’m pleased that another extension wasn’t granted because I don’t think significant progress was made. Our focus needs to be on finding safe, affordable housing for the current residents.”

Arco raised rents for tenants at the apartments by as much as $95 a month beginning Aug. 1.

“I believe that the latest rent increase was retaliatory” against tenants who complained, Vaughan said. “The city is working in partnership with all of the service providers but the Housing Coalition is really working overtime looking for places to move these neighbors.”

She said a significant issue for the tenants is that they are refugees and their community at the apartments provides strong support. Moving them apart could be a hardship for the community they have built there, she said.

“The biggest challenge is to make sure we keep that support network together,” Vaughan said.

She said city officials are looking for ways to strengthen housing standards, something the City Council might be able to vote on as early as September.

That “would allow us to be more proactive when it comes to minimum housing — there has to be a better way of letting people know what their rights are,” she said.

Byerly said his group is hoping to hold a resource fair for displaced tenants within the next two weeks that provides interpreters, landlords with properties to rent and assistance with filling out tenant applications.

Correction: Arco Realty manages an apartment complex on Summit Avenue that has been cited for hundreds of minimum housing code violations by the city. Arco was incorrectly listed earlier as the property owner. Members of the Agapion family own the property.

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Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.