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Country music legends willie Nelson and Alison Krauss will play in Greensboro this month ââ Go Triad

Rooms with a whoo: Infamous for their squalor, these Summit Avenue apartments are being remade and reborn

The Summit Avenue apartments in Greensboro, N.C., are making on Tuesday, August 6, 2019.

GREENSBORO — A Summit Avenue apartment complex that’s been mired in tragedy, turmoil and terrible living conditions is in the first steps of a revival this week as new owners begin an intensive rehabilitation project.

CJH2 Enterprises, the local investor group that bought the apartments for $1.3 million, has begun renovating and cleaning up a complex that’s notorious for squalor and hundreds of housing violations.

“There were some real issues there, and we’re just happy to work with an owner who wants to make it safe and affordable,” said Cathy Robertson, vice president of TE Johnson & Sons, the Winston-Salem real estate company that is managing and renovating the apartments.

One apartment in particular — 3100G — represents the greatest problem and promise as the Summit Avenue complex heads into a new chapter. It’s the unit where five children died in a May 2018 fire.

Although investigators concluded the blaze was caused by food cooking on a stove, further scrutiny highlighted abysmal living conditions throughout the 42 apartments spread over three buildings.

Before CJH2 Enterprises would close on the deal, Robertson said, the company required the Agapion family, which owns hundreds of rental units in Greensboro, to complete city-mandated repairs. That meant gutting 3100G in addition to installing new flooring, carpet, fixtures and appliances.

After concluding last August that the owners were moving too slowly in making repairs, the city condemned 41 apartments and forced tenants to move out until violations could be corrected.

Since then, 27 of those apartments have been repaired and are now rented.

TE Johnson has begun renovations on the 15 remaining units, which are currently vacant.

TE Johnson is using 3100G as a model for what it wants the complex to become.

Upon entering, the place belies none of its controversial past. The apartment, with its new floors and fresh appliances, is decorated with modern furniture and painted with neutral colors. One bedroom has a pillow that reads: “Today is a good day for a good day.”

Other units will receive similar improvements. Some of them will be:

  • Central air conditioning for all units.
  • New or refinished flooring where necessary.
  • New appliances that include fire-suppression hoods over stoves in addition to smoke detectors.
  • A thorough inspection for pests and quarterly pest-control treatments.
  • A new parking lot.

Rent for the two- and three-bedroom townhouses will be between $795 and $825 a month. That’s significantly more than the $440 to $560 that current tenants are paying.

But CJH2 Enterprises has no immediate plans to raise their rents, Robertson said.

Brett Byerly, an advocate for affordable housing, has applauded the company’s efforts.

“I believe that it is realistic that they will be able to stabilize the property and make them safe and decent,” said Byerly, executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition. “It’s never been about the buildings — it’s about ownership and management.”

Residents, many of whom were resettled refugees who spoke limited English, have complained they had to live like “animals” and contend with rats, roaches, mold and mildew.

Now, they can enjoy creature comforts such as air conditioning.

On a sweltering summer afternoon, electrician Glenn Witcher put the finishing touches on an upgraded circuit box in the kitchen of an unoccupied unit to make the system more suitable for central air.

Robertson, who said she’s grateful for the central air that was recently installed in the model unit, is no stranger to extreme makeovers.

She worked on a similar project in Winston-Salem that took about a year to finish.

“We want to be as transparent as we possibly can,” she said. “We want the best for this community and for the folks who live there.”

Photos by Woody Marshall/News & Record  

Cathy Robertson, vice president of TE Johnson & Sons, the Winston-Salem real estate company that is managing and renovating the Summit Avenue apartments, talks on Tuesday about changes the new owners are making. “There were some real issues there, and we’re just happy to work with an owner who wants to make it safe and affordable,” Robertson said.

Woody Marshall/News & Record 

Glenn Witcher opens a breaker box inside one of the apartments under renovation. The apartment complex was the site of a fire in May 2018 that killed five children.

ICE once called Alamance sheriff 'discriminatory.' Now, it pays him to hold asylum-seekers.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson once allegedly told his deputies to “bring me some Mexicans” and “go out there and get me some of those taco-eaters,” according to a federal investigation.

During a county board meeting this year, he accused “criminal illegal immigrants” of “raping our citizens in many, many ways.”

The racial discrimination coming from his department was so severe, according to a lawsuit by the Department of Justice, that Latino drivers were between 4 and 10 times more likely to be stopped by his deputies. (That lawsuit was settled in 2016.) Even U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement distanced itself from Johnson, canceling a partnership that allowed his office to act on the agency’s behalf and citing his “discriminatory practices.”

In February, though, ICE negotiated a $2.3 million contract to house its detainees in Alamance County Detention Center, about halfway between Greensboro and Durham. More recently, the agency has sent Johnson’s jail dozens of asylum-seekers through that agreement, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox confirmed to The Observer.

Besides showing how the border crisis is quietly reaching North Carolina, the unexpected, unannounced arrival of the migrants in Alamance has also raised concerns among local lawyers and activists. They worry about putting asylum-seekers — fleeing violence and corruption — in a facility run by Johnson, who has a history of alleged civil rights violations against immigrants and Latinos.

“They’ve basically been using Alamance as a processing center,” said Atenas Burrola, an immigration lawyer at Mi Maletín in Durham who has advised the migrants. “As the beds keep emptying, ICE keeps filling them up.”

Cox said in a statement that the agency “considers many factors when selecting detention facilities,” with “the foremost factor being ICE’s operational need for any given facility.”

Cox added that the agency also considers proximity to ICE offices, infrastructure like airports and ground transportation and access to health care, legal services and federal immigration courts.

But he also hinted that political shifts in local law enforcement across the state, especially in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties, have limited where ICE can operate — perhaps with unintended consequences.

After newly elected sheriffs in the state’s biggest counties cut contracts with ICE, the agency says it lost most of its bed space in North Carolina jails. ICE has turned to Alamance instead, as it struggles to provide beds for a surge of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Activists, however, charge ICE is rewarding Johnson for his political loyalty through millions of dollars in federal funds.

“He has demonstrated that he does not have respect for the rights of immigrants,” said Andrew Willis Garcés, an organizer with the immigrant rights group Siembra NC. “He’s put forward a totally false narrative to get this funding.”

Johnson told the Observer that he didn’t hesitate when ICE approached him about housing immigration detainees. The jail now holds about 50 to 60 of those detainees each day, including asylum-seekers, individuals arrested by ICE or picked up at other county jails.

“I owe it to our state and to our county to have secure homeland security,” he said in an interview. “We need to assist ICE in their endeavor to rid our country of serious criminal violators.”

Depending on how they arrived in the U.S., migrants have not necessarily broken the law. But Johnson also said asylum-seekers needed to follow set procedures, just as his office needed to enforce the law.

“If they’re seeking asylum in this country, they’re going to be held until the process can be run to effectively and legally let them into our country,” he said. “There has to be a process. I didn’t develop that process.”

Asylum in Alamance

Since May, Burrola said, Alamance’s jail has housed about 30 to 40 adult men at a time, including asylum-seekers from Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and China who recently crossed the southern border near Brownsville, Texas.

Burrola has spoken to migrants who have been detained in Alamance for as long as two-and-a-half months, she said, waiting for what’s called a “credible fear interview”: A phone call with an asylum officer in Arlington, Va., who determines if a migrant has a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country — or if they should be placed in deportation proceedings instead.

It’s a process that’s supposed to happen quickly, lawyers say, and often occurs right on the border. In other cases, it might happen at a facility specifically built to detain immigrants, like the 1,750-bed Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.

Changing policies and an unprecedented surge of migrants arriving at the border, however, have put strains on the system. There’s an increasingly long backlog for interviews and less bed space.

As ICE’s own detention facilities have reached capacity, Cox said, it has sent asylum-seekers to a handful of county jails across the country. They have ranged from a thousand-person facility in rural Mississippi to a smaller jail in Albany, N.Y.

Now, Alamance has joined that list — potentially, hurting the migrants legally.

Dedicated detention centers like Stewart, run by the for-profit company CoreCivic, offer legal orientations to asylum-seekers in which lawyers describe the asylum process and can answer questions.

But that hasn’t been the case in Alamance, where many asylum seekers underwent their interviews before being able to consult with Burrola or another lawyer about the process — potentially hurting their chances of staying in the U.S, she said.

Burrola pointed to the case of a 19-year-old from Cuba, who did not know that the interview would be kept confidential. As a result, the man did not tell officers about being attacked by Cuban police — information that she said could have turned his negative finding into a positive one.

The 19-year-old was sent back to Stewart, where he will begin deportation proceedings before a court inside the detention center.

Most asylum-seekers receive a positive credible fear finding in the interview, though the Trump administration has been trying to limit the categories migrants can use to claim that fear.

Bed space or politics?

This winter, the agency sent hundreds of asylum-seekers to the county jail in Charleston, S.C., to await their phone screenings. As migrants were cycled in and out of Charleston, Burrola said, she and other lawyers provided pro bono legal aid, often showing up early in the morning and late at night.

But in March, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon announced that the jail would stop housing asylum seekers. The detention center needed to fill 85 openings in order to be fully staffed, he said, and cutting down on immigration detainees would address the overtime burden.

Weeks after that happened, Burrola learned that asylum-seekers had begun arriving in Alamance. She suspects one jail’s capacity has replaced the other, she said.

ICE has pointed to other shifts in terrain: From 2013 to 2018, Cox said, the agency did not use its contract with Alamance.

Last year, under newly elected sheriffs, Mecklenburg and Wake Counties ended their contracts — which he said previously accounted for “most of” ICE’s detention space in the state.

Since March, the federal agency has paid the county $6,750 per day to house a minimum of 50 immigration detainees, regardless of whether those beds are filled, plus $135 for each additional detainee, Johnson said.

(In contrast, ICE pays CoreCivic about $100 for each day a detainee is kept in Stewart, which has long been near, at or over capacity, according to Marty Rosenbluth, a lawyer at Durham’s Polanco Law Firm.)


Burrola said there is, in some sense, a silver lining to the arrival of asylum-seekers in Alamance. Although the jail has lacked proper legal orientations, it is geographically closer to pro bono lawyers like her, who can advise migrants on their asylum cases.

In comparison, less than five such attorneys live in all of South Carolina, she said, and Rosenbluth is the only immigration lawyer who lives near Stewart.

But unlike Charleston, Alamance lacks online infrastructure that allows Burrola to track which asylum-seekers are still being held inside the jail.

While detainees are allowed to go outside in Stewart, migrants in Alamance and Charleston have been held in jail for months without ever seeing the sun, she said.

Willis Garcés, the Siembra NC activist, also alleged that an immigration detainee held in the county jail last month had been denied food for as long as three days.

The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office called those allegations a “total falsehood.” That detainee did not file a complaint with the jail and appeared to be eating on video recordings, Johnson said.

For activists, lawyers, and politicians who have pushed local law enforcement to cut ties with ICE, these trade-offs ultimately get at a much larger question that has become increasingly relevant in the Carolinas.

If Mecklenburg and Wake hadn’t cut their jail contracts short, would the asylum seekers have ended up there instead? If lawyers hadn’t overwhelmed the Charleston sheriff, would the migrants be there instead?

“It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” Burrola said. “You win in one place, but then the fight moves somewhere else.”

For her and others, though, it’s a game worth playing.

“Any county that takes money to criminalize asylum seekers is hurting our society,” Willis Garcés said, “and undermining everything this country is supposed to be about.”

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Keeper of the Flame: Greensboro pastor, the Rev. Cardes Brown, given prestigious NAACP award. Page A3

Alamance County YouTube video  

Terry Johnson asks the Alamance County Board of Commissioners earlier this year to add $2.8 million in federal funding to his budget to house inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Next GTCC president is Anthony Clarke of Southeastern CC in Columbus County

JAMESTOWN — More than a decade ago, after seven years in the U.S. Army and two corporate layoffs, Anthony Clarke thought he might like to give teaching a try.

Clarke had taught part-time while working in private-sector jobs in and around Cincinnati. He managed to land a year-long, full-time teaching gig at a four-year university. A year later, in 2005, that turned into a permanent job at a community college in Kentucky.

That job launched Clarke’s rapid ascent through the ranks of higher education. On Wednesday, GTCC’s Board of Trustees announced that Clarke would be the college’s eighth president.

Clarke — president of Southeastern Community College in Whiteville since 2014 — will replace Randy Parker, who retired July 31 after nearly eight years as GTCC’s president. GTCC trustees said Clarke, 58, will start work no later than Nov. 1.

In a statement, GTCC board chairman George Ragsdale said that Clarke’s experience in both the private sector and at two North Carolina community colleges were big pluses.

“We could not be more excited about this appointment, ” Ragsdale said. “... We are confident that he is a dynamic leader for the future of GTCC.”

GTCC trustees picked Clarke from among three finalists and more than 70 applicants. The Association of Community College Trustees, a national nonprofit that represents more than 6,500 appointed and elected trustees of technical and junior colleges, helped the college find its new president.

“I’m really honored to be selected,” Clarke said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “GTCC is a strong college with great faculty and staff and a great board. I’m excited to get there and get to work.”

A New York native, Clarke moved to Cincinnati when he was in middle school. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army as an artillery field officer during the final years of the Cold War.

When he left the service, he got an MBA and worked in the private sector — on the factory floor as a production engineer for cereal maker General Mills, as a business consultant, and as a quality control manager for a General Electric subsidiary that makes airplane engines.

But Clarke said two rounds of layoffs got him thinking about a career change and, he said, “I always loved academics.” Clarke and his family were then living in the Cincinnati area, and Xavier University, a private Catholic school, gave him a visiting professorship to teach management classes.

That led to a more permanent job at a Kentucky community college, which hired him to teach business and management courses and develop a new degree program in manufacturing engineering technology.

After becoming dean of the college’s manufacturing and trades division, he left for North Carolina. In 2012 he was named vice president and chief academic officer at Richmond Community College in Hamlet. Two years later, Southeastern hired him to be president. The college of about 8,000 students serves Columbus County and sits about 50 miles west of Wilmington.

As GTCC and most other N.C. community colleges lost students over the past decade, Southeastern managed to increase enrollment in its curriculum programs by 9% during Clarke’s tenure. The number of high school students taking community college courses nearly doubled. Two years ago, with the help of its affiliated foundation, the college began offering a new scholarship that covered tuition and fees for all qualified graduates of Columbus County high schools.

Educational attainment and economic development were two key things Clarke said he focused on during his five years at Southeastern. He expects they’ll be important areas for him at GTCC as well.

As he approached his 60th birthday, Clarke said he was thinking about making one more move in his higher education career. The GTCC job looked promising, and he said his wife was OK with relocating once again. Like Southeastern, GTCC serves just one county. GTCC also has strong manufacturing programs in an area of North Carolina where manufacturing jobs still hold strong.

“I started to think that I might be a good fit because of my manufacturing background,” Clarke said. “That turned out to be so.”

Clarke’s hiring remains pending a final vote of the State Board of Community Colleges, which should come Aug. 16. A GTCC spokeswoman said the college wouldn’t make public Clarke’s salary and contract until after that vote.

GTCC’s interim president, Gordon Burns, will remain in that job until Clarke starts work. Burns is the retired president of Wilkes Community College.


America's prettiest college campus? According to one guidebook, it's Elon

ELON — The best-looking college campus in the country is in Alamance County, according to one college guide.

Elon University tops The Princeton Review’s list of most beautiful college campuses in the 2020 edition of “The Best 385 Colleges.” The guidebook says Elon “offers a ‘visually stunning’ campus.”

Elon ranks ahead of Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr College, University of San Diego, Vanderbilt University and the University of Richmond. High Point University, the only other North Carolina school to make the “Most Beautiful Campus” list, is 18th.

In recent years, Elon has been close to the top spot on The Princeton Review’s list of prettiest college campuses.

It ranked fourth in each of the past two years and third in 2016.

The Princeton Review also listed Elon as the nation’s best-run college in its annual college guidebook, which went on sale Wednesday.

Elon also appeared in the top 20 in six other categories this year.

The Princeton Review is a college admissions, tutoring and test prep company that compiles annual college rankings in 62 categories from surveys of 140,000 students at 385 college and universities — roughly 13% of all four-year schools in the United States. It’s not affiliated with Princeton University.

Thirteen North Carolina colleges and universities are included in “The Best 385 Colleges.” That number includes five Triad schools: Elon, High Point, Guilford College, UNCG and Wake Forest University.

Syracuse University in New York ranks as the nation’s top party school, The Princeton Review category that traditionally gets the most media attention. Wake Forest, the only N.C. school on this year’s list of party schools, is eighth.