GREENSBORO — Brett Byerly may have resigned as one of the city’s top housing advocates, but he’s got a long list of things he wants to do before he leaves his job in April.
Byerly is the executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition, which announced last week that he’ll be leaving the nonprofit. But he said he won’t leave until he helps start a new eviction intervention program and organizes the next Greensboro Housing Summit.
“I care so much about the mission of the organization that I want GHC to be the best that it can be,” he said Monday in an interview.
Byerly, who has been director of the agency for five years, said he made a commitment to himself when he took the job that he’d stay five years. He wants to try something else now, but he’s not positive what that will be.
“I don’t know yet,” Byerly said. “I don’t think that I’ll be going too far. Housing is in my blood.”
As the agency’s board starts searching for his successor, Byerly plans to dig deeply into planning for what he calls an eviction resolution program in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina. The program, which may be funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, would provide about $1,000 per case to help people facing eviction to resolve any differences with landlords and reach agreements that will allow them to stay in their homes or apartments. The program will start small, maybe with funding to help as many as 90 families in its first year, he said.
Greensboro rates among the 10 worst cities in the nation for evictions, and Byerly has worked with other agencies for years now to find ways to manage and reverse the problem, one tenant and one landlord at a time.
He said his agency, which helps people find affordable housing, assists with rent deposits and other hurdles, also wants to make sure the most vulnerable people keep the housing they’ve already got.
That means, Byerly said, putting a priority on families with children who live below the poverty line and disabled people who would be homeless if they were to run into disputes that could lead to eviction.
“If you can keep people in the safety nets, that’s part of the priority,” he said.
Eviction is but one of many challenges that have created what Mayor Nancy Vaughan calls a “housing crisis” in the city where more luxury apartments than affordable apartments are being built and the homeless population is growing.
Vaughan said Monday she is going to miss Byerly — but she plans to hang onto his cell phone number.
“Brett is one of my go-to people,” Vaughan said. “I was really disappointed when I heard he was retiring from the Greensboro Housing Coalition.”
Vaughan said she and City Council will monitor closely the progress of the eviction resolution program and might consider supporting it with city money if it goes well.
Byerly has “taught me a lot about housing,” Vaughan said. “He’s taught me a lot about what we need to do. He’s been a great partner.”
Byerly, who had never managed a nonprofit before being appointed to his current position, became a crusader for improving substandard housing and was active in trying to find homes for people who had been displaced through no fault of their own.
Byerly, who describes himself as a former Republican who has now seen the deeper needs of the community, said he didn’t really seek out nonprofit work before he came to the Greensboro Housing Coalition.
“It was a hell of a challenge for me,” he said. “I was a building inspector who landed at the Housing Coalition because the housing market crashed and I needed insurance.”
Now he’s known for sticking his neck out when he feels passionate about a housing issue.
Carolyn Biggerstaff, one of the city’s best-known housing advocates, said, “you cannot do things he has done for GHC without (being) a leader who is a risk-taker.”
She has worked closely with Byerly to help organize the Greensboro Housing Summit for the past several years. The summit is the annual spring showcase for the top voices in the housing community to talk about issues and solutions affecting housing and health, repairing substandard housing and expanding the amount of affordable housing available for low-income people.
Byerly wants to pull off one more summit before he leaves.
“Hopefully that’s when we are introducing the world to my successor,” he said.
Byerly has been especially busy for the past 18 months.
Most recently, Byerly had become an outspoken critic of local substance-abuse agencies who provided housing for clients that was often pest-ridden, overcrowded and badly maintained. When two of those agencies, Ready4Change and United Youth Care Services, began evicting scores of their clients earlier this year after they ran into regulatory problems with state officials, Byerly and his agency worked to assist the displaced residents with money for motels or other alternative housing.
He got help from the city to find some of that funding with the help of City Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy and the Neighborhood Development Department.
He was especially busy in the spring of 2018, when two disasters forced people out of their homes and apartments.
In April of 2018 a tornado ravaged east Greensboro, and Byerly’s group mobilized to find temporary shelter for more than 100 people who were displaced when their homes and apartments were damaged in an instant on a Sunday afternoon.
A month later, he was drawn into another tragedy when five children died in a fire at a substandard apartment complex on Summit Avenue.
Throughout that summer he worked finding homes for the tornado victims and, in August, helping with rent assistance and finding apartments for 30 families who were displaced when 41 units at the Summit complex were condemned by city inspectors.
Over the past three months, Byerly and his agency have tried to help the city cope with a further crisis that he and other housing advocates admit has overwhelmed Greensboro’s safety net for the homeless.
Scores of families, many of them with children, were evicted in September and October from apartments provided by United Youth Care Services. According to a 60-page report from state regulators, United Youth Care Services illegally provided housing to clients enrolled in treatment classes in exchange for Medicaid payments.
Byerly said he wants to stay a little longer in his position as city housing groups begin a program called “supportive housing.” The program would take a current city office building at Fourth and Maple streets and turn it into apartments for poor people who have substance abuse or health issues that might make them homeless. “Supportive housing” surrounds those people with social services agencies that can help them maintain their health and their ability to stay in stable housing.
And, he said, he’s staying to create continuity for the existing staff at the Housing Coalition.
“There’s a natural tendency, when there’s a leadership change, for there to be a dip,” Byerly said. “And I want to make absolutely sure that doesn’t happen.”