INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Jan. 14, 2019, was literally a red letter day for Gidget Carter, a resident at the Laurelwood Apartments on Indianapolis’ south side.
That was the day she received an envelope, dated Jan. 12, 2019, containing an eviction letter dated Jan. 9, 2018, indicating she had until Jan. 22, 2018, to pay more than $3,000 in back rent on her Teakwood Drive apartment or be booted out the complex and the Indianapolis Housing Agency’s public housing program.
“Well, if it’s 2018, I’ve been living here for a year past that termination for my dwelling of lease,” said Carter.
The red eviction letter was the culmination of a struggle that began last fall as Carter said she tried to follow the rules of IHA’s programs and work with her property manager, Natalie Grayson.
Carter has been a public housing resident in Laurelwood since Nov. 1, 2015, faithfully paying between $600 and $700 per month in rent until a medical setback left her unemployed last spring. He was eligible for an IHA program that allows unemployed residents to live rent-free until they get back on their feet.
“I had to inform them that I was not working. I did so,” said Carter. “Yearly you have to re-certify in public housing.
“The process for me started in September. I filled out most to the paperwork,” she said. “Part one I filled out in the office, it was about Sept. 26. That was the first part.”
Carter said Grayson received part one of her re-certification in late September and part two on Oct. 22, as Carter’s note tracking file obtained by FOX59 News indicates.
On Jan. 15 of this year, Grayson entered a line in the notes confirming that Carter’s re-certification for the zero rent program was filed a full ten days before her deadline, but eight days after the deadline, on Nov. 8, 2018, Carter received two letters stating two different totals indicating her monthly rent was skyrocketing to market rates.
One letter said Carter’s monthly rent was jumping to $956 per month.
The other quoted a new monthly rent figure of $1,037.
“How can she say I am going to market rate when I have given you all of my information?” Carter asked. “She stated that, ‘Oh, I didn’t get it in in time.’ I’m saying, ‘Miss Natalie, I got it to you before November. I don’t understand how you can say it was late. Do you not remember the conversation that we had?’”
Carter said Grayson told her to re-read her lease and the resident began accumulating higher rent charges, compounded by late fees, as she struggled with her property manager to reconfirm the filings and enroll her in the subsidized program.
“I asked her, ‘How are you gonna go back to November when I already received a statement saying it’s zero?’ and she basically said that, ‘I can do that.’
“She had to have me fill it out again because she never had it. She lost the original one. She couldn’t find it so she had me fill it out again.”
In Carter’s note tracking file on Jan. 15, Grayson again made an entry indicating the re-certification paperwork had been refiled on Dec. 17.
“I was in there roughly for an hour, hour and a half,” recalled Carter of the pre-Christmas meeting, “where she tried to tell me that the reason why I was in here for this extraneous meeting with so much detail is because I was being audited. I asked her, ‘Where was the letter?’”
On Jan. 15, Grayson entered a third note indicating the results of the audit.
Then came Carter’s Red Letter Day, the delayed mailing and reception of the eviction letter. Last week the Laurelwood office was virtually closed and Carter said Grayson was unavailable to address her case, leading to the expiration of her grievance request window to appeal an immediate eviction that was actually dated Jan. 22, 2018.
“The only thing I can do is talk to her, try to reason with her, because I believe everyone will be going to court sometime in February,” said Carter in frustration, her misdated and contradictory paperwork spread on the kitchen table between us.
Monday afternoon, after more than a month of unsuccessful attempts to meet with management and following inquiries by FOX59 News, Carter suddenly found Grayson willing to listen to her problem but offering explanations that the resident said still don’t add up.
“She’s still trying to say the completed paperwork was not turned in,” said Carter after she emerged from the hour-long meeting with the manager. “She did have the original, finally, but her explanation is still inconsistent to me. She says it wasn’t filled out all the way but she has everything that she’s requested.
“It is the information she had before Nov. 1. I say, ‘Well, if I got it in before Nov. 1, which is my re-certification date, why am I being charged rent?’
“She’s still claiming November and December are still due at $1,000 a month and if I can get in my 2017 tax returns, it’ll go back to zero or the pro-rated rate for me working at home for January.
“I’m still confused because I still don’t know why it’s happening when I did turn in the paperwork on time as stated by her.”
Also confusing Carter was whether or not she still faces eviction.
“She wants $2,000. The notice wasn’t an eviction,” said Carter, quoting her conversation with Grayson.
While refusing to discuss Carter’s case, Grayson told FOX59 News that the red letter which is headlined in bold type “NOTICE OF TERMINATION OF DWELLING LEASE FOR NONPAYMENT OF RENT” and refers to “termination of your lease and/or eviction” is not an eviction notice.
That’s not how Carter read the letter.
“It says that it’s a notice of termination of dwelling and eviction. The eviction will only come with the sheriff and it’s not an official eviction until we go to court,” said Carter, paraphrasing the explanation she was given.
IHA Properties Manager Duane Ingram told FOX59 News that Carter’s file was “in process,” yet he refused to explain if that process included straightening out Carter’s paperwork, revoking her potential eviction or at least clarifying the varied rent figures, inaccurate letter dates and deadlines and permitting her grievance to be filed outside of the agency’s ten-day calendar window.
“No comment,” was Ingram’s answer when asked for further clarification.
Carter said after weeks of being ignored and turned down for meetings with the property manager, Grayson called her Monday morning, three days after FOX59 News advised IHA it was inquiring about the case on the resident’s behalf.
A spokesperson responded, asking if FOX59 News wanted comment from the resident or “the person who notified you of this situation.”
Ingram told FOX59 News Monday that resident files are confidential and FOX59 News does not reveal its investigative sources.
“It’s really everybody covering for everybody else,” said Carter.
IHA will receive $77 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year to provide low-income housing to 22,000 Marion County residents with more than 130,000 people on its waiting list.
To balance its budget this year, IHA admits it needs to reach HUD’s performance threshold of 97% occupancy.
Recent figures show agency-wide occupancy is barely 92% with the Laurelwood number even lower.
IHA admits it lacks the maintenance staff to not only keep up on overdue work orders of current residents but also to turn around empty units for new residents. That’s hampering its ability to meet federal standards
Carter said several units in her block of apartments at Laurelwood have been empty and unprepared for new residents since last fall.
Mayor Joe Hogsett told FOX59 News last week he is in the final stages of naming a new IHA executive director and board of commissioners to bring a “brand-new leadership team” to an agency that HUD has found to be in non-compliance on several financial issues.