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Evictions proceed amid calls for justice

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — It is 9:30 a.m. on July 1 and a few dozen people are gathered outside of the Forsyth County Government Center to protest what they believe is a broken housing system with illegal evictions during a health-emergency.
Volunteers with Winston-Salem Housing Justice Now make speeches about how housing is a human right, how low income tenants are treated as low class humans. There is talk about the squalor of public housing — leaky roofs, rodent infestations, broken toilets and cracked ceilings.
In her own speech, Celeste Holcomb, a volunteer with Housing Justice Now, said the protesters were gathered to highlight a perceived lack of care for human lives, evidenced by resuming evictions while the number of coronavirus cases rises nationwide and in North Carolina.
“I don’t think we should allow anyone to become without housing during a pandemic,” Holcomb said.
Inside, 56 tenants, many of them with their families, are waiting for their eviction hearings to begin. Standing in line, the people are masked, clutching their yellow eviction notices and wholly unsure of what will come next.
One man, who didn’t want his name published, came out of his hearing and lit a cigarette. He had been evicted, formally, but was looking for a lawyer to help him file an appeal. Asked why he had been evicted from his apartment on Bank Street, he said he wasn’t sure.
“The landlord told the magistrate I pay my rent, and I do,” the man said.
According to his eviction notice, he had an oral lease and had stayed past its expiration. He’d kept paying his rent through the pandemic and Gov. Roy Cooper’s ordered moratorium on evictions.
The moratorium ended June 22. His landlord wanted him out.
One woman, Chastity Graham, came to the protest with her two sons. Graham is appealing her eviction from their low income unit at LaDeara Crest Apartment Complex, near the airport.
She has worked in the Wells Fargo Center downtown as a maintenance supervisor, she said. She always paid her rent but said she started withholding it when needed repairs weren’t being made despite repeated requests to the property manager. Things like faulty plumbing causing high water bills, a rodent infestation, a leaking roof, no screens on the windows to keep the bugs out, cracked ceilings and mold in the apartment went unaddressed, Graham said.
“It’s not fair I have to live somewhere uncomfortable when I pay my rent on time,” Graham said.
Graham went on to make a speech of her own to the few protesters gathered, while her sons looked on. The youngest sat on the steps, clutching a worn, red stuffed animal and a breakfast sandwich while his older brother watched their mother.
“We are all humans,” Graham told those gathered. “Why do we have to suffer? … We’re here today to say fair is fair, and we live here, too.”

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