Hunter Callaway ’22 (He/Him), Politics Co-Editor & Ian Macel ’24 (He/Him), Politics Co-Editor
Management at The Bungalows has continued to make progress on inspections and repairs to the property since The Davidsonian first covered this story. As of March 29th, 2022, all thirty-two units have been inspected by Mecklenburg County. Documents provided by Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC) indicated that ten of the thirty-two units have had all violations corrected. The county inspector confirmed through follow-up visits. Kathy Stilwell, Executive Director of Mosaic Development Group, had this to say about the progress of repairs:
“All repairs have been completed to the satisfaction of the County with the exception of any findings from the final three unit inspections that took place today, one window replacement that is on backorder [sic] and the stairs which are being replaced as noted above.”
On March 25, 2022, management updated residents on the replacement of exterior stairs at The Bungalows in a letter to residents. According to the letter, Mecklenburg County has approved the plans for replacement stairs and issued building permits for each stairway.
Management has engaged a contractor to carry out the replacements; the contractor estimates that, “it will take approximately 4-5 weeks for fabrication of the replacement stairs.” Once the stairs are completed, installment will begin piecemeal. Management anticipates completing the first replacement, “beginning the week of May 9, 2022, provided there are no unforeseen delays.”
Each set of stairs should take around one week to install, so management estimates, “the project to be 100% completed by the end of June 2022.” The letter ends by underscoring the importance of “completing this work as expeditiously as possible” and promising that management will coordinate the repair schedule with each affected resident.
When sked about the update, one resident answered, “it’s exciting that that’s going to get done for the people who need those stairs.”
Shelli Roberts noted that the new stairs will not just benefit residents but also, “onsite staff, postal workers, delivery people, contractors, and anyone else who climbs these stairs.”
“My gratitude to all parties who pushed for this to happen, and hopefully this is a sign of more good things to come for Bungalows’ residents,” she said.
Although some residents have complained that the county inspector missed certain problems in their units—like malfunctioning stovetops—other residents have emphasized the limited scope of minimum housing code inspections.
“Some people have blinds that are broken, or carpet that needs replacement. Neither of those things fall under the inspections done by [the county inspector] Grady Penner,” noted one anonymous resident.
Eugene Bradley, the Town of Davidson’s Housing and Equity Director, also brought up the minimum housing code’s targeted scope.
“I say minimum housing code, that’s really, really dealing with life safety issues, if folks are safe in their units,” he said.
The minimum housing code makes no reference to some of the issues that residents complain were left unaddressed by the county inspector, like faulty stove burners or cracked blinds. One code violation found in several units was the water heater’s proximity to the wall. A resident in one of these units shared, “the water heater wasn’t up to code or didn’t fit in there, so they had to make a special cut in the wall and they filled it all in with foam.”
The minimum housing code inspections were effective in fixing smaller issues residents had in their units. The Bungalows resident and DHC Board Member Carol Robinson ‘80 stated, “it wasn’t anything that I noticed that was troubling me, but they took care of those things.”
Direct and prompt communications—like the stairway update—have become more common since the change in staff last year. The new property manager, Michael, started last July while the new maintenance technician, George, started last October. As soon as George joined The Bungalows, according to one resident, “he had to hit the ground running.”
In June 2021, after a meeting with residents where their complaints were heard, DHC and Mosaic updated The Bungalow’s Resident Grievance Protocol. The new protocol encompassed a written request to streamline complaints straight to Management, while also providing an opportunity to appeal beyond the property manager to the asset manager.
Executive Director of DHC Gerald Wright stated of the updated protocol that “following the written procedure and addressing it to management, that’s where a resident has the protection of knowing that it’s being seen and heard by the right people.”
Overall, residents are pleased by the new staff and their commitment to The Bungalows. When inspections found small problems in the units, “sometimes he [George] would do the repair that same day.” Discussing the new staff, one resident emphasized that, “they’ve really worked hard, both of them, to get this process done.” Beyond work on the site itself, residents have also formed positive relationships with the new on-site employees.
“I like who we got in here now, I think they’re really good people.”
While the new maintenance technician has diligently performed repairs throughout the inspections, some residents believe that he does not have the funding to handle every maintenance request. According to one source, “there’s only so much Michael and George can do, because of budget constraints.”
Another resident echoed that concern and said that, “he [George] would like to do more, and he’s willing to do more. But he—I think that he’s being held back from being able to have the funding to do what he needs to do.”
On the other hand, Wright stated that cost is not a determining factor in whether a repair is done.
“When the maintenance needs come up, whether it involves repair or replacement, you just complete the job…We don’t give anyone the responsibility of saying if it’s too much, you don’t fix it.”
Wright continued to explain that the money used to handle repairs comes from rent payments.
“The property itself generates a fund specifically for this purpose,” he said.
Some residents still believe that if the maintenance technician “had free rein and a credit card, or had the means to be able to take care of things like they should be, he would be more than willing to do it. He sees that it needs to be done.” The on-site staff did not respond to a request for comment.
Several residents have also voiced concern about increases to rent at The Bungalows. Rent increased to $695 for certain units last December. One resident shared that “in the past, when they raised the rent it would be like $10 at a time. This time, it was like $25.”
Another resident also upset by the increase called it “a pretty big jump after we just got through a pandemic.” Others spoke to the difficulty some residents already face in paying rent.
“We’re supposed to be affordable housing, and a lot of people can’t afford the six to seven hundred dollar rent… that’s a lot of money for people on fixed incomes.”
However, Robinson stated that although the rent increase was higher than she anticipated, there had been no rent increase the previous year.
“It didn’t seem unfair to me at all after I understood more of what was going on with it,” she said.
A commonality among all the residents we spoke to is that they like The Bungalows, and they want to keep living there. One source, however, stated that the rent increase, “makes it difficult to be able to stay in Davidson. I like Davidson, the location is good here.”
Other residents have had to change units at The Bungalows to afford their new rent. One source, who is on a fixed income, “had to move from a two bedroom to a one bedroom in order to afford it.”
Regardless of fluctuations in rent, Wright states, “we have taken an absolute minimal, minimal approach to increases in rent over the course of the last 20 years.” He continued to say that The Bungalows offer rent that is, “upwards of $200 per month,” lower than what could be charged as affordable housing in Davidson, in accordance with DHC’s mission.
DHC has also restructured its financial relationship with the Davidson Limited Partnership I (DLP), which legally owns The Bungalows. This has freed up money to use on property maintenance. In June 2021, DHC modified a loan made to DLP, extending the loan maturity date by one year to June 2022. Rent is DLP’s only income; repaying these loans thus decreases the resources available for regular maintenance and incidental repairs to the property.
Wright explained that, at the time of the extension, DLP had limited funds to repay its loans while also investing in unit repairs. He stated that DHC’s “long term plan is to maintain the affordability at The Bungalows” and restructuring the loans to DLP was key to that plan.
The loan restructuring had two major benefits according to Wright. First, changing the property’s cash flow put DLP “in a position to then have a little bit more money to do some capital improvements.” Second, DLP avoided defaulting on its loan and preserved its credit rating.
When asked whether he was content with the current relationship between DHC and residents of The Bungalows, Wright answered, “I can’t be totally happy with regards to the relationship with residents today.” He continued to say, “I can speak honestly, transparently, and with clear heart and conscience that I really believe we’ve turned the corner and we’re doing things right. I also recognize that trust hasn’t fully been restored yet. That makes me uncomfortable.”
Wright ended his response by emphasizing DHC’s commitment to returning trust to its relationship with residents of The Bungalows through steady and consistent action.
“We want The Bungalows to be a source of pride. We want The Bungalows to be a place that people are proud to call home. We want The Bungalows to be a place that everyone in Davidson is proud to call our own. And we know that we’re going to get there. But it’ll just take time. And it’s going to take consistency on our part. But we’re definitely committed to that course.”
In part one of this series, when discussing carpeting at The Bungalows, we stated, “the carpet in their unit, like many others, has never been changed.” In fact, all but two of the units have had flooring replacements since The Bungalows opened. According to Kathy Stilwell, “one of these units is occupied by the original resident who has resided with us for over 20 years. The second unit has only had two residents over the course of over 20 years. The current resident is a long-time resident at the property and has occupied the unit since September 2012.”
Stilwell continued to say, “I have asked management to inspect the carpets in the two units that retain the original flooring and schedule replacement if the condition warrants it and the resident consents to what is required to have the work done.”
This is part two of a two part series on The Bungalows. You can read the first part of the series at the Davidsonian’s website.