Chatham County residents fighting mass eviction due to chicken processing plant

SILER CITY, N.C. (WNCN) - Dozens of people are on the verge of being forced out of their mobile homes after the chicken processing plant next door bought the trailer park land.

Most of the 115 people who live at Johnson's Mobile Home Park went to Monday's Siler City Board of Commissioners meeting to ask for support and assistance from the town. Mountaire Farms, a Delaware-based poultry company, is in the process of restoring and resuming operations of the former Townsend chicken properties in Siler City. A large facility is adjacent to Johnson's.

A written statement provided to CBS North Carolina by Mountaire Farms said a company called 1206 East Eleventh Street, LLC bought the land from the Johnson's in November 2017 and informed the people who live at the mobile home park that they had six months to move out. Online filings show that 1206 East Eleventh Street, LLC has the same registration agent and address as Mountaire Farms, LLC for North Carolina.

According to the statement:

In order to achieve substantial capital investment and job-creating goals in Siler City and within the community of Chatham County, North Carolina, 1206 East Eleventh Street, LLC provided a 6-month notice to residents that leases in the Johnson Mobile Home Park would not be extended beyond May 7, 2018. 1206 East Eleventh Street, LLC is aware that non-renewal of leases presents difficulties to current residents with respect to relocation and has been and currently is in discussions with residents in an attempt to reach a satisfactory resolution."

Advocates from Hispanic Liaison said the mobile home residents reached an impasse with Mountaire. The tenants and their allies hope the Siler City Board of Commissioners will provide support and assistance in coming to an agreement with Mountaire as well as finding future housing.

"This is our plea, as residents of Siler City, to our elected officials," Hispanic Liaison founder Ilana Dubester said at Monday's meeting.

There are 28 mobile homes at the park. The families who live there began buying the individual trailers from the Johnsons several years ago, and continued to pay $210 lot rent each month. Hispanic Liaison said residents invested an average of $10,000 per family in repairs and improvements to the outdated units. Town ordinances and age do not permit them to be moved to new locations.

"They are going from being homeowners, even though it's a modest home, and it's a trailer. It belongs to them," Dubester said.

A mobile home owner named Jorge said he has a humble home but it is his. He invited the Siler City commissioners to visit and tour the inside. Three announced plans to take him up on his offer.

"We want to stay in Siler City," Jorge said through a translator. "We have made our lives here. We want our children to grow up here."

Eighth grade honors student Bricel Rangel said she worries she will not be able to take advanced courses if she moves to another school which does not offer the same curriculum.

"The cost of moving is expensive and it is not easy. Moving is a stressful situation. It is not fair because we are going from home owners to renting and renting is very expensive," Rangel said on behalf of her family.

A Mountaire spokesperson said in a statement that 1206 East Eleventh Street, LLC offered financial aid to all of the residents by waiving lot rent for five months and offering $5,000 to each family for relocation assistance.

As of March 4, 2018, the residents have all accepted the financial assistance in the form of rent abatement, but none have relocated. As of today, 1206 East Eleventh Street, LLC has not collected past-due rent from any resident."

Dubester said that is not true and she only found out about the offer on Monday afternoon. She said tenants are now being told they owe back-rent for failing to vacate by March 1, when the eviction notice is for May 7.

Several commission members expressed sympathy for the situation facing about 1.5 percent of the town's roughly 8,000 residents. The Townsend plant was Siler City's largest employer, and Mountaire plans to bring back hundreds of jobs.

"This is more than a housing issue. It's a workforce and an education issue," commissioner Lewis Fadely said. "This is a lose lose situation. Mountaire doesn't want to clean up housing. These people don't want to move. We can learn from this."

Commissioner William Haiges said there needs to be a short term housing solution and also a long term solution. He said the Chatham County Housing Authority is understaffed and overworked. Haiges and some other commissioners said they need to create a Siler City Housing Authority.

"Something bad is going to happen and we are going to look back on this and say we should have done something," Haiges said.

The mobile home residents want the commissioners to address what Hispanic Liaison calls an urgent housing crisis. They said there are issues with slumlords who fail to properly maintain properties, which worries the Johnson's Mobile Home Park residents, and they fear rates will suddenly rise from rental companies who want to exploit the situation.

Dubester said the Siler City commissioners have the power to enforce rules on landlords to make sure that properties are up to code.


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