Community members and advocates gathered downtown on the corner of North Main Street and Northwest Second Avenue at 4:30 p.m. Monday to protest what the Alachua County Labor Coalition called discriminatory housing practices at Bivens Cove.
About 25 people held signs and listened to speeches about housing issues in Gainesville. Protest leaders spoke about landlords prioritizing higher paying tenants and ignoring the needs of lower income families. The emphatic crowd clapped and hollered in agreement with the speakers outside of The Collier Company office until about 6 p.m.
“If you can’t cry about something like this, then you need to go back and look inside your soul and find out what happened,” Hugh Suggs, a 62-year-old Gainesville based author, said.
Gail Johnson, a Gainesville City Commissioner, spoke to the crowd and expressed her support.
“What is going on in this town when it comes to housing and evictions and non-renewal of leases is a travesty, and it’s absolutely immoral,” she said to the crowd.
Sheila Payne, the ACLC co-chair, said the organization planned the protest in response to a recent situation at Bivens Cove, a Collier Company apartment complex.
She said some residents who pay rent with the assistance of vouchers sponsored by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development were not being allowed to renew their leases.
This would be a violation of Gainesville Ordinance 190814, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on, among other things, “lawful source of income.”
Payne was made aware of the situation by Sharon Burney, a 56-year-old Bivens Cove resident and program officer for the Council on Information and Library Resources, an organization that focuses on improving education.
Burney’s 37-year-old daughter, Tamisha Ferguson, also lives at the complex. Burney said Ferguson moved there so she and her other daughter, who lives with Burney, could check on Ferguson often.
Ferguson is on dialysis treatment for end-stage renal failure, which results in seizures, brain bleeding and other issues that landed her in the hospital from June until October last year. While there, she went in and out of a coma twice, Burney said.
Ferguson pays $50 of her over $800 rent each month, and the rest is federally guaranteed to be paid through the HUD housing voucher program, Payne said.
Payne said there is a common narrative that residents who pay their rent with housing vouchers do not take good care of the property, and that’s just not true.
In February, Ferguson received a notice that Bivens Cove was planning to remodel her apartment and she would not be allowed to renew her lease, Burney said. Ferguson has been a resident there for about five years.
When Burney went to the office to ask about the situation, she said she was told that because they needed to remodel the unit, her daughter would have to move out. She said the resident manager also mentioned that Bivens Cove didn’t want to take outside sources of income anymore.
Payne provided a screenshot dated April 27 showing the FAQ on Bivens Cove’s website, which said the complex no longer accepted HUD or section 8 housing, a direct violation of G.O. 190814.
That part of the FAQ was removed after word spread about the situation.
Burney said her daughter is represented by Three Rivers Legal Services, and it wasn’t until they intervened that Bivens Cove said Ferguson would be allowed to renew her lease.
Payne said she knew of six other residents who use housing vouchers at Bivens Cove who were also told they would not be allowed to renew their lease. They are all veterans.
It wasn’t until many members of the community contacted The Collier Company and the protest was scheduled that Bivens Cove notified those residents that they will be allowed to renew their leases.
Neither Bivens Cove or The Collier Company responded to multiple requests, both in person and over the phone, for comment.
“As a mother, it is my job to fight as hard for her life as she fought twice to stay alive,” Burney said.