The sounds of blaring car horns and indignant voices bellowed across the streets outside Collier Companies International’s main office Thursday when about 30 residents protested the housing company’s decision to evict tenants receiving supplemental income.
Protesters gathered at 220 N Main St. to share their experiences — which they believe were violations of their rights — with Collier Companies.
Collier Companies is a housing management and real estate company based in Gainesville that owns 11,271 apartment units across Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma. Some of the company’s tenants say it has discriminated against lawful forms of income.
Collier Companies could not be reached for comment as of Sunday evening.
June King, a Collier resident, contracted COVID-19 last year and could not work to pay rent.
She was able to use Emergency Rental Assistance Program payments toward her rent, and while COVID-19 took a toll on her health, she didn’t realize it would also cost her her home.
New management arrived at the complex last spring, and King was unable to provide the rental assistance payment on time. Her property manager then told her she will not be able to renew her lease when it expires Dec. 31.
King is still unsure what will transpire after her New Year’s Eve deadline.
“I just feel that it’s wrong,” she said. “I think I was deceived.”
The Renters Rights Ordinance was passed by the city of Gainesville earlier this year. The ordinance protects tenants from discrimination based on lawful sources of income, such as Section 8 vouchers, Social Security, child support and housing assistance.
Alachua County Labor Coalition chair Sheila Payne said the organization has spent years trying to get the ordinance passed. Now it’s not being enforced.
The Section 8 voucher program, also known as the Choice Voucher program, is a federal program that helps elderly, disabled and low-income individuals afford adequate housing in the private market. Social Security, which is regulated by the U.S. Social Security Administration, is a social insurance program that provides supplemental forms of income and benefits for retirees and disabled individuals.
But in the spring, Collier stopped accepting those forms of payment despite the ordinance mandating them not to.
The company isn’t the only property owner in Gainesville to enforce this policy.
Carrie Saites, a resident of Hunter’s Run Apartments owned by Royal American Management, said she applied for rental assistance program payments with them June. 26, but on Aug. 10 she was given a five-day eviction notice by an Alachua County Sheriff’s officer.
Although her federal funds have been distributed, they have not been processed by the housing management despite her multiple attempts to bring it to their attention. She has been charged $375 in late fees.
Saites said she felt alone in her situation before attending the protest.
“We're not just one, we are many,” she said. “And we have many stories, and we have many different situations. This pandemic can't tear us apart anymore.”
Payne said Collier and other big corporations are having tenants sign monthly leases so they can continue to raise their rent prices, which ultimately leads to evictions. This tactic is to bring in student renters who often have the means to pay steeper prices.
But with steeper prices, tenants are faced with inadequate living conditions. Residents of Collier and other companies have voiced their complaints numerous times about sanitary and utility concerns that aren't being fixed.
The labor coalition receives reports of AC units that haven’t worked in years, holes in roofs and molding, Payne said. In addition, tenants have complained about having difficulty getting their security deposits back.
Tenants refrain from calling code enforcement for fear of eviction, she said.
“There's just not enough affordable housing, so people end up being at the mercy of these landlords,” Payne said. “The goal [of the protest] is to send a warning that it’s just not acceptable.”
Payne said the coalition has directed tenants who have reported discrimination to Three Rivers Legal Services Inc, an organization that provides free legal services to low-income individuals. The labor coalition and Three Rivers may bring a lawsuit to the Department of Justice.
“It will take all of us to stop this,” Payne said.
Contact Bryce at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brycebrownnn.