In August, 80-year-old Ben Degraffenreid found a notice on his mailbox informing him that his lease had been terminated and he had 10 days to leave his Northside home.
Degraffenreid — a Chapel Hill native known as Pop to friends and family — has rented one side of the 603 Bynum St. duplex for 33 years.
But when the property was foreclosed and bought by a new owner in June, Degraffenreid found himself facing the threat of eviction.
“If I got to go, I got to go,” he said.
Longtime residents of Northside, a historically black and low income neighborhood, have recently faced affordability issues as developments and students move into the area.
While Degraffenreid doesn’t know where he would live if evicted, he said he is most concerned about being able to get to his doctor’s appointments.
“To tell the truth, most of the time, I’m worried about where I’m going to get the bus,” he said.
He currently lives with his son, Jeffery, who grew up in the home.
“The property was owned by local investment owners, who evidently bought at the wrong time and ended up getting foreclosed on,” said Clay Turner, an attorney at McSurely and Turner PLLC, who is representing Degraffenreid.
FORT 2011-1 REO LLC purchased the foreclosed house in June.
In September, the corporation sued Degraffenreid with a summary ejectment action, Turner said.
“They tried to use North Carolina’s legal process to kick these folks out of their home without any legal basis for doing so,” he said.
The Sept. 24 letter stated that Degraffenreid’s rent was below fair market rent.
“That’s factually untrue, and it’s also not legally very significant,” Turner said.
The lawsuit was dismissed at a hearing Tuesday.
The plaintiff, who is being represented by John Fetner, an attorney at Rogers Townsend and Thomas PC, did not appear in court because a witness would be unable to attend.
Fetner could not be reached for comment.
The plaintiff now has 10 days to appeal the case to a district court.
About 25 community members appeared at the hearing in support of Degraffenreid.
“Because Pop has been here for so long and he’s such a respected member of the community, people are that much more outraged that he would face eviction,” said Aisha Forte, a legal fellow at McSurely and Turner.
Hudson Vaughan, associate director for the Jackson Center, attended the hearing in support of Degraffenreid.
“There’s no question as to how unjust this situation is,” he said. “It’s such a stark measure of how — in this case — profit is considered above the human lives it affects.”
He said he sees Degraffenreid’s situation as part of systemic issues of gentrification and a general lack of affordable housing.
“It’s connected to what the trends are in Chapel Hill and why we’ve got so much work cut out for us in the community,” he said.
Keith Edwards, a former Chapel Hill police officer and a Northside resident, agreed.
“This is happening all over town,” she said. “This is just one person who said, ‘No, no more.’”
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