Rev. Nathan Hollister, community organizer and advocate for many residents of apartment complexes owned by General Services Corporation, which manages nine complexes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, said the company has begun charging exorbitant amounts for water bills on all nine of its properties.
Hollister brought a petition before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen on Oct. 7, with more than 100 signatures from GSC residents. The petition called for accountability for GSC and proposed a meeting between GSC and Hollister, said Nate Broman-Fulks, assistant to the town manager.
In response, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt wrote a letter requesting a meeting with GSC leadership.
In addition, town staff have made several phone calls to the company without response.
GSC did not respond to repeated calls for comment from The Daily Tar Heel in the past two weeks.
Lavelle said companies like GSC are hampering the town’s efforts to provide affordable housing to residents.
“What we are trying to work so hard to create and maintain is affordable housing, and what we’re running into is that the management of these properties aren’t being as responsive to residents’ needs as they could be,” Lavelle said.
GSC resident Emma Armstrong was shocked to see her water bill when she moved to the property in June.
“When I saw it, I was just like, ‘Wow,’” Armstrong said. “But to them, it was normal.”
Broman-Fulks said Armstrong’s bill showed monthly charges of more than $200, a high price for a single woman living alone.
Rather than employing a local utilities company like the Orange Water and Sewer Authority to monitor water usage, Hollister said GSC employs a third party company in Florida, hampering effective communication between both parties and creating difficulties for residents trying to find information about bills.
“Neither the Florida company or GSC take responsibility for these outrageous bills with no basis in reality, and especially for people who speak English as a second language, it’s extraordinarily difficult to navigate,” Hollister said.
He said such practices led him to believe the company has been engaging in price gouging or discriminatory business practices at the least.
Hollister, also an affordable housing advocate, said he decided to defend GSC residents in particular after GSC’s recent decision to refuse Section 8 housing vouchers, which provide rent assistance to low income tenants.
“The impact that a decision like that can have on a community could be absolutely devastating, and it’s made even more devastating because it disproportionately affects single parents with children, newly immigrated people, refugee communities, women and people of color, who are much more heavily affected by decisions like that,” he said.
Armstrong said she was particularly concerned for UNC students seeking off-campus housing, including her own brother.
“Would I recommend GSC properties to my brother? That’s the question I would ask,” she said. “And I would say no, definitely not.”
Hollister said GSC’s refusal to respond to appeals from residents and town leaders displays disrespect, especially from a company that says it values customer service.
“If we could hear some response, it would really help address these very valid concerns, and it would also show a responsiveness to these issues that are really important,” Lavelle said.
“But so far, we’ve run into stone walls. But we’ll keep trying.”