Veteran, disabled residents will lose their homes
Lifestyle and bitter dispute over lawn too much for landlord to handle
Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal
At a Cortez apartment complex, a dispute over a green lawn at one unit and accusations that another has become a flop house, has led to lease terminations for a mentally disabled woman and a formerly homeless Vietnam veteran.
Monica Wilson and Monty Fogle both rent apartments at a complex at Beech and Arbecam streets owned by Bonnie and Calixto Cabrera of Durango.
Both renters are on public assistance from a federal Housing and Urban Development program that gives them vouchers to help pay for rent. But recently they were informed their month-to-month leases would not be renewed, and they must be out by Oct. 1.
Of course, there are two sides to the story.
“I’ve never done anything to anybody,” says Fogle from a well-worn couch. “Then bam! I get a notice to vacate letter.”
Fogle was featured in a January 2012 Cortez Journal article as a successful example of programs that help get homeless veterans off the street and into stable living environments.
He lived on the street, camped, and frequented the homeless shelter until humanitarians investigated his case and found he qualified for a housing subsidy under HUD.
For four years he has enjoyed the benefits of indoor living, but that comfortable stretch is now at risk.
“I like it here OK,” he said, a man of few words. “Now I’ll have to find another apartment.”
Landlord Bonnie Cabrera was happy to rent to Fogle and others on public assistance at her rental properties in Cortez, which meet HUD standards. But the situation at the Arbecam Street location deteriorated, she said.
“My husband is a veteran, and we want to help them, and (we) do, but we have had trouble renting the next door unit to Mr. Fogle,” she said. “His place has become a sort of flop-house for other homeless folks. He has a lot of visitors, and there is a lot of drinking.”
Because of his regular company, Cabrera says she has not been able to keep renters in the unit next door.
“It is not that he is loud or that he and his friends are partying,” she said. “It’s just that before, we could rent out the apartment for years at a time. In the past four years, we have had five renters next door. They usually last six months. It is currently empty again.”
Monica Wilson lives two units over, and her yard is a colorful plethora of flower gardens, hanging plants and blooming vines. She is also being asked to leave after a relatively minor water dispute involving the lawn that quickly turned bitter and acrimonious.
“I’m being kicked out for this,” she quips pointing to the flowers. “I guess I’ll have to go camp in McElmo Canyon.”
Wilson is diagnosed as mentally disabled. She is a former librarian and associate professor at Fort Lewis College and has advanced degrees in botany, but after a carbon-monoxide poisoning at a home in Colorado Springs, she has suffered from permanent memory problems.
“The Google in my brain does not work any longer,” is how she explains it. “I can only go to my Favorites file for information and I can’t add to it.”
‘Lush golf course’
The Cabreras gave her permission to grow a garden, but to save water in the drought they do not allow renters to water their lawn. This summer, the landlords noticed a significant increase in the water bill for the complex, which shares one meter.
“When we looked into why, we saw that her yard looked like a lush golf course and all the rest were dry,” Cabrera said. “We asked her to chip in to cover the increased costs and refrain from watering the lawn and she got nasty, sarcastic and disrespectful. We had enough.”
Wilson counters that the increased water bill was from wasteful neighbors with kids and a broken spigot next door.
“The rain greened up the lawn,” she added. “With one meter, there is no proof it was me. Her accounting practices do not make sense.”
Wilson has filed a discrimination complaint with HUD. The original disputed amount was $53.00.
Cabrera said that she never knew until recently that Wilson is disabled, just that she was on public assistance.
“We like gardens and support them at our other places, but the issue became more than the extra watering with her,” she said. “We were getting harassing phone messages and 14-page letters about it.”
Cabrera feels she has been fair, and points out that she has not raised the $500 per month rent at the apartment for four years. She also rents to disabled tenants at other residences that have been with her for years.
“I’m not a strict, by the rules landlord,” she said. “We allowed Monica to keep a dog even though she did not tell us about it, and we work with tenants when they have trouble making rent.”
Both Wilson and Fogle use Section 8 vouchers from HUD and are concerned they will lose the benefit. But according to Terri Wheeler, executive director of Montezuma County Housing Authority, they have four months to find another place and keep their voucher.
“The voucher stays with the person, and it is automatically stays active for 60 days after they leave to allow them to relocate,” Wheeler said. “Then they can get it extended for another 60 days.”
For those who qualify, HUD calculates 30 percent of a person’s income, then contributes that amount toward their rent payment each month. There is a two-year waiting list to qualify for the subsidy, Wheeler said. The agency serves 262 families in the private sector and owns or manages 239 units.
Unless there is a change of heart and attitudes, Wilson expects to leave.
“I’m going to Montrose to try and get into an apartment because I can’t find anything here,” she said.
Added Fogle, “It will take more than California landlords to kick me out of my hometown.”