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Family evicted from post housing claims injustice

Sep. 9, 2013 - 01:26PM   |  
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A Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., military family is living at a campground after the post housing company evicted them from their home on post Sunday.

Sgt. Isaac Gardner and his wife, Nicole, along with their three children, said they had no place else to go.

“We are in a trailer,” Nicole Gardner said today. She said friends have pitched in money to pay for their stay at the campgrounds for several days. Prior to friends helping the family, Gardner had thought they would have to live out of their car.

Lewis-McChord Communities, owned by Equity Residential, runs the privatized on-post housing and originally gave them a 60-day notice to move out of their house. The 60-day notice was rescinded 11 days before the final out date.

Although garrison commanders can restrict people from post, they are not authorized to interfere in evictions by the private housing company, a JBLM spokesman said in an email to Army Times. A memo provided to Army Times states that “garrison commanders shall not: ... participate in RCI (Residential Communities Initiatives) project eviction decisions.”

A spokesman for the 7th Infantry Division, out of JBLM, declined to make any comment on the Gardners’ living situation pending a discussion with Sgt. Gardner’s unit.

Nicole Gardner’s husband has deployed to Iraq three times and was compassionately reassigned to JBLM in 2011 after Nicole was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Gardner said. Sgt. Gardner is with 657th Forward Support Company, 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade. The family moved to the post in September 2012.

The housing office gave Nicole Gardner a three-day eviction notice on Thursday, citing violation of the Crime-Free Housing Addendum, after an incident in which she claims two neighbors approached her home and threatened to physically harm her. She said the neighbors were upset after one of her children defended himself by hitting another child.

However, Equity Residential has a different story. Todd Vasko, the managing director for Equity Residential at JBLM, said issues with the Gardners are long running and the eviction notice was the last step after trying for months to resolve neighborhood disputes.

Nicole Gardner said the problems began when a family moved into the Beachwood housing area this year. The neighbors accused Gardner’s children of stealing bicycle pegs — something Gardner denies — and since then she and her children were harassed by the neighbors. The neighbor would allegedly call her and her children racial slurs, including the N-word, Nicole Gardner said.

When she reported the incidents to military police, she said she was told it was a housing issue. Gardner was granted a restraining order against the neighbor, but the harassment did not stop. Eventually, housing evicted the neighbors, but friends of her former neighbors continued the harassment, she said, threatening to assault her and filing false complaints against her to the housing office.

She said the housing office became fed up with the situation and decided to evict her. The housing office has allegedly refused to hear her side of the story and refuses to investigate the false harassment claims, Gardner said. Additionally, one of her sons is attending school on base, but the housing office will not take that into consideration, she said.

Vasko said they vetted the complaints against the Gardners and tried mediation with the neighbors for months before giving them the eviction notice. He said the eviction notice was given to both families at the same time, and the first family moved out, but the Gardners have not.

Gardner wrote an appeal letter to housing and neighbors have tried to contact housing on her behalf, but the office has refused to budge, she said.

“I felt like I was being shut down,” Gardner said. “Nobody wants to hear anything we have to say.”

Equity Residential defended the decision.

“We validate what takes place,” Vasko said. “We look at the information in front of us from many different sources, and we talk to all of the residents.”

Vasko said the 60-day notice was a result of months of trying to resolve the issues between the two neighbors.

“We work with families at many levels before we get to the point of asking someone to leave,” Vasko said. “When we do, [it’s because the situation] is pretty serious.”

Vasko said they have to take the safety of all their residents into consideration.

According to Vasko, the family will be refunded a prorated portion of their Basic Allowance for Housing after they move off post.

Housing hardship

Gardner said she feels she is being retaliated against for reporting the harassment her family endured.

Gardner, who has lived in housing at other installations and has gone through several deployments, said military families should not have to suffer what she is going through.

“Housing should not ever be another hardship on a [military] family’s plate,” she said.

Although she had been given the 60-day notice to evacuate, Gardner said she did not look for new housing because she was working to get the housing company to repeal the eviction notice until her family changes duty stations next year.

“We know that our family has done nothing wrong,” Gardner said. “I needed to make sure that I fought for my home as long as I could before we had to move. We cannot afford it financially.”

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