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Driftwood Apartments reopen after three years, housing the Wilmington community's most in need

Jennifer reads over Bible verses at the newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. Jennifer had been staying at another shelter before she was able to move into her own private living space at Driftwood.
Madeline Gray
/
WHQR
Jennifer reads over Bible verses at the newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. Jennifer had been staying at another shelter before she was able to move into her own private living space at Driftwood.

The complex was originally planned as permanent supportive housing, but nearly lost that status.

Driftwood Apartments, located on a quiet street off Princess Place Drive, were originally conceived as permanent supportive housing.

The federal government program mandated affordability- capped at 30% of a resident’s income, regardless of what that income was - for 15 years. But at the end of that term, the previous owners kicked most of the tenants out and tried to sell the complex on the private market.

That’s where Cape Fear Collective came in, according to Suzanne Rogers, CFC's director of housing.

"The Cape Fear Collective, which was working with a number of local banks taking their Community Reinvestment Act funds and trying to mobilize them here locally for affordable housing, was able to step in and acquire the property for about $1.2 million," Rogers told WHQR.

The newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. The apartments offer private living spaces for those with disabilities who have been experiencing homelessness.
Madeline Gray
/
WHQR
The newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. The apartments offer private living spaces for those with disabilities who have been experiencing homelessness.

By the time CFC claimed the title on Driftwood, though, all but two of the original tenants had moved out. So the organization began working on a backlog of maintenance work and prepping the apartments to serve those residents again -- or new people in need. It partnered with Good Shepherd Center for case management and Norco for property management, with the aim of serving the most needy.

"This is housing for folks who are formerly homeless and have some sort of disability," Rogers said.

So far, about ten residents have moved into the newly renovated apartments. WHQR is only using the residents' first names to protect their privacy.

Cindy, age 67, has been on the streets for nearly two years, and moved into Driftwood during the last week of June. She used to walk around downtown with a walker, but now she walks her apartment barefoot without even her cane.

"I’ll tell you what, this floor feels good on my feet,” she said.

A plaque in the courtyard of the newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. The apartments offer private living spaces for those with disabilities who have been experiencing homelessness.
Madeline Gray
/
WHQR
A plaque in the courtyard of the newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. The apartments offer private living spaces for those with disabilities who have been experiencing homelessness.

With freshly washed hair and nice clean clothes, you might never know she slept outside just two nights before. But now she has her own couch, her own bed, and a door she can lock behind her. She’s finally catching up on sleep, after more than a year of sleeping on church stoops and in parking garages.

"I think I fell asleep about eight o'clock. Didn't get up till about eight o'clock this morning,” she said.

She pays 30% of her social security and disability income to afford the apartment. For Cindy, that’s a few hundred bucks, but for fellow resident, 50-year-old Jennifer, it’s just $50. She doesn’t have a job right now to pay rent with, but now that she’s got an apartment, she hopes to find work at a nearby restaurant.

"Church’s Chicken, Taco Bell, McDonald's are just right at the road. I want to have something closer to here. That way, I don’t have to take buses all the time, twice a day, to and from work," Jennifer told WHQR.

Jennifer was living at Good Shepherd Center in a congregate shelter before she got her apartment.

“I like it here because I can be my own boss. I can shower if I want to, sleep in if I want to, have my own washer and dryer. Not having to do my laundry over the Good Shepherd once a week," she said.

The 15 residents who move into the apartment complex will have access to a full-time support staffer who can help them get access to social services, jobs, medical appointments, and anything else they need. It’s all part of making permanent housing just that: permanent.

Cindy sits on the bed in her apartment at the newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. Cindy had been living on the streets and sleeping outside for close to two years before she was able to move into her own private living space at Driftwood. The previous night was Cindy's first night in her new apartment and she had fallen asleep on the couch, so the bed was still made from when she moved in.
Madeline Gray
/
WHQR
Cindy sits on the bed in her apartment at the newly renovated Driftwood Apartments in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 25, 2024. Cindy had been living on the streets and sleeping outside for close to two years before she was able to move into her own private living space at Driftwood. The previous night was Cindy's first night in her new apartment and she had fallen asleep on the couch, so the bed was still made from when she moved in.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.