300 residents of Hilton Head apartment complex get evicted

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WSAV) – They are an important part of the tourism industry on Hilton Head Island.

Now some of the people who work in hotels, restaurants, local landscaping, etc. are on the verge of losing their homes.

Residents of Chimney Cove received eviction notices earlier this month.

More than 300 people living there, including 76 children who attend Beaufort County schools, and even more younger children, have been told they must leave.

The reason? The owner, Sam Johal sells the property to Debartolo Development of Florida. The property, which over the years has been home to dozens of low-income, mostly Spanish-speaking families, will reportedly be turned into upscale condos or townhouses on the multi-acre property.

“These are the people who do the work for the Island in so many ways. We want them to stay here with us,” said Reverend June Wilkins of Christ Lutheran Church.

Christ Lutheran Church is next to the apartments, and the church does its part to try to help families whenever it can.

Reverend June Wilkins is heartbroken for all the families as they work hard every day, only to have the rug removed from under them and left in the cold.

“If you kick them out of these apartments, you basically kick them out of Hilton Head,” Wilkins said.

Many of the men and women who live in the mid-island complex have been able to walk or cycle to work and send their children to Hilton Head School.

But with little to no affordable housing on the island, many now have no idea where they might live next.

Sandy Gillis, executive director of the non-profit Deep Well Project, believes the landlord took advantage of the language barrier in his rental agreements.

“A lot of rental renewals were done month to month, or people only had 30 days to go through the paperwork if the landlord told them they were going to be evicted for whatever reason,” said explained Gillis.

Gillis said she thought everyone would have a few months, up to six, to be able to find a new place and move. But when one of the tenants came to Deep Well for help, she realized there was a problem.

“The woman came in on a Monday to talk to our Spanish-speaking volunteer,” Gillis recalled. “She said can you please tell me what it says, showing her eviction notice. I think they tell me that I can’t continue to live there.

“When our volunteer translated for her and told her what she was saying, she quickly burst into tears.”

These notices and the rental agreements signed by the resident were in English. Gillis wonders if it was intentional to take advantage of the language barrier for the future.

Their rents have already gone from 700 to 800 dollars four years ago to 1,400 to 1,500 dollars today.

“Based on $1,500 per month and 52 units. He collected about $75,000 a month from these families,” Wilkins said.

“Most of these people are up to date with their payments,” says Gillis. “They are self-sufficient with rent of $1,500 a month, these people have their lease terminated through no fault of their own.”

“There are 52 units there and there are not 52 units available for people in that income bracket to rent in Hilton Head,” says Reverend Wilkins.

This means that most of these people will be forced to leave not only the apartment they call home, but also the island they love.

“If you’re going to do it, there’s a human way to do it,” said Reverend Wilkins.

The process will go quickly. Many eviction notices are dated September 12. Others in October, November or December.

The eviction notice itself even threatens to “initiate eviction action” and the Beaufort County Sheriff will be called upon to “evict you from the property immediately.”

Wilkins says she has spoken to Sheriff PJ Tanner who says his staff have no plans to forcibly evict anyone from the property. But if the owner asks for it himself, he may have to act.

The City of Hilton Head says it has been briefed on what is happening in Chimney Cove and is discussing what it can do to help.

The transaction is on private property, and apparently not illegal in any way. If the new owner follows zoning rules and restrictions, the City’s hands could be tied.

News 3 asked the City of Hilton Head for comment on the sequel or what they might do, but did not hear a response.

News 3 also attempted to contact Sam Johal through his company of which he is appointed vice president on Linkedin, Hilton Head Hospitality.

The available numbers either didn’t work or no one answered.

Johal, who also owns the Best Western Ocean Breeze Inn in Hilton Head, and his brother previously evicted nearly 40 low-income Hispanic families in 2016. This happened after the couple renovated the resort and wanted to place seasonal workers instead, according to a 2016 Island Packet article.

Christ Lutheran Church and Deep Well have each established a fund to help residents looking for housing.

They estimate that almost half have nowhere to go or will experience financial problems with deposits and leases.

Each fund will be designed not so much to pay their rent as to help with moving costs and deposits so they can find accommodation.

Lutheran Church of Christ Chimney Cove Fund:

Chimney Cove Fund Deep Well Project:

Gillis says that with the fund, she would like to see some of our Hilton Head neighbors step in and offer their short term rental on the island to these families for longer term rental. Even a few months, according to Gillis, will give families time to find a more permanent solution.

A Chimney Cove residents-only meeting is scheduled for Sunday at the Lutheran Church of Christ where residents can get more information in different languages ​​about what is happening and the resources available to them.

The Beaufort County School District has released the following statement on its commitment to allowing affected students to remain enrolled in their schools.

The BCSD superintendent and student services officer contacted HHI principals to ensure that these families and students receive support from social workers and school counselors. Since these students will be transitioning out of residency, they will be able to remain enrolled at their current school in accordance with federal law. McKinney-Vento Homeless Relief Act.

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