STARKVILLE — Vashante Gray has nine days to find somewhere to live before being forced out of her home.
After originally being told she had only three hours to move her children and all of her belongings out of their residency Aug. 27, she, along with seven other residents of a Catherine Street apartment complex, have until Sept. 17 to find new homes. While she is thrilled to have more time to look for somewhere to go, she said she has spent all of her money on hotel stays since receiving her original eviction notice, and she does not know how she will be approved for a new apartment in such a short amount of time.
“Now, I’m broke,” Gray said. “I have to worry about where me and my kids are going, how I’m going to feed my kids with no money. It doesn’t make logical sense.”
After Ferretti Property Services of Cleveland, Mississippi, informed tenants of the 61-unit apartment complex they were soon to be required to leave their homes, 21 residents contacted Starkville attorney Austin Vollor to pursue a lawsuit in chancery court against Ferretti. With an out-of-court agreement, Vollor and Ferretti’s attorneys, Will Thomas and Beau Cole of the Ridgeland-based Butler Snow, agreed to give tenants new eviction dates.
Vollor said tenants are placed into three eviction date groups — eight must leave by Sept. 17, 10 by Sept. 29 and the remaining three he represents by Oct. 14 due to prolonged health issues. He said he does not know how Ferretti chose which tenants would be placed in the first two groups and does not know dates for the other tenants of the complex that he does not represent.
The tenants and Vollor filed a preliminary injunction and restraining order against Ferretti Aug. 31, prohibiting the company from removing residents from the property, but those decrees are not nullified by Wednesday’s agreement.
“I think both sides saw the wisdom in getting a resolution, in getting certainty to this rather than lawyering up and running up expenses and wasting the courts time,” Vollor said. “Both sides just wanted to get what they felt was a fair resolution for both sides. It gives our group more time to get out.”
Vollor said while the tenants do not have an extensive amount of time, he is happy he can fight for members of the community who may be underserved.
“We wanted these people to know we love them,” Vollor said. “They matter to us, and that which you do to the least of my brothers, that which you do unto me, and that’s kind of the philosophy we live by in our office and the city recognizes that.”
The Dispatch attempted to contact Ferretti and the company’s attorneys but did not receive a response.
Eviction notices and assistance
Vollor said that each tenant has received an official eviction notice as of Wednesday, but eviction papers obtained from the Oktibbeha County Justice Court show that Justice Court Judge Marty Haug, who is overseeing the case, has not yet signed any of them. The case went to Oktibbeha County Chancery Court once the tenants filed a lawsuit against Ferretti, but after Wednesday’s hearing, the case is now back in Justice Court and eviction papers will be distributed once Haug signs them.
Renters were given notices at the beginning of August to appear in court Aug. 18. On the court date, tenants claimed no rent was asked to be paid back, but summons papers obtained from the Justice Court said all tenants must pay the landlord $74 for rent.
Oktibbeha County NAACP President Yulanda Haddix has been in contact with Mississippi United to End Homelessness to help tenants in affording a new place to live. These MUTEH funds would assist individuals with deposits and rent money.
Tenants must first provide an eviction notice to MUTEH to even apply for assistance funds, but because no official eviction notices have been distributed to tenants, they are finding it difficult to receive the assistance.
“There was never an eviction warrant handed down from justice court,” Vollor said. “They were trapped. They couldn’t go and get the assistance they needed because they didn’t have the proper order from the justice court.”
Haddix said she has been meeting with several apartment complexes and landlords in the area to try and find housing for tenants, but several issues keep arising such as no availability, no places that are pet-friendly and credit check restrictions.
She said she has found about five units at Collegiate Heights Apartments in Starkville that she hopes she can move some individuals and families into soon.
“I am diligently looking for apartments right now,” Haddix said. “I’m just trying to get landlords to work with me.”
Tenant Dianndra Gay is in the group that must evacuate by Sept. 29 but that group also has another court hearing on that same day in regards to this situation.
“I feel like what Austin did today for us was good, but the people who have to leave on the 29th, it’s ridiculous, that we have to leave on the exact date that we go to court,” Gray said. “The only thing I know now is to push forward and try to find somewhere else to go.”
Gray said she has already taken off time from work since she was informed she must leave her home and is fearful she might lose her job. She said with help from groups like NAACP and Starkville Strong she has gotten some help in applying for new housing and received food and household supplies to help her through this hard time.
“I thank God for them because if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what we would do right now,” Gray said.