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Most of the grounds that HUD considers good cause for eviction are obvious — for example, domestic violence or drugs.
"If you have evidence of drugs on a property, you can file suit the next day with no notice," Wise says. As a tenant, "you're then served with a summons, or it's posted on your door, notifying you when your court date is. You can take whatever action you want, whether you contest it, let it go by default or move out on your own."
Section 8 tenants rarely challenge an eviction order in court. "My practice is almost 100 percent landlord-tenant law," Wise says, "and in that, you find that a vast majority of the people don't even bother to show up." But without money for a lawyer and lacking reliable transportation — not to mention the limits of age and infirmity — how would they?
Eugene Cargyle is 61 and uses a motorized wheelchair. In December 2007, he was served with an eviction notice from the St. Regis, his home for two years. McCray had come to his door with two Kansas City police officers — not standard procedure for surprise inspections, according to HUD sources — and declared that a pile of ash on a tray was marijuana. Cargyle says the ash was from incense.
The eviction went into effect January 24, 2008. It was a Thursday. Cargyle begged McCray to let him stay through the weekend. McCray told him to leave before the Jackson County Sheriff's Department removed him by force. Cargyle departed the St. Regis in his wheelchair, leaving his possessions with a neighbor. He had nowhere to go.
Cargyle's friend and fellow St. Regis resident, 54-year-old Joseph Arrington, says he watched as McCray kicked Cargyle out into the snow. Arrington protested. He says McCray replied, "Nigger, I'll kick you out, too." (Arrington and McCray are both black.)
Cargyle lived on the street for two months, sleeping in city parks and homeless shelters. A niece eventually let him stay with her temporarily.
Now Cargyle, who lives on disability payments, rents a non-HUD East Side apartment for $375 a month, about three times what he paid to live at the St. Regis. His room is on the second floor, which is a challenge to navigate in a wheelchair.
"I'm a survivor," Cargyle says.
In May 2008, McCray forced Arrington out of the building. He says she falsely accused him of selling drugs.
"She had the police in my house," Arrington says. "They didn't find no drugs, but she evicted me anyway. She told me, 'I don't need no proof. I can do what I want to do here.' I had three days to move out. She didn't give me nothing on paper, nothing."
Wise says Arrington was evicted for failing to pay his rent. "We did deal with him," he says. "We gave him an extra 30 days to stay, which is longer than is required by law."
Court records show that Arrington was ordered to leave the St. Regis by May 29, 2008. Prior to being kicked out, Arrington says he had lived in the building for four years and had never received a warning from the manager. He has no criminal record of selling drugs.
"I'm glad I'm out of there," he says.
Bonita Jones worked at the St. Regis from the spring of 2008 until February 2009. Her job as social coordinator was to connect residents with services available to them in the community. For example, the rooms in the St. Regis have no central air conditioning, so Jones helped her clients get window units from Bishop Sullivan's emergency-assistance program.