Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Vicissitudes of obtaining her home in the Belmont neighborhood

In this lengthy passage, English describes her quest for homeownership and the pitfalls she faced. She depicts the tensions between her and the city, neighborhood drug dealers, and the police. While English managed to upturn the city's typically harsh code violations to preserve her home, to swindle drug dealers of money, and to garner the police's attention in her notoriously crime-ridden neighborhood, she still faced hardships. The city's code violations cost her heaps of money in repairs; the drug dealers created the perception of her home as a drug hot-spot; and the police subsequently ignored her complaints arguing that she contributed to the drug-infested atmosphere in the neighborhood. These experiences heightened English's distrust of the city, but also increased her activism in the community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
What made you decide to move to Belmont in '93? I should back up and say where were you living before that?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I lived over in Honduras off of Sugar Creek. Honduras Apartments. I was living over there. I knew the lady here because my daughter had a son by her son. Her son used to get in a lot of trouble. One particular night she called, the lady called and she had a lot of homes in this area. She had bought up—her father had purchased, I think they had several homes in the neighborhood at that time. During the time that the city came through and they coded her homes really bad. They took a few of them I believe. She only had two left when I came into the picture in 1993. That was this one and she had another one up on Parson Street. At that time, she had to either fix it or the city was going to demolish it, this particular home and the one up on Parson. This home was paid for. It was vacant. The drug dealers used to hang out here. Then she had this lady that was homeless that had asked her to live here because she didn't have anywhere to stay. She told the lady the house hadn't been remodeled. The house wasn't safe for a family. This particular lady had kids. The lady agreed to pay her 250 a month just to live here temporarily. She let her move in but she never paid her the 250. She paid her whenever she could. That went on for years, I think. Then in '93 is when the city came out and started coding, code enforcement. The lady that was staying here temporarily, after the city coded it, she had to move. She didn't want to move. She went down and filed papers against Blanch Perry as a bad landlord or whatever. She took her to court. Then the city, well you got ninety days to either fix your house or we're going to demolish it. During this time is when she had a bad illness. She was real bad off sick. I told her if I could help her let me know. She called and said, "Can you help me? They are going to take my house." That's when I really became deeply involved with this particular neighborhood because I found—. I really went through the phone books and called people that I knew to ask them questions about what could be done to save the lady's house. They told me get your code enforcement sheets. Tell them to get you a copy of all of your code violations. That's when I went, me and my girlfriends, then we got an attorney. I can't remember. It was a legal aid person. We didn't go to see him. We just spoke to him by phone. They said well you can look at your paper work. You can actually tell whether or not it's a real problem. He said, "Do you see anything like a dirty wall or a dirty floor?" I'm like yeah. They got dirty wall. They got dirty floor. They got dirty this. He said, "Well, all you do is go in there and either wash it or either paint it. That will take it out of code." I learned a lot from my friends and an attorney friend that we were talking to by phone. We didn't have money to pay him for services.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was that Ted Fillette by any chance?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Yeah. Mr. Fillette's been around for a while. We got the list. We had to go out—. We had to get a mortgage on the house because we didn't have enough funds to fix the house. This particular family that was living her, she would not move. She stayed here. She took the lady to court, back and forth to court. The judge kept telling her no, no. She don't have to move. Then that's when she decided well, maybe if—. You know, she couldn't handle it anymore. She said well let me just give you the house, then see what you can do with it to save It. That's when I told her, "Fine with me." I have no problem with putting this broad out. I used to send the Sheriff over in the middle of the night to have her all, her and her family put out in the middle of the night. Then we'd go to court and the judge would just be going on and on, "Make her your tenant." "No, I don't want her as a tenant. I want her out of the house so I can fix the house so I can live there." It took almost a year to get that woman out of the house through the legal process. The legal process is bad for homeowners. The people that own your property, a tenant can make it rough for you. They can actually take your property away from you by the laws. The judge won't put them out, "Oh, let them stay there and let them pay you $175 a week." If you can't pay 250 a month how you going to pay me $175 a week? Come on, that's enough. I said, "Naw." He really got frustrated with me each time we went to court. He would tell me let them live. I would say, "No, they can't live here." Finally, in the end—I think about seven or eight months—the city stepped in because the code enforcement. They were coming in and out and coding everything. The city actually relocated this lady. She was an old crack head, drug sellers, everything. Her kids used to sell drugs and stuff. It went on like that for six months. After I got her out, the house was basically a shell. It was demolished in the inside. It was water dripping everywhere. The ceiling was rotted out. There was no heat system in the house. There was no water, plumbing that actually worked in the house. It was roaches swimming in the kitchen sink, stuck on the walls with rats everywhere. It was terrible. It was horrible. Then it was just like why would these people stay in such filth and then I looked and I could understand why. This was all they knew. This was all they knew about. It was pitiful because they lady had a younger daughter and a younger son at that time and a boyfriend that she beat, and he beat her. It was just awful for the kids.
SARAH THUESEN:
Sounds like an awful situation.
DIANE ENGLISH:
Yeah, it was. It was better when she got out. Then she went to—. She moved from here to Dundeen which was ever worse. Dundeen over there off of Beatties Ford Road.
SARAH THUESEN:
Is that a neighborhood?
DIANE ENGLISH:
That's a street and a neighborhood over there off of Beatties Ford Road. She just—. This particular lady is just ghetto, is what I call them. She's just bang, bang, shoot them up, fight, fight, drink, drink. Those are the kind of people I call ghetto. They don't know any other life other than just ghettoism is what I call it. They don't know how to survive with a—doing other things outside of beating and cursing and ranting and raving. They don't know any other way. I don't if it's how they was brought up or if this is just what you do when you live in a neighborhood like this. God, it was awful. When I got this house it was terrible.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did you have moments where you second guessed your decision to take this house?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I still have moments that I feel like I could have had this if I hadn't of been here. I've put all my life savings, every dime of my money, every dime that I've had saved or would have had into this house. When this lady moved out the roof, I had to have a new roof. It was five roofs up on top of this house. The city made me take all that down. The walls had to be—. The walls had holes in them. Of course you had to fix that. Then they made—. Then what topped it off, what really got me, my back door sits—. They made me move my back door from one corner of my house to the other corner of my house.
SARAH THUESEN:
Why was that?
DIANE ENGLISH:
They never said. They just said the door was in the wrong place. They made me move the whole back door. Then that means the wood that—it's a wood house. It's made out of wood, made out of redwood in fact. All of the houses in here is made out of wood. In fact, when the wood was taken off the guy couldn't put it back together. I had to go out and buy new wood to fix the wall to look like the other wall.
SARAH THUESEN:
How much of all this work did you do yourself?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I ended up doing the majority of it. Me and my sisters and kids ended up doing the majority of it, what we could in the inside. Now, the roof we didn't touch. We had somebody that made a mess, but anyway. We had that person. I had to get a plumber. During the time that this lady got out of this house, the house was vacant. The floors in here were like down hill, uphill. They had like run down, rotted out. They were just—. You would walk in here and it was like walking downhill. You walk over here it's like walking uphill, all the way through the house. All the floors had to be leveled. It was like the guy that was the contractor which was a city, working for the city at that time. He tore out—. He was doing the work and we gave him money. In fact, he got about $26,000. Basically he didn't do anything. He would tell me that code person say, "Yes it passed." Then I would see another code person and they said, "No, I didn't say this." By this time, all the monies was gone. That guy got fired from the city. He was a contractor with the city. He got fired. That still left me holding the gun with work to be done. I just got in here, me and my sister. During that time I was at CATS. I would come home from work and work on the house, go back to my other house that I was living in. This was vacant and I lived over on Honduras. I would come over here on my days off and work all day to the middle of the night until finally it was just a shell. It didn't have any—. The heat was good because I had to have a heating system put in which was too small. It's sitting out on my front porch, on the side over here. I paid $2500 for a unit that was too small. Code enforcement said it was too small. I had to end up going back to get another unit. This time the guy said let's just get central air while you at it. I said whatever. That's how I ended up with central air. I wouldn't have had central air either. It's just been one thing after another. I fix this, something else breaks down. It's just like the house is so old. It's settling. Every time it settles it's something going wrong, always something to fix. Then when I was remodeling it the old drunks or the drinkers in the neighborhood, they came over and they stole all of the copper piping. I didn't know that they had taken the piping. Then it had aluminum siding on the outside of the house, they stripped all of the siding off the house one night. I came back and it was just like who put the holes in the house. There was just holes everywhere because the wood was decayed. I'm like who did this. Nobody knew anything but all of the siding was gone. I had to go out and get somebody to put siding on the house.
SARAH THUESEN:
That must've been incredibly frustrating.
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was. The more I did, the more they stole while I was in the process. The guys that was helping me, they were stealing my tools at night. They would come over and steal the stuff from us at night, the wood, the saws, stuff like that. We'd buy. They'd steal them when we'd leave and stuff. It was awful. It was terrible.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was there a good bit of violence in the neighborhood at that time?
DIANE ENGLISH:
They were shooting. It was nothing to see a bunch of drug dealers standing around selling drugs all day. During the times that I would be over here working it was awful. They would just be standing. This used to be, this house used to be a hot spot. In fact, the police raided my house.
SARAH THUESEN:
Really?
DIANE ENGLISH:
In 1998. They tried to knock my door down but I have three-ply steel. We had to open the door. They still—. We opened the door but they raided my house. Because the drug dealers that live in this area happened to be one of my daughter's friends. My daughters know all of them because they all went to school. This particular guy comes to the house. He sits around. In fact, he has a baby by my daughter. He used to come by. The police was after him back and forth. The drug dealers used to live here, basically, before I moved into the house. I was in their territory. I would be in the house after I moved in here. They would be outside the house. I didn't have to worry about nobody breaking in. They didn't destroy—. They would destroy your property by trashing it, but they wouldn't steal and they didn't break in. Basically, they were a good source for me at that time because it was a lot of other shooting, gun fire going on in the neighborhood and stuff.
SARAH THUESEN:
What do you mean they were a good source for you?
DIANE ENGLISH:
They were, as far as making the transition from where I lived, peace and quiet, no noise at all, to an area where everybody walked the streets all night. It was nothing to hear gunfire. I could open this front door and the guys would be shooting at each other right here. I could hear the pellets hitting my fence out here. I could hear the pellets, the gun pellets hitting my fence. I couldn't stand in here, lay in here really, and these windows would be lit up with blue fire where they would just be shooting right outside. I didn't have this fence that I have now. I had to remodel because they walked that down. It was just flat. They were running up in the yard behind my—. I had a tree here and they would be shooting from behind my tree. It would be caught in my cars that would be parked out here. They would be dodging behind the car shooting at each other. It was nothing. The police, when they showed up it was all over. This went on not only in this—and this was one of your worst streets. Kennon Street was off the chain.
SARAH THUESEN:
How effective was the police in trying to rein in some of the violence?
DIANE ENGLISH:
At first, I didn't have no faith in the police department. First of all when I did decided to move here, which I had to come in by myself because my daughters wouldn't come with me. They said they were too afraid to stay here. Basically, I was living here by myself. At that time I didn't have any faith in the police department or anybody really because to ride through the neighborhood and see the broke down houses, the people walking the street, the drug dealers just standing out broad open daylight, shooting at each other, broad open daylight, stabbings, hair fight, you know fighting. This is basically five minutes from your downtown Charlotte and five minutes away from the police department. I could not believe. How is this possible that this neighborhood got like this with your police department within five minutes of it? I've always felt like it was a purpose for them to let this neighborhood go down like this for the simple reason, the same thing that they are doing now—revitalization and take over. That's all I could ever see. Every police officer here has to go through here or down Davidson Street to get to the office downtown, right. You telling me all this is going on and they didn't know. I don't think they like me very well either. I think that's one reason why they raided my house. I used to be inside and the drug dealers, they were alright people. They would come here and they would say, "Ms. English, I'm hungry." Duh. What do you want me to do? "If I go buy some food will you cook it for me?" Sure. Love to. It's going to cost you. I would charge them like twenty dollars just to cook them a sandwich. They'd say, "Well we'll give it to you." Oh, okay then. That's my gas money. Okay. During the same time I'm calling the police 24/7 a day. Finally they would say, "Well Ms. English we think you in with it because they still there. That's your property. You've got to get them off your property." I'm like, "Well if you can't do it, what makes you think I can do it?" It got so bad to where as they would come out here and they would jump the guys. They would brutal—. It would be something brutal where they would slam their heads on the sidewalk and bust they face and smash it in the rocks. It got awful.
SARAH THUESEN:
You saw police doing that to drug dealers?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Yeah. Then I started taping them. I started taping them with the camcorder. That really got them mad. I started making complaints into the police department—What is It called?—internal affairs. Then it really got nasty at that time. I was real vicious at that time. Then I would be in here because I would let my daughter drive my car and they would drop me off early. I always got off at one or two o'clock in the afternoon. Nobody would ever be out here in midday because it would be real, real hot in the summer. They would always come in the afternoon. I would always be inside the house already. It was like nothing moving except for me and the TV at a hush because I'm scared to death. I've got to listen for the gunfire. They would be out here. Then all of sudden these police officers would show up. They would be walking around messing with the guys, harassing the guys. They would be sitting actually up in my back yard up against my house or all the way around the house, wherever. Then one particular incident I found that the officers were actually sticking drugs into these guys' possessions.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did you see this happen?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Yeah, I saw that happen. Then it's when I really had to speak out. You can't do that. If you're going to get them you have to do it legally. I felt like a lot of stuff they were doing was not doing it right. No, I can't help you if you not going to do it right. I guess the officers was frustrated because there were so many of them. To me, I was a newcomer and I was just looking in. I couldn't see it. You had people get robbed in my back yard, stripped naked. They get robbed in my back yard. The police department would get here but they would be later. They would always show up much later than what they need to. It made me feel like something is not right. Then all of sudden nobody showing up at any time. I had a guy that shot through my car out there one day, shooting at somebody else. I called and nobody showed up until like seven o'clock that night. They said it was a dispatch error. They didn't get the report. I'm like yeah right. You were hoping that I had been behind that shot, right? I don't know. The officers that we have over here now are pretty good officers, but I still say the neighborhood should have never gotten—no neighborhood deserves to be like this one and Villa Heights and Optimist Park. No neighborhood, not especially with a large police force like we have here. No neighborhood this close to your downtown area should have ever gotten this bad. The city should have stepped in. The homes that are dilapidated or whatever, the city should've done something years ago. What's there purpose now? All of sudden they got all these relocation programs. They got this. They got that. The same thing they had years ago, right? Probably had more because it was cheaper then. Now all of sudden, the city and this Hope VI thing. Everybody's up on Hope VI la la la. Ain't nothing but a total rip off as far as I'm concerned. It's just a disaster.