For renters in Charlotte who need affordable housing the challenge is already daunting enough. The city says the supply of affordable units is at least 24,000 short of the demand. But renters with pets face additional hurdles.
Pet security deposits often run into the hundreds of dollars. And renters sometimes need to find a place to house their pets while they themselves look for housing.
On a humid morning the cicadas hum loudly outside the Charlotte Family Housing shelter on The Plaza. This is where Hattina Bellamy lives. She’s been homeless since February.
“I was in between jobs,” Bellamy said. “My rent got behind. I got evicted and had to move.”
Bellamy also takes care of her 17-year-old niece and has two pets, which are like Bellamy’s children: Jack, a 7-year-old German shepherd-Lab mix, and Nova the cat.
“She’s our princess cat,” Bellamy said. “She’s about 6 months. I’m not too sure what type of cat she is."
At first, Bellamy moved everyone into a motel but struggled to pay the $369 weekly rate. She eventually had no choice but to come to the shelter and was then faced with another dilemma: She could not bring the pets.
“I did not want to give up my animals,” Bellamy said. “They mean that much to me.”
So she turned to the Humane Society of Charlotte.
Suzanne D’Alonzo is in charge of the Humane Society's community programs. She says the Humane Society gets up to four calls a week from people like Bellamy facing eviction who need help with their pets. That’s an increase from this time last year.
“We definitely notice it more,” D’Alonzo said. “It was not a request we would get on a weekly basis. We would get it a couple times a month.”
In response, the Humane Society in March piloted a program allowing renters facing homelessness to temporarily board their pets at no cost. But all the spots were taken by the time Bellamy needed help. So D’Alonzo referred her to the Monroe-based organization Pet Education Assistance and Resources, or PEAR.
Karlei Horne is its founder and director.
“If they have pets and are trying to get into a home or shelter, we help house their pets through a temporary foster home,” Horne said. “So, the pets will actually stay in a home with a family while that individual is getting back on their feet.”
The service is free, but clients are asked to donate what they can. PEAR has 15 foster families. One in Charlotte took Bellamy’s cat, Nova. Another in Indian Trail took her dog, Jack. Horne provides weekly updates on how each are doing because Bellamy can’t go visit them in person. Her car got repossessed a few weeks ago and she has to rely on public transit.
Bellamy is in enrolled in Charlotte Family Housing’s rental assistance program. She makes $11.50 an hour working for U-Haul and qualifies for a subsidy covering up to $500 a month. But she still has to cover pet deposits.
“This issue, it wasn’t too much of Jack because wherever I go they have to accept him because he is an emotional support animal,” Bellamy said. “The issue was mainly with Nova. They want to charge me $400 deposit for a cat. I’m just like, ‘She’s a kitten.’”
Landlords charge pet deposits mainly to cover any damage caused by the pet. And that damage can be expensive, says Kim Graham of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association.
“Pet hair gets in all sorts of things and you don’t see it,” Graham said. “There’s the smell. Even the most diligent owner can’t always get the smell from a pet.”
Graham says $400 is typically the highest pet deposit she sees in Charlotte. Some places, she says, have no deposit.
“It’s definitely not common, but they do exist,” Graham said.
It’s been hard for Bellamy to be separated from her pets, especially Jack. She dreams of the day she goes to get him at the foster family in Indian Trail.
“And just holler out his name, ‘Jack Bellamy,’ because that’s what I call him, and those ears just pop up and he just sees me and there’s so much joy," she said. "I’m just so excited, looking forward to that day when I go pick him up.”
That day is coming soon. Bellamy says she’s finally found a place she can afford in west Charlotte and should be moving in this month.