CARRBORO – The Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center may have found a new home around the corner from its old neighborhood.The center put a three-bedroom, brick ranch house at 107 Barnes St. under contract Dec. 23 for $155,000, director Judith Blau said. County records show the 1,075-square-foot house was built in 1970 and is owned by Dorothy and Bernard Atwater. It is valued at $138,363.

They still need to close on the house, but after the goes through, Blau said they might improve the gravel driveway and build another room.

Interim Town Manager Matt Efird said the group first must seek a home occupation permit or some type of rezoning. The exact requirements will depend on the information center officials submit, possibly by early spring, he said.

Blau and center community organizer David Rigby said they couldn’t have found the home so quickly without the local NAACP and its president the Rev. Robert Campbell, Community Realty agent Bronwyn Merritt, Carrboro town officials and members of Occupy Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

The Abbey Court Homeowners Association voted Dec. 1 to give the center until March to move out of the two units it owns in the Jones Ferry Road complex.

Management officials said it had tried to work out liability concerns for more than a year. The center also violated homeowners association rules by serving “a public and commercial use” for large numbers of non-residents, they said.

Occupy protesters marched a few days later to protest the decision and support the center and Abbey Court residents, many of them Latino or Burmese refugees.

Rigby said Tar Heel Companies, which runs Abbey Court, contacted them after the march to suggest filing a petition to have the lease extended to May.

Day laborer center

Rigby said the move will allow the center to operate more effectively and make it clear that the services are for anyone who needs help. The house is near Royal Park Apartments and convenient for low-income residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and at Abbey Court Condominiums, Ridgewood Apartments and Carolina Apartments, Blau said.

The house also has room for a long-awaited day laborer center where people can wait in a safe place out of the elements; learn computer, ESL and other job skills; and get help with employment problems. Blau said they will ask the town for a sign at Jones Ferry and Davie roads, where the workers now wait for jobs, to direct employers to the new center.

The house is next to Wilkinson Supply Co., the former Mellott company property and a large tract owned by VAC Limited Partnership, a real estate company based in Richmond, Va. Two doors down, Waymond Ingram said he thinks the center will be a good fit.

Ingram has lived on Barnes Street since 2005 and watched the neighborhood grow more youthful as the longtime, older residents moved out. There used to be a lot of problems, but it’s starting to clean up a little, he said. While not too familiar with the center’s work, he said it might give young people a more positive way to spend their time.

The new center will serve various needs throughout the day, Blau said. From early morning to mid-afternoon, day laborers will come to find work. As they leave, children will arrive for after-school programs, and evenings and weekends, adults and children can take advantage of classes and other activities. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room for the soccer program, she said.

Beto Rodriguez, the center’s computer lab director, will live there, and Rigby will be on site to resolve any issues, register employers and build community bridges.

Fighting wage fraud

The employer registration program will fight the growing problem of wage fraud and other abuses, Rigby said. While most employers are “honorable,” a few hire the men and refuse to pay them later – at least two or three cases every week, he and Blau said.

Of course, some employers may choose to stop hiring day laborers if asked to register or if the center seeks out stolen wages, Rigby said. The day laborers understand that and are OK with it, because they need the money to support their families and those jobs don’t pay anyway, he said.

Rigby said they want the workers to be invested in the center. They are now drafting a code of conduct that will, among other things, prohibit drinking and people loitering outside. Many also have specialized skills that they can teach others, he said.

Rigby said he hopes the changes created there will ripple into the community.

“I have the highest hopes for this center that over the next two, five and 10 years … that we can do good things for the community around us and … for under-represented and under-privileged people,” he said.

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