Lawyer Alesha Brown fights to keep low-income seniors in their homes ‘by any means necessary.’
Alesha Brown was leaving a deposition when she answered C&P’s call this month. Her 94-year-old client was living in a nursing home when she was suddenly declared incompetent and her house, Brown said, was fraudulently sold.
“It pisses me off,” Brown told C&P, “but it brings me joy that I’m able to do something about it.”
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It’s not the first time that the lawyer has filed suit on behalf of seniors. She founded For the Struggle in 2019 to stop the unlawful or just plain wrong displacement of seniors in the rapidly gentrifying, historically Black communities of Charlotte’s west side.
Working in the dozen or so historically Black communities off of Beatties Ford Road, a main artery on Charlotte’s west side, the organization helps elder residents apply for property tax relief, make critical home repairs, and plan wills and trusts.
“The overarching goal is making sure the seniors stay safe in their homes, but it’s legit a wraparound, by-any-means-necessary type of program,” Brown said.
Over the past five years, home values in Charlotte have increased by over 86%. That’s especially true for neighborhoods along the Beatties Ford corridor, where its proximity to downtown, freeways, and public transportation have drawn interest in the tight housing market.
For senior citizens on fixed incomes, that can mean hefty bills at tax time. North Carolina’s Homestead Act allows low-income homeowners over 65 to exclude 50% of the taxable value of their homes, but many seniors are unaware of this tax break or unable to navigate the websites to apply.
Another danger comes from heightened code enforcement in newly desirable but historically underserved areas. These fines, multiplied over time, can lead to enforcement liens and prompt foreclosure proceedings – a tactic sometimes utilized by predatory investors to drive out legacy owners in poor communities of color.
“What does it look like for an 86-year-old woman to keep getting code violations because her grass is too high?” Brown asked. “Somebody should be out there cutting the grass for her, right? We owe them that. We have a responsibility to take care of our seniors.”
Finally, older homes often need repairs that are out of budget for low-income retiree incomes.
For the Struggle’s volunteers visit more than 100 seniors, delivering healthy, cooked meals and fresh fruits and vegetables twice a week. The program serves a purpose beyond simple nutrition. It allows volunteers to check on seniors, socializing while washing dishes or taking out trash – small chores that age or mobility can make difficult – and building relationships based on consistency.
“We’re on the ground on an almost daily basis, talking with them, working with them, so they trust us to give us the information we need to complete applications for them,” Brown said. “These are older, Black seniors, they’re not about to give out their social security number to just anybody.”
While helping out, volunteers are also able to assess if the home needs repairs or enhancements to be safer or more accessible. Through funding from Mecklenburg County, the United Way, Lowe’s and other entities, FTS is able to pay for roof replacements, HVAC repairs, and plumbing and flooring fixes.
Julia Sinclaire, a 67-year-old resident, uses a walker and struggled to walk up and down her porch stairs. FTS got an ADA-accessible ramp installed for her.
“Without them I couldn’t have got it done. It’s a blessing,” she said.
Brown sees the value of keeping seniors in their homes as a way to preserve history, respect their contributions, and build generational Black wealth.
“We’re making sure that there’s something to continue to pass down to family members as the generations go on,” she said. “My goal is within the next five to seven years, FTS will be a nationwide organization.”
FTS has a giving circle of private donors who make contributions starting at $10 a month. To find out more, go to forthestruggleinc.com.