Despite death threats, Salt Lake City blocks resident from selling her home and moving

She'd gotten death threats, but wasn't allowed to leave her home without forfeiting six years of payments and work. Get Gephardt investigated. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — A woman, who we will call, “Sue,” says she feels threatened inside her own house.

Her nightmare all started when she started seeing suspicious activity a few doors down. She says she witnessed residents of the home selling drugs on the street in front of the home.

Sue contacted the cops and, after a few months, arrests were made.

But when the suspects were released, Sue says she was identified as the whistleblower. Now, she’s a target.

“They’re telling me to watch my back,” she said. “They’re making the hand gun gesture at me whenever I was cleaning my yard or tending to my garden.”

Sue says they've even marked her fence with red paint, a sign she's being targeted.

“I can't stay here anymore because of the threats towards me,” she said.

So you might be wondering, why not just sell the home and move? It’s not that simple. Sue is a six-year resident in Salt Lake City's neighborhood development program, a program that gets folks who might not qualify for a standard home loan into housing.

To get a loan through the city program, Sue had to agree to live in the place for at least 15 years. She tried to explain to managers this was an extraordinary situation and her life was at risk. Salt Lake City told her, "tough!" She’d made a commitment and the city board had "voted against the request."

Sue kept pushing the city, which offered another solution: Sue could walk away from everything she’s spent six years building, including any claim to the home or its equity.

Sue says that would mean trying to start over, leaving approximately $80,000 behind — which she considers impossible and unfair.

Sue told Get Gephardt she wishes she had just never called the police to report the crime.

“I would have been much better off,” she said. “I just should have classed it as the norm and let it go.”

By phone, a Salt Lake City spokesperson told Get Gephardt the city has sympathy for Sue and would like to help, but that the city’s hands are tied. The city pointed the finger that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying the rule which forbids Sue to break the contract before 15 years is HUD’s. Worse, HUD is steadfast in enforcing the rule, Salt Lake City claimed.

But a HUD spokesperson told Get Gephardt the agency is, in fact, eager to help find a solution to keep Sue safe. HUD said it is actually Salt Lake City’s prerogative how it chooses to administer the program, adding that HUD is now "reviewing the case to make recommendations to the city about options."

When Get Gephardt pressed why HUD hadn’t offered solutions to the city before getting a call from a reporter, the spokesperson responded that HUD was surprised to hear about any of this, writing, "Salt Lake City did not consult HUD on this case."

Turning back to city hall, Salt Lake City’s director of housing and neighborhood development, Melissa Jensen, admitted the city never reached out to HUD to ask about Sue's case. The city just assumed HUD would say Sue is stuck based on a prior experience, she said.

“I think we did what we thought we could do,” Jensen said. “Was that enough to make her feel safe in her home? No. And so that weighs on us heavily.”

Jensen said if the city breaks HUD’s rules, HUD could take away funding for the whole housing program, which could be bad for a lot of people.

According to the contract, the official penalty for letting Sue out is, at worst, a fine.

“I think that we are very, very, I would say, ‘reserved,’ in reading the regulations," Jensen said.

Jensen said the city has learned from this experience, which will be helpful for both Sue and others in neighborhood development programs.

“When things like this come along, I think it's OK to say we do really good, but we're going to try to do better,” she said.

Just like that, Sue is now being allowed to sell her home and use the equity to buy a new one in an area that’s safer for her.

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