Money is tight, but Beth Stapleton, a 32-year-old single mother, figures she will piece together funds to move out of her Boise apartment.
She thinks there’s $150 to retrieve from a retirement fund. There might be a couple of hundred more in a health insurance flex account as part of the benefits she receives from her employer, Fred Meyer.
Stapleton is more worried that she won’t find another apartment by Dec. 10, the deadline given by Verity Property Management for tenants to move out of the 43-unit Westwood Apartments, located on Preece Lane, a small street north of the Connector off North Allumbaugh Street. On top of a credit history that might make some landlords balk, Stapleton must contend with a record-low vacancy rate across the Treasure Valley.
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“We’ve always scraped the money together,” Stapleton said. “I’m worried we won’t be able to find a place.”
In a letter sent with the 30-day notices to vacate, Verity President J. Steven Fender said the new owner of the apartments — Preece Lane LLC, according to state filings — plans to renovate the complex. Stapleton said she was told the rent for her unit will increase from $595 per month to $900.
I appreciate that the timing is poor with the holidays coming up but the new owner is being compelled by the lender to proceed with the refurbishing of all the units as quickly as possible.
Letter to tenants from Verity President J. Steven Fender
The Westwood situation resembles that of Glenbrook Apartments, located near the intersection of Cassia Street and Curtis Road. There, new owners Mark and Caran Daly of Eagle bought the complex as an investment. They planned to renovate and increase rent rates by more than 40 percent.
Their decision forced nearly 400 tenants, most of whom were refugees, to scramble for housing. The property manager — Verity — issued 30-day notices to vacate to tenants of the complex’s 112 units. Most if not all requests for concessions to help tenants find new housing were denied, advocacy groups told the Statesman. Requests included extending the move-out deadline, returning deposits early or waiving deposit reductions for damage that would be replaced during renovation.
They shut down the pool in August, and the exercise room. We never see management around here no more.
Westwood tenant Bruce Ferrin
Stapleton’s requests for an extension at Westwood and to have her deposit returned early were denied.
The International Rescue Committee of Boise will offer to help Westwood tenants if they need it, though few if any are refugees, Executive Director Julianne Donnelly Tzul said. The committee, a nonprofit, was among groups that helped Glenbrook tenants.
Donnelly Tzul said she is concerned that the complexwide renovations that displaced low-income renters at Glenbrook and Westwood are becoming a trend.
“Larger communities that struggle with gentrification have similar problems, but the pressures are probably stronger in this community, because there are so few units available,” she said.
Preece Lane LLC bought the Westwood complex for an undisclosed price in August. The registered agent, Fender, filed to create a limited liability corporation. The filing with the Idaho secretary of state lists Steven Jackson and Cristine Clark, both real estate agents with Realty Executives in Vista, Calif., as members or managers of the company.
Calls to Jackson, Clark and Verity were not returned. Verity has not staffed the Westwood office since the 30-day notices were delivered.
Bruce Ferrin, 59 has lived at Westwood for five years, including the last four with partner Nancy Summers, 62. Ferrin, who is disabled from a foot injury, lives on disability payments. Ferrin, who takes oxygen and suffers from respiratory problems, lives on Social Security.
As difficult as it is to find a willing landlord to work with a family before it is homeless, the challenges can become nightmarish after.
Deanna Watson, Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority
Ferrin said they must wait for payments before applying for apartments, tightening their window to find a rental by Dec. 10.
“We’re trying to find a place before we’re kicked out,” he said. “We took down the Christmas tree. Merry Christmas.”
Stapleton and Ferrin both said Westwood had serious maintenance problems, including units with black mold, insect infestations and broken doors and windows. Stapleton said Verity asked her to report maintenance problems when it took over management in August. She said the problems were never addressed.
Deanna Watson, executive director of the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, agreed that more situations like Glenbrook and Westwood could be on the way. The pressure expands the pool of low-income renters on the brink of homelessness, including Stapleton, who said she will sleep in her car if she cannot find housing.
“The fact that they have been living in a complex with reported standard-of-living issues speaks to the lack of choice already present in their lives,” Watson said.
The Glenbrook Apartments response
In October, the International Rescue Committee of Boise organized volunteers and collected donations to help Glenbrook Apartment tenants find new housing. The nonprofit typically advocates for refugees, but at Glenbrook, it offered help to nonrefugees too.
Chobani, the Greek yogurt maker with a factory in Twin Falls, donated an undisclosed sum to support the effort. Chobani funds paid a tenant’s last month’s rent at Glenbrook, the deposit plus first month’s rent at a new apartment, and application fees.
No Glenbrook tenants were evicted, according to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office.
Here’s a tally of the efforts, according to the committee.
Money raised and distributed: $22,618
New homes secured with donations: 305 families; 104 individuals
The committee will mobilize volunteers again if the need arises, Executive Director Julianne Donnelly Tzul said.