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News / Clark County News

Courtyard Village tenants told to leave by year-end

Some fear residents may be left homeless

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 9, 2014, 12:00am

Plans to remodel the Courtyard Village Apartments in Rose Village are a great holiday gift for the city of Vancouver’s property values and tax rolls.

But they’re a huge lump of coal for low-income Courtyard Village residents who’ve been told that they have until the end of the year to get out.

What: Sharing information about the apartment remodel, determining who will be affected and making housing connections with local resources such as the Council for the Homeless.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Washington Elementary School, 2908 S St., Vancouver.

“What a Christmas present,” said neighborhood activist Mark Maggiora, founder of the local nonprofit Americans Building Community. For residents, Maggiora said, this emergency may be even greater than if the property had caught on fire and burned down, because there’s no ready-made disaster-response system like the Red Cross for people without means who are legally told to vacate their rentals.

What: Sharing information about the apartment remodel, determining who will be affected and making housing connections with local resources such as the Council for the Homeless.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Washington Elementary School, 2908 S St., Vancouver.

There’s no denying that Courtyard Village looks dilapidated, and former property manager Chrystina Booth — who recently took a new job in Salem, Ore., after four years at Courtyard Village — said that its overall remodeling needs are just as severe as its exterior appearance. For years, she said, absentee owners refused to raise rents on the people who live here — and also refused to do more than the most minor of maintenance fixes.

“We are all in agreement that Courtyard Village is long overdue for a makeover,” Carla Feltz, the family-community resource coordinator at nearby Washington Elementary School, wrote in an email. “However the timing and the low vacancy rate in the county is making this very challenging.”

Feltz will host a meeting for Courtyard Village residents at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Washington Elementary, 2908 S St. That meeting is designed primarily to figure out who’s in the most dire need of the fastest help — and what else can be done.

MF Parc Central purchased the Courtyard Village Apartments this year for $7.9 million. According to a real estate report, the complex of buildings was built in 1972 and consists of 151 units — one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in numerous buildings on 5.4 acres at 2600 T St.

The new owners, and property management firm Madrona Ridge, took possession of the place on Nov. 14, Booth said, and what had been discussion about remodeling next spring was superceded by a different scenario: remodeling would begin as of the New Year, and rents would be going up thereafter. Booth said rents at Courtyard Village now top out at $875 for a three-bedroom apartment and “include everything,” meaning utilities. The new rents are expected to be significantly higher and won’t include utility costs, she said.

Immediately after December rent was due, residents started getting legal notices that they’d have until the end of the month to vacate the property. Three of the larger buildings that house families were the first ones to hear that they’d need to get out by 2015, according to Booth. Booth said she believes 16 families are now in danger of losing their homes, and that number is going to grow as more buildings are included in the remodel plan.

Booth said she knows of “at least four families” who were homeless before they found Courtyard Village. She has no idea what they’re supposed to do now, she said.

“Everyone is very low-income,” she said. “They barely make enough to cover the rent, let alone covering Christmas.”

Tight knit

Charity from local churches and other agencies and residents’ support for one another in tough times have made the Courtyard Village Apartments a true “tight-knit” community, Booth said.

“Many of them were always struggling to pay their rent and we always worked with them to accommodate them,” Booth said. “Our policy was just to work with them as much as we could.” That meant accepting partial rent payments and schedules, and otherwise approaching the residents with understanding and a human touch, she said.

“I think they jumped the gun on this,” Booth said of the current owners. “Personally I don’t see putting 16 families out at Christmastime.”

Significant crisis

Maggiora called the situation “a crisis of a significant order” for the neighborhood and for Clark County as a whole. “It brings the whole homeless and housing issue to the spotlight,” he said.

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That issue is a painful paradox in a spot like the Rose Village neighborhood and Courtyard Village, he said. On one hand, remodeling and raising rents on a blighted and high-crime apartment complex would seem like a great idea.

“At least they’re wanting to do something good,” he said. “But look at the implications. In the end it may be worse than what we had. We’ve got a huge component of potentially homeless people here.”

Andy Silver, the executive director of the Council for the Homeless, has spent the past year drawing attention to the big-picture problem of a tight local rental market. Recent market studies have found Clark County’s apartment vacancy rate to be hovering somewhere between 2.5 and 3.3 percent; market analyst Patrick Barry of Portland-based Barry & Associates said earlier this year that anything below 4.5 percent is considered a “landlord’s market.”

And landlords who have their choice of eager tenants naturally choose the ones who seem most promising, trouble-free and reliable with the rent, Silver has said. The rental market remains flooded with folks who’ve never been able to get back on their feet and find a unit after being knocked down by the Great Recession, he has said, and a minor apartment-building boom over the past year has not made much of a dent yet.