Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Sept. 30, 2020

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Courtyard Village displacement: Scrambling for solutions

Advocates seek ways to help apartment complex residents forced to vacate by landlord

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Natalia Mosley, holding onto daughter Isabel, chats with neighbor Kevin Giard about the upheaval at Courtyard Village Apartments, where new owners have begun notifying residents that they'll need to leave because of pending renovations and rises in rent.
Natalia Mosley, holding onto daughter Isabel, chats with neighbor Kevin Giard about the upheaval at Courtyard Village Apartments, where new owners have begun notifying residents that they'll need to leave because of pending renovations and rises in rent. Photo Gallery

Washington Elementary School and other nearby neighborhood schools will serve as information and resource hubs for people who must leave the Courtyard Village Apartments in Rose Village. But that doesn’t mean there will be any easy answers for those being displaced.

“We are a community school and this is a crisis in our community,” said assistance coordinator Catherine MacCallum-Ceballos during a Tuesday night meeting at Washington Elementary that drew more than 100 residents of Courtyard Village, as well as city council members and homeless advocates with the Council for the Homeless and Share.

Andy Silver, the executive director of the Council for the Homeless, said local churches and other supporters are looking to amass a dedicated fund that will help with damage deposits, first and last month rental requirements and the other costs associated with moving. Donors can send checks to the Council for the Homeless, which will administer the fund, at 2500 Main St., Vancouver, 98660; make sure to write “Courtyard Village” in the memo line.

Courtyard Village resident Marie Manson, who works for a technology company in Hillsboro, Ore., said she’s talking to colleagues and her employer about launching a similar fund. “We’re all in this together,” she said.

On Dec. 2, some residents of Courtyard Village Apartments, a large complex of buildings at 2600 T St., started getting legal notices to vacate by the end of this month — immediately after the December rent was due. The new owner, MF Parc Central, plans to make badly needed improvements and raise the rents accordingly. Not everyone has gotten a notice to vacate yet, but the expectation is that as the work proceeds, all occupants will eventually be hit with the same notice.

That’s dreadful news for families with no place else to turn — even if it’s a welcome upgrade for a dilapidated site that’s gotten precious little upkeep in years, according to tenants, as well as the former property manager, Chrystina Booth, who moved to Salem Ore., and found a new property management position earlier this month.

The population of Courtyard Village Apartments is notably low-income; some are formerly homeless and some have blemishes on their records including criminal convictions and evictions. That makes them exactly the sort of tenants many landlords don’t want. Plus, the apartment vacancy rate in Clark County is very low.

“The toughest part of this is the current landlord market,” Silver said. “It’s pretty tough out there. Be proactive. Start looking right away.”

Community activist Mark Maggiora, founder of the local nonprofit Americans Building Community, said he believes that this sudden loss of as many as 151 affordable housing units is “only the tip of the iceberg.” He hopes this is the beginning of a broad community conversation about the lack of affordable housing in Clark County.

Resident Bill Judd, who’s also a public health worker for Clark County, said he wants to lead a delegation that discusses the situation with MF Parc Central — and hopefully gets the company to extend its deadline by 30, 60 or even 90 days.

Kids’ questions

There are many families with children at Courtyard Village. There are also elders who live alone. Washington Elementary School’s family-community resource coordinator, Carla Feltz, said she’ll work with everyone who gets a notice to vacate, whether or not they have children.

There were plenty of children at the Tuesday night meeting and some of them had pressing questions and strong opinions:

• “What are kids going to do for Christmas if we’re getting evicted?”

• “How’s it going to impact our learning environment at school?”

• “I think this is bad because it’s near the holidays,” said an 11-year-old boy named Diari. “We need to tell everybody. It needs to be on the news. I’m trying to make this viral.”

Legally speaking, this is not an eviction. But people who don’t move within the legal time frame may get evicted — and that sure won’t help them find willing landlords. “We understand that it totally feels like an eviction,” said Feltz.

Anne Galvas, homeless liaison for Vancouver Public Schools, said students have the legal right to stay at their home schools even if this forces them to relocate outside the school boundaries. She’s the one to call to set up rides, which the Vancouver School District will provide, she said.

“We want to keep your kids’ education stable,” she said.

Improvements

On Wednesday, crews began removing landscaping as well as patio furniture and other stuff left outdoors by residents — even locked bicycles and barbecues. Notices had gone up Monday that anything left outside on Dec. 10 would be “removed and discarded.”

“I’m going to leave it there, let them move it, have a fit and present them with the bill for a new one,” resident Kevin Giard vowed about his barbecue.

Giard, who lives at Courtyard Village with his fiancée and four children, said he has already started looking for a new unit, as per Silver’s advice. And he’s finding just what Silver predicted: “There’s a lack of places around here,” he said.

Courtyard Village has been “a last chance for a lot of people,” said resident Natalia Mosley, who lives downstairs from Giard with her two daughters. Mosley, who works at the Northwest Regional Training Center as a receptionist and CPR instructor, had “no rental history” when she moved in four years ago, she said.

“It’s a Catch-22,” she said of the remodel and subsequent rising rents. “I understand what they’re going for.” But it couldn’t come at a worse time, she added — when financially stretched parents already have to struggle to provide Christmas for their children. “It’s almost not possible” under normal circumstances, she said. But now their whole lives will be upended.

“Nobody questions the legality of this, but we do question the morality,” Giard said.

John O’Neil, the executive vice president of MF Parc Central, returned a call from The Columbian on Wednesday to say he had nothing much to add to a media statement that went out on Tuesday:

“We purchased The Courtyard apartments in November with the goal of renovating as quickly as possible. When these improvements are complete, the apartments will provide a much safer, cleaner and healthier place for Vancouver families to live. We are sensitive to the fact that the renovation process creates uncertainty for current tenants as they seek new places to live and are aware that there are community-based services involved to help with any issues related to this transition. We intend to work with tenants on a case-by-case basis to assist with issues as they secure new housing options. We apologize for this disruption but ultimately the improvements we are making will create better, safer housing for families in the Vancouver community.”

A Dec. 2 memo that accompanied the legal notice to vacate described the improvements to come: new interiors, cabinets, flooring, appliances, counters and paint. It also offers tenants the temporary opportunity to “transfer to another classic apartment” — presumably that means an unimproved one — but adds that availability is limited and tenants must be newly approved and their current units inspected first.

Mosley said she’s looked into it. There’s a single unit available, and its rent is $925, she said. The rent on her current unit is $795, she said.

Slowly devastating

Maggiora has compared this situation to a building fire, with a crucial difference: an apartment building that burns down is a big, attention-grabbing emergency that tugs the public’s heartstrings; a slow emptying of the same property may be less spectacular but even more devastating, he said.

Roy Johnson, the executive director of the Vancouver Housing Authority, said Wednesday that his agency can’t produce instant housing subsidies and vacant apartments dedicated to people leaving Courtyard Village, but it will “be open to working with the council” and finding what units it can. “Similar to the private market, VHA does not have many vacancies,” he said.

But he knows of six VHA units that could be available in January, he said. “We recognize that we have a role as a team member and we will step up to the plate,” he said.

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