Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Renters get news: Be out by Sept. 3

By Randy Tucker,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Residents of the Huntington Meadows complex in Bond Hill will receive notice today that their leases will be terminated at the end of August, and that they have until Sept. 3 to vacate.

        An attorney representing Huntington Meadows' landlord — Maryland-based Habitat America — delivered the news to hundreds of residents attending an emotional tenants' meeting Tuesday at Integrity Hall in Bond Hill. The tension in the room was palpable as neighbors could be heard asking one another, “Do you know where you're going to go?” or “Did you find a place yet?”

        Earlier in the day, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Crush signed off on a settlement agreement that allows Habitat to terminate the leases, provided they offer residents financial relocation assistance.

        Habitat, which took over the complex after the limited partnership that owned it declared bankruptcy, is shutting it down because it says it doesn't receive enough money in rent to maintain the property or remove health hazards such as asbestos and mold.

        Fannie Mae, which holds the original mortgage on the property and has filed for foreclosure, has agreed to give Habitat enough money to fund a modest relocation package.

        Many of those attending the tenants' meeting came Tuesday to find out how much time and money they might receive to vacate the 65-acre complex of 1,159 low-income apartments and townhouses.

        Much to their dismay, the answer was little of both.

        “At least it's something,” said Mitchell Black, who has lived at the complex for several years. “I can't pay rent and try to move, too.”

        Mr. Black was referring to a provision in the settlement agreement that would allow tenants to skip paying August rent if they agree to move out by Sept. 3.

        Tenants must also sign papers agreeing to abide by the Sept. 3 deadline if they want to receive $500 and a refund of their security deposits, which are also part of the relocation package.

        Those who don't agree to the terms have few options.

        “If you don't sign (the lease-termination agreement) and you don't pay August rent, you will be evicted,” Kirk Roessler, Habitat's attorney, told a jeering crowd.

        Gary Pieples, a Legal Aid Society lawyer who helped negotiate the relocation package on behalf of some tenants, told the crowd that while the package may be lacking, it beats the alternative.

        “It's not a great deal, but it's the only deal out there,” he said.

        Huntington Meadows residents could receive more money if Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and others are successful in lobbying lawmakers. So far, there have been no other financial commitments.

        Mr. Pieples said that because the owners received federal money to rehab the building when they bought it four years ago, including $3.5 million in block grants administered by the city of Cincinnati and $9 million in low-income housing tax credits, federal tenant law would allow residents who continue to pay rent to stay at Huntington Meadows even after foreclosure.

        But he doesn't see that as a viable option.

        “What are you going to do when the utilities are turned off, and you find yourself living in an apartment with no lights and no water?” Mr. Pieples asked.

        Simone Walker, a long-time resident, said the options are clear.

        “Basically we're caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said. Peg Moertl, who heads neighborhood development for Cincinnati, said the city, along with other concerned entities, including the Greater Cincinnati Apartment Association and Ohio Capital Corp., will offer on-site relocation assistance from now until the end of August at Huntington Meadows.


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