Low-income tenants receive eviction notices from Amherst landlord raising rents
AMHERST — Tenants who cannot afford increased rents at Echo Village Apartments are beginning to receive formal notices from the property owner that they must vacate their homes by March 31.
But for most of the 24 affected tenants at the 30 Gatehouse Road complex, many of whom are low-income and have children in the public schools, leaving will not be possible over the next 10 days.
Jennifer Dieringer, managing attorney for Community Legal Aid in Northampton, said her office is representing seven families, all but one of whom have already received official notices to quit, or eviction notices, from Eagle Crest, the property management company owned by Jamie Cherewatti that purchased the complex earlier this year.
Community Legal Aid is working with those who are income eligible, that is, earning up to 187 percent of the federal poverty level.
Dieringer said the notices are fairly basic in their content. “They all purport to terminate the tenancies March 31,” Dieringer said.
The notices don’t indicate what the new rents will be, but offer an opportunity for the tenants to reapply for the apartments, she said. The problem is that the new rates are likely to be more than they can afford, especially for those with federal Section 8 housing subsidy vouchers.
Laura Reichsman, executive director of Family Outreach of Amherst, said her organization serves 19 families at Echo Village, 16 of which receive Section 8 vouchers.
“My understanding is everyone is choosing to stay and compel Eagle Crest to go to the next level,” Reichsman said.
That could mean going to court. If a tenant fails to vacate after receiving an eviction notice, the case will eventually go to a Northampton session of the state Housing Court, Dieringer said.
Seven cases at once is among the largest caseloads she said she has handled since beginning her work in the field more than a decade ago.
During the legal proceedings, tenants can remain in their units. Negotiations with the landlord could result in tenancies being extended until the end of the school year in June or at least until college students leave for summer break, social service workers have said.
Reichsman said tenants have been worried about their housing situation since Eagle Crest first informed them in February that they would be losing their apartments due to significant rent increases.
“Everyone is really in state of feeling a lot of anxiety about this,” Reichsman said. “To move fast for anybody, even someone with a lot of resources, is tough.”
She said one family has found a house that it can afford on a monthly basis, but it is unclear whether the family can come up with the first and last month’s rent and security deposit, as well as the costs of moving.
Reichsman said $400 in assistance could come from Town of Amherst emergency funds, but that still leaves more than $1,500 for the family to come up with on its own or from other sources.
While the family might normally be able to access emergency funds for the security deposit from Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) funds, these are depleted statewide, Reichsman said, because so much has been used to prevent homelessness in the eastern part of the state.
Reichsman said plans are underway to seek help in the community.
Community Legal Aid is also working with Family Outreach, the Amherst Housing Authority, town officials and other regional agencies as the affordable housing market remains difficult in Amherst.
This could worsen if the 204 affordable units at Rolling Green at Amherst are converted to market rate later this year.