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Winooski officials, citing pending evictions, ask legislature for better tenant protections

A photo of a green sign reading 300 North Main Apts., with cars and housing in the background.
Derek Brouwer
/
Seven Days
Winooski officials and housing groups are asking the legislature to strengthen tenant protections in light of Rick and Mark Bove's plans to evict 24 low-income, mostly refugee tenants.

Winooski officials and housing groups are asking lawmakers to enact stronger protections for tenants following a prominent landlord’s plan to evict 24 low-income, mostly refugee families from a local apartment complex.

In a March 8 letter to lawmakers, city officials including Mayor Kristine Lott and School Board Chair Tori Cleiland, said the state needs policies to prevent future mass evictions.

“Residents have little recourse when private landlords determine that economic conditions favor displacement and increasing rents,” the letter said.

More From VPR and Seven Days: Bove brothers plan to evict low-income refugee families in Winooski — and raise rents

In early February, Rick and Mark Bove sent eviction notices to all the tenants at their Winooski property, telling them to leave their homes by the end of June. The notices said the landlords were planning “major renovations.”

The evictions came several months after a VPR and Seven Days investigation found substandard living conditions and persistent health code violations across the Boves’ rental empire. The Winooski property had one of the worst track records, including widespread cockroach infestations dating back to 2016.

Mark Bove, in a statement last month, described the work at the property as a “top to bottom” renovation and said once it is complete, the complex “will most likely transition to a market rate housing location.”

More from VPR and Seven Days: Roaches and broken locks: Mark and Rick Bove’sgrowing empire of affordable rentals vexes code enforcers

Winooski officials, in their letter this week, urged lawmakers to enact measures to preserve affordable housing and protect vulnerable tenants, including relocation assistance if a landlord decides to evict tenants due to a renovation. They also said private landlords and developers should be required to keep units affordable if they receive “substantial public funds.”

But Mayor Kristine Lott, in an interview, said she didn't expect the legislature to get any new tenant protections passed this session.

"I don't know if there is any good bill to incorporate that into," Lott said. "The time to introduce new bills has passed but it is a question that I will be asking our reps — what they think, what opportunities they see."

The letter came as a Senate committee advanced a bill that would set aside millions of dollars for housing development, including $20 million for rehabilitating rental units that have fallen into disrepair.

In the month since tenants at the Boves’ Winoosk property received eviction notices, local officials and housing advocates have scrambled to find alternate units in Vermont’s historically tight housing market.

Amila Merdzanovic, director of the Vermont chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told Vermont Edition this week that her organization has struggled to find available units.

“We look for housing in the open market,” she said. “To be able to find an affordable apartment has been really challenging.”

Other groups are trying to keep the residents at their current homes. The Champlain Housing Trust and the Winooski Housing Authority reached out to the Boves to see if they would be willing to sell the property. But so far, there is no progress on the sale, said Katherine Decarreau, executive director of the Winooski Housing Authority.

“Those are really hard deals to do and they don’t normally come together in three months,” she said.

Update 5:10 p.m. This post has been updated to include comment from Mayor Kristine Lott.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

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