Bove brothers reverse plan to evict Winooski tenants and raise rents
Two dozen low-income, mostly refugee families will not be kicked out of their homes in Winooski after their landlords, Rick and Mark Bove, abruptly changed their plans. The reversal comes a month after the Boves sent eviction notices to all their Winooski tenants, telling them to leave the property by the end of June in order to accommodate “major renovations.”
The Boves, in a statement released Thursday night, said they are still planning a “top to bottom” renovation, but will stagger the work to allow the residents to remain on site. The renovations will start with two vacant apartments, then current tenants will move into the newly refurbished units and construction will shift to the newly vacant apartments.
“Our intention was never for the renovation project to be a hardship on the current residents,” Rick Bove said in a written statement. “We have course-corrected in hopes that it will mitigate the impact on our current residents and will still provide them with upgraded living spaces upon completion.”
The Boves also walked back plans to raise rents at the complex, saying that they would cap the rents at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rate to allow tenants to continue to use Section 8 housing vouchers. As of last fall, 11 of the 24 units were occupied by tenants using that federal assistance program.
The Boves said in their statement they’re working with Winooski Housing Authority, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont and USCRI Vermont to “better serve its tenants.”
City officials and housing agencies had been searching for a way to halt the evictions. Champlain Housing Trust and Winooski Housing Authority offered to buy the property, but those discussions didn’t go anywhere. Eventually the Boves realized that it would be a “dramatic problem” for the city to lose that affordable housing, said Katherine Decarreau, executive director of Winooski Housing Authority.
“They began to understand how important the affordable housing was,” she said.
WHA doesn’t have much leverage to make sure the apartments remain affordable, but Decarreau said she thinks public pressure will keep the landlords from going back on their promise.
“Knowing what the reaction would be if he reneged, he’s very aware of that,” Decarreau said. “I don’t think they want this kind of attention.”
The Boves moved to evict all their Winooski tenants several months after an investigation published by VPR and Seven Days found substandard living conditions and persistent health code violations across their rental empire. Their complex in Winooski had one of the worst track records including widespread cockroach infestations dating back to 2016, the news organizations found.
The decision to kick out the residents, many of whom are refugee families, panicked tenants and alarmed city officials, who said residents would likely be forced to leave the city due to the tight housing market.
“We still have a huge gap in housing, especially affordable units and those that can accommodate larger households. There is an urgency to address that need before we have another incident like this.”
In February, four refugee families told VPR and Seven Days they were concerned about finding new homes and worried about losing the community they’d found in the city. A Bhutanese woman told the news organizations that her son was able to walk to school, and the complex is near Nepali stores that offer traditional food, clothes and furnishings.
The Winooski School District says 29 students, including 17 elementary-age children, live at the property. Nicole Mace, the school district’s finance manager, said in a statement the district was glad that the Boves changed course.
“It took a proposed mass eviction to call our collective attention to a symptom of a much bigger problem — the lack of safe, affordable housing options for large, refugee families,” Mace said.
In the month since the Boves sent the eviction notices, Winooski leaders have asked lawmakers to enact stronger tenant protections to prevent future mass evictions. Officials like Mayor Kristine Lott have said the incident also underscores the lack of affordable housing for families.
Lott, in an email Friday, called the Boves’ reversal a “small win.”
“We still have a huge gap in housing, especially affordable units and those that can accommodate larger households,” Lott said. “There is an urgency to address that need before we have another incident like this.”