NEW BEDFORD — Housing and legal advocates are holding a summit today to help dozens of local tenants who are facing eviction next week, after their apartment complex was sold and is scheduled for renovations.
The HOME Group, a coalition of local housing advocates, is hosting a meeting today after The Light reported Monday that a developer bought the 24-unit complex at 189-193 Elm Street. The developer, Terra Incognita Partners, said it plans to remove all the tenants by Nov. 1, so it can fully renovate the property.
“Our immediate goal is to rally support for the tenants,” said Carl Alves, chief executive officer at Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction and one of the group’s organizers.
The group said it plans to coordinate with several agencies that specialize in housing and legal aid — organizations like PACE, New Bedford Housing Authority, and South Coastal Counties Legal Services. Alves said they might bring all those resources together at one event for tenants.
The crisis began in late September when a subsidiary of Terra Incognita Partners bought the Elm Street property. Not long after, they sent tenants letters giving them one month to leave. The new property manager told tenants the company is going to renovate the entire building and hike up the rent by two to three times, according to one resident.
It isn’t clear who owns Terra Incognita Partners, the company that paid $2.4 million for the property. The only people listed on its corporate filings are a property manager it employs and a lawyer who specializes in real estate investment.
New Bedford will likely see more situations like this in the future, Alves said. But that doesn’t mean that communities can’t mitigate the effects of gentrification on the most vulnerable.
“This is capitalism, he said. “Landlords have a right to sell their buildings and people have a right to buy it, but there’s a consequence to that.”
At South Coastal Counties Legal Services, the largest category of cases are ones where a landlord has increased the rent and the tenant can’t pay. Gavin Bates, the managing attorney for the organization’s New Bedford office, will be at Tuesday’s meeting. He said Terra Incognita appears to be “moving very aggressively” with the evictions.
“A whole building, 24 units at once — not normal,” he said. “Normally, they ease people out, a little more gently, and over a period of time.”
Bates said he hopes his organization can help tenants delay their evictions while they look for other arrangements. If a landlord has not resolved issues with an apartment or they didn’t file their paperwork correctly, that could push back an eviction, Bates said. A sympathetic judge could also provide extra time.
Joe Quigley has lived in the building for the better part of a decade. Now, he said he’s struggling to find an affordable apartment with such little notice.
“I was kind of upset they sold the building without saying anything,” he said. “They could have hinted so we could have been looking.”
Quigley said he thinks the developer is planning to rent out the renovated units to Bostonians, who he expects will move to New Bedford once South Coast Rail starts service next year.
“They’re intending to make the city better — but not for the people who live here, but for the people they’re gonna attract here,” he said. “So they’ve got to get the ‘great unwashed’ out of town.”
Alves’s advice to tenants is to educate themselves on their rights and the resources that are available to them.
“Ask for help,” he said. “There’s a lot of help in the community, but we can’t provide it unless if people ask for it, so that’s why we want to create an outreach opportunity so people can connect with the agencies that are doing this work.”
Housing summit via Zoom
The HOME Group’s meeting on tenant evictions will be held via Zoom at 11 a.m., today (Tuesday, Oct. 25). It is open to the community.
Meeting ID: 401 035 524
In the long term, Alves said the city might consider policies that would extend the amount of time tenants have to find a new place once they get notice of an imminent eviction.
“This happened pretty quickly, and 30 days is very difficult for many people to find an alternative place to live,” he said. “So it puts pressure on all the resources in the community.”