Echo Village tenants, fighting eviction, want to remain in diverse complex
August 01, 2013
Springfield Republican (MassLive.com)
August 1, 2013
By Diane Lederman
AMHERST -- TracyLee Boutilier has lived in the Echo Village condominium complex at 30 Gatehouse Road for two years. She and other tenants want to stay.
The building is diverse and good for families. And she said, it’s not easy to find affordable housing in the town in which students live, driving up the market rents.
But James Cherewatti of Eagle Crest Property Management purchased the building earlier this year and began evicting the tenants soon after. Boutilier has a voucher, which helps pay her rent. But with the new rents Cherewatti plans to charge, she would be ineligible. And she has been given an eviction notice.
Housing advocates say this is wrong.
Echo Village is “one of a few successful models (of) an integrated community. There are so few. It’s very important to preserve it,” said Meris L. Bergquist, executive director of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center in Holyoke.
Tenants in 11 of the 24 apartments had vouchers to help pay the rent. But some left with the eviction notices.
Mass Fair Housing is part ofAmherst Fair Housing Now!, a coalition launched by the Echo Village Tenants Association that also includes Family Outreach of Amherst, Stavros Center for Independent Living, the Amherst Branch of the NAACP, Amherst Community Connections and Housing for All. Together they are hoping to stop the evictions.
Jennifer Dieringer, a lawyer with Community Legal Aid in Northampton, has filed suit in Housing Court asking the court to dismiss the evictions on technicalities. She is representing seven families.
Judge Robert Fields has taken the case under advisement, she said. If the judge dismisses the case, Cherewatti could begin eviction proceedings again. If the judge does not dismiss the case, the evictions would move to trial.
Cherewatti said he has to raise rents for “business and economic reasons,” Boutilier said. Cherewatti purchased the property and a neighboring building from Gerry Gates in January for $3 million. The combined value for the two properties was about $2 million, according to the assessor’s records.
Cherewatti could not be reached for comment.
The tenants asked Town Meeting in the spring to buy the apartments or put them under an affordability restriction, including by eminent domain, for low-income housing. But the article was referred to the Housing and Sheltering Committee.
Bonnie MacCracken, a member of the housing committee, said they are looking at the feasibility of the town taking over the complex and at possible funding options.
She said there is great concern about losing these units because the town is about to lose 204 affordable units at the nearby Rolling Green complex.
And she said the town has already lost people. There were once 397 people with Section 8 vouchers living in town but 200 have taken those vouchers to other communities because they cannot afford to stay in Amherst, she said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development caps rent based on the Springfield metropolitan market. Rents are much higher in Amherst. With a voucher, a tenant pays rent based on 30 percent of income with the federal government paying the rest.
Currently, HUD caps rents at $1,122 for a two-bedroom, $1,400 for a three-bedroom and $1,596 for a four-bedroom. Cherewatti, Boutilier said, plans to raise rents on three-bedroom units to $1,850.
Bergquist is hoping the town can successfully intervene. She said that whenever the federal government provides money to a community, including through programs like the Community Block Grant program, with the money “comes the obligation…to take steps to address barriers to fair housing.”
Boutilier said without help “they are forcing us into areas of concentrated poverty.
“I want to continue raising my family (here).” She has two sons.