John Howard took time between Thursday’s rain squalls to stand in tall grass under a tree outside his apartment in the Crestwood Apartment complex.
The 68-year-old Howard’s life has a deadline. In June, he and the other residents of Crestwood were informed they had to vacate the place they call home by Aug. 1.
In November, city of Davenport rental inspectors ordered Crestwood Apartments Cooperative of Forest Lake, Minn., to make extensive repairs to the complex to correct a lengthy list of code violations, including a leaking roof, unsanitary conditions and failing smoke detection system, said Rich Oswald, director of neighborhood services.
Follow-up inspections to verify repairs had been completed were canceled and never rescheduled. And a local property manager told a city inspector he did not have the resources to make the repairs, Oswald said.
On May 27, the city issued a 60-day notice to the complex owner to make repairs, or the city would condemn the property and order the apartments vacated.
Management then posted letters on tenants' doors the following month informing them they had to relocate by Aug. 1, Oswald said.
A representative for the property management company, Headway Management, LLC, could not be reached for comment Thursday. A call to the address listed for the owner of the apartment complex said the mailbox was full and could not accept any new messages.
"I’ve been here three years," Howard said. "And I don’t have anywhere else. My wife lives with me and I’ve got kids living with me. We have nowhere to go. There isn’t enough time to find another place.”
Nine-year Crestwood resident Tim Gray echoed his neighbor.
"I have no idea what I’m going to do," said the 57-year-old Gray.
'We need help'
Howard and Gray are not alone.
Several residents from the East 35th Street and Crestwood Apartments communities — many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, are elderly or have a disability — spoke at Wednesday night's Davenport City Council meeting. Residents shared their experiences over the last several weeks since being notified of their displacement, and requested city assistance for additional time and resources to find new housing.
"We need help," said resident Darren Hopping. "We don't want to look like a charity case, but it's hard. ... A lot of us don't have" the savings to pay first month's rent, a deposit, application fee and moving expenses.
"Everybody don't know where they're going to go," Hopping said.
McDonnell & Associates sold rental properties along East 35th Street last month to real estate investment firms owned by Chris Salazar, whose Chicago-based company owns more than 100 units in the Quad-Cities.
Salazar could not be reached for comment Thursday, and a representative for the company declined to comment.
McDonnell & Associates pinned letters on residents' doors informing them of the sale on June 11. On June 29, residents found another note on their doors from Salazar stating his "company has recently purchased this apartment complex and we intend to make renovations across the entire property and improve the community. This letter is to inform you that we do not intend to renew your month-to-month lease."
The letter gave residents until July 31 to remove all their possession from the premises, disconnect utilities and return their keys.
East 35th Street resident Septima Hoskins said she was told the new company, Arsenal Property Group, plans renovations to boost rents and attract a working-class, millennial tenant base looking for affordable, luxury housing.
Mayor Mike Matson and Alderman Joseph Miller, Ward 7, helped secure a one-month extension for East 35th Street residents, giving them until Aug. 31 to relocate. Crestwood Apartments residents have requested a similar extension.
The pair also contacted the Salvation Army, Family Resources and Humility Homes and Services Inc. to provide information to residents about available assistance.
Howard and Gray reported “people have been out here every day trying to help us find assistance.”
Matson said he has also spoken to an undisclosed organization interested in offering assistance to residents.
"I'm still talking to people to see what we can do to help," Matson said.
'Crisis of greed and profit'
John De Taeye of Davenport Bearing Witness, an interfaith based group focused on violence prevention and social justice, said the shortage of safe, decent, affordable rental housing — as documented in a 2019 Regional Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, a 2020 Tri-Cities Housing Assessment and the Quad Cities Housing Clusters "Silos to Solutions" plan — is contributing to delays in finding new homes.
The reports include data and recommendations to inform the city's consolidated plan to ensure quality housing opportunities for all residents.
"You have the constitutional right to do whatever you want to do with your private property, even if it's gentrification," De Taeye said. "You have that right, but as a city we have a responsibility and an obligation to look out for all of our residents. All of our residents. And, right now, we're not doing that."
In previous years, De Taeye said the city of Davenport dedicated federal block grant dollars for relocation assistance.
"We are certain the majority of the residents would have been income eligible if the program was sustained," De Taeye said. "Application fees, security deposits, moving costs all add up. Not to mention the emotional toll on families and children facing displacement."
Residents urged the city to use a portion of the nearly $41 million Davenport is expected to receive in federal COVID-19 relief funds and/or federal block grant funds to provide $5,000 in relocation assistance for each household being displaced to ease the anxiety and financial burden of moving.
While given more time, residents said the search for new housing and securing relocation assistance may take weeks and months, while continuing to pay rent while requests for services and repairs go unacknowledged, including fixing water leaks that have led to the growth and spread of mold in their units.
Gray said it took "two years to find Crestwood and to be able to afford to even move in." Howard said he fears an eviction notice he was served "20 years ago" will shadow his efforts to find a new place to live.
Resident have asked for the city's support to establish a third-party to receive and hold in trust each tenants' remaining monthly rent until a meeting with the new owner is held and an agreement established with tenants. Residents said the current owner has been invisible and communicates only through notes posted on doors. As repairs are made and requests for service are fulfilled, rents would be released to the owner, said East 35th Street resident Sheila Parker-Wilson.
The renters, many of whom are on month-to-month leases, do not qualify for federal assistance related to the pandemic and are not protected by a federal eviction moratorium that expires at the end of the month.
"This crisis has nothing to do with the pandemic, renters falling behind with their rents, or the need for additional federal assistance related to the pandemic," according to Davenport Bearing Witness. "The crisis is locally grown. It is a manufactured crisis of greed and profit."
Davenport, Moline and Rock Island all operate rental inspection programs to periodically assess the condition of rental properties to ensure their upkeep. But, they often fall short of adequately protecting tenants, according to local housing advocates.
De Taeye argues Davenport's increased monitoring of substandard rental stock and code enforcement has created the unintended consequence of decreasing rental housing.
"If substandard units are too expensive to fix, the landlord may elect to (vacate) the unit and take it off the market," according to the latest Tri-Cities Housing Needs Assessment. "Since many of these units are occupied by renters who have little other choice but to inhabit these units, such as those who have evictions on their records (or poor credit), then heightening monitoring may actually make the problems worse."
Such is the case with the East 35th Street and Crestwood residents, De Taeye argues.
As a result, he said Davenport and other cities need to assess their respective rental registration and inspection programs for opportunities to close loopholes and make them more effective. That, De Taeye said, includes working with nonprofit housing assistance providers to develop referral protocols when a tenant may have to be displaced due to substandard housing conditions.
"We need to hold landlords and owners accountable for the dismal conditions that they're allowing their residents to live in, and still demand rent," De Taeye said. "But, if you have enhanced inspections, like enhanced law enforcement, you're going to have displacement or incarceration. And we're going to have lots of displacement if we don't have ... a plan" to provide adequate rental housing.