Pineridge residents gathered the morning of July 10 to voice concerns about notices to vacate their homes that appeared in some mailboxes last week.
Residents of the north Gainesville neighborhood went door to door last week to warn others of the notices. The property manager, SunCoast Property Management, sent the notices to inform residents of plans to renovate some apartments, which tenants said have been deteriorating.
These renovations will increase rental rates. One resident said her rent was expected to go up from $500 to $900.
The Alachua County Labor Coalition, a local social justice group, wants to ensure the tight-knit neighborhood isn’t displaced by the renovations and subsequent rental hikes. The ACLC organized a meeting for a crowd of about 40 residents to discuss the issue with the new property owners and city officials on July 10.
Lee Feldman, Gainesville’s city manager, attended the meeting and ensured the city will work toward a solution.
“I don't think this company wants anybody out on the street,” Feldman said.
ACLC asked the city of Gainesville to set aside money for rental assistance and for assistance in finding temporary homes for residents while renovations take place.
The city received about $32 million from the federal government, but must spend it exclusively on COVID-19 relief. Feldman said the city might give some of that money to landlords to renovate apartments while keeping rent affordable.
Additionally, Alachua County received $8.3 million for rental assistance, but the county has had a shortage of people applying for the funds, Feldman said. At least one person living in the home has to be unemployed to be considered as a recipient.
One resident pushed back and said some don’t qualify for the program because they’ve been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Even while working through the pandemic, paying bills has been hard, and the county’s money is only being aimed at people who lost work during the pandemic, the resident said.
Feldman acknowledged the problem but promised the city is trying to find ways to help people who need it. He also said the process will take time, which is disadvantageous to residents facing homelessness.
Carolyn Grant, a resident of Pineridge for 26 years, said her roof had a leak, but she was too scared to call for maintenance because she doesn't want to be displaced by the renovation.
“I’m too scared to go to the mailbox expecting that 30-day letter,” Grant said.
Grant said she has a friend who was evicted and is now homeless, and she is scared she’ll end up like her.
Some tenants in the neighborhood do not have enough money to pay a significant rental hike right away.
Pamela Morrison, who has lived in Pineridge for 22 years, thinks they should have been more involved in the process leading up to the decision to renovate.
KeyCity Capital, an investment company based in Texas, bought 83 apartments in October, including a unit turned into the neighborhood's community center. Residents were made aware of the renovation plans the week of July 4, and Morrison is upset about the lack of communication during that time.
“Why didn’t you tell us this eight months ago and give us a choice to say whether I want to stay out here or not?” Morrison said.
Lacarlya Peoples, a longtime resident, said she’s seen quick solutions in past renovations from the previous owner.
“I’m not against the raising of the rates and the renovations,” Peoples said. “Just do it right. Don’t come in and patchwork.”
Carey Erff, who is in charge of community support services at KeyCity Capital, flew into Gainesville from Texas to address concerns at the meeting.
“The root of this issue, I believe, is communication breakdown,” Erff said.
She offered residents a chance to talk to her one-on-one by staying after the meeting and making her phone number available. She also mentioned the possibility of offering tablets so residents can fill out applications for rentals more easily.
Some residents expressed concerns over people convicted of crimes being turned away, but Erff assured them that most crimes committed over five years ago would be excused. She said specific crimes, such as arson, might lead to a rental denial for new applicants.
Erff also guaranteed residents who decide to leave following the rate increase will have 90 days to find a new home. The only reason the notices said 30 days is because a 30-day notice is required by law in Florida, but KeyCity Capital can extend that.
The meeting helped answer some questions, but some were left with worries of losing the community they’ve grown with for years.
“We are a family. We live here. We built this,” one resident said. “I feel safe on this street.”
Contact Alex Lugo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AlexLugo67.
Alex is a fourth-year journalism student at UF and is in his third semester at The Alligator where he is serving as the university editor. He previously reported on university administration and the city and county commission. In his free time, he enjoys video games, traveling and being outdoors.