Tenants of Bayside Village Apartments rallied on the steps of Portland City Hall Monday afternoon and urged the city to reverse a planning board decision that would allow a developer to purchase their Marginal Way building and convert it into market rate apartments.

The impending sale of the property to Port Property Management would force out many of the more than 300 tenants, mainly students and low-income individuals, who would not be able to afford the higher rents. Tenants said they currently pay about $620 a month. Having to pay the market rate would force them into homelessness, rally organizers said.

Under the current configuration, Bayside Village has 100 quads, each consisting of four-bedroom suites or 400 bedrooms total. Tom Watson, the founder of Port Property Management, is proposing to convert those suites into 196 one- or two-bedroom units, with enough capacity to house 360 residents – about the same number of people, who live there on average each year.

Watson did not speak at the rally or the subsequent City Council meeting where tenants pleaded with councilors to reverse the planning board’s Aug. 13 that resulted in the approval of Port Property’s site plan, subdivision and conditional use application for a mixed use, commercial and residential project at 132 Marginal Way.

Watson vowed not to evict anyone in a July 10 letter he sent to the City Council’s Housing Committee.

“There will be no mass eviction at the property. I understand peoples’ fears when a new owner comes along, particularly one who is going to do substantial renovations,” Watson wrote in the letter. “We have never in our 26-year history implemented mass evictions. It’s simply way too destructive to everybody’s lives. We are very sensitive to our tenants’ ways of life and living situations.”

Watson described the tenant population at Bayside Village as “transitory.” About 50 percent of the people who live at Bayside Village now will have moved within a year, with the remainder moving in the second year of tenancy.

“This is the nature of a building where one rents a bedroom with a locked door in an apartment not knowing the other residents within the four walls,” Watson wrote. Watson said the conversion will take two to three years to complete.

Alyssa Floyd, a tenant in Bayside Village Apartments, speaks at a press conference and rally at Portland City Hall on Monday to protest the impending sale of the complex and demand that the city step in to prevent the sale and partial conversion to market-rate housing. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Despite Watson’s assurances, tenants of Bayside Village say they are worried that they will be evicted because they won’t be able to afford the rent Watson could end up charging for market-rate apartments that won’t involve shared living arrangements.

They also said that tenants in their income category don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to finding affordable housing in what is perhaps the state’s most desirable city.

“All of us have signed leases explicitly stating that if a sale of Bayside occurs, the party buying the property is not obligated to honor the terms of the lease,” Bayside resident Alyssa Floyd said in a statement. Floyd, a student, who organized Monday’s rally at City Hall.

“Tenants are demanding that the city reverse the planning board’s decision, and that the land-use decision be reheard with input from tenants,” tenants said.

In their statement, tenants demanded that Port Property Management “not only state publicly that they intend to honor existing tenant leases to prevent residents from becoming homeless, but to back that statement up with a legally binding document.” Tenants also asked that they be allowed to live at Bayside until July 31, 2020.

“We want legally binding promises, not statements that are only intended to pacify us and allow Port Property Management to do whatever is convenient for them and is best for their bottom line,” Floyd said.

“This is a fight to protect the needy and the vulnerable,” Floyd said during the rally, which drew roughly a dozen people. “The immigrants and students who live there may soon be living on the streets. What does this say about us?”

After the rally, Floyd and several other Bayside Village tenants pleaded with the City Council to reverse the planning board’s approval.

“Considering the cost of living in Portland, Bayside Village is the most affordable apartments in the City of Portland. … We will suffer a lot if we move out of Bayside apartments,” Da costa Ndahayo, an immigrant who lives at Bayside, wrote in an letter that was read aloud by another tenant.

Eli Prescott, who held a sign at the rally that read, “Tax the Rich, House the People,” warned the council that converting Bayside Village into market-rate apartments would make a lot of tenants homeless.

“Port Properties wants to turn these units into luxury apartments, to make it as profitable as they can,” Prescott said. “It’s important to remember that there are people who are going to be hurt by this.”

City councilors, acting on the advice of corporation counsel, said they are unable to overturn a Planning Board decision. and the tenants only option would be to file an appeal in Cumberland County Superior Court.

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