As many as 28 Portland families served with eviction letters last month will not have to leave their apartments after a real estate management company for the complex’s new owner apologized Tuesday and said the notices were sent in error.

Several tenants in the The Woodwinds complex at 240 Harvard St. said they received letters from an attorney for the owner saying their month-to-month living situations would be terminated at the end of December “for business and economic reasons,” including the sale of the complex to a new owner.

The complex has 61 units, about half of which are occupied by low-income tenants who participate in the federal Section 8 housing program that helps pay their rent. Only those tenants received the eviction letters, which said the new owner, 240 Harvard St., LLC, had decided “not to participate in the Section 8 program.”

The letters prompted fear and concern among tenants, many of whom are single mothers or families with children. Housing officials and advocates also raised questions about the legality of the letter and whether the company was discriminating against tenants based on the vouchers.

“I thought, ‘They’re not going to kick out this many people all at once – who does that to people?'” said Annie Brown, who has lived in the complex for five years with her two daughters ages 23 and 10. “So I really wasn’t worried about (the sale of the property). I didn’t see it coming.”

Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, which oversees vouchers for 16 apartment units in the complex, said the size and timing of the eviction made it unusual and difficult for tenants. He said it was his understanding that all 28 units occupied by tenants with vouchers received the letters.

“Coming into the market like this and being extremely harsh with a time frame to the end of the year is really unusual and I don’t think it’s necessary,” Adelson said.

The shortage of affordable housing in Portland has emerged as one of the dominant social and political issues in the city. Increasing rents also have led to other mass evictions in recent years.

In 2016, a New Jersey company gave eviction notices to more than a dozen tenants in order to renovate a Parkside building for people who would pay higher rents, and many tenants were low-income or struggled with mental illness or both. City officials worked with the landlord to delay the eviction date so community groups could have more time to relocate the tenants.

In a statement Tuesday in response to questions, Bill Steinberg, director of acquisitions and asset management for Chestnut Realty Management, LLC, the company managing the complex, said the eviction letter warning residents to vacate their apartments was issued in error.

The statement did not say what prompted the company to say the letter was an error more than two weeks after it was first issued.

Paris Galope, one of the residents who received the letter, said Tuesday night that she hadn’t been notified about the change and it was “very weird” to hear that the property management company now was apologizing for sending the eviction letters.

“They’re trying to cover up that it happened,” Galope said. “It’s funny how they were sent out only to Section 8 people and nobody else got the letters.”

In his statement, Steinberg said that when 240 Harvard St., LLC purchased the complex last month, there were code enforcement violations that had not been addressed by the previous owner.

“Contrary to what is stated in the letter, we do not intend to evict these residents in order to renovate the building,” Steinberg said. “While necessary renovations will begin shortly to ensure the building is brought up to code and residents are kept safe, the current residents do not need to vacate to accommodate this work.”

Steinberg also said the letter incorrectly said the company would not be participating in the Section 8 program. He did say that it would like to move residents who are on month-to-month agreements to new leases and will work with them on an individual basis.

“We will be reaching out to each resident immediately to discuss this and reinforce that the letter was sent in error and can be disregarded,” he said.

Before Steinberg’s statement Tuesday night, housing officials, advocates and tenants raised concerns about the eviction notices and pointed to them as the latest example of a shortage of affordable housing in Portland.

Brown, a single mother who works as a restaurant server, and other women who gathered in the kitchen of her three-bedroom apartment Tuesday said the impact of the letters has been devastating.

“We’re all friends, but we can’t even look together because we all need to find a place,” Brown said. “We can’t even help each other. It’s like, ‘Oh, let me call before (another tenant) does.’ I feel weird about that.”

Monica Bean, who lives in a nearby apartment with her four children, said the timing of the impending eviction – right before Thanksgiving and Christmas – added to the stress.

“I know a lot of families are living pay check to pay check,” Bean said. “(Money is) not something we’re just sitting on or can pull assets from somewhere else. And 60 days around this time of year?”

Katie McGovern, an attorney at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, said seven households from the Harvard Street apartments had contacted the organization for help.

McGovern said she had concerns about the legality of the eviction notices. State laws shield people who receive public housing assistance from discrimination in some ways. But landlord participation in the Section 8 housing program is voluntary, and the state’s highest court limited protections for tenants in 2011.

“This is an impossible market for low-income people in Portland,” McGovern said. “Portland keeps building very expensive condos, but the affordable housing supply continues to dwindle.”

At the Westbrook Housing Authority, which provided housing vouchers to two families at the complex, Executive Director Chris LaRoche said he knows landlords who are receptive to renting to tenants who receive housing vouchers, but the rents subsidized by federal government are set too low for the market in the Greater Portland area.

He said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development set that fair market rent in this area at $1,071 for a one-bedroom apartment this year, and has proposed a lower number for 2020.

LaRoche said that number is not fair because those units are typically renting for $1,300 per month or more, and the three housing authorities in Westbrook, Portland and South Portland have challenged that number for next year.

“This is symptomatic of a bigger economic problem,” LaRoche said.

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this report. 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.