City staff, other agencies work to house evicted Vegas Block tenants
Judge John Coughlin looked past the attorneys in front of him and toward the benches of his courtroom, where former residents of the Vegas Block on North Main Street in Concord sat quietly yesterday morning.
“I think we have to identify who these individuals are who are requiring services,” Coughlin said.
Rick Franco, 36, stood up from his seat and raised his hand to interrupt the judge.
“I am,” he said.
Last week, Concord officials declared the Vegas Block at 148-158 N. Main St. unlivable due to several fire and life-safety code violations. Residents like Franco had about 24-hours notice to move out and find a new place to live. He was among a handful of tenants in Concord’s district court yesterday seeking assistance from the Concord Human Services Department and other agencies. Since emptying the Vegas Block on Friday, the city and the landlord, Remi Hinxhia, have been scrambling to find emergency housing for displaced residents with nowhere else to turn.
“The concern the court has is that the tenants are treated fairly and that they have someplace to go,” Coughlin said.
Attorneys Stephanie Bray and Elliott Berry of New Hampshire Legal Assistance shared that concern. They filed an emergency complaint Friday to give residents more time to move, but the judge only delayed the eviction by a few hours. Coughlin did order the city and Hinxhia to pay for emergency housing for tenants until they can find a new place to live. All parties returned to court yesterday for another hearing.
“We are asking that the city makes its best effort to provide temporary housing or permanent housing in Concord or its surrounding communities,” Berry said.
Berry told the judge he knew of at least 20 households in the Vegas Block, but the real number of tenants is unclear because many did not have leases. Human Services Director Jackie Whatmough estimated about 10 to 12 people have come forward to ask for help, while others scattered Friday. Under the judge’s latest order, the city will continue to foot the bill for emergency housing until those tenants still in need can find a permanent solution, and Hinxhia contributed $200 for their transportation.
It is still unclear how much that will cost the city, but Whatmough said this is “an unusual expenditure.”
“We just do our best to budget,” she said.
Whatmough found rooms for at least five tenants last week, and her office secured a room Monday for Franco and his girlfriend, Felicia Sweatt.
Sweatt, 28, said the couple was working with a landlord to move into a new apartment by the end of the week.
“It’s just paperwork now,” Sweatt said.
Others, such as Jacob Klardie, 54, slept in a tent over the weekend. Klardie sat outside the courtroom yesterday among a few of his former neighbors at the Vegas Block. His daughter, Jessie, leaned against her boyfriend, 21-year-old Chris Frost. The trio had been camping on the State House plaza, but Frost said the police told them to leave.
“They were threatening to arrest us for sitting in front of the State House,” Frost said.
Klardie held his blank welfare application with both hands. He wasn’t confident his family would find housing quickly.
“We’ll probably be camping for a while,” he said.
Whatmough and Andy Labrie of the local Community Action Program, however, met with him in the courthouse hallway to talk about finding shelter for the night.
Ellen Groh, director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, was also present. As she handed out her card and gave directions to the Concord Homeless Resource Center, she said some evicted tenants had been confused at first about where to go for housing assistance.
“People heard that if they didn’t go to the hearing on Friday, they weren’t eligible for help,” Groh said. “That’s not true.”
Some confusion still exists around issues such as security deposits, some of which were paid years ago to an old landlord and might not have been transferred since. But Whatmough said the city’s human services department can help eligible residents with rent, and Labrie said the Community Action Program has a loan program for security deposits.
Since Labrie joined the effort to find housing for evicted tenants, he said many landlords have been resistent to the Vegas Block’s reputation.
“A landlord posted an apartment, and we called” right away, Labrie said. But once the landlord found out the young renter was coming from the Vegas Block, he changed his mind.
“He told the young person it was taken,” Labrie said.
The building is infested with both bedbugs and cockroaches, but Hinxhia has promised to fumigate. If tenants’ belongings can’t be salvaged, Labrie said those items will be replaced. The Community Action Program received a donation of beds, dressers and other excess furniture from Plymouth State University over the weekend, and he handed out Goodwill vouchers for new clothes.
“They’re not contaminated,” Labrie said.
Bray said the case will remain open in district court for at least 30 days.
“Part of the reason we did that, if there are more people who haven’t identified yet, they have the chance to come forward and be heard,” Bray said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)