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Coronavirus prevents eviction of elderly Concord residents but finding new apartment proving impossible

  • Bette Larsen sits in her Cranmore Ridge apartment with her friend and neighbor Sharman Snow on Thursday, February 13, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Sharman Snow sits with her dog Rosie in her neighbor Bette Larsen's apartment at Cranmore Ridge on Thursday, February 13, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Sharman Snow sits with her dog Rosie in her neighbor Bette Larsen's apartment at Cranmore Ridge on Thursday, February 13, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Sharman Snow walks her dog Rosie around the neighborhood at Cranmore Ridge on Thursday, February 13, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Bette Larsen sits in her Cranmore Ridge apartment with her friend and neighbor Sharman Snow on Thursday, February 13, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 3/24/2020 4:32:24 PM

For two elderly women forced out of their Concord apartment building because they can’t afford a 30% rent increase, the coronavirus outbreak has caused two conflicting emotions: relief because they cannot be evicted – at least for the time being – and dread because finding an apartment now seems next to impossible. 

Bette Larson, 71, and Sharman Snow, 68, say they were already having a hard time finding an apartment before the outbreak. Tenants at Cranmore Ridge were notified in December that their rents were set to increase by thousands of dollars a year after the complex was sold to Manchester-based Brady Sullivan Property group. 

Both live on a fixed income of social security and disability, and are on section 8 housing. 

Now, the women, who both have health conditions, are worried about leaving their apartments to look for housing options because of exposure to COVID-19. Community organizations like CATCH Neighborhood Housing and Concord Housing Authority, which they have depended on to help with their search, have closed their offices.

CATCH is still doing work by phone, and meeting with clients one-on-one in some cases, according to staff. However, a lot of work is being done digitally – a constraint for many seniors on a fixed income like Snow who don't have a computer.

Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an order prohibiting landlords from initiating evictions for tenants unable to pay rent throughout the crisis.

Violating that order and carrying out an eviction is now against the law during the governor’s state of emergency. The Attorney General’s office has the power to enforce the order “through any methods provided by current law,” the order states.

In addition, utilities in the state are prohibited from disconnecting any homes or businesses throughout the duration of the emergency. The order applies to electricity, gas, any other fuels, phones, internet, cable and water.

The order does not, however, relieve the duties of tenants or homeowners to pay rent or mortgage payments.

Larsen and Snow are two people in vulnerable situations that are being placed in limbo as the state enacts preventative restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. At Cranmore Ridge alone, dozens of people are being faced with the decision of whether to stay or go. 

“If I can't find anything in the next week, I’m going to give them what I have,” Larson said of her rent. “I don't know what else I can do." 

Brady Sullivan purchase 

The one-bedroom apartments Snow and Larsen have at Cranmore Ridge are two of dozens of housing units at the large complex off of East Side Drive. The property – with six apartment buildings – was last sold in 1992 for $3.3 million. Then in November, it was sold to Brady Sullivan for $11.5 million.

Less than a month later, on Dec. 20, Larsen received a letter informing her that Brady Sullivan will not be extending her lease after it expired on Jan. 31.

“If you wish to continue your residency at The Apartments at Cranmore Ridge, you will do so as a month to month resident and your rent amount will be brought up to market,” the letter read. “We understand that some of our residents may choose to relocate; therefore, we are extending your Lease on a month to month basis to allow you time to find suitable housing.”

For Larsen, that means the rent on her one-bedroom apartment went from $920 a month to $1,200, along with the $50 fee she was already paying for the carport she uses.

With the letter, she was given two forms. One was a notice to vacate, the other was a month-to-month addendum to lease.

The notice to vacate informed her that if she did not leave her apartment building on Jan. 31, that she will be evicted, and that eviction would be part of her permanent rental history.

“There are no exceptions to this policy,” the letter reads. “Once you submit your Notice to Vacate, you are guaranteeing Brady Sullivan Properties that you will be vacating the premises by the date listed above and no extensions will be granted under any circumstances.”

Community in crisis

Larsen said other residents got similar letters when their leases were set to expire. She said a lot of people are planning to move out. Some who can afford the new rent have chosen to stay. 

Snow's lease expires in July. She said she hasn’t received a notice from Brady Sullivan about her rent increase yet, but has watched her neighbors all receive notice.

Trudie Lakus, 49, who lives with her 22-year-old son and boyfriend at Cranmore Ridge, said her worry has mounted over the course of the last few months as she has struggled to find an apartment. 

She and her son are both on disability and social security. Her son is a childhood kidney cancer survivor who has learning disabilities, she said. Her boyfriend lost his job as a physical therapist’s assistant this fall after having a stroke and has just applied for disability.

She said she gets $1,049 in social security and disability a month, while her son gets $533. They get $15 in food stamps a month, Lakus said, and depend on the local Salvation Army for a lot of their food. 

There aren’t a lot of places they can afford, and still have money for food. 

“It is tough all way around with this housing crisis. I’m sad, we show up to places and we get stereotyped,” she said. “I just need a place to go so I don’t have to worry about being on the streets or sleeping in my car somewhere.” 

Lakus said she was relieved to hear that her family couldn’t be evicted due to the virus. But she said bills are piling up, and once she eventually finds a place to move to, there will be more expenses. 

“It’s going to be a while before I can pay a bill, with first month’s rent, and security deposit. We might be OK now, but what’s going to happen next month? People are afraid.” 

Online, Brady Sullivan is advertising one and two-bedroom apartments “coming soon” for rent at Cranmore Ridge. The advertisement said that interested people can join a waitlist for a variety of “sleek, stylish one-to-two-bedroom apartments” that will be available for $1,300 to $1,600 a month.

Brady Sullivan did not return requests for comment.

Helping the vulnerable

Rosemary Heard, President of CATCH Housing, said her staff is already seeing the devastating financial impact of the virus on the community.

“This impacts the most vulnerable people in our population,” she said.

In addition to people who were already working with CATCH to find a place to live, Heard said she’s seeing people seeking help who have lost their jobs due to business closures. 

“The biggest challenge for people is going to be income and food insecurity – we are going to see a huge uptick in that need," she said. 

Heard said CATCH has closed down their office. They are still meeting with clients one-on-one in some cases, but are trying to rely on digital communication, when possible.  One example is sending clients videos of vacant apartments. 

One challenge they face is the fact that a lot of the agencies they typically work with are either shut down or working in a limited capacity. 

For example, CATCH is required to complete rigorous background checks, which usually includes calling past employers. However, many of those are closed or in transition right now. 

“Simple things like that, that one would not have thought about a month ago, are now becoming impediments – it lengthens the process,” she said. It adds another layer of paperwork and bureaucracy to what is  already a difficult process to begin with.” 

“We are always at the mercy of other businesses that are closing down,” she added. “we are taking this day by day."  

Heard said CATCH is doing all it can to support people in need – even those who are in quarantine and have limited access to resources like internet. 

“Our telephone number is still active, we still have people on the other end of the phone – we will work with people to the best of our ability to work around any issues they are facing,” Heard said. 

Looking for apartments 

Larsen said when she got her notice, she spoke with the property manager, who agreed to give her an extension to the end of February to find a new place. 

Larsen applied to every apartment listing she could find, but she said most were not within her budget or said they were not interested in housing someone with a section 8 voucher. 

A 2019 survey by New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority of 261 one-bedroom apartments in the city of Concord, found that the median cost to be $1,046 a month.

At Cranmore Ridge, Larsen was paying $681 out of her social security and disability money each month for rent, while receiving $239 a month from Section 8.

Larsen went through the weeks-long process to begin work with CATCH housing, where she said staff were able to find her two options to rent. However, one of the apartments was located on the second or third floor of an apartment building without an elevator.

Due to her mobility issues from arthritis, Larsen can't climb stairs. The other apartment didn't allow cars. Larsen said it’s important for her to get around to doctors' appointments and to Concord Christian Academy, where she is a foster grandparent with the Friends Program for second graders three times a week.

When Larsen wasn’t able to find something before her March 1 deadline, her daughter gave her gift of money so she could stay an extra month at the $1,200 price. Larsen said she was hopeful that she was getting close to finding something.  

But then, cases of the virus started cropping up in the United States – even in New Hampshire.

Experts say those over the age of 60 with health conditions are the most vulnerable to the disease. 

Larsen has lung disease and heart problems. She said her doctor has advised her to stay in her apartment. She said her daughter isn't able to support her rent for another month.

“I had hope for an apartment before, and now I don’t really have hope,” she said.  

Snow, who doesn’t have any children or family to lean on, said she's starting to get scared. She has severe depression and osteoporosis, which she said already have made the housing search challenging. 

A friend dropped off a rental application for her a week and a half ago, and she was planning to make an appointment.

“I guess we’ll just have to wait until his passes, I hope it won’t be too long and just proceed from there. I don’t know what to do really,” she said. “I’m worried about making through this month with food and bills to pay.” 

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