Priced out: Increased rent too much for some after Brady Sullivan’s Cranmore Ridge purchase

  • Bette Larsen sits in her Cranmore Ridge apartment with her friend and neighbor Sharman Snow (right) on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

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

  • Sharman Snow sits with her dog Rosie in her neighbor Debbie Larsen's apartment at Cranmore Ridge. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Sharman Snow walks her dog, Rosie, around the neighborhood at Cranmore Ridge on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

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

Monitor staff
Published: 2/15/2020 4:19:58 PM

Bette Larsen spends a lot of her time scrolling through apartment listings on her couch, feeling defeated.

The few apartments the 71-year-old can find, she simply can’t afford. She keeps looking and looking because the clock is ticking.

Around her, half of her life is packed into cardboard boxes – one labeled for dishes, another for towels, a third for toiletries.

The other half, personal items like her plants – her geranium, Christmas cactuses, the bay tree she’s grown for more than 20 years – and the wooden hutch her ex-husband made by hand, are scattered around her apartment.

“I started packing everything up, but then I figured it didn’t make sense,” she said, adjusting the pillow on her back that she said helps with the pain from her bad hips and arthritis. “I don’t even know where I’m going yet. I have no place to go.”

Larsen has two weeks to find a new place to live because she can’t afford the new rent at her old apartment at Cranmore Ridge on Portsmouth Street. Manchester-based Brady Sullivan Property group bought the seven-acre apartment complex in November for $11.5 million, according to city assessing records.

When tenants’ one-year leases are up, the property’s new owners are increasing rents.

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.

Five days before Christmas, Larsen received a letter from Brady Sullivan that was slipped under her door saying rents were being increased to bring the units up to “market rate.”

The increase – nearly $4,000 a year – was astronomical to Larsen, who fears she now will become homeless.

“I’m on social security,” she said. “I can’t even afford to eat.”

In addition, Brady Sullivan is doing away with the old-one year leases, which Larsen had signed for six years in a row, in favor of month-to-month agreements.

Larsen was given until Jan. 31 to find a new apartment. She got a month extension until the end of February, but it still doesn’t feel like enough time.

She said she can’t help but feel like lower-income people are being pushed out of Cranmore.

“There’s nothing, it’s so horrible,” Larsen said, about housing. “I think a lot of people are going to leave this complex, because I don’t think there’s a lot of people who pay for $1,200 apartments around here.”

The Letter

Larsen waited five years living with her ex-husband waiting to get a Section 8 voucher so she could finally afford her own apartment. The waitlist for Section 8 housing is around five to eight years in New Hampshire.

The little apartment she has at Cranmore Ridge is one 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 before it was sold to Brady Sullivan for $11.5 million on Nov. 26.

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.”

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 asked her to agree that Brady Sullivan could start showing her apartment to prospective tenants if and when she decided to move out. It informed her that if she did not vacate 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.”

“It was shock, an absolute shock,” Larsen said. “I’ve never been late with a rent payment, and they don’t give you any reason for doing it.”

Larsen said other residents got similar letters when their leases were set to expire. She a lot of people are planning to move out.

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 by phone or email.

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.

“I was crying and I told her, ‘I’m alone, I don’t have anyone to help me – I’m disabled. It’s not possible for me to pack up in a month,’ ” Larsen said. “She said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You can have another month.’ She could see how upset I was.”

Searching

Elliott Berry, a lawyer for New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said Larsen’s story is one that he sees often.

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.

The state-wide median gross rent for two-bedroom units per month was $1,347 including utilities, an increase of more than 20% in the past five years, according to the survey.

“People’s incomes are not anywhere in keeping with those kinds of rents in any way shape or form,” Berry said.

Additionally, the study found that the vacancy rate for two-bedroom units, by far the most common size, is incredibly low – less than 1%. The national vacancy rate is 7% and the rate throughout the whole Northeast is 5%, which is generally considered a sign that supply and demand are balanced.

Larsen has a list of apartment complexes that have rejected her application or told her they don’t have availability.

It’s legal in New Hampshire to deny a prospective tenant because they are on Section 8, Berry said. Some landlords don’t like being subject to the annual inspections required under Section 8, or the additional paperwork.

“When the market is soft, some landlords like having that assurance that most of the rent will be paid for by public housing authority – it’s to their advantage,” Berry said. “When it’s this tight, there are a lot of landlords who don’t want to be bothered with the extra regulations and paperwork that comes with the Section 8 program.”

Larsen is on Section 8 housing, which helps her pay her $920 a month rent. She pays $681 out of her social security and disability money and she receives $239 a month from Section 8. She needs the assistance and wishes she didn’t.

“It’s too much paperwork. You hear that one a lot,” Larsen said. “But it feels like more than that. People really look down on you when you’re Section 8. It’s just their looks and the way they talk to you. You can tell when you’re talking to them. They’re just not as polite as they could be.”

She finally found one place this week where she could submit an application – Eagle’s Bluff in Concord.

“If that doesn’t come through, I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said.

Community

It’s hard to think about losing the home she loves, Larsen said.

She moved into Cranmore Ridge after a tough period in her life. Larsen said she lost her home during the recession, and in 2010, she had to stop working because of health problems.

Larsen spent decades working as a lab manager or director for hospitals, most recently at Wentworth-Douglass in Dover.

However, working in the lab required a lot of manual testing and moving around. And as her arthritis worsened, she could only stand for 15 minutes at a time without pain. In 2010, she was approved for disability. Almost five years later, she was granted a Section 8 voucher and moved into Cranmore.

She has found comfort there.

“This is a nice place full of people like me. There are lots of us who are disabled or on Section 8, so it was very comfortable place to live,” she said. “I would have stayed here the rest of my life.”

Larsen can’t get around well with her bad hips and arthritis, but she makes an effort to get out when she can.

Three times a week she drives down to Concord Christian Academy where she is a foster grandparent with the Friends Program for second graders.

Her neighbor across the hall, Sharman Snow, and her visit often together and are close.

Snow, 68, used to work as a receptionist at veterinary hospitals – most recently at Russell Animal Hospital for five years – until getting laid off during the recession. Since then, Snow has not worked, suffering from severe depression and osteoporosis.

The two women both live alone and take care of each other.

Larsen has a half cocker spaniel and half poodle, Moxie, 10, and Snow has a part poodle and part schnauzer named Rosie. They visit each other’s apartments with their dogs and spend time together.

After Snow fell while walking Rosie in 2017 and broke her pelvis, Larsen and the other residents helped by checking in on her, walking Rosie and making her meals. When Larsen got both of her hips replaced, Snow did the same for her.

“We’re really close,” Snow said. “We see each other daily.”

Uncertain future

Snow hasn’t heard anything about the future of her apartment, but she suspects that her apartment, directly across from Larsen’s will be seeing the same rent increase when her lease is up in July. So far, she hasn’t gotten any answers.

She’s lived at Cranmore for 17 years and doesn’t want to move.

“I have no money to move. I have no family. None on the planet. I never had any kids. I don’t have brothers and sisters. My parents are gone. I have no one to help me.”

Snow said her rent is a little more than $400 every month, after her Section 8 assistance.

“I told Sharman she should start looking now, put her name in places,” Larsen said.

Snow doesn’t have a computer or internet access, so she has to physically travel around. She does not want to leave her home of almost two decades.

There is legislation coming through the State House that would require landlords to offer tenets more than 30 days notice, the current requirement if they plan to raise the rent.

Under HB 1247, landlords would have to give tenants at least 90 days notice if they plan to increase their rent by more than 5 percent.

“It just doesn’t feel like this system benefits us at all,” Larsen said. “We don’t get a fair shake.”




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