Eighteen months after evicting low-income tenants from the Corvalla Apartments to make room for renovations and higher rent student housing, the now renamed Park at Fifth Street is a success and the displaced residents—well, that is another story. Meanwhile, neighborhood groups continue to use all legal means necessary to delay or even stop apartment developments that would leverage costs down for both students and low-income households.
Even now, just about two years after submitting plans to the City, Campus Crest has still not been allowed to put 900 apartment beds online, despite its willingness to leave 70 acres of its 95-acre parcel as open space.
When the Corvalla property changed hands in 2013, there was quite a bit of controversy after all of the then-tenants were immediately served eviction notices with 60 days to relocate so that the complex could be renovated. The 84-unit complex was built in 1967, and although it was in need of a lot of repairs and a facelift, it provided a low-income housing option for those living on disability or Social Security, and with so few comparable rentals in the area a lot of our neighbors were left without anywhere to live.
According to Bob Loewen, housing specialist for the City of Corvallis Housing and Neighborhood Services Division, removing over 80 units of lower cost housing in a rental market with so few comparable units leaves displaced tenants with the choice to either pay more or move to another area, and for many former Corvalla residents, paying more was not an option. One of the evicted tenants is still without a home, but sources say that he may have finally found housing after over a year of living out of his car.
We Care, a local nonprofit organization that gives assistance to people in need, gave a total of $9,325 to 15 households (28 individuals) as a result of the eviction. William M. Walker Jr., one of the displaced tenants, was given one of these grants. They were able to assist him with the amount that he needed to move into a new apartment, but when he received his deposit of $400 back from the Corvalla, he was able to pay it forward. He gave the entire amount to We Care so that they could help someone else in need. “I guess I feel it’s the least I could do for what they’ve done for me,” Walker said. “My income is very limited but thanks to all the assistance I’ve been given, I manage.” He also stated that he knew of many people who did not get deposits back and at least two tenants who were homeless for over seven months.
The apartments are currently managed by Greystar Property Management, a company that manages many complexes in Corvallis. The units now have a modern lighting package, new carpet and flooring, and new paint throughout. When asked about the new look, one current occupant said, “The renovations look nice but you can tell they were done pretty cheap.”
Although the quality may be questionable, the improvements came with a hefty rent increase. Some of the apartments are renting for more than $200 more per month than they had been, which is not affordable for someone on a fixed income. Right now, a one-bedroom costs $735 to $850, a two-bedroom is $995, and a three-bedroom is bringing in $1,265 per month. All of the apartments contain one bathroom, and the floor plans range from 560 to 1,090 square feet.
The updates and repairs to the rundown apartments ended up costing over $2.5 million, according to Brad Denson of Portland-based Dalton Management, speaking for the Park at Fifth Street LLC. He said that time will tell if rents will cover the costs. “The scope of work we did at the old Corvalla Apartments was primarily addressing life and safety issues,” Denson said. “The former owners did not keep the apartments properly maintained and when we purchased the property there was extensive deferred maintenance inside and outside. Many residents were low income but others were involved in criminal activity. Our lender and the City required that improvements be done to code. Construction costs are high and at the end of the day have to be factored into rental costs.”
Fortunately for Greystar Property Management, there are plenty of people more than willing to pay the new prices. Currently, there is a waiting list for their one- and three-bedroom apartments.
Corvallis is known for having high standards and a tight urban growth boundary that limits new construction, and most of the new rentals that are built are geared toward college students. This has created an unwelcoming rental market for low-income families.
Denson, also a former resident of Corvallis, recognizes the need for suitable low-income rentals. “It was unfortunate that many residents were displaced at the former Corvalla Apartments, but we firmly believe substandard housing is not a solution for the lack of affordable housing. The city, county, and state need to be called upon to address the urgent need for affordable and subsidized housing for those in need. Simply allowing landlords to defer maintenance to keep rents low, as was the case at the Corvalla, is not a viable option.”
We Care is a nonprofit that is supported by individuals, businesses, grants, and faith communities. To support We Care, visit their website, www.wecarecorvallis.com/support.html.
By Hannah Darling