Some tenants at Prince George’s complex upset about loss of affordable housing

Melina Mara/The Washington Post - Saequan Jackson, 6, and Denice Scales are residents of the Parkway Heights apartments in Forestville. Some tenants say they are being forced out of affordable housing at short notice.

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Owners of a Forestville apartment complex were scrambling Wednesday to deal with an uproar among tenants being evicted during the holidays.

A dozen tenants at Parkway Heights, which the owners propose to raze to build a driveway into an industrial park, said they were being forced to move with short notice and without adequate financial compensation — assertions the building’s owners denied.

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“The tenants were provided incentives to relocate,” including rent rebates and an offer of housing at a comparable rate in a neighboring apartment complex, said Jessica Nunez, a spokeswoman for the owners. “And the building owner will continue to work with any residents to provide assistance they need to relocate.”

A group of investors, operating under the name 4357 Forestville Owner LLC, bought the complex, which has about 35 units, in August 2012. On Wednesday, the company promised to pay relocation expenses and to subsidize the rents of displaced tenants in other apartments.

The uproar began last month when the tenants received notices to vacate the property by Nov. 30. During a meeting Oct. 17, the tenants said, they were told by a property management company that they would receive no cash incentives to move.

“They said they were offering no assistance whatsoever,” said Denice Scales, 31, a teacher who moved into Parkway Heights on July 20 during a promotion that enabled her to rent her two-bedroom apartment for $800 a month. When she was told to move, Scales said, she worried about finding a comparable unit at the same rent.

“I have to pay for somebody to move me. I have to pay for a security deposit all over again, when I just spent money on a security deposit,” Scales said. “I’m going to have to spend $1,400 or $1,500 a month just to be in a comparable arrangement. . . . I can’t afford that.”

Affordable housing has become a pressing issue in Prince George’s County and the rest of the Washington area as rents and housing prices rise. In July, the Prince George’s County Council approved legislation to allow the county to buy and rehabilitate rental housing to help revitalize some neighborhoods.

“Prince George’s has recognized there is not enough rental housing for low- and moderate-income people,” said Gregory Countess, director of advocacy for housing and community economic development at Maryland Legal Aid, which has been working with the Parkway Heights tenants.

On Tuesday night, a few tenants gathered to voice concerns, including complaints that the building was no longer being maintained and that some units were without heat.

Vivian Murray, 54, who has lived in the complex for four years, said that the heat in her apartment isn’t working and that she is sleeping in socks, hats, pants and gloves.

Sabrina Wear, a supervising attorney for Maryland Legal Aid, said leaving tenants without heat is illegal in Prince George’s. “The county code requires certain conditions, which would include heat,” she said.

Another tenant, Donna Jackson, 29, said that when she moved into the complex in August, she was not told that the building would be demolished. During the summer, she said, she lived without air conditioning.

“They kept saying they would repair the air conditioning. They put in a window unit in my kids’ room. No plexiglass. It was just a piece of cardboard holding it up,” Jackson said. “Now, not only do I not have heat, but the air is coming through the boards.”

Jackson, a nursing assistant, said that when she received the notice to vacate, she was devastated. “I just moved in,” she said. “I paid $2,400 to move in, and you expect me to move somewhere else? My concern is, I don’t’ have anywhere to go with my kids. It’s cold outside, and you are telling me you are coming to put me out? It’s Thanksgiving.”

Nunez, the spokeswoman for the owners, said they had made attempts to repair the heat and “are working to make sure people get housing. They have created a special agreement with apartments across the street for tenants to relocate.”

Nunez said at least 30 tenants had moved from Parkway Heights, a number that some tenants have disputed. On top of rent rebates, she said, the owners have offered each tenant $250 in moving expenses and comparable rent at a neighboring apartment complex, where they would pay a $99 deposit and the application fee would be waived.

“In addition to the moving incentives, multiple property management companies have reached out to tenants to help them relocate,” Nunez said. “The building owners are trying to do right by the rental agreement. They have done due diligence. We know it is the holidays. They have been working on this for a long time. We want to do right by the tenants there.”

 
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