Residents at Richfield’s Seasons Park still have questions about property’s future

 

As a nonprofit housing corporation followed up on its purchase agreement for Seasons Park Apartments in Richfield late last month, some tenants were still wondering whether they would be allowed to stay in their homes.

Aeon, a nonprofit corporation with a mission of preserving affordable housing, signed a purchase agreement for Seasons Park Apartments late last month, assuaging fears that a for-profit developer was about to acquire the property and potentially displace residents.

However, as Aeon was introduced to Richfield during an April 25 city council meeting, tenants still had questions about Aeon’s policy toward
undocumented immigrants.

“We don’t know who Aeon is,” said Kellen Roberts, a teacher at Partnership Academy, a charter elementary school with a 95 percent Latino student population, located about a mile west of Seasons Park in southern Richfield.

“I’m concerned that our families will still be displaced,” Roberts continued. “We don’t know if they’re going to require people to have Social Security numbers to live there. We don’t know if our undocumented community is going to be allowed to live there.”

Aeon and Seasons Park ownership and management did not respond to inquires from the Sun Current in time to be included in the April 11 Richfield Sun Current, but Richfield City Councilmember and Maria Regan Gonzalez and representatives of the Richfield School District, which reported it educates 237 students living at Seasons Park, offered more clarification.

“My understanding is that Aeon will work to keep residents in their place,” Richfield Schools Superintendent Steve Unowsky stated in an email to the Sun Current.

Questions over undocumented immigrants’ fate arose as some tenants were not allowed to renew their leases under the current management. Seasons Park resident Cristal Vargas said through an interpreter during the April 25 council meeting that her lease is up June 8, and that management will not renew it.

“We have never (received) any complaints. We haven’t missed any payments. We are not people who make a lot of noise,” Vargas said, noting her family includes a son attending Partnership Academy and a daughter at Richfield Middle School.

Some undocumented immigrants are being forced out of Seasons Park, according to Jackie Farrell, an outreach worker at Centennial Elementary School, which serves as the traditional neighborhood public school serving the complex.

“They were just kind of starting to evict undocumented immigrants from one week to another,” Farrell said in a phone interview.

However, Aeon has contacted the current management to request they continue to renew tenants’ leases, according to Regan Gonzalez.

Aeon representatives met with Seasons Park tenants last week, but details such as screening requirements, rental rates and specific updates to the property were not yet clear, Regan Gonzalez wrote in an email to the Sun Current.

When Seasons Park, formerly Buena Vista Apartments, changed ownership about three years ago, residents worried about the new owner’s documentation policy, although the new ownership at the time said the new policy would not affect residents who were already there.

Paradigm shift?

“We can’t repeat Crossroads again,” Partnership Academy teacher Jonathan Ceballo Gonzalez said at the April 25 council meeting.
He was referring to the 2015 sale of the 698-unit Crossroads at Penn apartments to Soderberg Apartment Specialists, which renovated the complex, changing its name to

Concierge Apartments while raising rent and changing several residency requirements. The result was the displacement of the vast majority of tenants at the complex neighboring the Best Buy corporate headquarters.

Speaking during the April 25 meeting, Unowsky outlined the ramifications for the Richfield School District.

“Thirty-eight of the students experienced homelessness as result of this situation,” he said.

“Our school district believes that the city leadership can lead the way in supporting the ongoing investment in Richfield while also supporting the residents of our great city.”

Several others used the council’s public comment period to similarly urge the city to take proactive action on affordable housing.

“I think we should use our moral position in the city more and talk to landlords and owners. These are human beings. We should be able to talk to them about the trials and tribulations that families go through,” said Camillo DeSantis, a longtime social justice advocate in Richfield.

Partnership Academy Executive Director Lisa Hendricks observed difficulties in the city as it adjusts to recent demographic shifts.

“I’ve worked in this community for over 15 years and have seen first-hand the struggles Richfield has had in embracing, supporting and providing equitable opportunities for people of color in this community,” Hendricks said.

As Richfield addresses affordable housing preservation policy, some former Crossroads residents are still reeling from the upheaval there.

“I’m not yet recovered from that insult, and I’m still working on getting healthy after that,” former Crossroads tenants Linda Soderstrom said. Soderstrom, who was 65 when Crossroads was sold, found another apartment in Bloomington, but said her rent is climbing and public transportation is lacking.

She said she has “absolutely no assurances that I won’t have to move again as my rent goes from 40 percent of my monthly budget to 50.”

She is optimistic that “Richfield can get this right,” but added, “It will require a paradigm shift in values and mindset. Very deep work.”

There are still forces that remain outside the city’s control, Mayor Pat Elliott cautioned during the April 25 council meeting.

“No one can make promises because it’s not our money, it’s not our buildings,” Elliott said. “What we can do is exercise the rights we have and the influence we have to try to keep moving in the right direction and make sure nobody gets displaced, no one has to leave school and no one has to live in fear of if they’re going to be here next week or next month.”

City’s assessment is target of criticism

As Richfield tries to learn from a Crossroads sale that displaced scores of low-income residents, Richfield City Manager Steve Devich summarized the results of the transaction in a memo released last month. Housing advocates responded by criticizing the report, which they say glossed over the human impact of the business deal.

The memo acknowledged the displacement of residents and the effect on the school district, but also emphasized that crime at the property is down dramatically following the sale, while the property’s value is up.

The report also stated housing advocates erred when they took action to keep residents at Crossroads instead of focusing on helping displaced tenants in their transition.

Eric Hauge, director of organizing and public policy for the affordable housing advocacy group HOME Line, took issue with that assessment, in addition to what he called the “misguided” narrative of Devich’s memo.

“Describing it as a transition and reducing it to a series of numbers fails to acknowledge and respect the experiences of the residents who were removed from their homes,” Hauge said.

Former Crossroads resident Bernard Campbell called the memo “really disrespectful.” Saying he and his fiancé received no government assistance while each working two jobs, Campbell recounted being forced out due to the new management’s credit score policy.

“That is like a smack in the face,” he said, before referencing the current circumstances at Seasons Park. “ … Hopefully Aeon will do the right thing.”

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.