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Nicholas Cooper, who has been a tenant at his complex for 12 years, received notice in January that he would be evicted by the end of February 2022. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Gerald Flores lived for almost four years in a one-bedroom apartment at 5840 Carr St. in Arvada. But on Jan. 10, he received a notice that he and three other tenants in the 20-unit building had 30 days to move out.

The building had been purchased from the family of Flores’ landlord by investors who have plans to renovate and raise the rent.

It was an eerily familiar experience for 58-year-old Flores. The last time this happened, he was living in a building on Olde Wadsworth and after he was evicted, he lived in his car for two years, until a friend directed him to an open apartment in the Carr Street building.

This time around, though, advocates are involved and they’re trying to find a way for tenants like Flores, who has a disability and lives on a fixed income, to remain in their homes.

Gerald Flores is disabled and lives with asthma and PTSD, among other conditions. Flores once lived in his car for two years and fears he won’t survive another period of homelessness due to no longer having a working car. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The building on Carr Street was a crucial source of affordable housing, not subsidized by the government, that is increasingly in short supply. 

Over the last year, volunteer advocates said they have seen rental rates greatly increase as multi- and single-family rental properties were sold to new owners. The trend is leaving higher numbers of renters stranded or cost-burdened. The city of Arvada published a study in May 2020, that found 28% of renters in Arvada were severely cost burdened, meaning they were spending more than 50% of their income on housing. 

The report also found that in 2017, including subsidized units, Arvada was short 2,275 rentals affordable to people earning less than about $12 an hour, or $25,000 a year. And that was before the real estate sales boom of the past two years. According to the report, 13% of renters in Arvada earn less than $15,000 per year. 

Several organizations, including Coloradans for the Common Good, have met with Arvada and Jefferson County leaders for many years to discuss the need to address the affordable housing crisis in the region, they said. 

“Our message is that they cannot just rely on the faith communities and nonprofits to solve this problem,” according to a press release from Coloradans for the Common Good. “Government agencies have a role to help ensure that everyone has a safe roof over their heads.”

City of Arvada and Jefferson County leaders recently received more than $120 million in stimulus payments from the federal government, and Coloradans for the Common Good and their allies are asking elected officials to put a substantial sum of the money toward preserving and expanding affordable housing, so that the trend does not continue in the community, according to the release.

Coloradans for the Common Good sent volunteer advocates to help Flores and the other tenants negotiate with the new ownership group, which says it will renovate the apartments on Carr Street and potentially sell the building if it becomes a challenge to manage in the coming months or years. “If someone like the Housing Authority or the church had interest in buying it from us, we would be very open to talking with them,” said Keith Vaughn, one of the four investors who purchased the building for $2.6 million in August under RNGC Carr LLC.

The 20-unit building on Carr Street, affordable to seniors and people with disabilities, may see almost doubling rent prices following renovations. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Vaughn said the buyers did their due diligence, asking the seller if the building tenants were paying with government housing vouchers or covered by other special rent payment arrangements. “And we were told, ‘No.’”

So it was a surprise, Vaughn said, when the group learned from volunteer advocates that many of the residents there are older adults with disabilities living on fixed incomes, unable to meet the new qualifying requirements and higher rents, in some cases, almost double what they had been paying. Advocates were also concerned that residents could not find affordable alternative housing arrangements during the renovations.

Several residents have already moved out of the building. “Many people jumped the gun on getting out because they basically were being told (by the management company) that they needed to prepare,” Flores said.

The Sun was not able to reach any of the residents who have already moved out. Flores is in the process of counting the number of residents who have already left. That list will be given to a leader at the local housing authority and she will help struggling residents explore other affordable housing options, said Tom Olschner, a volunteer with Coloradans for the Common Good.

A studio that costs $999 per month and a one bedroom apartment that costs $1,200 is just under market-rate rent for the area, Vaughn said.

Mindy Mohr, one of the volunteers helping the residents, said she was concerned that many 5840 Carr Street Apartments residents would become homeless. She’s a volunteer at Mission Rising, a day shelter in Arvada. One Wednesday morning, in late January, 45 people checked into the shelter while she was there.

“The numbers are huge, and they’re only growing and everyone has a story,” she said. “And I don’t want to see anyone from 5840 Carr have to go to The Rising for help,” she said as she started to cry.

Nicholas Cooper and Gerald Flores on Feb. 8, 2022 in Arvada. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The Carr Street building, built in 1958, is in a prime location that Vaughn said was especially enticing to the investment group. It’s near a K-8 school, a few blocks from Arvada’s Olde Town and near a light rail stop. Median household income within a mile of the apartment complex is $65,000. Within 3 miles, that median income jumps to $75,000. 

The structure has not seen much renovation over the last 50 years, Vaughn said. The new owners are replacing the flooring, paint, tiling, appliances, boiler, heating systems and some air conditioners. They’ve also repainted the exterior of the building, repaired railings and done other maintenance. Renovations are expected to conclude in the next three or four months if all goes smoothly, Vaughn said.

Vaughn and his partners have purchased buildings in the past and said this is the first time they’ve ever negotiated with residents and their advocates. 

“I think every situation is so unique,” he said. “We’ve seen properties where tenants are in a better financial situation, that don’t have an issue moving across the street to another apartment building. Carr is a little bit unique. There’s not a lot of other buildings like it right there in that area.”

Olschner and other advocates with the organization had asked the new owners if they would consider rescinding the eviction notice for the four residents and allow them to take action to meet the owners’ new requirements, including undergoing a credit check and paying a new application fee. 

Volunteer advocates asked if owners would coordinate with tenants and allow them to move into newly-renovated apartments, and remain there, if they met the new owners’ requirements. If residents had a history of consistently paying rent on time and had not caused problems for neighbors, advocates asked owners if those tenants could be exempt from any income requirements, a credit check, a new application fee, and a more expensive security deposit, or be allowed to pay those extra costs over a period of six months. 

The advocates asked if residents in good standing could also pay a graduated increase in rent that would rise by 33% during the first year and increase by 66% the second year before tenants would pay the full amount after two years.

After the meeting, the owners said they wanted to work with residents and would consider the volunteers’ requests to help prevent homelessness.

The 20-unit building on Carr Street, affordable to seniors and people with disabilities, may see doubling rent prices following renovations. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

When the group met again a few days later, on Feb. 5, the owners agreed to all but one request. They would not allow residents to pay the suggested rent increase over a two year period. The owners said they’d consider allowing that kind of arrangement over a three-month period instead. 

“We’re still discussing how we’re going to handle that,” Vaughn said. “In order for us to make this work, everybody needs to come to the table with some compromises. This is a business for us and we rely on how these things turn out in order to pay our bills. That’s what we’re working on at this point.”

Olschner, the volunteer advocate, said the experience is a good example of how real estate investors/private owners, residents and volunteer advocates can work together to prevent homelessness. 

“I’m thrilled. I really have a sense that they want to do right by these residents, and treat them with the kind of consideration they can. On the other hand, this is an adjustment for them,” Olschner said of the owners.

Vaughn said he and the other investors are not in the business of putting people on the street.

“Different owners are motivated by different things. Some people that buy apartment buildings are part of big hedge fund groups and bigger operations, and I don’t know how they would react to this situation,” he said.

“But I think we are, as a group, very sympathetic to what’s going on, not just with two or three apartments, but across the country, when it comes to the housing crisis and the homeless crisis,” he said. “It’s a really, really complicated, difficult situation, that doesn’t seem that anybody can get their arms around.”

Coloradans for the Common Good is researching different funding streams, helping residents get on waiting lists for housing vouchers, and helping tenants who wish to make the physical move from one apartment to another.

Although he’s strapped for cash, Flores is also planning to stay in the building. Rent for a one bedroom apartment likely will climb to $1,200 from $850, so he may move into a renovated studio to pay a lower rent. He has looked for other apartments in the area and rent prices are about the same, he said. To afford the new rent, if he stays in a one bedroom, Flores said he will stop spending on some things, such as internet access and burial insurance premiums. When he gets a part-time job, he will resume those payments. 

Nicholas Cooper, who has been a tenant at his complex for 12 years, received notice in January that he would be evicted by the end of February 2022. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Flores and another resident, Nicholas Cooper, were two of the four residents that received an eviction notice. But after attending the meeting with the volunteers, the owners agreed to allow them to stay in the building after learning about their chronic health conditions and financial struggles. Both men have also been homeless in the past.

Cooper, who has lived in the building for 12 years, receives $1,056 per month from social security payments and he recently was scrambling to find a second part-time job to afford his new rent and other bills. The 64-year-old, who is one year too young to qualify for Medicare, said the rent for his studio apartment will likely rise from $600 to $999 per month. Over the last few days, he’s limped for miles to 7-Eleven, McDonalds, Starbucks and nearby other establishments to apply for any part-time job he can get. On Thursday, he secured a job at 7-Eleven, he said.

“It hurt me just to walk in the snow,” he said. “I’m so stressed out. I’m not in great health anymore.” 

Before volunteer advocates reached out to help residents, Flores said he felt “so alone.”

“At least (now) I don’t feel alone totally,” he said. “And that’s better than what I felt the first time around when I ended up living in the car.”

Tatiana Flowers is the equity and general assignment reporter for the Colorado Sun and her work is funded by a grant from the Colorado Trust. She has covered crime and courts plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel and Morocco....