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Michelle Doran's new landlord, Qt Property Management, sent her and other tenants what she called "friendly little" welcome notes last month shortly after it acquired Pike Lake Apartments, a 1960s-era complex in New Brighton.

Doran hoped the new owners would follow through on promises made in a note from management to make repairs and "upgrade every apartment as they turn over."

But on New Year's Day, nearly all the residents in Pike Lake's 60-plus apartments got notices to vacate, many as soon as Feb. 29 — leaving them to find new places to live in the dead of winter, with limited budgets and in a tight rental market.

Qt also filed eviction notices with 16 tenants for nonpayment of rent, some of whom have settled.

"In a few weeks, we could be on the street," Doran said. She said she and her boyfriend already have spent $125 on application fees for a new place but were rejected for credit and background issues.

The Pike Lake complex is the latest "naturally occurring affordable housing" in the metro area that has changed hands in the hot real estate market, only to be fixed up and higher rents charged, leaving existing residents scrambling for new housing.

Many Pike Lake residents say they were paying $700 to $900 a month for one- and two-bedroom apartments. Once the buildings are renovated, a one-bedroom will go for $1,050 and a two-bedroom for $1,200.

Qt representatives said they had shared their plans with the city and were doing major renovations to make the apartments safe and habitable, under a list of repairs provided by the city.

Christopher Huntley, Qt's attorney, said they couldn't safely make the necessary fixes to walls, ceilings and plumbing if the tenants were still living there. "The repairs are that extensive," he said.

Pleading with City Council

More than two dozen tenants showed up Tuesday at the New Brighton City Council meeting, many with young children in tow, pleading for assistance and more time to move. Some asked how it can be against the law in Minnesota to shut off the heat in the middle of winter but legal to kick people out of their homes. Council members listened closely for more than an hour.

"I don't know what we are going to do," said April Brown, who had just moved into Pike Lake with her two daughters. "What are we supposed to do? I work direct support. I work with people with special needs. I've done hospice. I help people take care of their families. I just want New Brighton or someone to help take care of my family because I am scared."

"This is another example of the rapid loss of affordable housing, with tenants getting summary notices that result in displacement and instability of more families, resulting in higher rent burdens, and potential homelessness," said Warren Hanson, president and CEO of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, in an e-mail.

Fridley-based Qt purchased Pike Lake in December for $5.8 million, according to Ramsey County property records. In 2018, Qt purchased a naturally occurring affordable Osseo housing complex and required residents to vacate many of the 86 units for repair.

Representatives from the tenant advocacy nonprofit HOME Line have been working with Pike Lake residents who are seeking more time and better treatment. Ivory Taylor, HOME Line's lead organizer, told the New Brighton council that Qt has a history of "questionable" leasing practices and "displacing long-term good tenants."

"Because of these previous fights, Qt is well aware of the impacts of their actions on community members and they know better ways to operate. The fact that they continue to choose not to, means they are not acting in good faith," Taylor said.

Several Pike Lake tenants said Qt's measures are making their remaining days at Pike Lake even more uncomfortable and stressful. Construction crews have started tearing out carpet and walls, they said. Several tenants said Qt had their vehicles towed from the apartment complex's parking lot after a recent snowfall.

'Where am I going to go?'

In spring 2018, St. Louis Park became the first city in Minnesota to enact a tenant protection period following the sale of an affordable housing building. New owners are required to pay relocation benefits to tenants who choose to move within three months if the owner increases the rent, rescreens existing residents or fails to renew leases without cause.

Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Richfield and Golden Valley have passed similar ordinances. Taylor implored the New Brighton council to follow their lead and pass additional tenant protections to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

Eric Williams, a disabled Army veteran, said that he and his 16-year-old son moved into Pike Lake last year after a bout of homelessness.

"I don't have the resources to move," said Williams, who uses a cane. "Where am I going to go?" He added he was afraid they wouldn't get back their security deposits.

Brian Grieger, who has lived at Pike Lake for 21 years, told the council that Qt was "just steamrolling our rights. They are just treating us badly."

"You've given us a lot to think about this evening," said New Brighton Mayor Val Johnson. "You are speaking with five members of the council who really do care. … We need time to process all of this."

Council Member Graeme Allen, who met with Pike Lake residents a day before the meeting, said he supports consideration of additional tenant protections. More county, state and federal funding also is needed to preserve affordable housing, he said.

"The thing that is disheartening is that in winter you are expecting 100-plus people to relocate with very little options, taking them out of their school district and making it harder for people to live," he said. He added that he understood the need for reinvestment in aging housing, but that it needed to be done "in relationship to the folks that live there."

"Hopefully the owner will try to find a solution that is more favorable for the tenants," Allen said.