On Tuesday, the eviction notices went up.
The remaining tenants at the Court View Apartments in Downtown were given just three days to get out or face forced eviction.
But by Friday, 11 of the 19 units in the building, which has been acquired for redevelopment, remained occupied, mostly because the tenants had nowhere to go, they said.
Fear and chaos permeated the building as residents scrambled to box up their belongings and make hasty plans to relocate. Still, each eviction case will have to be heard in court before residents can for forced to move, which could take days or weeks in some instances.
Those still lingering in their Court View apartments realize they're running out of time.
"We're trying to stand our ground until they (the developer) negotiate with us for more fair terms,'' said Jeff Stout, a Chicago native who has lived at Court View for nearly three years. "But they haven't been willing to negotiate. Everyone's under extreme fear. A lot of people are facing imminent homelessness.''
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended a federal moratorium on evictions until July 31 to prevent just such wholesale upheaval. But the moratorium only applies to tenants who declare they are losing their apartments if they lost income and fell behind on rent because of the pandemic.
None of the remaining tenants at Court View have declared pandemic-related distress.
Vision & Beyond Capital Investments, a Mount Auburn-based startup that bought the apartment building at 7 West Court St., initially gave residents just 30-day notice to move in May. The developer extended the deadline to July 11, before posting the eviction notices this week.
The remaining residents say they still haven't had enough time to find a new place to live while their lives and an entire community are being dismantled.
Trying to find cash
Tim Reed was rummaging through the vast collection of Bengals’ memorabilia he’s been collecting since he was a boy when he noticed a football signed by former Bengals' wideout Chad Johnson, still in its display case.
“That's in mint condition. I know it’s worth a lot of money. I hate to sell it, but what choice do I have?’’ asked the 61-year-old retired postal worker as he nervously stroked his 16-year-old dog, Shiloh.
Reed, who lives on a fixed income, plans to sell the football, among other things, in his antique-filled two-bedroom unit to raise money for a new apartment.
Reed said he feels "almost hopeless'' searching for an apartment on such short notice in the Cincinnati metro area's tight housing market, where the average monthly rent is more than $1,000, according to market-tracker RentCafe.
"I don’t have a car, so it’s hard for me to get to places outside of Downtown, and everything Downtown costs twice as much for less than half the space I have here,'' said Reed, who relies on Social Security Disability to pay his $630 a month rent at Court View.
“People say, 'Why don’t you move someplace else other than Downtown?' Well, I’ve looked other places, and they’re way more expensive than I can afford, too."
Finding an apartment at any price can be a long, arduous process simply because vacancies fill up so fast, in part, because sky-high housing prices have forced more people to rent.
Stout said the new owners have shown little empathy for the tenants' plight and even removed the washers and dryers from the laundry room, a move he believes was meant to intimidate residents.
"I was doing laundry Monday night and forgot about it,'' he said. "I went down to the laundry room to get it Tuesday evening, and I found my clothes thrown on a table, and the washers and dryers were gone. What does that tell you?''
Officials at Vision & Beyond, which has acquired 1,200 apartment units for about $84 million in the Cincinnati area over the past few years, declined to comment.
Despite his best effort, Stout, a former outreach worker at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library who also looking for a job, said had hasn't found a new apartment he can afford.
"There's nothing in this neighborhood, and there's nothing in my price range anywhere that's available right away,'' said Stout, who pays $700 a month rent. "We need more time.''
Stout and Reed were among the residents who held a rally Thursday night to condemn Vision & Beyond’s practices.
Even the lucky struggle
Sarah Ewing, 37, a former Court View tenant, was found a new place to live in about three weeks and got the keys to her Westwood apartment on July 1.
But the restaurant server, who lived in a two-bedroom apartment at Court View with her husband, Drew, their daughter and two cats, said the family's new apartment has locked them into substantially higher rent at a time when they're still struggling financially.
Like many workers, Ewing and her husband, who both work in restaurants, were laid off during the pandemic and relied on their unemployment checks to pay the rent.
"The unemployment checks were never on time, and we had just finished paying off back due rent when they (Vision & Beyond) took over the building,'' Ewing said. "We were finally at a place where we were like, 'OK, we can finally get back to where we were before the pandemic.' Then we had to scramble to find a new apartment
"It's a two-bedroom, a little bigger than what we had, and it has a pool. But our rent went from $605 (a month) to $890, not including the extra fee we pay for our cats.''
In addition to higher rent, Ewing and her husband picked up peripheral costs like parking that they didn't have living at Court View.
Ewing, who helped form a tenants' association to negotiate with the developer, said her family’s unplanned move also forced them to skip June's rent and forfeit their $580 damage deposit so they could use the money to cover the cost of their new apartment and moving expenses.
Ewing said she and other tenants reached out to the developer numerous times for moving assistance to avoid such a scenario.
But repeated phone calls to a number provided on the first notice they received were not returned.
"At first, they just ignored us and wouldn't talk to us. Then, after you guys (The Enquirer) started sniffing around, they sent us a letter offering to help.''
A small allowance
Ewing said about a week after they first received the original 30-day notice, they got another letter from Vision & Beyond offering a $300 credit to tenants who moved to one of the developer's other properties, or $200 if they chose to move elsewhere.
By the end of last week,12 tenants had received $200 each in moving assistance.
In addition, Vision & Beyond returned $6,555 in security deposits by check or electronic transfer to the same 12 tenants whose rent payments were in good standing, according to Katy Crossen, spokesperson for the developer.
But eviction still looms for many tenants, including Skip Williams, another longtime resident who has lived at Court View for more than two decades.
Williams said a group of unknown men entered the Court View buildingTuesday "cop-knocking'' on doors and threatening residents when they delivered the eviction notices.
"They scared quite a few residents," he said, "including a teenager who was home alone."
Williams, who is still looking for a new apartment, said he refuses to be intimidated by the eviction threat.
"Don't care. Don't care,'' Williams said when asked about the possibility of eviction while going over inventory at Vine Street Vinyl, the vinyl graphics supply store where he works on the first floor of his building.
"You can't put me in this situation and expect for me to leave in 30 days,'' he said
Despite his defiant stance, Williams said he realizes he has little chance of fighting eviction and continuing to enjoy the below-market-rate rents he and his neighbors have been paying for years.
Unlike some states, renters have few protections in Ohio from developers who buy occupied apartment buildings.
Vision & Beyond CEO Stas Grinberg can be seen on YouTube in a videotaped interview with real estate news outlet Millionacres, extolling the climate for developers in the Cincinnati area, which he described as "eviction-friendly."
“Not that eviction is necessarily positive," Grinberg says in the video. "But from an investor perspective, to be able to force ownership on your property is important. On those aspects, it's absolutely phenomenal."
Court View tenants have pled their case to City Council on several occasions over the past month to no avail.
Councilmembers were quick to point out that they haven't approved tax abatements or other financial incentives for the developer, and therefore, have little control of the situation.
In a letter to Vision & Beyond, Councilman Greg Landsman wrote:
“As you know, the City does not have any authority in this matter. That said, it’s important you understand that we do care about what happens here. As Cincinnati continues to grow and develop, make no mistake: we will remember how this is resolved.''