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Finding housing not an easy task for evicted Vegas Block residents

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 12. 2014 9:50PM
The view of the backside of The Vegas Block, the condemned apartment building in downtown Concord. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Many of the people evicted from the Vegas Block Aug. 8, on a day’s notice, because of multiple life safety and health code violations, were back in Judge John Couglin’s courtroom Tuesday in 6th Circuit Court-District Division-Concord, looking for help in finding new housing.

What they got was a promise that the city will make its “best efforts” to help the tenants get relocated.

Danielle Pacik, deputy city solicitor, argued that the city’s human services department can only assist people who are financially eligible and said the office doesn’t find housing for clients, it just provides funding for those eligible.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance Managing Attorney Elliot Berry said: “I think the city’s liability is a little bit broader in light of the fact that they had a hand in creating this emergency.”

He said Human Services Department head Jackie Whatmough has been actively trying to find housing. But Concord does not have much low-income housing, which is why many of the residents were living at the Vegas Block.

One of the issues is there are 29 tenants, but there were additional people living with tenants. They are not official residents and the court orders only cover the tenants.

When the judge asked at one point if anyone present needed help, one man stood. Coughlin then recessed the hearing to provide time for representatives of the city’s Human Services Department, Merrimack Belknap County Community Action Program, and the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness to talk to the people evicted who have had little luck finding new housing on such short notice. CAP and the Coalition do not have the same restrictions on helping residents as the city does.

While the new owner, Remi Hinxhia, is bringing in JP Pest Service to treat the building for bedbugs and roaches, Ellen Groh from the coalition said landlords are leery of renting to people coming from a building where bedbugs are prevalent, for fear they will accompany the tenants in the belongings they bring with them.

Andy Labrie of CAP said Plymouth State University has offered 10 beds and 10 dressers, Goodwill has provided vouchers for clothing and the Bureau of Housing and Homelessness has provided assistance through the Security Deposit Guarantee program. “If they need help with a vehicle, we can get them help,” said Labrie.

Rick Franco, 36, said: “I’ve looked at a few apartments.” He feels lucky that he and his girlfriend, Felicia Sweatt, expect to be living in a new apartment with another couple within a few days. He said the landlord is working hard to get it ready by the weekend, which is important because they only have city help for hotel housing until Saturday checkout time. Last weekend, he said: “Friends from church put us up.”

Franco said the couple stayed in the city’s winter shelter until it closed for the season in March. “It was the only place we could get in,” he said. “We figured we’d take our chances.” The only alternative, he said, was to get a tent and camp. “I hate camping,” he said. There are few places in the city where camping is allowed.

Franco and Sweatt said they were lucky. They kept to themselves and avoided the bedbugs. When they had to leave, Sweatt said: “We took some clothes ... a backpack each.” Sweatt said they washed and dried everything after they left.

Chris Frost and his girlfriend, Jessie Klardie, both 21, had been living in the Vegas Block with her father, Jacob, for almost two years. When they had to get out so suddenly, he said: “We went to the State House ... We had no place else to go.” They stayed on the front steps for three days, until the police woke them up Monday morning and said they would have to leave or be arrested. “It was a way to silently vocalize.” he said. “The cops kept threatening to arrest us. They were violating our freedom of speech,” said Frost.

He said they’ve grabbed some applications, but his truck is in the shop so he can’t get the registration information he needs to fill out applications. Klardie needs to contact his payee for financial information.

When Coughlin reconvened the session, the judge expressed what he called the court’s concern: “The tenants are treated fairly and have some place to go.”

Berry said the landlord has provided some funding for transportation of the tenants in their search. He said once the pest control service has completed its work, former tenants will be able to retrieve property that is salvageable by Sept. 1. The key is what is salvageable.

“It’s a good company,” Berry said of the pest service. But not everything will be salvageable and agencies won’t be able to replace everything that’s not, said Labrie.

Berry asked the judge to hold the case open for 30 days. “So we could request a hearing,” he said, if it becomes necessary.

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