It took a lot of convincing to get me to move to Weinland Park. Almost three years ago, we were living in a tiny condo within walking distance to several parks, a library, a pool, stores, and a little Chocolate Cafe. We had a nice garden on our patio, and a decent sized green space where we could sit outside and play. The school our daughter would have gone to was one of the better elementary schools in Columbus City Schools – lots of OSU professor’s kids and the like.
I was persuaded to move to the quickly revitalizing* Weinland Park by well-meaning colleagues, who insisted that all of the redevelopment would prove to be a great investment for us. Bob was working at a non-profit at the time, one intimately involved in the upswing of Weinland Park. And though his job was important, it didn’t pay well. I mean, it didn’t pay well at all. Because of that income, we were offered an opportunity to move into a brand new, 3 bdrm, 2 bath house just two blocks away from High Street and practically next door to the explosive redevelopment in Italian Village. It was a special program – using some mix of state and federal tax credits – to offer lower than market rate rent to residents with middle incomes. It’s not Section 8 or low income housing either, in case you’re wondering. I could probably find the name of the program if I got our lease, but on with the story.
Our idyllic little street would be the model for cities across the country, giving hard working residents an opportunity to rent a new home at a great rate in an up-and-coming neighborhood for 15 years, and then purchase the home at HALF the market rate at the end of the 15 years. With the way property values are increasing around here, we knew that would be a great investment. It’s hard enough to find a single family, 3/3 house in the inner loop anymore for under $250K NOW. We could tell from the county auditor’s reports that the land under our house was increasing year by year already.
So we moved. And for the first year, on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, we’d peek out of the front windows as the police scoured the field across the street for criminals (they liked to run and hide over there). We put up with the ghetto bird (the police helicopter) overhead every other night, looking for someone who had done something to someone. It was like moving into another world altogether. Once I had hoped I’d never be close to again, to be honest. Weinland Park is very much like the neighborhood I lived in through middle school and high school and I got out of there as fast as I could.
But for the promise of what it would be, we moved in, and we stayed. And when we moved in, I was certain to ask the leasing agent, “Now, what if our income increases beyond what we’re making now? Will if affect our rent, or will we be asked to leave?” And in no uncertain terms, for two years when we renewed our lease, and several times each year when I’d stop in to pay rent, I was told, “No. In fact, you don’t even have to be re-certified each year. You can make whatever you want. It doesn’t affect you.” Once or twice, we were even told that this NON-re-certification was specific to our house alone. Isn’t that special? :-)
Then a few months before this year’s lease was up for renewal, we had some questions about our lease to purchase (remember the 15 year – buy for half what it’s worth – thing?). Questions that were spurred on by things needing repaired in our house. I mean, if we’re going BUY this house in 15 years, we’d kind of like it to be a house worth buying in 15 years. And since we’re renting, much of the major maintenance falls to the management company, not us. So we asked about a few things, being certain to frame the questions in just that way – from our concern over the condition of the house in 15 years.
And the strangest things started happening. First, the company got new leasing managers. The NEW leasing managers told us that in fact we DID have to be re-certified each year. And they told us that there was no lease to purchase program. And they told us that if we made more than [some vague number they didn’t know], our rent would be increased to [some vague number they didn’t know].
And so we mentioned this to some of the colleagues at the non-profit where Robert used to work. The same colleagues who had encouraged us to move in, and the same colleagues who were very involved in the marketing of this unique program to residents. They seemed shocked. They made phone calls. We don’t know what else happened. In the end, we were told, “Write down everything so you have a record of what is said. Your lease says it IS a lease to purchase, but not much else.” Nothing helpful, to be honest. We’re not those people. We read the lease.
And then those leasing managers were fired and a new one was hired. And that one said that we had to fill out new income certification paperwork because this year, we’re totally self-employed now, so we have to submit some sort of third-party verification of our income… most likely from our accountant. Only we don’t HAVE an accountant. I have a husband who has his Master in Public Administration. I’m pretty sure he can handle our simple taxes. So we called to ask what they’d like if we don’t have an accountant. And they didn’t call back.
But we DID get a letter saying that we needed to come in and fill out NEW re-certification forms, and another letter letting us know that there was a NEW leasing manager. See, the other new, new ones were fired.
So we called to ask what paperwork they’d need this time around, and they didn’t call back. We went to the office to submit our paperwork, and the new, new, new leasing manager was working on our paperwork as we walked in, “To submit to compliance,” as a matter of fact. And, that letter, the one saying we had to be re-re-recertified, was sent to everyone in these homes. They didn’t actually need anything from US, though.
I thought this was a great opportunity to ask the NEW, new, new leasing manager about the income thing. If we earned more than a certain amount, would we be 1) asked to leave or 2) would our rent be raised to market rate? Just so you know, market rate rent will be probably $1000-$1500 more per month than we’re currently paying. That’s something we’ll need to plan for.
And guess what she said?
Yes. One or the other. And that we were at that income level now. And that if they did ask us to leave, we’d have 60 days notice. Except, that “if compliance says we ARE at that level, we have some income percentages we can work with so you probably won’t be asked to LEAVE… but yeah, your rent would probably go up.” Whatever that means. It LITERALLY sounded like she was making things up as she spoke.
And I think that’s really interesting.
1) We’ve known our rent will increase each year of the 15 years. Every year it goes up about $75, but it wasn’t supposed to go over $1100/month, which for this area is a total steal now. This was part of the allure of the program, you see. “You take the risk to move into a neighborhood where there are shootings most weekends, and where you can’t leave your car out at night, and where the neighborhood school is failing beyond belief…knowing that everything is on an upswing…so that we can have some stable residents… and we’ll give you a deal on the rent.” This known annual increase is different than a market rate increase.
2) The whole program was designed to give a middle ground of housing to Weinland Park. There is already lots of low income housing – projects, we called them in Dayton. There are some houses which have been rehabbed and are quite nice. Those were already selling in the 200-300Ks. There are new houses for sale – starting around $250K, just a few doors down from us. But these houses, the ones we live in, were designed for those in the middle.
Those same residents are essentially sitting on a time-bomb. Make too much, and you’ll either be asked to leave, or your rent will increase probably 2-3X. Where will they go? To get a 3-4 bdrm for the amounts we pay now, you’ll have to move into areas far worse than Weinland Park (which at this point isn’t that bad, actually).
For us, we’ll be fine. We’ll figure it out. We’re already talking about where we want to move to, because I’m not living here past next April when our lease renews. – if we’re given the opportunity to stay that long. I won’t let them have control over my family like that. Our increased income is actually my income alone. Bob hasn’t been working over the past year, so we know that he could grab a job and make up the difference for a market rate rent. But that’s not the point. Not every resident in these homes has that luxury. Some of these residents are scratching and clawing their way out of hell and, it seems to be that the moment they get one hand onto stable ground, this sort of surprise increase will throw them straight back into it.
Part of me feels like a whiney brat. We made the choice to move over here. We got almost three years of ridiculously low rent. Now that might change because we make more? Good for us. Pay normal rent like everyone else. Ok, that’s fine. We might not have chosen to do that here in Weinland Park. I certainly wouldn’t have and I wouldn’t now make that same choice, even with all of the renewal around here. Part of moving here was about the long-term investment opportunity of staying here for 15 years and buying the house. It seems now like we were lied to, and continue to be lied to. I don’t like it. I don’t having that sort of company involved in our lives, and I don’t like the level of control that gives them over us. So we’re looking for new opportunities.
What do you think? I’d really like to hear.
*quickly revitalizing = gentrifying = whitifying = richifying