Planned CURE rally targets rent increases

October 4, 2018

Three months after many residents of Villages at Essex Place saw unexpected rent increases, a group of local residents is planning to rally Saturday to protest actions they deem unfair.

Brandon Nessen, assistant organizing director at SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, said CURE — Communities United for Rochester Empowerment — is planning the rally to raise awareness of the issue and send a message to Plymouth-based Dominium Apartments, which operates the complex.

“While families across Rochester have been struggling in the housing crisis, landlords and property management companies have been taking advantage of renters by suddenly increasing rents, in many cases in the middle of a lease,” CURE and SEIU affiliate, wrote in a social media post announcing the event.

The federal tax-credit program that Essex Park operates under offers tax incentives to encourage developers to create affordable housing. Renovations with federal assistance in 2012 mean the local complex must remain in the program until 2027.

“There are no plans to remove it from the program, even after that date,” said Owen Truesdell, a spokesman for Dominium.

As a condition of the tax-incentive program, rent levels are limited.

For Essex Park, it means all units must be deemed affordable for anyone earning 60 percent of the area median income. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the median income level to define the maximum allowable rent, which is typically adjusted each spring.

Truesdell said Dominium’s leases at Essex Place and similar complexes elsewhere carry a clause noting mid-lease adjustments are possible when HUD adjusts allowable rents.

In July, he said the company decided to equalize rents, which varied throughout the complex.

“There have been multiple years where rents have not been increased to their maximum given our analysis of the strength of the housing market,” he said.

The increase put rents at $937 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,119 for two bedrooms.

Nessen said CURE members have been visiting residents at Essex Place to encourage them to seek legal assistance to determine whether their rights were violated by a mid-lease rent increase.

At least one lawsuit was filed with the help of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services before CURE became involved.

On Saturday, Nessen said CURE members will be joined by local politicians, as well as Essex Place residents affected by the rent increases.

“We expect a number of them to be at the protest and share firsthand what’s happening to them,” he said.

The event is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday on public space outside the Villages at Essex Park complex, 937 41st St. NW.

During the planned two-hour rally Nessen said a small CURE contingent will seek to deliver a letter to the Essex Park office.

When contacted this week, Truesdale said the office may be open for a planned open house. He also said Dominum respects CURE’s right to voice their opinions regarding access to affordable housing.

“We agree that there needs to be additional investments from the local, state and federal level to create more affordable housing and allow communities like Rochester to thrive,” he said.

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