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McLean threatens to halt new Boise Ave. apartment project unless promises to existing renters are kept

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean will hold back building permits for an upscale student housing project near Boise State University until all of the tenants of the existing apartment complex get relocation assistance.

Earlier this year, St. Louis-based development company CDG, now called Subtext Living, received a vote of approval from the Boise City Council to tear down the 23-unit, aging, but affordably priced, Ridenbaugh Apartment complex. In its place, they plan Verve Boise, a 547-bedroom mixed-use project at the corner of Boise Avenue and Protest Road.

The approval came nearly two years after the developer announced the project after emotionally intense neighborhood meetings with tenants and nearby residents followed by public hearings at city hall that stretched late into the night.

[Under $15: Low wage workers in Boise face tough choices in tight housing market]

McLean intervenes on behalf of tenants

As part of the approval process, the developer offered tenants a relocation package. It included between $4,000 and $5,500 in cash upon move out to help with moving and rent at their new apartments, assistance finding a comparably priced and sized unit in the neighborhood and the opportunity to return and live in the completed project for three years at the rate they paid at Ridenbaugh.

Now, with only two weeks to go before residents have to vacate the complex for good, tenants and their supporters rallied in the shaded courtyard over their accusations that the developer fell behind on its promises. Holding signs that said “Promises, Promises”, “You Could Be Next” and “Profit Over People,” they condemned the Boise City Council’s approval of the project and the spike in rents across the region.

[BoiseDev Project Tracker: Boise & Protest apartments]

Boise Ave at Protest Hill rendering
An updated rendering of 2001 Boise Ave. Via CDG/Subtext

They alleged that the developer did not follow through on its commitments to assist the tenants for months after the eviction notice came in April telling tenants to move out by October 20th. McLean responded to the protest Tuesday afternoon calling on Subtext to honor its commitments to the community and that the company will need to ensure all of the tenants receive assistance before any permits are issued for the project.

“The City of Boise will not issue any permits or allow the developer to move forward with the project without the Tenant Assistance Package in place,” she wrote in a statement issued while the protest was still underway. “We’re committed to making sure residents get what they were promised as part of the approval of this project. We value affordability and remain committed to keeping Boiseans housed during this critical time.”

Subtext has applied for building permits, but the city’s online records system says they have not yet been issued.

Promises made, promises kept?

Vanishing Boise organizer and Intermountain Fair Housing Council Investigator Lori DiCaire handed out a handout to the press summarizing “20 Failures & Excuses Harming Ridenbaugh Residents” at the event, which were the results of an IFHC investigation. The handout said tenants had difficulty accessing the assistance package for several months after they were told to vacate. 

DiCaire noted that she was appearing at the event representing IFHC, not through her work with the growth-focused advocacy group Vanishing Boise. The VB Facebook page promoted the rally prior to the event and live-streamed it. She told BoiseDev after the publication of this article that the handout was created on her own time and combined the findings of IFHC’s investigation into the matter with her “own understanding and experience of the failures of our planning and development processes that I have learned through my 5 years of community activism.”

Tenants were told in mid-May that the relocation package is not an obligation until the developer closed on the property, which wasn’t expected until mid-August. As of now, Subtext Living has still not yet closed on the complex, but expects to in the next few weeks, according to a statement from the company.

Supporters and Ridenbaugh tenants rally for relocation assistance on Wednesday. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

DiCiaire also said tenants struggled to contact the correct person to assist them at Subtext Living and were “stonewalled” when they attempted to Mitchell Korte, the company’s point person for assistance. DiCaire described the package offered as “cash for keys” where residents could only get the assistance after they had already moved out, not in advance for help moving and without any significant one-on-one assistance to find a new place as originally promised.

A September 16th letter outlining the results of the investigation from IFHC to the city officials from Executive Director Zoe Ann Olson described other issues tenants ran into. This includes an issue where Johnson Property Management, the company the developer tapped to assist tenants, said they were not aware of the transition package and could not help place a tenant in an open apartment.

Developer says only five tenants remain at Ridenbaugh

Korte vehemently denied that the company did not follow through on its promises of relocation assistance Tuesday afternoon.

“Subtext proactively proposed a relocation package for the tenants of Ridenbaugh Place early in the process of acquiring the property because it was the right thing to do,” he wrote. “Everyone at Subtext continues to believe the services and financial compensation within that package is necessary for the hardships the rental community in Ridenbaugh are facing in finding a new rental. That feeling has not changed at any point during the last year, nor have the terms of the package or Subtext’s willingness to honor them.”

He said of the 21 units that were still occupied in the complex in April, only five are still looking for housing. Korte said of those tenants, four are “actively working with Subtext” to find suitable housing. The fifth has not reached out for assistance and “has not been reachable.”

A string of emails Korte provided showing positive feedback from renters. Courtesy of Subtext Living

Korte said staff has been sending listings for open and available properties that meet their specifications to tenants that request it and, in some cases, have paid application fees and security deposits to help them relocate. Tenants who have to move more than five miles from Ridenbaugh Place are eligible to receive an additional payment of $1,200. So far, five tenants have claimed this extra money.

He said several tenants have received help finding a new place and have gotten their checks for assistance in the mail. Korte attached the screenshots from several emails of tenants thanking him after submitting the proper payment. The majority of them had the names of residents blacked out to conceal their privacy because they did not consent to have the information shared and he did not want to “subject any tenant to bullying.”

The attachment also included three letters certifying payment after tenants moved out, the earliest of which was dated August 9.

‘A funeral that could have been prevented’

The remaining residents were emotional at the rally. Mike Wallace, a twenty-year renter at the complex, described the event like “a funeral that could have been prevented.” He said the former owners were free to sell the property to whomever they wished, but he is angry they chose an out-of-state developer who opted to demolish the complex.

“They didn’t level with us, they didn’t tell us what is going on and instead of selling to someone who wanted it to remain homes and places where we could feel safe, they sold out to people from St Louis who are going to do what you can see across the corner there,” he said, referencing the Identity student housing building. “A nasty chrome and glass storage house for vomiting college students.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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