Soon-to-be displaced tenants speak out


The multi-unit building at 2518 Seventh Ave. E. in North St. Paul is slated to be torn down to make way for a new development, displacing several tenants. (Amy Felegy/Review)

Dianne Dellwo stood in her studio apartment Aug. 14 in the building set to be town down, just two days after receiving official notice she had to move. “I was really panicked and upset,” she said. (Amy Felegy/Review)

For more than a year, Dellwo has created a sanctuary of plants in her yard. “I’ve planted flowers and kept up the lawn and made it pretty for people to walk through,” she said. (courtesy of Dianne Dellwo)

Renters given notice to move by Nov. 1 for North St. Paul development

 

It’s been less than a month since the city approved an apartment complex plan for downtown North St. Paul and tenants of a building currently at the site said they are scrambling to find new housing.

They said they’re upset about how they were told they have to move, calling the process hasty. 

Eighty-seven market rate apartments and an eatery are set to sit at the southwest corner of Margaret Street North and East Seventh Avenue. The new bulidng will be on 1.9 acres where City Hall used to be and construction is set to begin this fall. 

Work will require the destruction of two single-family homes, a dentist office and a multi-unit building at 2518 Seventh Ave. E. 

The apartment complex was approved by the city on July 30.

Property managers for the 2518 property said they’ve tried to make the move-out process easier for tenants by offering financial assistance and frequent, informal notices. 

Berwald Roofing Company, Inc. currently manages the 4-unit building that has two commercial spaces out front. 

When the company purchased the building in May 2018, renters said they never received or signed new leases but were aware of having informal month-to-month leases. The previous landlord clearly established six- or 12-month leases, tenants said.

Jim Blackford, Berwald Roofing finance director, said all tenants were put on month-to-month leases and the company “told everyone the building would be developed.”

Renters said they informally knew of the building’s future, but weren’t made officially aware until after the city approved development of the site. They said their landlord waited until the last second before being obligated to give them an official notice that they had to find new housing.

The two single-family homes to be demolished for the development, on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue East and Margaret Street North, have no current occupants. Tracy Luther now owns the homes. He said he bought them both within the past six to nine months and the two families who lived there were not displaced and found other housing.

James G. Kolller Family Dentistry will also be replaced by the new building. The practice will relocate across town to the medical center on Centennial Drive this October.

 

Questions of timing

Blackford said he first learned the city OKed construction on Aug. 9, and notified his tenants with a written notice on Aug. 12. That gave them 11 weeks to pack up and move by a Nov. 1 deadline.

Matthew Benscoter has rented his unit in the building for just less than half a year — he has a 6-month-old child. 

Benscoter said he felt blindsided and belittled by what felt like a rushed process. He said Blackford had communicated that the new building was in the works but said it would probably take years before tenants had anything to worry about. That conversation occurred just a few months ago, Benscoter said. 

“This is just very unfortunate,” Benscoter said. “If anyone had a heart they’d give some sort of better information leading up to it. The way [they’ve] handled it — they’ve done it the wrong way.”

But Blackford said the company had its hands tied, noting the roofing company couldn’t tell tenants to move until the city approved plans.

“Until that happened, we didn’t have a project that could move ahead,” he said. “We tried to be up front with people as much as possible.”

The roofing company’s president, Eugene Berwald, agrees. He said tenants had an idea the plan might be approved but the company did not notify renters until it knew with certainty.

“Everybody there should have known at that point,” Blackford said, referring to a timeframe of April or May. “I don’t know how they were notified, all I can say is that [on Aug. 12] I hand-delivered a notice to all the tenants.”

He added, “Whenever I talk to anybody over there about getting rent checks or just miscellaneous stuff, we’d always reinforce the fact that [the] area was going to be developed.”

Benscoter said he personally dropped off rent checks to the landlord and only saw Blackford at the property a few times.

Dianne Dellwo has lived in her first-floor efficiency unit for about a year and a half. She agreed with her neighbor, saying “they just came by with the notice, that’s it.” 

Dellwo also said she always brought her checks to Berwald, never the other way around. 

 

Under the rug?

The North St. Paul City Council held several public hearings on the development when it was in the planning stages though tenants said they weren’t aware of the meetings.

“No one told me,” Benscoter said. “I would have gone, most definitely. Being a single father and working nights doesn’t leave much time to search for that when [the] landlord says it’s not a worry.”

Benscoter first heard rumors of the apartment plan at the weekly downtown car show, he said — not through Berwald Roofing.

Like Benscoter, Dellwo didn’t know about public meetings until after they occurred. She said she initially got word of the site plan through her sister who read a newspaper article about it in March.

She said she thought Berwald Roofing would fight to keep the building intact or at least help her find a new place.

“I was just hoping it would never come down,” she said. “It needs a facelift. It doesn’t need to be reconstructed.”

Clay Rivera, who housed his barber shop in the first floor of the unit building, said he found out about the site plan through a newsletter this year. He then called Berwald Roofing, which confirmed the coming move. 

At first, Rivera said he was rattled. He didn’t know where to relocate, but soon found a spot right across the street in late July.

“I’m not upset about it because I think this town needs something,” he said. “It’s great to see them finally do something.”

Rivera said both the city and Berwald Roofing helped him out as best as they could. The roofing company gave Rivera a little extra time and financial assistance. Blackford said this is because commercial businesses typically have a tougher time moving than people.

Michele Reisinger has been living in her apartment in the 2518 bulding for 10 years. At 64 years old and on disability, she said the subsidized housing she’s looking for often has a waitlist. Other senior highrises she’s found have rents that top $1800 a month.

“It’s scary,” Reisinger said. “It’s just scary.”

Her neighbor Benscoter says he wants to help her in any way he can. He’s offered to use his truck to help Reisinger move.

 

Not just an apartment

Tenants said they’ve made the building their home, taking care of the lawn and maintaining the property. They said nobody other than the renters have fixed anything in at least a year.

“I took care of the building,” Benscoter said. “I cut the grass. If somebody had a problem it was my responsibility to fix it for them.”

Dellwo transformed the yard into a garden. After a series of family tragedies, she said the property saved her life. She said her yard is her therapy and has been tending its plants and flowers for the past year.

“And now they’re just going to destroy it. That really takes a piece of me,” she said. “This is my place now. I’m in love with it.”

City officials are excited about the new building, nodding to the financial benefits it will bring to the city. Tenants said the demolition and new complex are money-driven.

North St. Paul is in a development boom, with plans or work on other housing projects happening near the Gateway State Trail and the new City Hall.

“You’ve got to do something with the area,” Berwald said, referring to the empty lot and parking lot that make up the bulk of the former City Hall site. “It just sat there. We knew [the unit] had to go down because of the footprint of the [planned] building.”

The building’s tenants disagree, saying their charming building shouldn’t be torn down to make way for a modern complex.

“This building is old,” Benscoter said. “But I’ve heard [things like], ‘Preserve the history of North St. Paul’ for years.”

“It’s not condemned. People live here,” Dellwo said of the property. “It would be different if it was just empty. Why take a house from people who want to be here and who take care of it?”

 

Moving on

Berwald Roofing will give each tenant financial assistance in October and has encouraged renters to reach out to the community to ask for help.

“Normally there is plenty of time for somebody [to move out] but they’ve got situations that are a little different,” Berwald said. “I know it’s a big thing if you live in a building and it’s your home. I understand that.”

Dellwo said she feels the empathy, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier.

“They’ve been very good to me. This place, it saved my life,” Dellwo said. “I’ve got a little tiny space. It’s efficiency, so I can afford it. But now, a year and a half later, I’m looking [to move] again.”

Dellwo has a friend in Oakdale she will stay with until she finds her own place again. She had an offer to move to Belle Plaine but that city doesn’t offer job opportunities in line with her personal care assistant career, a position she said doesn’t pay much.

As of press time, Benscoter, who works as a floor installer, and Reisinger haven’t found places to move. He said he’s been frantically looking for somewhere to live and thinks he and his child will move temporarily beginning in November until they can find stable housing.

“All of us that live here, we are not bad people by any means,” Benscoter said. “We kind of just got the short end of the stick.”

A public hearing for the development of 18 townhome units at 2329 17th Ave. E. will be on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 6:15 pm at the North St. Paul City Hall. See the Bulletin Board on page 9 for additional information.

 

–Amy Felegy can be reached at 651-748-7815 or afelegy@lillienews.com.

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