The tip Laura Tobin found on her door on July 2nd was categorical: Her monthly rent will rise from $ 800 to $ 1,200 next month if she wants to stay in her second-floor apartment in Keene’s Central Square.
For Tobin, 38, who has lived in the house since 2016, the rent increase comes at a particularly unfavorable time: the marketing work she has been doing for several years as a self-employed building contractor has dried up recently and she is largely dependent on another part-time job at Toadstool Bookshop in downtown Keene. Without public support, she is unlikely to be able to stay in her apartment, where she lives alone.
The notice asked Tobin to tell the owner of 1-3 Central Square – Salem-based real estate company Commonwealth Collective – whether she would like to sign a new lease at the higher price by July 5. However, by Wednesday she still hadn’t responded.
“It’s embarrassing to say that I don’t make enough money to buy an apartment,” she said.
Many tenants of the Central Square apartment block – which has 25 rental units, mostly studios and the Rock, Paper, Scissors hair salon – expected their rent to rise after the Commonwealth Collective bought the building for $ 1.8 million in April, according to Tobin bought.
The company, which owns several apartment buildings in Manchester and also owns residential properties in Maine, is redeveloping Central Square 1-3, including installing a keyless entry system, repainting the halls and installing new equipment in some units. However, Commonwealth Collective co-owner Michael Ketchen told The Sentinel in May that it would not replace any residents or the first floor parlor.
“We’re trying to keep the tenant base in the building,” he said at the time. “We like the people”
Ketchen confirmed Tuesday that his company is increasing the rent on the Central Square apartments, saying the increases are intended to bring these units – with large stained glass windows and views of downtown Keene – to their fair market value. Studios in the area typically cost at least $ 1,000 a month, he said, explaining that the building’s previous owner Dorrie Masten asked for a lot less.
“The problem is that the existing rent for some of them was way below market value,” he said. “[The increase] That sounds like a lot, but it really is only a lot if you were the boys with $ 700. “
The lack of affordable housing in New Hampshire and locally has become a major concern for many advocates and officials. The median rent, including utilities, for a two-bedroom apartment in Cheshire County has risen more than 5 percent to $ 1,100 over the past five years, according to a new report from independent government agency NH Housing. The district’s vacancy rate fell from 4.5 percent during this time, which experts call healthy, to 1.7 percent during this time, as the data show.
The ongoing renovation work on 1-3 Central Square is also adding to the rent increase, according to Ketchen, who said eight people left the building shortly after it was bought by the Commonwealth Collective. The occupation of the vacant units showed the demand for these properties – even at a much higher rate than before.
“I have a waiting list,” he said. “I can’t physically get people into these apartments fast enough.”
Ketchen said his company plans to increase rent for all 1-3 Central Square tenants when their respective leases expire, although on Tuesday he didn’t know how many will be affected by the end of this month when a national eviction moratorium expires. The company also doesn’t know if residents will leave instead of paying the higher rent, he said, adding that people could stay after finding that they had the apartments well below the market price.
Tobin isn’t sure if that’s an option, however.
She has lived in Elm City since graduating from Keene State College in 2006 and worked at a local bank before “stumbling” a few years ago into part-time marketing that included branding and web design. That, combined with her job at Toadstool, where she earns $ 10 an hour and works about 20 hours a week, has usually covered her bills, Tobin said.
However, given the lack of marketing opportunities recently, this agreement could be at risk.
“It doesn’t pay what an apartment would have to pay for,” she said of her work in the bookstore.
Tobin, who said the Commonwealth Collective had told tenants it would wait for late rental payments “while there is a plan,” contacted Southwestern Community Services after receiving the rental notice earlier this month. The organization that provides community service to residents of the area encouraged them to seek financial aid from Keene’s Welfare Agency and from a $ 200 million rental assistance program that New Hampshire runs with federal funds.
City officials have been “compassionate” about their situation, she said, and offered a monthly loan of up to $ 650, which Tobin said would require a lengthy application. She hadn’t filled it out by Wednesday.
While she applied for the state rent reduction program, she found that those applications – almost all of which were approved – often take weeks and the program will expire before her new lease. Even if she did get this help, Tobin argued that she would essentially go to fund the home renovations that would “ultimately force” [her] leave.”
Her options are further limited because she has epilepsy, which prevents her from driving, meaning that she has to live within walking distance of downtown.
“I don’t have a plan,” she admitted. “Basically, I’m trying to find out if I can stay and if I can go. Because at this point in time I can’t either. “
Ketchen admitted Tuesday that a rent increase could force some tenants to vacate the building, saying that “moving is a headache”. But he called those decisions the “unfortunate side” of the real estate industry, saying the Commonwealth Collective – which recently bought Centerfold Laundry on Vernon Street and the apartments above from Masts – needed the extra income to keep their Central Square out of their money lose property.
“Nobody will be happy,” he said. “… It’s a tough part of business, but at the end of the day it’s business. You have to do what the market dictates. “
Another tenant at 1-3 Central Square, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he knew of at least three residents, including Tobin, whose rents “rose dramatically” in August. Residents expected a monthly increase of about $ 200 a month, he said, adding that while the building’s recent upgrades have been positive, the new prices are too high.
“Some of the apartments are on the small side and $ 1,100 is a lot for the size of the apartment,” he said.
Rock, Paper, Scissors co-owner Heather Fish said a rent increase would be “detrimental” to the salon, which has been in Central Square for more than six years. She wasn’t told the rate would go up, but said the company could look for a new room if it does.
“I can imagine that it will happen to some of the tenants here too,” she said.
Several of Tobin’s friends have offered to take her in if she can’t afford her new rent, she said, but she worries about leaving Keene at some point.
Between applying for rental subsidies, finding replacement housing, and tracking down her epilepsy medication, which she said often won’t make it from the dealer to the pharmacy, she’s unsure when to get another job to help her Supplementary income from the pharmacy bookstore. Other renters are likely to have the same problem, she said.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at representing myself, but it’s a full time job. What about everyone else? “