Tenants fear future after hotel eviction
The tenants of the Center Street Hotel in downtown Rochester are expressing a mix of frustration and apprehension about their futures after the owners recently informed them the building would be temporarily closed for several months and they would all have to leave by Oct. 31.
"We're getting worried. We don't know if we can find anywhere else," said Sara Carfora, a tenant who lives with her husband and two young children.
Tenants interviewed Tuesday, including several who have lived at the hotel for years, said their efforts to reach multiple local organizations, rental facilities and property companies hasn't yet turned up a single housing option in their price range.
The owners estimated about 30 tenants currently live in the building.
Dave Ferber, director of community engagement for Rochester's branch of the Salvation Army, said these tenants may face acute challenges with finding new places to live because they will need long-term housing.
He said Rochester has had serious problems with its lack of low-income housing for years, especially with long-term housing.
Officials with the Salvation Army and Dorothy Day Hospitality House, a homeless shelter, said they would do their best to help any of the tenants that come to them. But both organizations said their emergency housing was limited to only a few weeks to a month and was already largely filled on most nights. Additionally, the Salvation Army said its other two housing programs were entirely filled or lacked any new properties to offer.
"Situations like this exacerbate the dearth of low-income housing in Rochester," Ferber said.
The owners of the Center Street Hotel, Kari and Andy Friederichs, purchased the building at 101 E. Center St. back in June 2013.
"We were aware of the hotel's history and knew we would have to handle the reputation that surrounded it as we worked to improve it," Kari Friederichs said in a June interview.
Last week, though, they announced they were closing the hotel temporarily for a thorough remodel. The owners have been working with the city for years to bring it up to code.
"We've given everyone their notice, and we are closing the building, effective Oct. 31, to move the remodeling along at a faster pace," Kari Friederichs wrote Sept. 17 in an email.
"It has also become obvious for us with the events in the last year that we can not overcome the choices of those living within the building and we will constantly be battling that as we work to improve," she said, "so starting with a clean slate is our only option."
Police calls to the address have gone up over the past four years, said Capt. John Sherwin of the Rochester Police Department in a prior interview.
From June 9, 2014, to June 9, 2015, officers have responded to 184 incidents at the hotel, data shows. Though the number may seem alarming, just 50 have resulted in a criminal report.
Kari Friederichs said Tuesday the decision was one of the most difficult they have ever had to make.
"It was very difficult for us to hand out those notices. We've had someone say 'I'm a felon. Where am I supposed to go?'" Friederich said. "Andy and I tried for two years ... it's a business decision we had to make if we want to be able to move forward on our project."
The Carforas have been living in the building with their two children, 3-year-old Aaron and 5-year-old Brandon, since late June. They moved to Rochester from Red Wing because of the better job opportunities. Sara now makes $9.75 per hour, which is more than a dollar per hour higher than her last job. She started on Tuesday, just days after learning about the eviction. James stays at home to watch the children and receives a small amount of disability payment, which is put towards the rent.
"We've looked everywhere and we can't find (housing in our income range)," James said. "We're seriously worried we'll be on the street soon. We don't know where to go."
They said they have already reached out to the Salvation Army, county services, local rental companies and numerous other resources only to find there weren't any long-term housing options that could fit their income.
Several interviewed tenants declined to share their names out of concerns it would affect their search for a new apartment or because they may try to return to the Center Street Hotel after the remodeling. But most of those interviewed said they would never return because of their frustration with the situation.
Jasmine Moore, who has been renting since June, echoed the most common complaint by the interviewed tenants: Why couldn't the owners allow them to stay there at least through the renovations? Tenants also emphasized that they felt this was unfair for other tenants who were elderly, sick or had children.
Moore said she was in the middle of working hard to improve her life and the situation was making it challenging. She said she makes about $10 per hour at her job. Most of the rest of the interviewed tenants indicated they make less than that at their jobs.
"I've been looking really hard. But it's hard when you have a background (of prior criminal convictions) and no rental history," Moore said.
Most of the interviewed tenants said they believed or knew many other tenants had prior felony convictions and rented at the Center Street Hotel because it was the only place that would accept them. They said many of the already limited number of low-income rental facilities had policies against accepting felons.
Kari Friederichs said their plans for how they will run the building after the renovations is in flux. She said they are still deciding if they will continue to run it similar to hotel or whether they will transition to a more traditional apartment complex. She said that if they do take a more traditional approach, they may require an application process and background checks.