Residents being evicted from the Silver Oaks Place retirement community are filing age discrimination complaints against the property owner.
About 50 residents packed into a small community room Monday night at the apartment complex to fill out age discrimination complaints and give them to the Community Action Council of Portage County, which will forward the complaints on to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
Arlyne Habeeb, director of community outreach services for the CAC, said the agency also is helping residents arrange to pay their rent into escrow accounts to try and pressure the complex owners into listening to them. Legally, the tenants can pay rent into escrow because the property owners failed to disclose to residents a complete list of the owners and their subsidiaries for the property — a violation of Ohio law.
"That allows you to file your rent with the clerk of courts," Habeeb said.
Owner Tell Real Estate Trust is planning to sell the property to Alabama-based Capstone Development Corp., which intends to turn the 13-acre complex into housing targeted at students attending neighboring Kent State University.
As a result, the existing residents of the 55-and-older community were given a 60-day eviction notice late last month. They must be out by Oct. 1.
Residents who want to file an age discrimination complaint can contact Habeeb at the CAC.
Residents also are circulating a petition to give to members of Kent City Council, whose members Robin Turner and Tracy Wallach attended Monday's gathering.
"I'm personally going to be circulating a petition," Turner told the residents Monday night. "My anticipation is you have more support than you'll ever know."
Management at Silver Oaks changed the locks on the facility's large meeting room and changed its open hours to align with the complex's office hours — effectively limiting the residents' ability to gather and forcing them to use a smaller room that created a standing-room-only crowd Monday.
Bill Karaffa said the locks were changed two days after residents met with civil rights attorney Avery Friedman last week, who has taken up the case. Previously, every resident in the complex had a key to the community room as guaranteed in their lease agreements.
"By Wednesday we may have new locks here, too," Karaffa said of the smaller Oaks Room where residents met Monday.
Residents have nowhere to go
Waiting lists are all that many Silver Oaks residents can find when they go looking for a new apartment.
Wah-Chiu Lai, a 61-year-old graduate student at Kent State, has lived at Silver Oaks four years. This is his last year in a master's program for ethnomusicology, and if he can't find a place to live near campus he will be in danger of not finishing his degree.
"I can't find anywhere to go," he said.
Cynthia Svoboda has lived at Silver Oaks for three years. She will reluctantly move in with her daughter in Brimfield if she can't find an apartment before Oct. 1.
"I'm on like a million waiting lists everywhere around here," Svoboda said.
She said she's visited about 10 different apartment complexes in the Kent area, and all of them had to put her on a waiting list. She said the lowest number she's gotten so far is 20, meaning 19 people are ahead of her to get an open apartment.
The same goes for Bob Parrish, who has lived at Silver Oaks with his wife, Bernice, for more than eight years.
"Everywhere there's a waiting list," Parrish said. "We're on a waiting list in Stow."
They have until Oct. 1 to qualify to have their packing and moving expenses reimbursed by Capstone, but to qualify their new home must be within 40 miles.
"That's the whole issue. There's not enough time," Parrish, 74, said. "And the larger issue is this was supposed to be our final home for many of us."
Parrish, or "Pastor Bob" as he's known to residents, has run a small worship service for seven years on Sundays for residents who can't get out to service elsewhere. He couldn't hold service Sunday because the new locks and limited hours on the community room now has it closed on weekends.
"We've probably touched 100, 250 people over the years," he said. "What about our worship room?"
City intervention unlikely
Wallach and Turner told the residents there may be little the city can do on their behalf to try and stop the forced eviction. Turner said, prior to the meeting, that Kent council is reviewing the situation with city administrators.
"We're actually looking at if there is anything that we can do," he said. "Council is concerned."
But he was cautious in telling the residents that there isn't much council can do aside from speak out against Tell Real Estate and Capstone's actions.
"If there are violations of law, we will take action," he said.
To change the use of the property, the owners would have to apply for a conditional use permit from the city and get the OK from the Kent Planning Commission. That would put a decision about the future of the property in the commission's hands, but no applications to change the use have been filed.
Wallach, whose Ward 6 includes the retirement community, encouraged the residents not to give in.
"Keep fighting. Keep fighting," she said.