Richfield apartment makeover squeezes out low-income tenants

Not everyone will enjoy the spa and indoor golf simulator.

Not everyone will enjoy the spa and indoor golf simulator.

The new owner of one of the Twin Cities’ largest apartment complexes is shaking things up with its $41 million acquisition. Unfortunately, some of its current tenants are being pushed out in the process.

After buying Richfield’s nearly 700-unit Crossroads at Penn this fall, Soderberg Apartment Specialists have started making upgrades to the beige brick compound in the shadow of Best Buy’s corporate fortress. The Brooklyn Center company is updating kitchens, putting in dishwashers, granite countertops, hardwood floors, and other renovations owner Jim Soderberg says are long overdue.

The clubhouse will be more elaborately tricked out, with an indoor golf simulator, a yoga-and-more studio, and a game room with other new toys. Other features up young professionals’ alleys will include a spa, pet spa, and a laundry service. Management has already given the working-class building a premiumized new name — Concierge (oh yeah, they’ll have one of those, too).

However, not everyone is excited to whack digital golf balls and take spin classes. Some of the Crossroads’ low-income residents are being displaced by rent raises and other policies accompanying the renovations.

“I’m going to be forced to move in with my daughter, which I don’t want to,” resident Beverly Junior says.

With the help of a Section 8 voucher, which subsidizes rent for low-income tenants, Junior has lived at the Crossroads for nearly two years. Since the new-look Concierge will no longer accept Section 8 residents, the 54-year-old has to find a new home. Based on a September 30 letter sent to tenants, Junior thought she had to be out by the end of February. Junior — who says she pays around $760 for her one-bedroom apartment — has already begun her search, but says she has had trouble finding a place that allows Section 8.

“I was planning on signing another lease [at Crossroads], at least until it gets warm outside,” says the diminutive Junior, clutching a bag of groceries. “If it would’ve happened in May or June I wouldn’t have a problem leaving.”

At least on that front, it looks like Junior is getting her wish. After recent conversations with city and school officials, owner Jim Soderberg says all tenants will now have the option of staying under their current leases until next summer.

“We’re doing everything that we can do to be as accommodating to everyone as we can,” Soderberg says.

Under new lease terms, rent prices at the multi-wing complex near Penn Avenue and I-494 will rise to as much as $895, Soderberg says. With nearly 700 apartments, all of which are one-bedrooms, he says the new amenities will come at a relatively cheap cost per unit.

Still, that’s more than Nelida Bonilla is looking to pay. But even if the 32-year-old, whose current rent is about $750, could swing it on her Chick-fil-A paychecks, another provision would keep her from staying. According to the tenant letter, each apartment will have a two-person occupancy limit and the mother of two was told there would be no exceptions. Bonilla doesn’t drive and is concerned about finding an affordable apartment within walking distance of the fast food joint she works at.

“It’s going to be too difficult finding another place to live,” she says.

Prior to learning of the rent increases, Richard Lopez was planning to move to a smaller apartment building several blocks away at the end of the month. While several of his neighbors are talking about leaving because of the new rates, he says he understands why they’re increasing.

“Nobody wants their rent to go up,” Lopez says. “But I guess that’s what property management’s about. They’re here to make money and every time they make renovations that means they’re going to increase the rent. I’m sure a lot of people here are going to be affected by it, because most people here are families.”