Residents of another Newport apartment community told to vacate for renovations

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Another large Newport apartment complex is telling residents that they have to vacate the premises.

Now those living at Riverchase Apartments on the Newport riverfront are concerned that they will face similar challenges like those of Victoria Square Apartments, which was purchased by a Cincinnati-based firm and are set to be renovated into luxury units.

Victoria Square residents were also served letters of non-renewal for their leases. That move prompted a community conversation about access to affordable housing.

In late July, residents of Victoria Square were given notices by the new owner, Sunset Property Solutions, to vacate their homes to make way for renovations. For some Victoria’s Square residents searching for a new home in wake of the property’s closure, Riverchase was listed at or near the top of the potential relocation list.

Tenants and activists shared their frustrations with the Newport City Commission at a Sept. 19 meeting during the public comments section.

“Just about two weeks ago, we started hearing from people that they were getting notices and they really weren’t clear on what was going on,” said Catrena Bowman, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.

Constance Matthews has lived at Riverchase since 2001, and told the commission she received a notice on her front door alerting her she must vacate the premises by Nov. 30.

Matthews said she’s currently searching for a new place to live.

“I don’t think that’s right,” Matthews said. “I feel sorry for the people that live in Victoria Square, and I’m going through the same thing.”

Beverly Reese also told the commission she received a similar notice that instructed her to vacate her apartment by Jan. 1, 2023.

“They’re hardly giving us enough time to find a place,” Reese said.

Hayley Powell, a Newport resident and affordable housing activist, also spoke at the commission meeting.

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“We learned that Towne Properties, who manages Riverchase, have begun giving the same notices to their tenants with a vacate-by date of Nov. 30, which is just 30 days after phase one displacements at Victoria Square. Their reasoning is the lease is ending and they want to start remodeling units,” Powell told the commission. “Other tenants, though, are being given notice that when their yearly lease ends, they will be forced into a month-to-month agreement, which was the same kind that allowed for and set up the devastation at Victoria Square.”

Powell told LINK nky that Matthews and Reese both face uncertainty about where to move next.

“I spoke to them for a long time after the meeting and they don’t know what they’re going to do,” Powell said. “They have lived in Riverchase for a long time. They have paid their rent on time every month. They’ve kept their apartments clean. They’re good neighbors. They don’t have like any incident reports filed against them. You know, they’ve just been good tenants.”

Bowman said there are few options left for affordable living in the river city.

“The affordable housing pool is shrinking,” Bowman said. “One possible avenue that we thought could help with the solution for some families now has only exasperated the issue. It’s not only not a viable solution, now we’ve got all of those residents that we’re going to try to work with to get placed.”

LINK nky acquired a letter of non-renewal sent by Towne Properties to a tenant. It says the tenant will not be offered renewal on their lease due to impending repairs and renovations to the interior of their building. The tenant will be forced to vacate before Nov. 30, and outlines that “quick action is necessary.”

The letter goes on to say that any lease termination fees will be waived and their security deposit will be refunded within 30 days of the move-out date. It offers tenants a chance to discuss upcoming availability to move into the newly renovated units, before inserting the caveat of potentially limited availability among those units in the future. It also provides the tenant with a hotline to non-profits like the Brighton Center and Neighborhood Foundation, which often work with people looking for affordable housing.

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A letter of non-renewal served to a Riverchase Apartments resident. Photo provided to LINK nky.

Marissa Masters, an area manager for Towne Properties, corroborated the letter’s instructions in an official statement from the company.

“Riverchase Apartments have been neglected for many years and are in dire need of maintenance, care, and updating. The residents (now and in the future) deserve a well-maintained and clean apartment to call home,” said Masters. “As planned, the new owners and management team will continue to make repairs, address issues, and complete projects with the intention of returning the property to an acceptable standard. Unfortunately, the bulk of the interior work requires residents to vacate their homes.”

Masters said Towne Properties will address one building at a time, allowing access to a full stack of plumbing for repairs. Each resident in the first building undergoing repairs was served a letter of non-renewal.

“It is our hope that many residents will be able to return to the community or relocate within the community; proudly calling Riverchase their home for years to come,” Masters said. “The overall project will take time and we will communicate updates with the residents in a timely manner whenever possible.”

Riverchase is located at 100 Riverboat Row and is managed by Towne Properties. Riverchase was formerly owned and managed by real estate investor Ray Brown. According to the Campbell County Property Valuation Administrator website, the complex’s current ownership is listed as Riverchase SPE LLC, which according to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Office is connected to Portland, Oregon-based Fairway America, a real estate investment firm.

Riverchase is directly across the street from the $1 billion Ovation development, which is currently under construction. The property was sold on May 27 of this year for $22.6 million. The property last sold for $6.575 million on April 1, 2003.

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The 4.25-acre complex features seven buildings with 204 total units. Riverchase was built in 1975. Originally called the Newport Yacht & Tennis Club, the complex offered high-scale riverside apartments featuring amenities such as a tennis court and swimming pool that have since been removed. Its initial intention was not for affordable housing.

Two Riverchase Apartment buildings on a sunny day. Photo by Kenton Hornbeck. | LINK nky.

As time passed, the apartments aged and fell into disrepair. In February and March 2022, Riverchase received nine citations from the Newport Code Enforcement Department.

During the Sept. 19 commission meeting, Newport City Manager Tom Fromme told LINK nky the city tried to set up a meeting with Riverchase ownership, but it never materialized.

“We are working quite diligently, and I understand it’s very difficult,” Fromme said at the commission meeting. “No, I’ve never been in that situation of knowing the fear or uncertainty of that situation. Internally, we have been working on different things for that. Whether we are successful or not is another thing.”

Toward the conclusion of the commission meeting, Fromme noted representatives from the City of Newport had contacted the current ownership of Riverchase, who Fromme said denied serving residents of Riverchase notices until recently.

“When people are not forthright with you, it’s very difficult to be able to accomplish anything,” Fromme said. “No matter how much we want to fix things, if people are not being truthful, or the developers or whoever.”

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