West Bank CDC restrictions have some renters facing tough decisions

by Ben Goessling

Steve Winikaitis has a special attachment to his home on 27th Avenue South. The 72-year-old has rented there for almost 30 years.

So when his new property owner – the West Bank Community Development Corporation – bought his Cedar-Riverside co-op, the organization gave him two options: either buy your home or leave the neighborhood.

The problem? Because the new ownership receives federal subsidies, his income was deemed too high to rent.

“I’m over the limit,” he said. “For me, it was either move or buy.”

While the co-op got to set its own rules for its members, the West Bank CDC – as a federally subsidized investor in a largely low-income neighborhood – had to restrict who could live on their property as renters. And, Winikaitis said, with his high level of income from retirement funds, he didn’t make the approximately $27,500 cut.

The decision to relocate or purchase his house was hardly a choice, said Winikaitis. He bought the house and closed the deal in May 2001, the first of the residents to do so.

Those who met the “lower-income” standard were allowed to stay and continue as renters. Residents who surpassed it were given the choice to buy their homes, with assistance by the West Bank CDC’s Transition Homes program. Or they could move out of the neighborhood altogether.

The program works with area lenders to make sure people like Winikaitis find financing to keep their homes. And despite the potential for displacement, West Bank CDC sees the program as a good opportunity for Cedar-Riverside residents.

The goals, said program coordinator Debbie Wolking, are twofold: To create more homeownership in an otherwise heavily leased neighborhood and to diversify the income mix.

It’s a “long-time dream,” she said, for some of these residents to own their homes.

In Winikaitis’ case, his upstairs neighbor continues to live in his duplex as a renter. He’ll receive a rent payment from her each month. A special stipulation gives her and others the right to reside at her home for the same duration of time she was a member of the co-op.

Keeping the residents in the neighborhood was a priority, Wolking said.

Nineteen homes, both single-family and duplex, were selected by their occupants for home-ownership – Winikaitis’ included. All are slated for exterior renovations, such as new siding and paint jobs. Crews finished Winikaitis’ repair work earlier this year.

Six of the 19 buildings will be sold to their occupants by the end of the year. In exchange for the deeds to their homes, the West Bank CDC required owners to live in their homes and to give the organization the right to purchase property at resale.

As for Winikaitis, he’s happy to remain in the beige and maroon house he has called home since 1973.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I don’t want to move,” he said. “I have a nice location and I’m used to the people.”


Sarah Brouillard welcomes comments at [email protected].