Thirty-five adults and five children at the Star Apartments have until May 9 to find a new home.
The city posted eviction notices on apartment doors Tuesday after several months of working with the owners, who decided to sell the building rather than pay to update the deteriorated electrical system, said Casper Fire-EMS Division Chief Mark Harshman.
Although most residents are just beginning their search, many say the outlook is bleak.
“Right now I don’t think anybody can help me,” said Rose Tsosie. “They’re helping everybody else in town with the same problem as me.”
Tsosie, who moved to Casper from New Mexico for welding work last year, said all the places she’s tried have had waiting lists. Her first priority has been finding a storage unit, and she’s keeping watch for rent signs while running errands.
She was carrying a plunger to unclog her backed-up bathtub Thursday, but said that was the first time she’s had any issues at the complex. The place was a rare find compared to more pricey lodging, and Tsosie said she and her husband may have to return to New Mexico if they don’t find housing.
“The rent’s cheap,” she said. “Everything’s included. So I don’t know what I’m going to do now, where I’m going to go, if I can find anything with low rent like this.”
With management closing the Skyler Inn motel, Casper’s social services are already spread thin. The 1st Interstate Inn motel is also in jeopardy of closing, and the Natrona County Board of Health will decide whether to revoke its license for alleged health and safety violations next month.
Brenda Eickhoff-Johnson, executive director of Community Action Partnership, said the agency has been working to relocate residents from a dozen Skyler Inn units and expects to use some of the $25,000 in 1-cent sales tax funds allocated this winter for emergency shelter.
“The housing market was really tight to begin with,” she said. “We’ve been working really closely with Interfaith, and they’ve done a great job of pulling together lists of units that were available.”
So far, Eickhoff-Johnson said they’ve found about eight places for former Skyler Inn residents. She expects Star Apartment residents to need more financial assistance, but the available money will depend on how much motel residents use.
Community Action Partnership may help with a security deposit, first month’s rent, or both, depending on a family’s need. Eickhoff-Johnson said the agency is trying to tap into local sources and federal grants to provide for the growing number of displaced people, but it is a lot to ask at one time.
“Funding is going to be an issue,” she said.
Not everyone living in the Star Apartments qualifies for social services, though, because not all are low-income. Add a criminal history or bad credit and there are very few options.
“There’s none,” Craig Hartwig said. “None that we can afford or none that we can get into because of a felony charge or bad credit.”
Hartwig, who was convicted for a felony and served at the Community Alternatives of Casper work-release program, said his wages at Casper’s Good Cooking restaurant disqualify him from low-income designation. He has a difficult time finding housing that’s affordable or accepting of convicted felons, so he’s lived at the Star Apartments for nearly five years.
“This place is home,” he said.
Leticia West, a resident for eight months, has had similar experiences. She works as an overnight cashier at Walmart, and her husband works in oilfield services, making too much to qualify as low income but not enough to afford most rentals. He also has a criminal history related to drug charges that make it difficult to find a place, even though the he was convicted more than 10 years ago.
They moved to Casper for work 16 months ago and found themselves at the Star Apartments after staying in area motels. They live in a two bedroom with three children, ages five to 25.
“They’re small rooms, but they’re rooms,” West said.
Manager Larry Ridgeway, who also has a criminal history, said the apartment complex is one of the few places to give convicted felons a second chance. It’s also affordable with rent for a two-bedroom apartment ranging from $435 to $600.
After an estimate for $380,000 in electrical upgrades, Ridegeway said the 80-year-old owner put the building for sale in February. There were a few interested buyers before the eviction notice, but he doubts it will sell before the May 9 deadline.
Ridgeway, who lives in the apartments, said like all the other tenants, he is looking for a new place to live but has found few housing options.
Star Apartments was the go-to destination for those left without homes when other places in Casper have closed, he said.
“We’re the ones that everybody sends to when they close stuff,” he said.