TEMPE, AZ — Between the hunter-green pool, the rotted wood on balconies, and overgrown vegetation, the Silverwood apartment complex near Price Road and Apache Boulevard in Tempe has seen better days.
But for tenant Gail Clay, it is home.
"I just liked the sense of community and the affordability. And it feels comfortable. It might not be the best-looking place, but it's comfortable," she said.
The recently retired 62-year-old has lived there for six years, in part because her apartment was so affordable at under $700 per month. But her plans changed in June when she and other neighbors received a notice. New property manager Market Edge Realty would be taking over, and they were bringing new fees and higher rents with them.
A lot higher.
"They increased my rent from $675 to $1,190. And this is to be effective in August. I can't afford that," Clay said.
Clay would have to sign a new lease or get out, so she is getting out. Her answer to the extreme increase in rent is an extreme downsize in space. Clay plans to spend time living in her SUV while she figures out what to do next.
"I'd rather pay my car note and just enjoy life. Find me a fishing pole, learn how to swim, and just... just be," she said.
But she worries for her neighbors who are dealing with the same increase.
Susannah Acosta lives in the next building over from Clay. She got the increase notice and said she is afraid that it will quickly deplete the COVID-19 rental assistance from Tempe Community Action Agency that she's been waiting to receive since applying in April.
"I don't want to live here if I have to pay $1,200... it's not worth it," she said. Acosta, her daughter, and her granddaughter share their one-bedroom apartment.
Sixty-nine-year-old Gennarosa Horca-Royal has lived in the complex for 19 years. She said she's spent the last year and a half trying to get someone to fix the leaky hole in her ceiling.
Horca-Royal has not received the notice of increase yet but she knows she can't afford it on her $1,098-a-month social security payment.
"I cannot handle it, $1,200. Where am I gonna go? I don't have [any] kids. No family. Nobody," she said.
Clay's daughter Crystal lives in the complex as well. She said the rent increase was completely unexpected and she hasn't saved the money to prepare for a move with a month's notice. She said she had to choose between paying July's rent and being able to afford to move before August. She chose to withhold rent but said she offered to pay it in installments.
"But what I cannot do is pay this month's rent, pay a prorated rent, and then turn around a few weeks later and pay a first of the month. I just can't do that," she said.
ABC15 emailed and called Market Edge Realty to talk about the large increase and other concerns the tenants have.
During a phone call, someone in the office acknowledged that they received our email but said their attorney advised them "not to engage" with us.
This is not the only complex experiencing a rapid and significant increase in rents. ABC15 reported on a North Phoenix family facing the same situation.
ABC15 asked the Arizona Multihousing Association (AMA), a lobbying group for landlords, about the growing number of extreme spikes in rent. It attributes the increases to several things including a shortage of rental units, an increase in land prices and property taxes, landlords not receiving rent from several renters throughout the pandemic, and slow-moving rental assistance.
The AMA statement said in part: "The cost of operating rental property has gone up significantly over the last 18 months. Property owners have no choice but to pass that on to renters."
Clay withheld her rent for July to help pay for her move out. Now she no longer has a house, but she does have an eviction which will make it much more difficult to get one in the future.
In the meantime, she's built a bed to fit in the back of her SUV and said she'll make the best of it for as long as she can.
"I'm a survivor. I'm gonna be OK. My theme has always been about being fearless," she said.
ABC15 alerted the City of Tempe to the situation at Silverwood apartments in hopes of helping with resources for housing.
A Tempe spokesperson said representatives from their housing department came out to assess the tenants' needs.