There is again tension between developer David Nyberg and apartment renters in Hartford's Asylum Hill, as Nyberg seeks to empty a Farmington Avenue apartment building he says doesn't have enough tenants to stay open.
Nyberg says he's offering to move tenants to renovated apartments at the same price in other neighborhood apartment complexes he owns. But some tenants and community activists say that Nyberg's people have told them to move by Nov. 15, and that Nyberg has neither given enough information nor enough time for them to find new homes.
"I'm trying to get my own apartment," said Cecelia Timothy, who said she has lived at 210 Farmington Ave. for 20 years. Although Nyberg's company did try to help her, she hasn't yet found a place. And even though she has since been given a guarantee that she won't be forced out, she's left with a bad feeling. "Since they did this to me, I don't think I want to stay with them. ... The type of people they are, I don't want to stay with them. If I have to move, I'll move."
Acrimony between the community and Nyberg started over the summer when word spread that he had spent more than $11 million to buy more than a dozen apartment buildings with a total of 250 units in Asylum Hill. He wants to spend roughly the same amount to rehabilitate and upgrade those apartments.
His goal, he says, is to renovate the apartments and put them back on the market. But tenant advocates fear he is trying to gentrify the neighborhood and raise the rents.
"They're not giving anyone written notice that they have to move out," said Jennifer Hadlock, lead organizer at Hartford Organizing for Power and Equality. "This is exactly the problem. ... His whole treatment of people in Hartford is, to me, a total disgrace."
Things got so bad over the summer that Nyberg filed suit against Hadlock's co-worker, Karen Cato-Calloway. In papers filed in Superior Court, Nyberg alleged that Cato-Calloway made statements about him that were "defamatory, untrue, and intended to harm [his] reputation."
As evidence, his lawsuit cites a document Cato-Calloway distributed on Aug. 3 entitled "David Nyberg, Hartford Business Journal Man of the Year blows off tenants again!!!"
The document later says he is "an arrogant man who has come in to displace Hartford residents and treat them like animals." The document was distributed widely to area politicians, including Mayor Eddie A. Perez, according to the lawsuit.
In an interview, Nyberg said he was offended that she "said I treat people like animals. I wasn't raised that way, and I don't operate my business that way," he said. "I just want an apology, that's all. It would go miles."
Hadlock said Nyberg intended to send a message.
"I think he is trying to intimidate us, and we will not be intimidated," she said.
As for the residents at Farmington Avenue, Nyberg said that his company is doing its best to relocate tenants to renovated apartments and that there is no firm Nov. 15 deadline. Keeping the building open, he said, just doesn't make sense for now. He bought it when it was roughly 40 percent occupied; now it's much less, he said.
"You can't run a heating system for 10 people in a building that's 180,000 square feet," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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