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The Corvalla Apartments may not be much to look at, but they’ve long provided a haven of affordable housing in Corvallis’ increasingly pricey rental market. Now the almost 50-year-old complex is getting some much-needed renovations, along with a tony new name — The Park at Fifth Street — and a major rent increase.

That’s left the Corvalla’s current residents scrambling to find new housing in a market some of them say they just can’t afford.

Sixty-day eviction notices went out in late October to roughly half the residents of the 84-unit complex so renovation work could begin. The remaining tenants got similar notices Dec. 27, giving them until Feb. 28 to move out.

Built in 1967, the Corvalla Apartments occupy a cluster of small two-story buildings on either side of Northwest Fifth Street between Polk and Fillmore avenues. It’s a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, some with modest second-floor balconies. There’s even a tiny communal pool.

The complex clearly has seen better days. Signs of neglect are evident from the street in the flaking exterior paint and patched support beams, and tenants told the Gazette-Times some repair requests have gone unmet for months.

On the other hand, it’s much cheaper to live at the Corvalla than most apartments in

Corvallis, where an influx of students at Oregon State University has driven down vacancy rates and pushed up rents, spurring a flurry of high-priced new construction.

The property changed hands in September in a $4.5 million transaction, and the new owners brought in Riverstone Residential Group, a Texas-based property management company, to oversee the transition from low-rent eyesore to market-rate showplace.

Some of the units at the Corvalla currently go for as little as $500 a month. When the renovations are complete, a one-bedroom apartment at the rebranded Park at Fifth Street will start at $725 a month, according to Riverstone’s website. Two-bedroom apartments will start at $825 a month, and three-bedroom units will fetch $1,050 or more.

“I would say there are fewer than 10 complexes that have rents similar to the Corvalla, and some of them never have vacancies because people don’t want to move,” said Bob Loewen, a rental specialist with the Corvallis Housing Division.

That’s left some displaced Corvalla residents — many of whom are elderly, disabled or living on fixed incomes — with few viable housing options.

About a dozen residents met with Loewen on Monday, including several who had received 60-day notices with the first round of evictions and had been unable to find new housing in their price range.

“They have no place to go,” Loewen said.

Melissa and Michelle Gorby have shared a two-bedroom apartment at the Corvalla for 12 years, since Melissa became her wheelchair-bound sister’s full-time caregiver. They got an eviction notice last week and aren’t sure where they’ll be able to find a ground-floor unit in their price range that will accept their three cats.

“Finding an apartment in this town is not going to be easy with all the students,” Melissa Gorby said. “The lowest I’ve seen for a two-bedroom is $850.”

Despite some recent maintenance issues, Gorby said she’s enjoyed living at the Corvalla.

“The old owners were really nice people. They didn’t want to make a lot of money. They raised the rent very, very rarely,” she said.

Local employees of Riverstone Residential said they couldn’t talk to the media and referred questions to a regional manager in Portland. After several phone calls this week requesting comment, the regional manager provided an email address Thursday afternoon for the company’s marketing department, which did not respond to an interview request before press time.

Cindy Pratt of Community Services Consortium said low-budget apartments like the Corvalla fill an important niche in the Corvallis rental market, and its transformation to an upscale complex will leave a significant hole in the local safety net.

“It’s going to be huge for low-income people. The Corvalla was a really good place for people with little money. The rents were relatively reasonable for Corvallis,” Pratt said.

“You used to be able to get a two-bedroom for $550, something like that. Now that’s not possible anywhere that I know of.”

But Loewen said such aging rental complexes pose a dilemma for the city: how to maintain a supply of affordable housing while upgrading dilapidated structures.

“I understand the need to improve the space,” he said, “but I also understand the need for people to have (an affordable) place to live — and sometimes those two things don’t work well together.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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