2015-09-03 / Front Page

Sandpiper Cottages Sale Leaves Tenants Scrambling

By Olga Enger


A Quonset hut is among the abodes at the Sandpiper Cottages that will soon be demolished to make way for a new extended-stay development. (Photo by Jack Kelly) A Quonset hut is among the abodes at the Sandpiper Cottages that will soon be demolished to make way for a new extended-stay development. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The sale of Middletown’s Sandpiper Cottages has left some long-term tenants scrambling, but a meeting with the new owner gave them a two-week extension to find new housing. Stephen Chapman sold the property for $1 million on Friday, Aug. 28, to Newport developer Christopher Bicho of the Landings Real Estate, who plans to demolish the existing 23 cottages and construct an extended-stay resort community.

“We are working with them individually to help them find housing,” said Bicho, who is allowing tenants to stay for free until Sept. 14. “We have some possibilities in our portfolio. I don’t know whether they will take them or not.”

After Piper tenants received notice to leave by Aug. 29 or face eviction, a group appealed to Newport District Court. Judge Colleen Hastings issued a temporary restraining order to delay the evictions until a hearing on Sept. 14. State law requires landlords of weekly tenants to provide 10 days of notice.

Some Piper tenants pay between $250-$350 for a small room. Although they are rented on a weekly basis, families have lived at the hotel for up to 18 years. The community was built in 1929 and has been through various owners, according to its website.

The developer plans to begin the $6.2 million construction project this month. Bicho gained approval from Middletown zoning in May for 36 lodging units, which he plans to develop into 24 extended-stay cabins and a 10-unit hotel. The project is expected to be complete by next summer, but the schedule is dependent on winter weather.

“Think of the tiny house concept. We will be re-creating the cabin resort community,” Bicho said. “There is nothing like that in the area, within a hundred miles. It’s a bit of a throwback concept.” The cabins will be around 600 square feet and the hotel rooms will be between 325 and 400 square feet. He hopes to attract Navy families, professionals and tourists.

When asked if the sale of Johnny’s Atlantic Beach Club was a factor in his decision, the developer said not directly, but he hopes to capitalize on the new luxury event venue that is planned for the site.

Tina Kaiee, intake specialist with Newport Housing Hotline, which works with families to find affordable housing, said they have placed six families at the Sandpiper.

“They are scared and nervous,” said Kaiee. “Especially the families with children. We are trying to find housing within their price range of about $750 to $800 a month. They may be paying $1,000 now, but they are working their butts off to make those payments.”

Fifteen units at the Sandpiper were occupied with tenants early this week.

Nicholas Souza and his daughters, Juliana, 9, and Caitlin, 7, are struggling to find a new home. “I just received emergency custody of my daughters. I’ve registered them in Middletown schools and now this. I am trying hard to find a new place, but no luck so far,” Souza said.

When the text messages were sent to all tenants ordering them out by Aug. 29, Souza, who has lived at Sandpiper Cottages for eight months, joined his fellow tenants in protesting the ac- tion. “I called Channel 10 News and contacted the local newspapers. All we wanted was some time to find new places to live.” Souza believes that his actions may be the reason that has kept him from finding housing. “I have tried a number of private rental places in the Newport and Middletown areas, and even though they were advertised apartments, they were mysteriously rented the night before or some other reason was given for their unavailability. We are trying so hard. I have always paid my rent on time or even early. I have a job, I pay my bills, and I just want to find a place for my girls.”

Bicho acknowledged that finding affordable housing in Newport can be a challenge.

“It isn't easy,” said Bicho. “But we just found someone a house for $800, so it is possible. In that case, they ended up saving money.”

Bicho added the budget and needs of the tenants are varied. “There is a mixed bag. Some people told us they knew this was coming and found housing on their own. There are others who don’t have a place yet, but we are working with them individually.”

Although the developer said he is helping tenants through the extension and the two-weeks of free rent, he confirmed Sept. 14 is a hard deadline.

“We need to start construction. We have 50 or 60 people ready to start work,” said Bicho. “We are hopeful they will find some place to live.”

Long-term living in budget motels is a relatively common alternative to conventional housing in Newport County. In 2014, the Newport Housing Hotline placed families at the Motel 6, Pineapple Inn, Henry Collins Inn, Rodeway Inn, Bay Willows Inn, and the Best Western.

Newport Housing Hotline works with hotels to find families shortterm or longer-term accommodations. The organization was founded by Newport Police Officer James “Jimmy” Winters, who saw a family living out of their car and took action. Since then, the group has helped over 100,000 people in Newport County.

“We have used the Sandpiper a lot,” said Winters. If the tenants are unable to find alterative housing, Winters may hold a town hallstyle meeting to find options. An emergency meeting is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. at Dunkin Donuts, 195 E. Main Road, Middletown. Anyone is welcome to attend and offer support or share concerns.

“The town has long supported the Newport Housing Hotline, most directly through an annual civic appropriation,” said Middletown Town Administrator Shawn Brown. Brown added if requested, the town would assist Winters as best they can.

“Affordable housing and the shelters have waiting lists,” said Kaiee.

Souza is exploring all housing options and is still hopeful. “I know that my lack of credit may be an issue, but I have good references and I’m hoping that we can find a place. We are hardworking people who just want a chance to show that we are good tenants.”

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