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'I cried for days': New Freedom VFW Post orders tenants to vacate property

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Tenants of several rental properties owned by VFW 7012 in New Freedom Junior Wilson, left, and daughter Serenity, 2, Donna Tracey, Dominique Savtey and mother Carrie, and Sandy Wennersten, along with Kyle Hopkins, chaplin of the VFW. 
Wednesday, July 28, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Disgruntled New Freedom residents are organizing a protest against the Veterans of Foreign War Post 7012 after six families were ordered to vacate post-owned properties in less than 90 days.

Tenants received letters July 10 stating their leases would be terminated in October, affecting all occupants of three houses at West Main Street and North 3rd Street in New Freedom borough, according to a copy of the notice obtained by The York Dispatch. 

VFW Post 7012 cited challenges associated with COVID-19 as the reason.

"This has not been an easy decision for us as an organization," the letter reads. "The mandated business closure due to COVID-19 and the ensuing economic challenges have been difficult to bear."

Leadership at VFW Post 7012 could not be reached Wednesday or Thursday for comment. 

"I cried for days," said Carrie Svatey, a tenant who has lived in her current home for 15 years. 

The organization's 12-2 vote to boot tenants was decided during the July VFW Post's monthly war veteran's membership meeting. Any member of the nonprofit is able to attend the meeting to cast a vote.

Pennsylvania's moratorium on evictions, implemented after the coronavirus outbreak caused sweeping layoffs, is scheduled to lapse Aug. 31. 

Kyle Hopkins, a member and chaplain to the organization, was one of a few members who spoke out and voted against the decision. He cited that those in favor of the evictions are concerned about costs and want to use the properties for another purpose.

The tenants of several rental properties owned by VFW 7012 in New Freedom have received eviction notices. 
Wednesday, July 28, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

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"If they're financially hurting, they shouldn't be getting rid of their only guaranteed source of money coming in," Hopkins said, adding the organization aims to rezone the property, tear down the houses and construct a larger parking lot. 

Hopkins said very few local VFW organizations provide housing. Initially, housing was provided for veterans returning from the Korean War, but it's since become more social to allow for nonveteran renting, too.

The organization's members are looking to get out of the rental business, Hopkins said. 

Despite the letter telling residents the VFW post would be following up with further information, it's been almost three weeks since anybody has heard anything, said Dominique Svatey, daughter of Carrie Svatey and a fellow tenant.

"This is home, and now we're not going to have a home," Dominique Svatey said.

Though tenants were given 90 days to pack up and find another place to live, Dominique and four other renters all agreed Wednesday during an interview that it isn't enough time, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Carrie Svatey added that moving fees, hefty rent deposits and finding a place that allows pets will be challenging.

Tenant Donna Tracey added that she was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and is worried that by October, she will be too sick to move. 

All residents are still required to pay monthly rent until the lease terminates on Oct. 15. Each resident pays at least $500 a month, including utilities, Dominique Svatey said. 

A protest against VFW Post 7012's decision is slated for 3 p.m. Aug. 15 at the organization's building, located at 123 W. Main St.

"We supported them. They're not supporting us," she added. "They're just literally kicking us to the curb."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.