'It's sad': Tenants move out after New Freedom VFW evictions

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Dominique Svatey said her mother cried all of Wednesday afternoon as the pair packed up boxes and threw away memories in the house where her mother had lived for 15 years.

Carrie Svatey, alongside five other families, packed up their lives this week as they were forced to vacate their homes Thursday in New Freedom, per a notice from their landlord, Veterans of Foreign War Post 7012, which had rented out three houses for decades.

"I've never seen her cry so much before in my entire life," Dominique Svatey said. "She had to throw away so much stuff." 

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

John Miller moves items out of the home he has lived in since 1993 Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The house is owned by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7012, which issued letters to its tenants in July, stating their leases would be terminated in October. Thursday was the deadline for residents to move out. Miller is moving to Shrewsbury. Bill Kalina photo

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 Thursday for comment. 

Dominique Svatey, a former tenant, said she was able to find a house to purchase in Dover Township before the deadline. Her mother, however, isn't able to move into her new home until December. 

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In the meantime, Carrie Svatey will be living with Dominique's sister, Gabrielle Bonitz, in the sunroom of her Shrewsbury Township home.

Since pets aren't allowed at Carrie Svatey's new rented home, also in Shrewsbury Township, she was forced to give up her dog, cat and bird. 

"She's afraid of being alone," Dominique Svatey said. "I don't blame her." 

In August, community members and tenants rallied outside VFW Post 7012 to protest the eviction.

A crowd of about 50 showed up with signs of their own to oppose the VFW's decision to give six families 90 days to vacate  post-owned property. The news caught the attention of locals, out-of-state residents and a government official who all came to show their support.

Dozens protest the eviction of six families from three homes owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7012 in New Freedom, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

VFW Post 7012 Chaplain Kyle Hopkins who co-organized the protest, voted in July against the decision to evict the residents of the three buildings.

Later, Hopkins was sent a cease-and-desist letter from the post, accusing him of "prejudice" and "disobedience" for speaking to the media about the VFW's plans for eviction.

Hopkins violated the organization's bylaws by speaking publicly about "private business," the letter states. 

On Thursday, Hopkins told the Dispatch that he mailed a letter of resignation to VFW Post 7012 in September, surrendering his position as chaplain and exiting the organization. 

"It solidifies my disgust for what (the VFW has) done," he said. "It's sad that this is the outcome of it."

The post intends to raze the homes and build a parking lot on the properties, Hopkins has said.

Tenant Brittany Jones, who moved out of her home Thursday, said she had lived at the VFW-owned property for 10 years.

Allie Henninger of New Freedom  helps her friend Brittany Jones, left, move out of Jones' apartment in the borough Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The house is owned by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7012, which issued letters to its tenants in July, stating their leases would be terminated in October. Thursday was the deadline for residents to move out. Jones is moving to a house she bought in Dallastown. Bill Kalina photo

Despite the sadness for uprooting the home where she raised her son, Jones said buying a house in Dallastown will start a "new chapter of her life."

"It's a complete change for me," Jones said. "It's stressful and scary, that's for sure."

Jones said she's been grateful for the community and friends who have helped her and the other tenants find places to live.

It took Jones two months to find a new home.

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