PROVINCETOWN — Eileen Spence was racing to find a new home on the last day of August. She and four other former Napi’s Restaurant employees had until the end of the day to vacate their apartments, all owned by the late restaurant owner’s estate, but after surveying most of the Outer Cape’s affordable housing complexes, they could only get their names on waitlists.
“There really is no housing available whatsoever on the Lower and Outer Cape right now,” said Hadley Luddy, the CEO of the Homeless Prevention Council in Orleans. “Getting off waitlists can take anywhere from three to ten years.”
Strapped for options, Spence plans on “riding out the storm,” staying put in her Freeman Street apartment until she’s able to secure a new place — or until she finds herself in court. “Give me some more time,” she plans to tell the judge, “and some more leniency.”
None of the other four former Napi’s staff members who were ordered to vacate their homes by the executor of the estate has been able to find housing either, they said this week.
Andrew O’Dell, regional director of the Tenancy Preservation Program, said that tenants whose leases are being terminated face a dilemma: stay until they can find a new place to live and deal with the legal implications, or face homelessness. Each choice can have dire consequences.
The Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) is a neutral party service provided by the Mass. Housing Court that works with landlords, tenants, social service agencies, and the courts to resolve eviction cases involving tenants whose cases involve disabilities. According to the state website, TPP attempts to maintain the tenancy, but if it cannot be preserved, the program “coordinates the tenant’s transition to a more appropriate placement, preventing homelessness whenever possible.” The program has existed since 1999, but its services became available to Barnstable County only in 2019, when Cape housing court cases were moved from Plymouth to Barnstable.
O’Dell explained that tenants who choose to remain in their rented homes past the expiration of their tenancy run the risk of being formally evicted. Although they may keep a roof over their heads in the short term while they search for another place to live, that decision can threaten their ability to find housing in the future. Evictions are public information and remain on one’s record indefinitely.
“A place becomes available and, within a few hours, you’ve got hundreds of applicants flying in,” said O’Dell. “Just thinking logically, a landlord sees an applicant with an eviction against him — they’re putting that one aside.”
O’Dell said that when the choice for tenants is between jeopardizing all their future prospects for housing by staying or leaving their homes at a time when finding a year-round rental is virtually impossible, some decide to leave, even if they have no place to go. “Many will go to stay with a relative or friend, couch surf, or sometimes live in their car,” he said. “It definitely happens.”
It is unclear whether formal eviction proceedings have been initiated against Napi’s tenants. Bernard McEneaney, the trustee of the Van Dereck estate, and Anthony Alva, the attorney who delivered the notices to quit to the tenants, have not responded to the Independent’s repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Spence and four other tenants received 30-day eviction notices on July 31. Their tenancy officially ended on Aug. 31. In the month following an eviction notice, many landlords and tenants agree on a later date when the tenant will vacate, O’Dell said.
All five of the former Napi’s employees are Jamaican. They all say they have not had any contact with either McEneaney or Alva since receiving their notices in July.
They were all tenants for over a decade of Anton “Napi” Van Dereck Haunstrup, the late founder of Napi’s Restaurant and a prominent landlord in Provincetown. Four of the renters, Delroy Brennan, Dwight Sangster, Ellis Wilson Sr., and Kay Spence, worked at the restaurant the entire time they rented from Van Dereck up until last year. They all said they were fired; McEneaney said they were not fired but had quit their jobs.
Some of the eviction notices list employment at Napi’s as a precondition of tenancy. Eileen Spence, who rented from Van Dereck starting in 2009 but worked in other places, said that was never a requirement. “I was only there for four months doing a little busing [in 2020], and I had been renting for 12 years prior,” she said.
Kay Spence and Sangster, two former Napi’s employees who are in a relationship, are still searching for accommodations for themselves and their two children. Likewise, Wilson is juggling a housing hunt for his own family while doing custodial work. Delroy Brennan said he is working from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next day, seven days a week, as a cab driver and hasn’t had luck finding a place either.
A landlord who decides to pursue eviction of a tenant who has not vacated after the end of a tenancy can file in either district or housing court. O’Dell recommends that tenants summoned to district court have their cases transferred to housing court. “It’s in their best interest,” he said. By providing mediators trained to resolve housing disputes, the Southeast District Housing Court, which serves Barnstable County, can help landlords and tenants come to a “reasonable agreement” and keep cases from going to trial, he said.
A trial before a judge, by contrast, may amount to “throwing your fate to the gods,” O’Dell said. Most landlords are represented by attorneys — but most tenants are not.