Lisa Jones was forced to move two years ago, when the Crossroads at Penn apartments in Richfield where she lived were upgraded beyond what she could afford. Now it's happening again.

Jones and other renters at the Normandale Lake Estates, an affordable housing complex in Bloomington, received letters from new owners in late April terminating their leases and ordering them to leave by June 1 so the building can be renovated.

"I couldn't believe it," said Jones, who receives Section 8 assistance and lives with two grandchildren, one of whom she has adopted. "It took a while for me to understand, 'OK, the exact same thing is happening all over again.' "

Tenants living in one of the complex's three buildings will be affected, said Michael Delrahim, an attorney representing the owners. Current tenants can pre-qualify to rent the units once they are refurbished, according to the letter, and managers will consider extending vacancy orders on an individual basis.

Yet fear and frustration are rippling through the 105-unit complex, with many tenants feeling uncertain about their future housing. Many believe the rent will be too high for them, and some say it's been difficult finding another place they can afford.

Several of those who received the notices had moved two years ago to Normandale Lake Estates from Crossroads, now called the Concierge Apartments. Hundreds of tenants were displaced from Crossroads after new owners renovated the building, resulting in a lawsuit that was settled earlier this year.

"I call myself the 'canary in the coal mine' of fair housing," said Linda Soderstrom, a Normandale Lake tenant who was a plaintiff in the class-action suit. "We're right here when it turns bad."

Soderstrom, 68, who like Jones is on Section 8 and pays about $250 a month for her one-bedroom apartment, has helped organize other tenants and is connecting them with local programs that offer assistance for low-income renters.

"The lack of humanity is deep. It's really deep," she said.

Normandale Lake Estates was purchased earlier this year by a recently created business, Normandale Lake LLC. The manager is listed as Justin Greer, founder of Maven Real Estate Partners, which owns buildings in Minneapolis and Chicago.

City, advocates involved

Greer's orders to vacate have drawn the attention of Bloomington city officials, local school board members, housing advocacy groups, lawyers and local nonprofits such as VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People). Members of the Bloomington City Council attended a tenant meeting at the complex in early May.

Normandale representatives told Bryan Hartman, program manager for the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, that they planned to refurbish the entire complex and that tenants in the other two buildings would have the opportunity to move into the first building once it was renovated. But Hartman said the building owners have put tenants, especially those who came from Crossroads, in a challenging situation.

"It's going to be very difficult for those families to find similar affordability in the market," he said. "I can understand the distress that that's causing them."

About 551 households in Bloomington use Section 8 housing vouchers, with recipients paying at least 30 percent of their income on rent. City officials have studied other ways to protect low-income tenants and preserve affordable housing, including a rule similar to one recently passed in St. Louis Park discouraging landlords from forcing out tenants within 90 days of closing on a building, Hartman said.

'Needs to be a balance'

"The city likes to see investment in its housing stock, but there needs to be a balance between investment and displacement of existing tenants," said Hartman, who also serves on the board of the St. Paul-based nonprofit Affordable Housing Connections.

Housing Justice Center, a law firm in St. Paul that represented the tenants in the Crossroads case, sent out a letter to Normandale owners this week claiming the vacancy notices violated the federal Fair Housing Act because they mostly affect minorities, families and disabled tenants. It warned the owners that legal action would be taken if they didn't rescind the notices.

Some tenants say they're becoming used to the burden of finding a new place to live.

Jurline Bryant, 70, lived at Crossroads for 15 years before moving to Normandale Lake. She was hoping to get an extension on her vacancy order so she can find a unit that takes Section 8 assistance and has enough room for all her clothes. "It's frustrating to tell you [that] you have to move within 30 days and you haven't even found a place to go," she said.

Having been displaced from Crossroads, she said she figured the same thing would happen sooner or later in Bloomington.

"People need to hear this. Because it happened to us now, but it's going to happen to somebody else," Bryant said. "And they need to be prepared for it."

Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753