Connect 55 Residents File Complaint Against Developer; Calamar Responds
For Naomi Stewart and the other residents of Connect 55 Meadville, the past several months have been filled with uncertainty.
"I am so mad at Calamar, (with) the way they have upset so many lives," said Stewart. "It's sad when money motivates more than the heart."
Once their leases are up, the complex's developer Calamar is raising their rent 30 to 40 percent, costing them up to $400 extra per month.
Connect 55 Meadville residents recently traveled 140 miles to Wheatfield, New York, to protest outside of Calamar's corporate office.
The residents were hoping to meet with a representative from the company.
However, they were locked out of the building and escorted off the property by the Niagara County Sheriff's Department.
"We should be dealt with respect and dignity," said Connect 55 resident Bill Hohmann. "We feel we're not getting that at all."
In a released statement from Calamar's legal counsel, Calamar acknowledged the protest.
The statement reads as follows:
"Connect 55+ is pleased to offer residents of Meadville an unparalleled living experience at competitive market rates. Our soon to be fully completed Meadville location will offer a full complement of amenities and numerous opportunities to form social connections in a warm and appealing environment."
"We can confirm that yesterday, a group of protestors, primarily college students led by Associate College Professor Joe Tompkins from Allegheny College, were removed by several law enforcement agencies after attempting to break through our secure entranceway at our corporate offices and the building was placed in lockdown. We do not condone this behavior."
According to Tompkins, that's not the case.
"There are many, many people in Meadville who are outraged by what Calamar and CEO Ken Franasiak are doing," said Tompkins. "The corporation tried to spin it by saying it was primarily college students. That's not true at all. There was one college student and there was a group of 20 of us who made that trip from Meadville to Buffalo, 2.5 hours to support seniors here."
I reached out to Calamar once again, to find out why they are increasing rent rates.
The company's legal counsel provided me with the following statement.
"We are proud that residents in our active lifestyle communities enjoy Connect 55+'s unique lifestyle programming and Connect 55+ Meadville is very excited to provide the same full activity program to our residents, both existing and new. For early Connect 55+ Meadville residents, we offered early discounted lease rates for a building that was only partially completed. No one could have predicted that a few short months after the building was partially open, the state of Pennsylvania would shut down for over two months and construction delays would continue for an extended period. During this time, we continued to allow our existing and incoming residents discounted lease and unit type pricing in the absence of the full Connect 55+ lifestyle experience. While we have done our very best to shoulder the added costs in this inflationary environment, it has always been our intention to rent at market rates to align with our full-service offering as we neared completion of the building. We want our residents to love where they live and recognize the value they receive for the unparalleled lifestyle of our communities. "Come as Strangers, Live as Friends"!
Meanwhile, Connect 55 Meadville residents sent me this collective statement, in reaction to Calamar's response.
"Calamar is trying to deceive people by suggesting that the end of the discounted lease explains the outrageous rent hikes. The recent rent increase of 30 to 40 percent (approximately $300 to $400) far exceeds the discount rate, which was less than $100. Furthermore, the discounted lease was provided because the building was, and still is, partially completed. Construction is ongoing and many of the amenities that Calamar originally promised have not been provided. Now they want to make us pay more for amenities we still don't have."
Connect 55 residents say they will continue to hold public rallies to spread awareness of how they're being treated by Calamar.
"They could sit back, they could rollover, they could passively accept these outrageous rent increases, but they're not doing that," said Tompkins. "They are standing up for what's right. They are standing up for what's fair, and I hope it emboldens other people who are in that situation."
Meanwhile, the residents have filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General Consumer Protection Bureau.
The group claims Calamar failed to provide amenities advertised at the time of the original lease.
This story is supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.