Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | 7:23 a.m.
The most massive cutback of federally subsidized apartments in Las Vegas history may wind up in the courts, as up to 800 people scramble to find places to live before Aug. 1.
The exodus was prompted by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department's decision to pull subsidies from Creative Choice West, owner of Buena Vista Springs apartments, because of poor upkeep.
If any tenants get eviction notices next week, HUD officials say , they hope local courts remember who caused the upheaval.
Federal officials have told tenants to seek help at Nevada Legal Services if they end up in court.
"We would hope judges give them (tenants) enough time" to find new apartments, said HUD Las Vegas office Director Kenneth LoBene.
But Jim Vilt, directing attorney for Nevada Legal Services, said Monday that his agency is considering suing HUD and Creative Choice West, a Florida firm.
Vilt said that both are at fault for putting tenants up against the wall and that HUD could have given more notice before it cut the subsidies.
"Like everyone else, we were shocked that HUD had acted so quickly," Vilt said. "It seems to be another example of government actions harming people they're supposed to protect."
HUD stopped paying Creative Choice West $212,000 in monthly subsidies July 1 after the apartments failed five inspections in four years, LoBene said last week.
Tenants in 233 apartments began applying en masse to Clark County Housing Authority for Section 8 vouchers to find new housing.
But the process may take longer than a week, and some tenants have already gotten notices telling them they must pay market rate rents come Aug. 1.
Because most can't afford to do so, an eviction notice could follow. Rents will increase by 30 percent for each unit, and tenants would have to pay the part of the rent now covered by the subsidies.
HUD said it would help with moving and deposit costs that tenants incur. Agency officials also said the courts should consider not enforcing eviction orders and allowing tenants time to find new housing.
"Those people should not be harmed by an action we took," LoBene said.
Vilt agrees, but said his agency may pursue litigation to buy the tenants more time.
"We would be trying to slow this down so people aren't subject to all this trauma," Vilt said.
John Wooldridge, director of asset management for Creative Choice, said his company also is up against the wall.
"HUD is expecting us to house tenants during this relocation process for free, essentially, while at the same time maintaining standards of housing," Wooldridge said.
"I have two choices - I can either evict everybody and try to charge market rates to new tenants or not provide any services whatsoever and default on my mortgage."