The 25 former tenants of the Walden Eco Village are readjusting in various living arrangements just over a week after being given five days to vacate their rentals on Garland Way in Peterborough.
Casita resident Quinn Kelley said he spent a couple days in a rental in Greenfield before returning to Strafford, his home town, to rent a space in a family friend’s house.
“Don’t know if it’s the grief, or what, but being isolated in Greenfield after all this was really hard,” he said, and that he realized he needed to be around family and friends. “Frankly, the loss of this community as a support system has been devastating. It kind of snuck up on me,” he said. “I was so focused on the next step and everyone’s feet were being held so close to the fire that nobody really had a chance to process the situation together, let alone say good bye,” he said. Kelley, a ConVal School District employee, said he would continue to work remotely for the time being.
“This space, the Walden Eco-Village (my Green Bean Casita) offered options. Hope. A refuge for those tired and exhausted by this perpetual doomsday narrative of hopelessness, plague and defeat,” wrote a tenant who identified herself only by her first name, Pearl, on Monday. “I chose New Hampshire, LIVE FREE OR DIE, because of the Walden Eco-Village. All my life I searched for exactly this, believing I would have to build such a vision. Lo and behold, I didn’t. Akhil Garland did,” she said, adding that, regardless of peoples’ opinions of the site’s landlord, he did offer people a progressive vision and a place to live. Pearl spoke to the irony of building codes, which are designed to protect residents, being invoked to further endanger residents who were forced to hastily seek emergency housing during a pandemic and a Nor’Easter, “…as if I can’t intelligently decide what is best for me. And that’s important when decisions are made legislatively and enforced that determine outcomes that can either devastate or empower people,” she said. “As I gather my life, thoughts and things, I discover finding a place in the type [of] environment that brings me peace is not only exceedingly difficult but, very expensive.”
Casita tenant Sarah Trento said she hadn’t yet requested her security deposit from Garland as of Monday due to so much going on in her personal life, but that the landlord had asked that tenants contact him individually so he could address emergency and longer-term housing options with them on a case-by-case basis.
“He pitched a dream, the website with the video, he knew we were all of like mind in that way. We all have invested in this idea which we all agreed… is wonderful,” Trento said. “It’s such a heartbreak for… the longer-term residents here to think about how much money they’ve invested in something they don’t own,” she said, adding that some had been looking to purchase when Garland announced his intent to subdivide the property in July. “He just absolutely mismanaged the steps needed to get to that place that he saw for the next phase,” she said, adding that she met Garland for the first time during the Dec. 10 inspection despite renting from him since September.
At least four residences were still in the process of packing up and moving out at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the town’s deadline for evacuation.
Griffin and Elanie Kelley were clearing out their residence into various vehicles as the sun set. They had found a storage unit in Jaffrey for their things and would be heading to a place in Dover for the night, Griffin said. It was extremely important to him to make sure that the plight of the Eco Village tenants didn’t disappear from the public conscience as they were forced to leave the area. “We don’t want, in three months, to have people be like, whatever happened to those 25 people? The town of Peterborough should not forget about us. Akhil Garland should not forget about us. We’re gonna make sure that happens,” he said.
Twelve-year Eco Village residents Amy Wilson and her husband are staying in Peterborough through April in a new construction owned by a friend, which had been on the market.
“I hope that the town of Peterborough can have real conversations about what it really means to have affordable housing,” for middle class and early-career professionals, Wilson said. “And coming to the table to think about what a house might look like,” she said. “[Peterborough residents] have a real opportunity to step forward now and get curious,” she said, after years of affordable housing conversations and committees with no tangible results. “Now you’ve been given a model, get curious about it. Why would people live here so long, why would parents choose to raise their children here? There must be something to that. You don’t stay if you don’t buy into it,” she said. “This is a really good concept,” she said, and yes, oversight needs to happen, “but also you have to be careful, because if you do everything by this, that, and the other standard, it’s no longer going to be affordable,” she said.
Representatives from the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the state electrical board helped Code Enforcement Officer Tim Herlihy lock out all propane tanks on site and disconnect electricity to the casitas Wednesday evening. They did not wind up disconnecting the seven originally permitted cabins, Fire Chief Ed Walker said, because the parties present couldn’t figure out how to cut power to the cabins without also shutting down the boiler building, which they had agreed to keep on. “Since those cabins are no longer occupied, there is no danger to life safety,” he said, even though the electrical wiring was not permitted and could pose a hazard.
When asked what would happen if a tenant refused to leave the premises after electricity and gas were shut off, Walker said that the responsibility for enforcing the eviction would fall to Garland. “We’re not worried about the buildings falling down necessarily so we’re allowing the previous residents to return to collect their belongings… but nobody can continue to live here,” Walker said, and to that extent, each building was fixed with a notice of no trespassing and that the structure was not inhabitable. “People aren’t going to be driving through making sure nobody’s living in there,” he said, but that if the police received a complaint, they would enforce the no trespassing order.
“We are currently trying to determine who did the installation of the gas appliances and the tanks,” Walker said, since the tanks had been sold to Garland, but installed by someone other than the tank vendor without pulling a permit or completing the work to safe standards. If the installer was a licensed gas fitter, the situation could spell a hearing with the state’s licensing board. If they were unlicensed, there would be other ramifications, Walker said. “The law requires someone to have a license,” he said.
Garland threatened unspecified legal action against the town of Peterborough in email exchanges since Wednesday’s eviction, Deputy Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said, and Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett met with him in person on Friday with police present to tell him the town would be routing all communications to or from Mr. Garland through an attorney, she said.
When asked on Friday afternoon whether he planned to get the seven permitted cabins on the property up to code, Garland said he couldn’t do any real planning until he received the original building permit applications and certificates of occupancy from the town offices.
When asked what he’d done and planned to do for his displaced tenants, Garland said he was “really struggling” with finding alternative housing for residents: emergency housing through Christmas at first, and then longer-term housing. He said he couldn’t comment on whether he’s been able to place any of his tenants yet, nor was he able to offer any specific details of what he’d done or planned to do to help them. Garland said he had already returned most tenants’ security deposits and most recent month’s rent as of Friday but hadn’t yet been able to pay everyone.
Garland said he estimates he paid $261,000 in property taxes on the Garland Way property over the last 14 years.