(Video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)
That clip from Friday’s tour of Delridge-area problem properties (previous coverage here) starts with resident Lisa Keith explaining how she’d hit a brick wall with the city rules that prohibit police from going into even a known vacant home without the owner’s permission; she is followed by Skylark Cafe and Club (WSB sponsor) owner Jessie Summa-Kusiak, whose popular venue is across Delridge from a squatter-ravaged vacant home; and finally, a few words from Tim Burgess, who along with fellow councilmember Sally Clark also joined the tour.
The question for Lisa, Jessie, and North Delridge Neighborhood Council co-chair Mike Dady, who organized the tour after years of trying to get something done about the problem, is – what happens now? Getting the attention and presence of two councilmembers, two city department heads (Diane Sugimura from Planning and Development and Stella Chao from Neighborhoods), the mayor’s public-safety liaison Julien Loh, and city council candidate David Bloom is a big first step, but it would be all too easy for status quo to reign in its wake. Read on for more details, including a post-tour exchange:
After the tour, Lisa cc’d us on a thank-you note to participants, which read in part:
When I think about the distressed buildings we toured that have lingered on for years and years, my family and neighbors’ two years of frustration seems almost lucky. But, knowing there are more stories like mine out there that don’t have such “happy” endings (which I say with crossed fingers, pending the auction of the property), I do urge you to push forward with your proposed safety and planning/development code changes that would assist the city and residents in making our neighborhoods safer. Vacant buildings should be held to a different standard for police and DPD inspector entry than occupied residences, and absentee landlords need even stronger penalties for allowing their unoccupied properties to foster illegal activity or linger in states of disrepair.
Lisa’s “two years of frustration” involve this house in the 5400 block of 26th, the 2nd to last stop on Friday’s tour, where we had showed you the city-ordered cleanup just a week ago:
Burgess’s reply to her note offered no promises:
… We will keep you posted. You and your neighbors did a great job today of explaining and demonstrating the problem, expressing your frustrations, and asking for specific city action. Sadly, neighborhoods across the city have similar experiences to share.
But he did mention during the tour that he expects to introduce, by month’s end, the city code change you heard him mention toward the end of the first video clip above; he also mentions it on his blog-format website.
Burgess chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee and is specifically looking at one of the 12 points on the “Safer Streets Initiative” he proposed last August (he says about two-thirds of them already have passed) – this one:
Enact new legislation that imposes civil and criminal penalties when businesses, property owners or property managers knowingly allow criminal behavior to occur and fail to take steps to stop it. Also, add a regulatory section to the city’s business license that gives the city the authority to revoke a license when a licensee knowingly allows criminal behavior to occur on their premises and fails to take steps to stop it. These “good neighbor” provisions will provide added tools to control and eliminate chronic trouble spots that are the focus of continuing crime and social disorder.
Changing the code to allow nuisance properties to be torn down without a replacement plan, however, is different. The code is administered by the Department of Planning and Development, whose director Sugimura is shown here in the background at right, talking with Betsy Hoffmeister (from left in the foreground, DPD’s Karen White and Skylark’s Jessie SK).
Sugimura answered Lisa Keith’s post-tour note on Sunday, describing the tour’s sights as, “Not what we want to see, but important that we do,” and saying that she spoke this weekend with Councilmember Burgess, promising to be in touch.
Back to the tour itself, in case you’re wondering about exactly what the group saw. The first stop was the house across from Skylark, 3804 Delridge (map), which has been cleared of squatters before:
If you get onto The Bridge from Delridge, you pass this house every day, right before the onramp. Neighbors think it’s been vacant for about 20 years.
Next stop, a ramshackle vacant cottage at 4117 Delridge (map), where this video clip shows Dady telling the story of his attempts to get the property owner to take action:
Its interior condition could be glimpsed through a window:
Dady’s own neighborhood was next stop on the tour. At 4801 23rd SW (map), an added-onto house that looks ready to fall down the slope has been a blight on the block for years.
Dady pointed out, “The only reason this place is boarded up is because I did it myself … At some point you gotta do what you gotta do to protect your family. … It was a vortex of really bad stuff.”
Outside this house is where tour participants stood in a circle and had the conversation excerpted in the video clip atop this story – with some residents asking the city brass to verify, is it really true that city inspectors can’t go in “tailgating” police, to deal with a problem property?
(from left, SPD Officer Ralph Wilson, Councilmembers Burgess and Clark in the foreground; background includes candidate Bloom, in cap)
Yes, it’s true, came the answer. This is where they explained what we mentioned in our first post-tour report on Friday – the problem has been created in part by well-intended city rules about “housing preservation,” meant to keep the city’s stock of older, smaller homes from being completely eradicated by developers and speculators.
“We have to change the code,” noted Sugimura. “The intent was to preserve houses, but what we find, is this.”
From there, the group moved on to 5424 26th SW (map), the house where city crews just cleared away junk last week, much to Lisa Keith’s family’s relief.
It wasn’t just the junk, but the people who had caused so much trouble, she said — “there were cops with guns drawn, all the time.” Now she is hopeful that a planned sale at auction later this month will bring a better future for the parcel, but even those have been known to have less-than-perfect outcomes: “We’re holding our breath.”
For the city, though, that site is something of a success story: “We got a $10,000 judgment here,” DPD’s White said.
More evidence of city action turned up at the next, final stop on the tour, 5445 25th SW (map), barely a block away, where (as first shown in our Friday report) there’s no way to describe the conditions visible through the open front door, aside from “completely trashed”:
Somewhat ironically, the mess inside included old political signs:
A city warning notice had been posted just the day before, ordering the premises vacated by this coming Thursday. A next-door neighbor said the man who had lived there disappeared for a while but recently turned up in a hospital. He’d been known along the street, said the neighbor, often seen out for walks, in a sport coat, wearing headphones.
After everyone gawked through the open door, and looked at deteriorating sections of the house around back, it was time to break up the group, with a few words about what happens next.
As councilmember Clark said about the entire situation, “It’s not that easy to pass something that says DPD can come in uninvited.” But she also explained that the city had been lobbying legislators against passing something which would have handcuffed cities even further in dealing with situations like these.
Burgess told us he hopes to introduce his proposal before the month is out; keep an eye on the agenda for his Public Safety Committee’s meeting at 2 pm April 21st, which would be the month’s last meeting – its regular meetings are on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday. Clark chairs the Planning, Land Use, and Neighborhoods Committee, which meets on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays.
But for any city law to change, a majority of the entire council has to vote yes, and only two of the seven members were on Friday’s tour. If this is an issue you feel strongly about, one way or another, you would want to contact them all – here’s how. (And be specific about what you would support; what’s happening now seems to be happening despite a much-touted rule change two years ago, detailed here.)
As for what can be done – or attempted – regarding nuisance properties, Seattle Neighborhood Group (whose Lois Grammon-Simpson and Jennifer Duong also joined in the tour) has an online resource here.