While the offenders have never caused trouble, UW officials say it wasn't until recently that they realized how many offenders were in the neighborhood.
The University of Washington is pushing to have all registered sex offenders banned from the densely populated neighborhood north of its main campus.
With the support of Gov. Christine Gregoire, 13 offenders are being forced to move this month.
For the past seven years, sex offenders on probation have quietly lived in five aging homes nestled among sororities, fraternities and student rental housing north of the campus.
While state corrections officials say the offenders have never caused trouble, UW officials say it wasn’t until recently that they realized how many offenders were being housed in the neighborhood and the severity of their crimes.
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University President Mark Emmert took his concerns to Gregoire several weeks ago, and the governor agreed that the 13 offenders under Departments of Corrections (DOC) supervision should be moved out, said Holly Armstrong, communications director for the governor. The university alone can’t say who can live in neighborhoods that are part of the city.
After Gregoire spoke with DOC top brass, community corrections staff members in Seattle are scrambling to find new housing for the 12 men and one woman.
More than a dozen other registered sex offenders live in the University District, and UW would like them gone, too.
“The deep concern we have is about the safety and well-being of some 6,000 UW students up there,” said Eric Godfrey, UW’s vice provost for Student Life. “We know that when parents send their sons and daughters to the university, they do not expect them to be residing in that kind of a setting.”
Godfrey said that over the years, the university has heard complaints from parents and students who discovered through computer searches that sex offenders were living in the “North of 45th” neighborhood. But, he said, “only recently did we become aware of the concentration.”
Landlord strict, caring
Carol Clarke, the Snohomish woman who owns the five properties, said she has received a regular stream of complaints about the sex offenders’ presence from the UW, students and parents in the past seven years. Despite the complaints, corrections staff members continued to refer sex offenders, just released from prison, to her homes.
Clarke, 69, said she works closely with each felon and sets down ground rules: no parties, no drugs, no drunkenness and they have to have a job.
Theo Lewis, a community corrections supervisor in the DOC’s sex-offender unit, calls Clarke one of the best landlords he has worked with in King County.
“She has managed to appropriately and diligently keep her properties in compliance [with DOC rules],” he said. “The people living there aren’t a threat to University of Washington students.”
Lewis said he has never heard of a resident in Clarke’s University District homes committing a crime against a UW student.
There are a total of 55 residents in the five homes, 21 of whom are registered sex offenders. The 13 being moved out are still on probation under the auspices of the Department of Corrections.
Of the 13, two are Level 3 sex offenders, which means they are the state’s most violent predators.
Lewis said DOC has tried not to let offenders with a history of crimes against young men or women into the homes. Instead, he said, they selected pedophiles and felons whose convictions are for assaulting children.
Anna Aylward, DOC’s program administrator, said she realizes that Clarke has been given short notice that she will be losing 13 tenants and is sorry the move will be hard for her.
“We’re just trying to make the best decision. Unfortunately it impacts someone who has done a great job,” Aylward said. “You can’t replace somebody like Carol Clarke. She’s very hands-on, she’s very knowledgeable about the people in her residences. She is a very caring person. She is just one of those gems you don’t find again.”
“There will always be concern”
Inside one of Clarke’s homes in the 4700 block of 18th Avenue Northeast, the foyer is dingy and smells stale, but it is tidy. There are fliers about Christianity and house rules posted on several walls.
One resident, a registered Level 3 offender, said Clarke’s homes are affordable — tenants pay up to $395 for a room and utilities. He said he and other residents police their roommates and tell Clarke when rules are broken.
“It’s all positive attitude. She wants to see people do good,” the man said, declining to use his name for fear it might hurt his chances of getting a job.
“I can understand the fearfulness, the unknown. But there is no record of people here committing crimes against people who go to college in the area,” he said.
Cori Hammock, with UW Panhellenic Association, said sororities have been advised to know the location of sex-offender housing and “gain as much information as they can” about sexual predators in the area.
“We haven’t had specific problems with individuals making women or men feel uncomfortable. But we don’t want that to happen,” Hammock said.
She says it’s “great news” that the offenders will be moved.
“I’m sure people would argue they have served their time, but there will always be that concern from parents, students and the university. We would prefer these individuals aren’t in our neighborhood,” Hammock said.
UW’s safety plan
Vice provost Godfrey said that not having any sex offenders nearby is part of the university’s new safety plan, which also includes putting more campus police in the neighborhood.
In recent years, the UW has created a group to focus on improving safety in the “North of 45th” neighborhood. The group recommended increasing police presence and working with landlords and the city of Seattle.
According to databases maintained by Seattle police, the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, more than 25 registered sex offenders live in the University District. It isn’t clear how many live in the small neighborhood where Clarke’s houses are.
Aylward said the UW told her agency that it was expanding campus rules into the bordering Seattle neighborhood and asked DOC to “reassess who we were placing in some boarding homes and houses in a one-block area.”
Aylward said UW officials told corrections staff that the neighborhood “isn’t the best place to place offenders.”
“Given the reassessment the university was doing, we made the call that we need to stop making placement in that area because of that locality,” Aylward said. “All of our goals are around community safety and protection.”
“God dropped this in my lap”
As part of the UW’s neighborhood plan, Godfrey said the university is looking into purchasing properties and maintaining them as student rental housing. He said Clarke’s five homes are in the real-estate corridor they are interested in most.
Clarke views UW students as bigger troublemakers than her tenants.
She says she’s had countless problems with students living in other nearby homes disrupting her tenants. Tenants have reported seeing youths standing outside naked. Also, some tenants have been threatened after calling 911 to report loud parties, she says.
Clarke said she plans to fight the UW to let the offenders stay, but she didn’t say how.
The DOC said the Level 3 offenders will be out of her five University District homes by Wednesday, and the rest gone by the end of the month.
Aaron Caplan, an attorney for the ACLU in Seattle, said “it’s really important that decisions about residences of sex offenders are based on facts, not on fear.”
“If we have a good punishment and rehabilitation system in place, it’s better for community safety to have people in a place where the professionals at the DOC think it’s safe for them,” he said.
Clarke said she will continue to rent to sex offenders on probation in the other properties she owns in King and Snohomish counties. She said she inherited the University District properties from relatives.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m pushing my religion, but God dropped this in my lap,” Clarke said. “This ain’t about the money. It’s about seeing people turning their lives around. All I ask of them is they be a better human being.”
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org