Blessin Johnson knows the Everspring Inn, a rundown motel on Seattle’s Aurora Avenue North that’s been the last stop for many before homelessness, very well. He’s 18 and says he and his mother first stayed there when he was 14, on a voucher from a local nonprofit, and he came back on his own six months ago.
In August, Johnson came home to find his room boarded up with his possessions inside. He spent four nights sleeping in a hallway in the motel, he said, before staying with a friend in another room and eventually getting back into his own room.
It’s been about a month since the first eviction notices were served at the Everspring Inn, after the Seattle Police Department deemed the site a chronic nuisance. At the beginning of this week there were still 20 to 30 people there, according to Jesse Rawlins, public policy manager for the Public Defender Association. Most or all should be moving out this week into rooms in another hotel — but meanwhile, the owner is serving some residents eviction notices.
Everspring Inn owner Ryan Kang referred all questions from The Seattle Times to his attorney, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Several residents, as well as Rawlins and caseworkers, say Kang has changed the key cards and refused to give them new ones and boarded up their rooms when they step out. Many residents have resorted to asking other tenants to stay in their rooms when they leave.
“ (We’re) trying to watch everybody’s rooms. If they leave, they’d be coming back to a boarded-up room,” said Christian Johnson, who says she’s lived at the hotel for eight months. “It’s really taking a toll on a lot of us.”
According to Rawlins and other residents, at least two people, after their rooms were boarded up, gave up on staying at the Everspring and went to try their chances on the street.
The situation at the Everspring, Rawlins says, highlights how Seattle and local entities aren’t prepared to respond to a potential wave of upcoming evictions once local, state and federal moratoriums expire. The residents are not yet technically homeless and not “vulnerable” enough to be prioritized for housing money via city and county programs.
“We’re just going to have a massive eviction crisis, and this is only the tip of the iceberg, and I hope we can take Everspring Inn as a test of how we can adequately respond to mitigating evictions through adequate resources,” Rawlins said. “What they need is funding or resources, financial assistance to live.”
But the Everspring Inn is also uniquely unlike most places people could be evicted from: Most residents there don’t have ID, and many say they worked at the front desk or around the hotel to pay for their rooms, which they said cost between $60 and $80 a night. Several residents said there was prolific drug use in the hotel.
People who live in informal situations like this are “just kind of outside of the scope of the system,” said Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA). It’s hard to know how many are in Washington, Myers said, because existing data focuses mostly on people who are already homeless.
“There are other people who are staying in informal situations, renting out spaces in places where they don’t have a formal lease,” Myers said. “I think there are a lot of protections in our landlord-tenant laws that don’t apply to them.”
The governor’s eviction moratorium covers hotel-dwellers who’ve stayed more than 14 days, but many of the residents don’t have receipts to prove they’ve been there longer — even though everyone The Seattle Times interviewed said they had.
So Rawlins and other advocates have spent the last month trying to find a fund for which these residents qualify. Eventually, the Public Defender Association had to put up the money for the residents’ new hotel rooms, with Rawlins renting the rooms under his ID. But because the association’s funding is modest, Rawlins is counting on the city to step in with money from another homelessness program.
“Thank God I was on site,” said Rawlins last month after a particularly long day he spent at the motel. “If I wasn’t engaging with Mr. Kang and his attorney, then I don’t think those people would have been let back in.”