For years, the Everspring Inn on Aurora Avenue served as a refuge for scores of Seattle’s poorest residents.
Nonprofits used the three story hotel overlooking the busy thoroughfare to put up homeless people. It received tens of thousands of dollars in government Rapid Rehousing vouchers as the city’s homeless crisis exploded.
But in the past year, six rapes, seven assaults and two homicides have been reported at the hotel, according to the Seattle Police Department and news reports — the most recent was a death in the lobby last month. On July 20, the police department declared it a ‘chronic nuisance.’
The property’s owner, Ryan Kang, says after that declaration, he notified police that he’d be closing the place down. Then earlier this week he said he notified the 30 to 70 people living there, depending on different estimates, they had to be out by Thursday — though a posted notice to vacate said Wednesday.
The mass vacate order, perhaps the largest in the state since Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a moratorium keeping landlords and hotel owners from evicting renters, has flung the hotel into a scene of chaos.
Residents say the hot water has been turned off, although Kang said he has no knowledge of that. Cars have been zooming in and out of the parking garage. People keep sneaking into rooms through windows, so on Friday night, Kang said, his workers will be boarding them up.
Thursday night, someone threw trash all over the parking lot, as well as a bucket of paint, which the owner saw as an act of protest: Big clumps of the paint were still drying Friday afternoon, sticking to people’s shoes as they walked by to gather their belongings.
And in the middle of the chaos, case managers from nonprofits and the city’s human services department have been going room to room in a mad dash to find options for homeless people in the middle of a pandemic.
There are questions about whether Kang legally can evict these scores of people from this hotel. But either way, Kang said he told Seattle police on July 27 that he planned to clear out the hotel, and they apparently didn’t alert city workers who could help: the city’s Human Services Department, according to a spokesperson, learned of it on Thursday from Aurora Commons, a nonprofit helping homeless people and sex workers in the area.
With most shelters full and most hotels unlikely to accept this population, many of whom do not have IDs, Lisa Etter-Carlson, co-founder of Aurora Commons, said the threatened eviction illustrates “the gaping holes that are exposed by the lack of communication” — and the lack of resources Seattle has right now to protect homeless people from COVID-19.
“Something needed to happen,” Etter-Carlson said, “but this is not thoughtful.”
Etter-Carlson and the case managers working with her know this population: For years, nonprofits have used this hotel to put up homeless people. In 2018, Everspring received at least $164,000 from a program called Rapid Rehousing used to quickly get homeless people indoors, according a Seattle Times analysis of city of Seattle and King County contracts. Everspring was the single largest recipient of those contracts among hundreds of landlords and vendors.
But Aurora Commons and other nonprofits have been putting fewer and fewer people up in the hotel recently, amid reports of criminal activity.
Kang said he had no choice but to clear the hotel, and that his staff have been assaulted by residents, including one who set an employee’s car on fire.
“Can you wait for another murder?” Kang said. “Frankly, I’m scared for my life.”
But though Kang says his lawyers told him he’s within his rights, there are questions of legality. Kang’s employees posted notices to vacate this week, which said “an agreement with the City of Seattle and the Chief of the Seattle Police Department requires that we remove all guests and persons currently occupying the property.”
Spokespeople for both SPD and the city attorney said that no such agreement has been signed between the property owner and SPD. When questioned further, Mr. Kang said they were “still working through some details.”
Edmund Witter, senior managing attorney with the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, said the action appeared illegal.
“What he’s doing by just forcing everybody out — that’s illegal,” Witter said. “The nuisance (declaration) doesn’t give him license to just say: Get out. The nuisance says, you need to start eviction action.”
Kang’s lawyer, Chan Lee, said the only thing the hotel owner can do to “abate the nuisance” is close the hotel down and have everyone moved.
Olivia Lee, Nevaeh Love and Curtis Coleman have been living in one room in the motel for six months: when they leave, they said they’ll be living in a van.
“It puts me on the street now,” Coleman said. “I’m (expletive).”
When they moved in, Coleman said their window was broken, so they put a plastic bag over it. They said the bag stayed there for three months before someone came to put plexiglass over it.
Another time, someone kicked in their door at night, Coleman said: After three days of asking to get it fixed, he paid someone in the building to fix it. The handyman hired by hotel management didn’t show up for another week, Coleman said.
“The living conditions in this hotel are barbaric,” Love said.
Kang said that when he bought the hotel in 2017, the conditions were “similar” to what they are now.
“These men and women came here from off the streets,” said Kimberly Harrell, a case manager with Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), which helps people who cycle in and out of jail and homelessness. “They’re living like they’re on the streets.”
When Harrell found out about the potential eviction Thursday, she rushed to the hotel and spent the entire evening there, working to find people a place to go, not leaving until 11:30 at night. Through the next day, she walked the halls of the decrepit hotel, knocking on doors, one of which was entirely off its hinges — and the residents said it had been that way since they moved in.
“I’m glad that it’s going away because it’s awful how people are being treated here,” Harrell said. “(But) I know that in reality we’re not going to place everyone.”
As of 4 p.m. Friday, nine residents had been referred to tiny house villages by the city’s Navigation Team, a group of police and outreach workers who normally work outside in the city’s encampments. Harrell and LEAD were able to get three people into other hotels, according to the city’s Human Services Department.
Freelance journalist Olivia Madewell contributed to this story.