Supporters of two Central District community hubs want Mayor Jenny Durkan to immediately hand over the city-owned properties to local nonprofits.
Advocates for the Central Area Senior Center (CASC) and Byrd Barr Place, which operates a food bank and provides housing and utility assistance, say that after promises from three mayors they are exhausted from what they see as the city dragging its feet on transferring properties that have served their areas for generations.
Supporters worry “The Central” may struggle unless Seattle allows the center to take over the city-owned property where it has operated for more than 40 years. Without that control and with the building wearing out, major renovations are hard to pursue, CASC Executive Director Dian Ferguson has said.
Nearly 100 seniors rallied at City Hall late last month to express their frustration. The City Council in November passed a nonbinding resolution to work with the Durkan administration to transfer three properties, including the Greenwood Senior Center, to nonprofit groups no later than March 31, subject to environmental review.
“I think it’s disgraceful. When [Durkan] was a candidate she promised to follow through on the transfers,” Ferguson said of the situation.
Durkan is the third mayor to weigh relinquishing the properties. The administrations of Mike McGinn and Ed Murray also recommended it.
Durkan’s office said it supports all three properties continuing to function as is, but must do its legal and fiscal due diligence to ensure Seattle taxpayers receive maximum benefit from properties now valued at several million dollars.
That due diligence includes negotiating the terms of transfer, developing a purchase-and-sale agreement, and ensuring the organizations have the financial capabilities to continue offering their public services.
The handovers also require review under the State Environmental Policy Act, according to Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice, who says the City Council resolution did not lay out a transfer process.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant sees the appreciating properties, first purchased by the city decades ago, as cash grabs for developers at the expense of longtime residents’ concerns.
“The for-profit market sees not a million-dollar view but a 10-million one, making it more expensive to live here. This area was created because of racial redlining, now we have economic redlining forcing seniors out,” said Sawant, who is considering an ordinance to force the mayor’s hand.
The nonprofits operating the buildings currently do so under a Mutual and Offsetting Benefit (MOB) tenant agreement. They received reduced rent in exchange for providing services.
As the council’s late March deadline neared, Durkan’s office issued criteria midmonth, including financial reserve requirements, for CASC to take ownership of the center sitting on Mount Baker Ridge at 500 30th Ave. S.
It’s the latest property igniting community protests. On Thursday, Central District residents rallied at the Garfield Community Center to encourage Postal Service officials to reopen a post office on 23rd and Union that closed last January. The Postal Service is considering new locations, with the leading candidates being storefronts at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, and at 34th Avenue and East Union Street, in the Madrona neighborhood.
With the Central District community-center properties mostly serving African Americans and residents making near the poverty line, many residents view the proposed transfer as a method to combat displacement in an area where the black population has shrunk from 70% percent in the 1960s and ’70s to less than 20% today.
“I really hope the city can keep it for the purposes it was meant for,” says Patricia Dunson, 78, says of the CASC she’s witnessed acting as connective tissue for the senior community.
She participated in the April 23 City Hall protest that concluded with 39 letters being delivered to the mayor’s office. One read, “Important to keep your word. Once in a while.”