Property owner Hugh Bangasser spoke out about the circumstances leading up to Wednesday’s eviction of a controversial Seattle activist.
The eviction of a controversial Seattle activist from a house on a Central Area block poised for redevelopment did not target the arts and education center that once held a lease there, a member of the family that owns the property says.
More than two dozen people gathered at 24th Avenue and East Spring Street on Wednesday to protest the eviction at the house long associated with the center.
But Hugh Bangasser, in an interview Friday, said the Umoja PEACE Center ceased formal operations at the house years ago. The eviction targeted activist and center organizer Omari Tahir-Garrett, who continued to use the house afterward.
The court order executed Wednesday was for his eviction.
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In a signed declaration in April 2016, Tahir-Garrett’s son, Wyking Garrett, identified himself as president and board director of the Umoja PEACE Center and said the center was no longer a tenant. He said the center’s lease had expired.
“Umoja is not now nor since 2015 has it been a tenant or occupant,” the declaration said.
In an interview Friday, Garrett said, “There is a specific corporation, Umoja PEACE Center, that was not doing programming there … But grass-roots community initiatives and various things were still functioning.”
Bangasser said Tahir-Garrett — known for occupying the former Colman School before it became the Northwest African American Museum and for assaulting then-Mayor Paul Schell — hadn’t been paying rent and had allowed homeless people to camp beside the house.
“The eviction at the residence is due to continuing conditions caused by the failure of Omari to maintain the property in an appropriate manner,” Bangasser said Friday.
The Bangasser family owns the block between 23rd and 24th avenues and East Union and East Spring streets.
The intersection of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street has been a center of Seattle’s black community but has also struggled with crime and neglect.
Several properties in the area have undergone or are slated for redevelopment, and a marijuana store now occupies one corner.
Some neighbors have welcomed the changes, but there are also anxieties about an accelerated departure of longtime black residents from the Central Area.
Garrett and supporters have pushed for members of the black community to be involved in the redevelopment of the Bangasser block.
They say Tahir-Garrett’s eviction and the Bangassers’ attempt to move Garrett’s Black Dot arts and entrepreneurship organization out of commercial space on the block are part of broader gentrification. Though Black Dot has been in the space for more than a year, holding programs such as the Seattle Urban Book Expo, it hasn’t been the space’s lease holder.
“Our bigger issue is about the community having a future,” Garrett said. “This is bigger than any individual actor or any particular event.”
The Bangassers have been trying to sell the block to a developer, but deals have fallen through. A rift among members of the family has complicated matters.
The most recent deal included a community component, and Hugh Bangasser supported it, he said.