Action by Seattle police Sept. 30 cleared the old Seattle Times building of all the people and pets they could find inside, but squatters have returned and continue living there.
Barbie Blake, Jack Moshcatel and their friends are completely unapologetic about returning to their home in the old, vacant Seattle Times building on John Street after police went in and cleared the structure two weeks ago.
“Why shouldn’t we?” said Blake, 22, originally of North Carolina. For the past six months, he said, he’s lived in the property, which is no longer owned by The Seattle Times. “Nobody’s using it, and we’re not hurting anyone. It’s much safer for us to be in here than on the streets.”
It’s much safer, even, than shelters, both men said.
“In the shelter, you get ripped off while you sleep,” said Moshcatel, 23, who describes himself as houseless, but not homeless.
Most Read Local Stories
- Most of Seattle area's 200,000 unvaccinated adults say they will 'definitely not' get COVID shots
- Two people rescued after Bellevue home slides off foundation; dozens evacuated
- Bellevue homeowner recounts 'nightmare' after house slides down hill with wife and dog inside
- Seattle is plagued by potholes, Bellevue not so much
- Coronavirus daily news updates, Jan. 17: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
Blake said there have been people who destroyed things inside the building and others who stripped the shell of most valuables, in particular a “professional” copper-scrapping team, but they left after police swept through a few weeks ago.
The people who live here now form a community of about 60 who — while many admit to having addictions and problems of their own making — work together loosely to keep the building as safe and clean as possible, Blake said.
While there are areas inside the building that are still in shambles, with shattered glass, torn drywall and doors ripped off hinges, there are also sections that are relatively neat and almost homey.
Blake’s room is decorated with masks, posters, photographs and pieces of art salvaged from the building.
On a recent tour, he knocked on doors and announced his presence in certain parts of the building and whispered in others where day sleepers lodged.
He also scouted the building for an entrance that could be outfitted with a ramp for friends with disabilities.
“It’s not right if people with handicaps can’t get in,” Blake said. “There’s plenty of room and it’s nice and dry.”
In response to complaints about squatters, Seattle police swept the building Sept. 30 and cleared it of all the people and pets they could find inside. Then, a construction crew hired by the building’s Canadian owners boarded up the windows and doors.
The old newspaper site, built in 1930-31 at Fairview Avenue North and John Street, was designed as a 24-hour operation with a printing press, conveyors and a loading dock. It has many tiny entrances, and as such is an unusually difficult building to secure, according to the construction team hired by the owners to seal the building.
Bryan Stevens, a spokesman with the city Department of Planning and Development, said there are about 260 vacant properties in Seattle. The city inspects security measures taken by property owners or their contracted third parties, but also said the old Seattle Times building “is unique given its size and location.”
That’s why “We’ve asked the owner to go beyond simply boarding up broken doors or windows, but instead to board up all windows within reach and hire a security detail to walk the perimeter and deter break-ins,” Stevens said.
The owner, Onni Group of Vancouver, B.C., could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The building was left vacant after The Seattle Times moved to a nearby building on Denny Way in 2011. While it was still owned by The Times — which had the property up for sale — security measures remained in place.
In 2013, the paper sold the building, near Amazon’s new headquarters, to Onni; since then, it has become a source of frequent complaints, said police and city officials.
In response to the complaints, the city issued an emergency order Aug. 20 requiring the owner to secure the property by Aug. 24, Stevens said.
The owner did not immediately respond to the order but eventually contacted the city, said there were plans to secure the building and requested police assistance in “removing people who were not willing to leave on their own,” Stevens said.
Stevens said Thursday the owner has been accruing fines of up to $1,000 a day since Aug. 24. In addition, the owner has been billed for the costs of cleaning up debris around the exterior and the cost of hiring the Conservation Corps to secure an opening found in the building last week.
Stevens said in an email: “We are working this week to forward our enforcement case on this building over to the Attorney’s Office for litigation, where fines or any other outcomes would be determined.”
Stevens said securing a vacant building is the responsibility of the property owner.
“A building of this size can present problems fairly quickly if left open to trespassers, as seen with the number of people escorted out on Sept. 30. It’s a safety concern for people in there. For various reasons, the power has been disconnected, and people inside are likely unfamiliar with how to get out in case of an emergency. Our hope is that the owner takes this issue and our advice seriously and responds quickly to any further security issues.”
Blake scoffed at the idea that a higher fence could deter him and the others.
”They will never keep us out,” said Blake. “This is our home, and we are smarter and faster than they think. I just don’t understand why the city wants us out. The owner doesn’t care, and isn’t it better karma for the building to be used for good?”