Tenant activists from a Seattle building for elderly people and people with disabilities, including veterans, gathered outside City Hall Tuesday to ask Mayor Ed Murray for help.
The current and former tenants say the imminent sale of The Theodora on 35th Avenue Northeast in Wedgwood and its conversion into conventional housing will leave some of the city’s most vulnerable people with fewer options.
“I’ll be joining the people out on the street and, frankly, at my age and with my disabilities, I won’t last one night,” Harold Echtinaw said at the small Veterans Day rally.
Echtinaw, 67, says he spent more than 15 years in the Army as a military policeman and police investigator, serving in Vietnam, Italy and Germany.
Most Read Local Stories
- WA Supreme Court upholds capital gains tax
- Deputy fatally shoots man carrying grenade near Tacoma high school
- Sound Transit leans toward avoiding station construction in Chinatown International District
- Man charged with arson in Lake Union fire that destroyed 58 boats
- Student arrested on suspicion of assaulting teacher at Lynnwood middle school
Like many Theodora tenants, Echtinaw was referred to the 114-unit building by Veterans Affairs, he says. That was about nine years ago.
He and all the other remaining tenants now have until Feb. 28 to move out, according to the Tenants Union of Washington, which has been working against the building’s sale.
“My message to the mayor and to the City Council is, ‘Save the Theodora, whatever it takes. Save our homes and you’ll be saving our lives,’ ” Echtinaw said Tuesday.
Developed in 1964 with a 50-year federal loan that required rents be kept very low and that put restrictions on the sale of the property, The Theodora has single-room-occupancy units, a common kitchen where meals are served, a housekeeping service and a social-service coordinator.
The building’s population has plunged in recent years as Volunteers of America has struggled to make the housing model work.
“It has become antiquated and does not address the needs of today’s disabled,” Volunteers of America President Mike King said in a March letter to City Councilmember Nick Licata.
“(Volunteers of America) has operated The Theodora at a significant financial loss for years,” King added.
Before the federal loan and accompanying restrictions expired this past July, the nonprofit put the building up for sale.
The result was a roughly $7 million agreement with Goodman Real Estate that the Tenants Union says is scheduled to close next month.
Volunteers of America says it first sought a nonprofit buyer willing to maintain the The Theodora as low-income housing. It says there were no takers.
“For buildings like this, most nonprofits can’t afford to make the multimillion-dollar investment in infrastructure needed and keep the rents well below market rate,” Goodman Real Estate President George Petrie said in an email to a Seattle Times reporter last month. “It just doesn’t pencil.”
The activists fighting the sale disagree. They say there is interest and that Volunteers of America, under pressure from the city, could still find a nonprofit buyer.
Volunteers of America and Goodman Real Estate are providing tenants with relocation assistance beyond what the city offers.
Timothy Daub, 49, who moved out last Friday, says his new home in a University District apartment building has neither the services nor the sense of community that The Theodora had. But he says he’ll make do.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Daub said.
Goodman Real Estate has said that its goal, after renovating The Theodora, is to rent the building at below-market rates.
But the activists worry the rates won’t be low enough and they note The Theodora will no longer serve the same type of tenant.
The activists say Murray, who has committed to ending veteran homeless in 2015, should be doing more to preserve The Theodora for low-income people.
The mayor’s proposed budget does include funds to help move homeless vets off the street. But Murray says The Theodora isn’t the city’s affair.
“Volunteers of America decided to sell their building,” spokesman Jason Kelly said in a statement Tuesday. “The city is not a party to that sale.”
“The Office of Housing has been working with tenants for months to help them access the cash rental assistance they need to find a new residence,” Kelly added.
The city has leverage over Goodman Real Estate that it could use, the activists argue. Founder John Goodman is chairman of Triad Development, which has an agreement to build a major project on city land across Fourth Avenue from City Hall.
Just a dozen tenants remain in The Theodora, according to the Tenants Union, and a lawsuit brought by the activists was recently dismissed by a federal judge.
Times business reporter Sanjay Bhatt contributed to this report.Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or email@example.com