While thousands of Americans face eviction for failing to make payments, do some deserve special treatment?
That’s the question as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Kshama Sawant step in to block the eviction of a West Seattle couple.
On its surface, you’d think the answer would be no. After all, many lose their homes because they can’t pay their mortgage. Among them, Byron Barton and his wife Jean.
But their story is heart-wrenching. Byron, 63, is a disabled Vietnam war Navy vet unable to work since suffering a heart attack and stroke several years ago. He spends the vast majority of his days in a wheelchair or hospital bed in his childhood home.
The Bartons lost the home to foreclosure, and King County Sheriff’s deputies arrived last Friday to remove him from the house and transport him to the local VA hospital.
As medics loaded him into an ambulance against his will, several dozen activists from the group Stand Against Foreclosure and Eviction tried to block the eviction, some lying down under the ambulance to keep it from moving, the West Seattle Herald reported.
The protesters were joined by Sawant, who spoke out against the eviction.
“It’s absolutely important for public servants and elected officials to stand only with working families who are paying their dues,” she said.
While the locks had been changed on the foreclosed home, the Bartons found a way back in and chained themselves to Byron’s medical bed. Police ultimately decided to leave them be while a potential resolution was talked about.
On Monday, protesters converged on City Hall, and Mayor Murray ultimately issued a statement saying he had ordered the police department to stand by while court proceedings “unwind.”
A representative for Triangle Property Development, the new owner of the property, said in a note to the West Seattle Blog it had tried to negotiate an assistance package that would be acceptable to the Bartons.
“Unfortunately, we could not give them what they wanted,” said Wendy Adams of TPD.
KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson said he understands why people feel sympathy for the Bartons, but doesn’t understand why they deserve special treatment and the backing of Sawant and Murray when so many others are ignored.
“I know this is a heartbreaking story. But it’s also important for public officials to enforce the law,” he said.
Monson called the city leaders hypocritical, arguing many of the programs they back from universal pre-school to parks levies continue driving up property tax rates, making housing in Seattle unaffordable for many.
“People are getting taxed out of their homes everyday,” Dori said. “I get how people feel great sympathy for this man and I do as well, but I don’t understand why Sawant and Ed Murray don’t just say we will pay – out of our personal funds, not taxpayer funds – we’ll pay off your loan.”
Many listeners agree:
“I think the guy needs to move out and the reason being is the law is the law” – Craig in Issaquah
“This makes me so crazy….So many social programs are available to this family. The problem is they only want what they want, instead of what they can get because they want everybody else to pay for them” – Lindsay in West Seattle
“The guy took out the loan, nobody twisted his arm. I understand that he had a heart attack, I’m sorry for the guy but…” – Dan in Issaquah
In addition to ordering the Seattle Police Department to stand down for the time being, Murray said in a statement that an interdepartmental team is working to make it easier for residents facing foreclosure to connect with resources earlier in the process. And he said he has pledged the city’s participation in a national challenge to end veteran’s homelessness in 2015, along with launching a separate process to address homelessness and increase housing affordability.
But in the case of the Bartons, Dori and many others say the new owners have every right to take over the property and evict the couple, regardless of their circumstances.