Residents of Seattle low income housing allege poor living conditions

Oct 3, 2019, 4:11 PM | Updated: Oct 4, 2019, 9:42 am

Some longtime Seattle residents say they’re living in squalor and blame the non-profit SEED for conditions.

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SEED stands for South East Effective Development. And, with the help of city, state, and federal support, they started building low income apartments in southeast Seattle.

Right now at Rainier Court, the organization has three completed apartment complexes, with a fourth that is expected to be finished in October 2019.

Residents like Diane believe people would be shocked at what they see on a daily basis.

“I’ll see a pimp and his lady walking down our hallway and they see me and they take off running,” Diane said. “I have a reputation for taking pictures and video.”

Diane lives at Courtland Place. Over the years she has taken over 8,000 photos and more than 100 videos documenting trash that piles up at garbage chutes and in the parking garage, as well as bed bugs, cockroaches, and rats. Diane says that homeless people often bypass SEED’s security measures.

“People sleep in our stairwells, they shoot up, they pee in bottles and put the lids back on and leave them in our windowsills, and defecate in the laundry room garbage. I caught a homeless man going into our laundry room with blood running down his neck after shooting up.”

Diane’s criticisms don’t end with SEED. She has harsh words for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council for the unsafe conditions outside the apartments.

“I sent Mayor Durkan a picture of when the SWAT team was out here at the Dakota and I told her it was like this all the time,” Diane added, noting that she never got a response back from the mayor.

Diane adds that two city-owned vacant properties across the street from the Dakota serve as a safe haven for criminal activity.

The city has plans to turn those properties into a park by 2021. In the meantime, Jay Gollyhorn, who lives at one of the apartment complexes, alleges those properties are drug dens that the city refuses to do anything about.

Gollyhorn and Diane met recently after she heard a KIRO Radio report about Jay’s efforts to stop shoplifting at his local grocery store. Gollyhorn has become an activist in his neighborhood, starting the Facebook page, We Demand Safe Shopping.

On a random walk through the buildings, Gollyhorn and Diane easily point to the many issues at Courtland and the Dakota apartment buildings.

“It’s the trail of puke that I call the heroin hurl. It’s either on the wall running down, or it’s on the floor,” Diane said. She’s worried about diseases, so she is rarely outside her apartment without bleach, water, and disinfectant.

But Jay took a different stance, as he pointed to a bottle of urine he says has been in the stairwell since August.

“It’s not my responsibility to clean up. I shouldn’t have too. I pay rent here.”

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Other residents like Kane say many tenants have issues with bed bugs, but he is dealing with a cockroach infestation.

“My apartment was fumigated multiple times and they just kept coming back because they are in the walls,” he described.

Another tenant said he was recently fined after he left his garbage by the chute. He says he had no choice, because the room where the chute is was so jam packed with garbage it spilled into the hallway.

The tenant asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. They allege one of the employees of Coast, the property management company that maintains the building, rummaged through the garbage’s looking for contact information to give him a fine.

“The manager told me I had to pay a $25 fine. I told him the garbage was full and where else was I supposed to put it. The manager said, ‘I don’t know.”

Lance Matteson, executive director of SEED, blames the incident on a miscommunication.

“Seven households were charged recently for leaving trash in various incorrect locations – it’s a problem at Dakota that Coast is trying to reel in,” Matteson added, “If people leave it there when it’s operating, that’s one thing. If it’s full and they leave it there that’s another thing, and they should not be fined in that case.”

But, Matteson acknowledged that pest control was an issue, despite regular fumigation attempts.

“We’re not aware of any particular pest problems. It does happen from time to time. There isn’t any affordable housing project that doesn’t have to struggle with this and chip away at and respond to reports as best we can.”

Gollyhorn says they’ve had to deal with a bed bug infestation in their couch, bed, and clothing. At least three times they had to bag up their stuff, leave it on the patio and live out of plastic bags.

Matteson addressed residents allegations that garbage piling up on a weekly basis is not an anomaly, but a regular occurrence to be endured.

“I have been in the garage and in the parking lot and the hallways many times and maybe once or twice I have seen garbage where it shouldn’t be. But it’s not routine or normal,” Matteson added. “There were a few places where garbage piled up and it shouldn’t have.”

Matteson blamed those few instances on recent staffing changes.

“There is a transition going on,” he noted. “A new property management firm and new garbage service. And so they’re still getting the kinks worked out of their scheduling. But in general it’s been better, not worse.”

But Diane says living conditions have been going downhill for over five years, that she has shared her photos and ongoing concerns with Matteson on a regular basis, and that his response is always the same.

“‘We’re turning the corner’,” Diane said. She said Matteson has been saying the same thing for the last three years. “We’re at the point where we’re turning the corner.”

Diane contacted Pete Holmes for help.

“I told him there’s no safety here.”

Diane said Holmes made a commitment to look into it and never got back. That was over a year ago. Diane says out of all the city leaders, she feels Holmes particularly let her down — she worked on his election campaign.

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“Holmes ran on accountability and making low income housing accountable for their actions. But something happened after he got elected. It was like he forgot all about his campaign promises,” Diane added. “I even have one of his posters that said, ‘Make Low Income Housing Agencies Accountable.'”

City Attorney Pete Holmes declined requests for an interview. His Communications Director responded, “Out of respect to Diane, rather than doing iterative backs-and-forths in the press, Pete said he would give her a call to hear her concerns directly.”

The city’s parks department confirmed that both properties Diane and Gollyhorn allege are havens for crime, are owned by Seattle Parks and Recreation, and should be vacant.

“Our intent is to have this property in construction by summer 2020, and open to the public by summer 2021. In the meantime we are working with SPD and SDCI to develop a plan to be better secure the vacant homes on the lot, and the space as a whole.”

Matteson says their property management company added 24-hour security within the past few months to address security issues and enforce rules.

“We would very much like to know of any specific current inappropriate activities or conditions at our properties, so that we can take corresponding action. And we are always open to suggestions on how we can do better.”

In response to this story, the Seattle Police Department provided this statement:

We always take community input under consideration when making deployment decisions. We heard the concerns of South Seattle residents when we stationed our observation post at the Columbia City Safeway, a location that generated frequent reports of crime and calls for service. Some likened this equipment to a guard tower and said it evoked images of the darkest moments of our history. We heard the community, made some adjustments, and moved the equipment to another location identified by data as a crime hotspot. Our crime reduction strategies are flexible, but we remain committed as ever to addressing crime in our neighborhoods.

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Residents of Seattle low income housing allege poor living conditions