Lock Vista started out after World War II as low-cost apartments for working people. But if a developer closes a deal next month to buy the Ballard complex as expected, the studio that Peter Clark rents there today for $615 could be turned into a $250,000 condo.
Minus, of course, Clark, who would get 90 days to move out. He says he can't afford to buy his unit and isn't happy about a flyer that showed up on his door last week: It was from a mortgage broker who made it sound like Lock Vista had already been sold.
"It was very intimidating," says Clark, 49, who has lived two years in the 191-unit complex across from the Ballard Locks. "I felt like my privacy and security had been violated."
In Seattle, where nearly 4,500 apartments have been lost to conversion since 2005 -- 922 in the first half of this year alone -- Clark isn't alone in his fear and anxiety. But, unlike many tenants, he and others at Lock Vista are fighting back: They've formed a tenants' group and plan to ask the Seattle Housing Authority to take over Lock Vista using its power of eminent domain.
That's one tactic to come out of a sometimes heated Aug. 22 meeting that packed Ballard's Sev Shoon Arts Center. More than 100 tenants and community members, who, like Clark, not only peppered the building's manager with questions about rental and lease rights, but began to strategize how to mitigate or actually stop the sale to the Northlake Group, one of many converters and townhome builders currently changing the face of Ballard.
The tenants and John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition plan to ask the current and prospective owners to pay more moving assistance to tenants, who are currently entitled to receive only $500 -- and \ only if they make 80 percent or less of the area's median income, or $43,600 for an individual.
The group will also meet this week with Seattle Housing Authority Director Tom Tierney to discuss SHA's use of eminent domain at Lock Vista -- a remote possibility that could force Lock Vista's owners to sell the four-building complex to SHA.
Chris McCarty, owner of Dominion Real Estate Services, told tenants that the owners could not accept a counter offer from SHA or another nonprofit housing operator at this point because the deal with Northlake is too far along. Dominion has managed Lock Vista since its last sale in 2004 and is the owners' listing agent.
McCarty said his company expects to complete the sale to Northlake by mid-September. If that happens, 90-day notices would go out to tenants at the end of that month. Construction would then start in January and move from building to building.
Lease holders could stay until 90 days after their leases were up, he said, and all deposits would be returned in full. But, "This is not a done deal," McCarty said. "I don't think anyone should get scared."
The remark met with jeers from some participants, one of whom called McCarty "scum." Another voiced concern that Dominion would skimp on building maintenance prior to the condo conversion, telling McCarty that she already felt intimidated just asking his staff for basic repairs.
Clark says he'd had only positive experiences with Lock Vista management before Aug. 13. That was the day a notice first showed up on his door informing him that the Seattle Department of Planning and Development would be entering his apartment to conduct an inspection for a building sale that he knew nothing about.
"Since then," Clark says, "the whole vibe has changed."
[Event] Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Seattle City Council's Housing and Human Services Committee, will host an affordable housing forum Sept. 12, 7 p.m., at the Ballard Library, 614 22nd Ave. N.W., Seattle. For information, call (206)684-8808.