The Tenants Union is trying to prevent the owners of a low-income building in Pioneer Square from backing out of an agreement that would keep poor people from losing their homes.
It's the second time in recent months the nonprofit advocacy group has brought residents of the Downtowner, a former hotel at 308 1st Ave. S., back from the brink of eviction.
Residents of the Downtowner, who pay rents equal to a third of their monthly income, got notices in the spring that their rents would go up. The owners were planning to convert the low-income apartments to market-rate rentals after paying off a low-interest government loan that required rents to remain low. Once the loan went away, so did this requirement. (RC June 15, 2011, "Advocates keep the Downtowner's rents from going sky-high")
It was a shock to the 160 residents, many of whom are disabled, elderly, low income or all of the above.
To keep them from being evicted, the Tenants Union got the Seattle Housing Authority, the local arm of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to issue tenants in the building individual Section 8 vouchers, said Tenants Union organizer Emily Murphy. Mayor Mike McGinn helped secure the pioneering deal by lobbying HUD officials on a trip to Washington, D.C.
In May, the building owners, brothers Howard and Martin Seelig, agreed to the deal, Murphy said, and SHA cut them a check for the tenants' portion of the rent.
But the Seeligs never cashed the check and never signed the contract with SHA.
With the building no longer under contract, SHA informed tenants last month that they would have to pay the market rate rent or move out. They had 30 days to come up with the money or leave.
The Tenants Union stepped in again, and last week, after the group threatened to file a preliminary injunction, the Seeligs agreed to stop eviction proceedings, Murphy said.
Martin Seelig told Real Change that they had reached an agreement with the tenants but he couldn't comment further.
If the building's owner doesn't sign the contract to accept Section 8 tenants, the Tenants Union group will seek a court order forcing them to do so, Murphy said.