Looking out the window of Carolyn Cooper’s one-bedroom apartment in Ballard, it’s easy to forget that it’s 2013.
Glancing below, Cooper points to the many courtyards dotted between the dozen buildings that comprise Lockhaven Apartments. They’re filled with gardens, benches and old clotheslines still in use.
To the east, Queen Anne Hill and a sliver of Lake Washington can be seen between other buildings in her complex. To the west, a tree-covered hill rises above a rusty railroad bridge.
Cooper, a native of Connecticut, moved to the 65-year-old building in March to be closer to her children and grandchildren, who live in Ballard. She had expected to spend a year in the apartment while getting acquainted with the region, then find somewhere permanent.
But Cooper fell in love with the 1940s architecture, welcoming neighbors and affordable rent at Lockhaven. Over the summer, neighbors brought her vegetables they grew in raised beds in the property’s courtyards. She soon imagined she would never leave the place. She would use her expertise on historical technology and enjoy her retirement, writing papers on shoe and musket lathes from the 19th century.
“I quickly realized it would be very difficult to find anything better, and I would be very happy to live here the rest of my life,” she said.
Cooper might not have the chance. In August, a local couple, the Eklunds, sold Lockhaven to Goodman Real Estate, which is remodeling and updating the buildings, adding an exercise room and installing washers and driers in the apartments. Workers have started stripping vinyl paneling off of some of the buildings.
Lockhaven’s staff have warned residents that they may have to move during indoor remodeling. Residents say they were told their rents could rise from about $700 or $900 a month to $1,500 for a one-bedroom unit.
Residents have organized a union to negotiate with owner John Goodman, hoping to persuade him to forestall renovations, or forgo them altogether, in order to keep rents down.
A spokesperson for Goodman Real Estate said in a statement that the buildings are old and need the improvements, and that they hope residents can stay after the renovation is complete.
Tenants say the changes are a sign they can’t live in Ballard or even Seattle anymore. Describing the renters’ landscape in Seattle, Cooper said, it’s “Go up, go dense, go to hell.”
Lockhaven is only the latest in a series of affordable housing casualties, said John Fox of the Displacement Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for preserving affordable housing. Developers are building new properties and renovating old properties to attract higher-paying renters that have come to Seattle looking for work.
“Literally hundreds of tenants in this city are driven out of their homes because of this speculative fever,” Fox said. “That’s what’s happening in Ballard.”
Seattle rents increased by 2.4 percent in the third quarter of the year, and 6.9 percent over the past year, according to Apartment Insights Washington, a market research company based in West Seattle. One-bedroom apartments in the region cost an average of $1,200 a month.
“It’s healthy based on the industry standards,” said Tom Cain, principal of Apartment Insights. “Healthy markets are beneficial for the owners and managers, developers, lenders, people that are in the industry. A weak market favors tenants.”
To Lockhaven tenants, it’s hard not to take this so-called healthy market as a personal slight.
“The message is you don’t belong here anymore,” said David Stoesz, who has lived at Lockhaven for nine years. “This is not your city.”
For years, rents at Lockhaven had been stable, residents say and as a result, the building attracted students and retirees living on fixed incomes. Susan Hernandez, a medical student at the University of Washington, moved to Lockhaven after getting priced out of apartments on Capitol Hill.
It was a warm welcome, she said.
“I got welcome cookies [from neighbors] when I first moved in,” Hernandez said. “This feels like a community.”
In September, Lockhaven’s new owners gave eviction notices to residents of two buildings about to be remodeled, but the city stopped the action after residents protested. By law, the property owners have to work with the city of Seattle to relocate displaced residents. Property owners must also pay to move residents who are living at 50 percent of the area median income.
Lockhaven tenants say they want to make sure everyone gets treated fairly, and they are hoping that by publicizing their plight, they’ll get to stay in their homes.
This tactic has worked for other tenants outside of Seattle, said Eliana Horn, a community organizer for the Tenants Union of Washington, who is working with Lockhaven residents.
Making some noise may be their only hope.
“There aren’t laws that give those tenants any leverage out there at all, other than the power of protest; putting heat on the new owner,” Fox said.