Since 1965, The Theodora has provided affordable housing to people with disabilities.
Now Volunteers of America is preparing to sell the apartment building, on 35th Avenue NE in the Ravenna neighborhood, to Goodman Real Estate, a local company that plans to remodel it.
But a small group of residents is suing to stop the sale, arguing that it is discriminatory and disproportionately hurts disabled people, who will struggle to find affordable, accessible housing.
“There really are not adequate alternatives for the people who would be forced out of this building,” said Eric Dunn, a lawyer with the Northwest Justice Project, which is representing the tenants. “If we’re not successful in preserving this building, there is really not anywhere else for these folks to go.”
The Theodora Rescue Committee, a group of residents and supporters, including staff from the Tenants Union of Washington, filed a lawsuit July 2 in United States District Court, asking a judge to halt the sale of the building so that nonprofits have time to make an offer on it.
The lawsuit hinges on rules from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that prohibit actions that have the effect of discriminating based on disability.
By selling the building in the open market, Volunteers of America is making it harder for existing tenants and potential residents to find affordable housing in the Ravenna neighborhood, Dunn said.
Volunteers of America holds an interest-free 50-year mortgage through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The group is under contract to use the building to provide supportive housing for people with disabilities.
The contract ends later this year. Volunteers of America has told tenants they must be out by November.
If a judge blocks the sale, Volunteers of America would have to put the building up for sale again and nonprofits could make a bid on the building.
A number of nonprofits are interested in buying it, said Eliana Horn, a community organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington State.
Since Volunteers of America announced the sale, most tenants have left the building. There are 27 left.
Shawn Walton, 48, a resident of The Theodora since 2010, is one of them.
An amputee who lost fingers and parts of his feet to frostbite in February of 2010, Walton is on Social Security Disability Insurance and pays $906 for rent and food at the apartment.
He has searched for housing, but has not found much similar to The Theodora, which has 119 units and offers on-site meals served by Volunteers of America.
Walton has been on a waiting list to get an apartment with Seattle Housing Authority since 2010.
“I’ll probably have to find a place I can live and go back to preparing my own food,” he said.
Representatives from Volunteers of America and Goodman Real Estate did not return calls for comment.