City’s plan to boot Seattle Indian Center from aging International District building draws protest
The Leschi Center, a two-story tan and aqua adobe building at 611 12th Ave. S. in the International District, has for 25 years been home to the Seattle Indian Center, which has a shelter, hygiene center and meal program there.
That could end Dec. 31, if the Seattle City Council decides to transfer ownership of the building, ousting tenants and consolidating services.
The Seattle Indian Services Commission owns the Leschi Center, along with the Pearl Warren Building, across the street at 606 12th Ave. S., and rents them to the Seattle Indian Center and Seattle Indian Health Board, respectively.
As a landlord, the commission faltered, failing to maintain its buildings and collect rent. The Indian Center owes the commission more than $100,000 in back rent. On top of this, a former commission administrator used the organization’s funds to pay off personal debts, according to a 2011 audit by the Washington State Attorney General.
In 2012 the city of Seattle took over the commission, making the city’s director of finance and administration, Fred Podesta, chair of the commission’s boar. The city also ousted four of its members. Now city leaders, tasked with fixing the commission’s finances, are in essence landlords of two groups that rented space from the commission. City leaders want to make changes, but one of the tenants isn’t so happy about the plan.
The city is proposing selling the commission’s aging buildings to one of the tenants, the Seattle Indian Health Board.
Under this plan, the Seattle Indian Center would have to relocate, possibly outside of the International District. The Seattle City Council will consider the proposal before the end of the year. The city of Seattle is working with the Seattle Indian Center to find a new location, said spokesperson Katherine Schubert-Knapp.
The Seattle Indian Center and its volunteers are trying to persuade them otherwise. They’re asking the city council to reject the proposal and are picketing outside the Leschi Center, asking to keep the space where it houses 60 homeless people overnight and serves 36,000 hot lunches a year.
Supporters of the Indian Center say it has made a comeback. The Seattle Indian Center has stabilized and is paying its rent again, said Carla Jones, who in April became the organization’s first full-time administrator since 2007.
“I’m here now to pick up the pieces, put things together and keep the center where it is now,” Jones said.
The organization received funding from the city’s Human Services Department in February to open a new hygiene center and is about to finalize a $300,000 grant from an undisclosed donor, Jones said.
She believes tribal social services should stay together, and stay in the International District: “The Seattle Indian Health Board and the Seattle Indian Center programs enhance one another.”
Jones said old animosity between the Seattle Indian Center and the Seattle Indian Health Board has prompted the proposed deal.
“I don’t know why there’s so much bad blood between the two agencies,” Jones said.
Indian Health Board Executive Director Ralph Forquera said money and space are the real reasons the Indian Center must move. The Pearl Warren Building is in disrepair and should be sold; the Leschi Center can be salvaged, but has space for just one organization. The Health Board is the only one that can afford to fix up the Leschi Center and stay, Forquera said. The clinic serves 7,000 people with a budget of $12.5 million.
“The Indian Center is in arrears on its rent and a state audit stated that they should have been evicted years ago,” Forquera said. “For us to make the Leschi Center work, we need the entire building; that means the Indian Center would have to be removed.”
CommentsIn addition to services mentioned our Community Day Center offers: Segregated area for families with children, computer lab with internet access, assistance with education planning, job training, financial empowerment classes, assessment & case management, mail service, clothing bank. The Seattle Indian Center has run a successful food bank too! Mr. Forquera's statement that "a state audit stated that they (Seattle Indian Center) should have been evicted years ago" is simply false. The audit said no such thing. The audit may be reviewed at http://www.sao.wa.gov/auditreports/auditreportfiles/ar1006665.pdf Even more troubling than Mr. Forquera's loose grasp on the facts is his heartless attitude. He wants to evict a tenant who serves the neediest members of our community? Why on earth would he say that? Oh that's right, because the City plans to give his organization a property worth about $8,000,000 in exchange for a promise to pay $2,000,000. Sigh.
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