Theodora residents fight to save low-income housing in Ravenna
SEATTLE - A modern day David versus Goliath is playing out in the Seattle neighborhood of Ravenna where low-income residents say big development is putting profits over people.
On the fight to preserve an affordable housing building, tenants at the Theodora rent a single room and share a common living area. They insist this kind of housing is shrinking in Seattle, and they've launched a petition to save The Theodora.
"It would be very traumatic for me because of my disability," resident Deborah Brewer said.
For nearly 30 years, 59-year-old Deborah Brewer - who's legally blind - has called The Theodora home. The 1960's structure houses 114 units, and 33 are occupied.
"It's my home, and I love it here," said Brewer.
The building's owner, nonprofit Volunteers of America, told KOMO 4 the building is in need of major repairs and is not sustainable. Smith said the Volunteer's national office has been shelling out $40,000 a month for nearly two years to a keep it a float.
The building is a shrinking species of space; Section 8, which is a kind of affordable senior housing.
"We have a history of serving the most vulnerable. This decision wasn't made in a vacuum," said Smith.
Deborah is worried because the owners plan to sell the building to Goodman Real Estate who plan to fix it and flip it into for-profit housing.
"I have to be within a budget, I know this building, the people, the bus route. It would be traumatic for someone like me to have to move," said Brewer.
Brewer and most of the 30 other remaining tenants have vowed to do what they can to save The Theodora as affordable housing.
The Tenant's Union of Washington says Goodman is putting profits over people.
"Tenants shouldn't have to pay for Volunteer of America's mistakes," said Eliana Horn with the Tenants Union.
She said two weeks ago the Union formally asked Goodman to back out of the project and helped the tenants launch an online petition to stop the sale.
"The Volunteers of America have not appropriately reached out to the local nonprofit development community, and we believe there is a nonprofit who will continue to operate this building for the tenants who live here." When asked, Horn said she could not elaborate on the private discussions.
But VOA's Smith insisted it sent an email to 75 local and national nonprofits looking for buyers.
"The nonprofits pretty much said it's not viable for them to come in," said Smith, who said VOA's real estate agent sent out a mass email looking for buyers, and even gave nonprofits a 45-day head start.
Smith said tenants have until the fall to find a new place and each tenant will get $8,000 to relocate, plus help finding a new home.
"I'm concerned about the validity of it," said tenant Shawn Walton, who moved into his single bedroom at The Theodora in 2011.
He's concerned because he knows a similar scenario is playing out in Ballard. Goodman has bought the Lockhaven Apartments, is renovating them, and rents are going up. They got in trouble with the city for posting eviction notices, calling it a misunderstanding.
"I am worried about finding a place that is affordable and in the same neighborhood," said Walton.
"I want to fight for my right to stay. Most places you find are not real affordable," said Brewer.
Goodman was not available for an interview on camera.
Tenants have until the fall to find a new place. The Volunteers of America insist even if the sale does not go through, they will be shutting the doors on its building in February of 2015.