Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Sue Taylor and her grandson Ethan in the communal garden of Lockhaven Apartments, which is forcing out residents during renovation and increasing rent.

And your last day of residency will be ...

By Peggy Sturdivant

Lockhaven Apartments, north of Market Street between 30th and 32nd Ave NW has seemed frozen in time for years. The three-story apartments are separated by courtyards, like an off-street campus. Despite some 180 residents it has been an apartment complex known best for its sense of community. There’s a communal garden, clotheslines, picnic tables and benches. One renter has lived there since 1968.

However, market forces have brought change and the reality of the outside world very abruptly to residents; first in a few units and then throughout all the buildings. In the pre-dawn hours of September 10, Jett Terrell heard footsteps in the stairwell but reassured herself that only residents had keys. When she opened her door the next morning she found a 20-day eviction notice taped to her door, “Your last day of residency will be September 30th.”

Lockhaven residents knew the property had been sold as of August. The Ecklund family of Sunset Hill owned the complex for over 50 years. Tenants weren’t unduly concerned, in part because word in the courtyards was that the Ecklunds had sold to another Ballard native. The Pinnacle Family of Companies was installed as third-party property managers.

Renovations started almost immediately, with siding being replaced and new roofs for several of the structures. However that work was not the renovation cited as the reason for the 20-day notice to vacate given to residents within several buildings. In letters to residents Pinnacle assured residents their tenancy was valued and that they hoped they would return as tenants after renovations were completed, as early as October 31.

The letters didn’t state what the new rental rates would be nor did they specify renovations. They did offer a $500 gift certificate.

Distressed tenants quickly learned the 20-day notice to vacate was a violation of their rights, per Seattle’s municipal code. It was not an auspicious beginning to the relationship between tenants, property manager and new owners. Although Pinnacle sent notices rescinding the 20-day notices a media storm had erupted, sending local television news crews to Lockhaven looking to interview residents amidst the construction debris of several units.

Per Seattle code a property owner must apply for a tenant relocation license, “prior to the substantial rehabilitation of any dwelling unit which results in the displacement of a tenant.” The 20-day notice can only occur after a six-month relocation license process for owners, during which time tenants can apply for relocation assistance based on their income. The first notices violated two separate ordinances: Tenant Relocation Assistance and Just Cause Eviction.

Residents who did inquire about moving back after renovations learned rents will be nearly doubled. A one-bedroom currently renting for $850 will rent for $1,350-1,500.

After KING5 reported on the plight of tenants who will not be able to afford the new rents Lockhaven issued this statement that appeared on the KING5 website: “There was some miscommunication with a very small percentage of residents about the relocation process. We apologize for the confusion this caused, and immediately worked with The City of Seattle to correct this mistake and provide residents with the correct information.”

The statement also clarified that Pinnacle Family of Companies was not the owner, as had been resported, just the property manager. As of August, Lockhaven Apartments is owned by Goodman Real Estate, a company founded by Ballard High School graduate John Goodman. Pinnacle Family of Companies is an affiliate of Goodman Real Estate. John Goodman is Pinnacle’s founder and Chairman of the Board. Pinnacle advertises itself as the nation’s largest third-party manager of multifamily housing.

Goodman Real Estate (GRE) has extensive holdings throughout the country as well as in Seattle and Ballard. GRE recently developed the apartment buildings Belay at 6559 15th Ave NW and NOBA at 8022 15th Ave NW. Those apartments were sold last month to a Boston investment company for $41.1 million.

Goodman Real Estate also owns gated building and marina at the former Azteca site on Seaview Avenue NW, as GRE Golden Tides LLC.

The Goodman Real Estate website states: “our talent lies in carefully identifying and quickly purchasing distressed, underperforming or mismanaged properties. Next we reposition them and then hold them as owner operators.”

The Lockhaven residents have certainly learned that their rents were below market average but they still hate being ‘repositioned’ out of their small, dated apartments.

The level of upset at Lockhaven might have diminished if not for a second potential violation on the part of the owners and their property management company. When Pinnacle supplied tenants with replacement packets that were supposed to be in accordance with the relocation ordinance they included a ‘Tenancy Buy Out Offer’ that the city had said was to be distributed afterward, which offered $1000, implied a 90-day timeline rather than six months and was confusing as to whether accepting waived other relocation rights.

Add record rains that soaked buildings without their sidings and the unavailability of similar rentals in Ballard. The mood is part angry, part resigned and generally disillusioned. Resident ages vary but there are quite a few older people at Lockhaven. A common theme is seniors who have moved here to be closer to children and grandchildren. Even for those who didn’t receive the first notice taped to their door, the word eviction sent ripples of fear across the grounds.

The backlash has led to organization of a tenant’s union, media attention, support from the city and elected officials, a blog, a Facebook page and plans for a community meeting to be held at Ballard Senior Center. The Lockhaven Tenant Group hopes that drawing attention to what happened to them will educate others about tenant rights and perhaps lead to compromises in terms of proposed renovations, time schedule and rent increases.

Lockhaven has been almost deliberately off the radar with the Ecklund’s family management contributing to the sense of a small village, conveniently located on two major bus lines, across from the senior center and close to grocery stores and medical services. Resident Sue Taylor, who had a sign in the garden beds inviting neighbors to help themselves to tomatoes said, “We’ve been spoiled.”

David Stoesz, resident, former Seattle Weekly columnist and tenant union organizer puts it this way, “People at Lockhaven hang their laundry on clotheslines that were built during WWII. We grow our own produce. All the things that Seattle says it wants to be - affordable, sustainable, diverse -Lockhaven already is.

Now revealed in their cloister, the apartments are being hailed as the last affordable apartment complex in Ballard, perhaps even greater Seattle. The notice of change was abrupt, but the ensuing battle to assert tenant rights and draw attention affordable and elderly housing needs will be a complex and ongoing saga.

The tenant’s site is at http://lockhaventenantsunion.blogspot.com

Peggy Sturdivant can be contacted at psturdivant@earthlink.net

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