Thursday, February 27, 2014
Tom Forbes was a tenant kicked out of his apartment in November by a company called BlueStar.
In fact, if you read this week's cover story, you'll learn that the company has kicked out every tenant, most of them low-income, in the Commercial Building on two separate occasions: Once in 2007 and again in 2013.
On Nov. 12, 2013, a week after the FBI raid, he wrote this plea to Mayor David Condon’s office:
If an earthquake or flood were to destroy an apartment building in Spokane, both private and governmental agencies would act quickly to rehouse the displaced residents. In the case of the residents of Park Avenue Suites, however, we have been displaced not by an act of God, but by the actions of a man now being investigated for allegedly defrauding investors out of millions of dollars and his unwitting accomplice, the city of Spokane. And we have absolutely no immediate rehousing resources or assistance available to us at all. That needs to be remedied immediately.
"DVD mogul" Erick Hansen and his company, BlueStar Technologies, have been warmly welcomed by the city since locating here in 2007, despite being cited for major securities violations in California in 2008 and Washington in 2011. Your predecessors as Mayor, in fact, were lavish in their praise for Mr. Hansen. That all ended on November 5, 2013, when FBI agents raided the company's headquarters on First Avenue, just a few blocks from your office.
Yet, in 2011, when all the low-income residents were evicted from the Commercial Building, BlueStar was somehow allowed to continue renting rooms as "Park Avenue Suites". Supposedly, this housing was going to be geared towards students interested in learning about digital technology. In reality, the short term leases and low deposits were ideal for people new to town or in need of transitional housing.
We may not spend $1,500 on lingerie or hobnob with Michael Jackson's father, but we certainly didn't deserve having eviction notices abruptly shoved under our doors by associates of Mr. Hansen wearing guns on their hips just a few weeks before the FBI raid. Quite obviously, the skids were coming off Hansen's schemes yet again and we had to go, just as the previous residents had in 2011 when BlueStar was slapped with fines by the state of Washington for illegally soliciting investors. The ten of us living at Park Avenue Suites in early October faced the nearly impossible task of either securing new housing within three weeks or an eviction hearing, which is the kiss of death to a renter. But in the end, through no fault of our own, we have been thrown out onto the street just before the holidays and become merely more statistics in Spokane's homeless community: unknown, unheeded, and unwanted.
Business partnerships to renovate downtown are important, particularly ones that aim to expand low-income housing. But as projects like the Ridpath progress, the city of Spokane can't be like that other River City and march to the music of any flashy bandmaster. You must protect the most vulnerable before you protect the bottom line. A strong dose of due diligence seems a good first step.
My fellow residents and myself are not simply collateral damage from greedy corporate machinations. We're human beings with dignity and hopes and dreams of our own. We're fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and sons and daughters. To that end and as the city does bear some responsibility for what has transpired, I ask for your assistance for the ten of us displaced by Erick Hansen and BlueStar Technologies.
I’d just offer two corrections to his letter: First, the original evictions happened in 2007, not 2011. And a separate company, headed by Nicola Mann, ran the Park Avenue Suites initially. It wasn’t until May of 2013 that BlueStar took control of the suites.
Here the response to the plea for “immediate” assistance, sent 48 days later on Dec. 30, 2013 from Condon’s office. It encourages Forbes to dial 211, outlines the city’s housing strategy, and praises the city’s response to the 2007 eviction.
Dear Mr. Forbes,
Thank you for contacting our office with your questions, Mayor Condon asked that I follow up and provide you with some resources that may be beneficial for you. If you are currently in need of housing assistance or know of individuals who need housing assistance, please contact 211 for help. This one-stop call system will make service referrals for housing and supportive services.
The City routinely works with low income housing providers in the event of evictions, including in the Commercial Building. All willing residents were assessed and provided relocation assistance if they met the income qualifications. We have a rapid rehousing program that places individuals into housing quickly after they experience homelessness. The City also funds homelessness prevention programs to provide assistance for income-eligible individuals who have received eviction notices or are in immediate threat of becoming homeless.
The City has consolidated its approach to providing services and housing for our extremely-low-to-moderate income citizens:
— The City has combined the departments responsible for social services & housing investments to ensure investments in social services support long-term success for individuals placed into housing.
— We have developed programs targeted to those most in need of assistance, chronically homeless and mentally ill individuals. Through partnering with medical service providers, housing providers and social services, we identify those most in need and prioritize them for housing and services.
— The City has implemented an integrated intake process for homeless families and we are developing a similar process for homeless individuals. These efforts provide a one-stop application and intake for many programs that provide services and housing.
— Individuals who participate in the integrated intake process undergo an assessment that identified their unique individual needs to ensure that we match them with resources that serve their needs rather than waste resources by placing them into standardized service systems. The savings we achieve through this integrated process help us provide additional services by reducing waste.
Again, I would like to reiterate that if you are in need of assistance or know others who are, please call 211 for help. Working together, as you mentioned, with the great people of our city, we can make Spokane the “City of Choice” and a community that tends to its most vulnerable population.