Central Area Housing Issues

The Mann Minor Community Council met with members of the City Council's Planning and Urban Development Committee on August 23, 1972, to describe housing conditions in their neighborhood and make recommendations for improvement. Present were Councilmembers John Miller and Tim Hill, with Sam Smith arriving later. Pearl Armstrong led the Community Council and introduced the speakers. Many different presentations were made by community members on vacancy rates, mortgage companies, insurance issues, zoning, and the housing code. Comments by city officials followed. In attendance were individuals from the Building Department, the Department of Community Development, the Model City Project, and HUD. Following are some excerpts from the meeting.

Councilman Miller: Ladies and gentlemen, this special hearing of the City Council will come to order. The date is August 23rd. This is a hearing that we have called at the request of the Mann Minor Community Council, the newly formed Mann Minor Community Council, to consider the problems, challenges, and opportunities in the Mann Minor neighborhood.

Pearl Armstrong: City Councilmen and other governing bodies of the City of Seattle, I am Pearl Armstrong. I have been chosen by these citizens to be their president. We are out seeking to stop the deterioration of what is considered the Central Area of Seattle, the area in which we now live. We are the residents of the Mann Minor area, specifically that area bounded by Madison Street on the north, Yesler Street on the south, 14th Avenue on the west, and Empire Way on the east. As citizens of the City of Seattle, we feel that our community has been severely neglected and, in many ways excluded by the mayor and the City Council, in making our community one which is more desirable to live in. Therefore, we are here tonight and we are asking you to help us in any way that you see fit...

John Floy: Members of the City Council, I’m John Floy, Vice Chairman of the Brighton Community Council which is in the southeast area of the city. I’ve asked Mrs. Armstrong if I just took a few minutes to express my feelings at this time. I didn’t intend to do this but...I read the article in the newspaper and was very pleased to see someone bringing this to the attention of the City Council because we in the southeast area are beginning to see the same kinds of problems occurring in the southeast area... And I also want to say something, that present company excepted, but that my feeling is that the entire City Council should have attended this meeting. If this were Sand Point, if this were Magnolia, if this were Laurelhurst, the entire City Council would have been here. [applause] I attended a meeting on whether or not to place a Safeway store in Sand Point and believe you me, there was not an empty chair up there. But because it occurs with the Central Area, with people who apparently don’t count very much in the city, or the southeast area, we feel that you can neglect those people. I think that is an insult to the people that live in that area and the concerns that they have...

Mary Garlic: My name is Mary Garlic and I live at 518 19th Avenue and I would like to discuss the mortgage companies. Mortgage companies have been a common problem to all home buyers and borrowers in the Central Area. Forbearance policies until quite recently were unknown in the Central Area. Loan counseling was not offered. Partial payments were refused. High attorneys’ fees were charged and had to be paid along with all the missed payments before foreclosure was halted. Conventional rehabilitation loans are beyond the resources of all but the most affluent and risk-taking Central Area residents. A normal home improvement loan has up to ten percent interest with only five years to pay. Private lending institutions cannot serve the housing needs with their harsh standards. Beyond market interest, federal loans are available only under restricted and limited conditions... Insurance companies. Good insurance coverage is a requirement if we are going to have a stable neighborhood. Without insurance, our rates increase and those who can afford leave the area to places where they can get insured. The Central Area becomes even more deteriorated. Theft and fire insurance is very difficult to get in this area. Some of us have had our policies not renewed, even those we have filed no claims or missed any payments. Insurance in our area...is affected by other housing conditions. A vacant house next door raises fire insurance rates and theft insurance. Insurance companies claim that the area is a high risk area and cannot be profitably insured. The fact is that if they don’t insure our area, it’s left unprotected. Every resident, regardless of where he or she lives, is entitled to insurance. There is a social obligation for insurance companies to serve our area but the obligation is ignored by one of the richest businesses in the country. The result is that our area is a redlined area. And we are asking the City Council to give us your utmost consideration in helping us to live better. Thank you.

Pearl Armstrong: At this time, I’d like to ask Bill Stone, our Central Area insurance broker, to come forth.

Bill Stone: City Councilmen and staff, I’d like to combine my complaints and also at the same time make reference to the insurance problems in the Central Area. Because first thing is that what occurred to most of people like myself who reside in the Central Area, is that we had to purchase those homes; the house that I purchased was about 50 years old when I purchased it because I couldn’t go out and buy one of the new homes with a FHA or VA loan. But later on, the City come along and say that they were going to put a freeway through my street. I can’t go and borrow any money to make any repairs on it. Six months ago, in January, I reached the stage where I might be able to get a bank to consider getting a loan for me. They put in for the City inspector to inspect the house. Three weeks ago, the City came out to inspect it. But I moved my office into a house on 23rd, which is in the same condition. You can’t borrow any money to rehabilitate any places on 23rd. And half the houses on this particular block are vacant, have been vacant for over a year. But I’ve had an inspector out there. He’s out there every day almost, and when he’s not out there, he’s writing me a letter... But we expect insurance companies to come in and provide homeowners policies. I am the only broker in Seattle that’s providing homeowner coverage for the Central Area at this time. And I have four companies - out of over 400 companies operating in the State of Washington, there are only four companies that will write coverage in the Central Area. And they all want high deductibles because of the high incidence of crime or potential crime.

Former Building Department employee [name unintelligible]: I do have a few comments I’d like to make but many of the individuals I’d intended to direct my comments to have gone, and I don’t think it's going to have the effect it would have were those gentlemen here... Several years ago I came to work for the City of Seattle as a housing inspector and worked under Mr Fred B. McCoy, who was the superintendent approximately seven years ago... As one of the members of the City Building Department Housing Conservation Division, I was able to go into many of the homes classified in the neighborhood of Cherry Hill. That was the first urban renewal area within the city and we went in there to enforce the City’s housing code. The reason why I’d like to talk particularly about this is because of the many problems which developed out of that code enforcement. And I would like to bring it to the attention of some of the members of the Mann Minor community. The code, once it was initiated in the area which was called Cherry Hill, which was bounded between 18th and 23rd , Yesler and Cherry, several individuals after the code was enforced upon their particular properties were told by me as a result of the information I had gotten from my director that money would be forthcoming from the private sector in order for them to be able to consolidate loans, because they had a myriad of things which were wrong with their property. That money never really came... Unless the City Council has some kind of contact with the individuals in the mortgage companies, with banks, the savings and loans associations, in order to give these people financial relief, I feel it would be cruel and a bit inhuman to enforce the code, especially in residences where individuals are occupying... It’s one of the main reasons why I quit working for the Building Department, because I could not continue to work for them and be used as the black person who entered the homes of a lot of black people, going in, picking their homes apart, giving them what was called a 60-day letter telling them that they must make certain changes within a 60-day period. At the end of that time, I went back to the property, reinspected it, sending them a 30-day letter, telling them that if the work was not within that 30-day period, they would have to come back to the Superintendent of Buildings and explain why they had not complied with the provisions of the code. When this gentleman’s building was posted as unfit for human habitation, he was alone, a veteran of the first World War, he was only getting $100 a month to take care of clothes, food, shelter, he was current in his mortgage payments. He subsequently lost his property as a result of those inspections which I made. And as I said, I could not quite internalize and accept that kind of situation. Therefore the best thing that I thought I could do was leave the Building Department... I am almost certain that many of the individuals who now live in the Mann Minor community, who are living in occupied structures, if they were to get the housing inspectors to come through those structures where they are now living, they would not meet code standards. And if they are not able to come up with sometimes $5,000 or $10,000 to make those kinds of repairs, they’re going to be put out of those homes and will subsequently lose them...

The entire meeting can be heard here, although the end of the meeting was not recorded. The meeting also included an audiovisual presentation but unfortunately this item was not preserved. See related documents in Digital Collections.