LETTER: ‘Tenants at Fox Cove have been failed’ by the City of Burien

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

Tenants at Fox Cove Apartments – as well as the broader community – have been failed by the Burien City Manager, City Council, and the owner of Fox Cove Apartments. In September, the property changed hands to a new owner and property management. Fox Cove LLC, which formed in August and bought Fox Cove Apartments in September, is clearly trying to flip the building for profit. The registered agent for this corporation, Joseph Strobele, runs a real-estate investment company. While investors might view Fox Cove Apartments as an opportunity to cash-in on gentrification, we view this as a greedy move to push low-income families into homelessness, while the city does nothing.

We, along with our neighbors, were given little notice to move without any relocation assistance from either the city or the developer. The city directed some resources to local nonprofits, but many of us have been told we can only receive help once we lose our apartments and are officially homeless. If we lived a few miles north in Seattle, we would have had access to relocation assistance, but Burien does not have protections for tenants facing displacement due to development.

The new owner does not care that they are pushing us into homelessness. They are still collecting rent on the apartments that are crumbling around us, and have not offered any relocation assistance. The property management company, SUHRCO Residential Properties is being incredibly aggressive about collecting rent and has started multiple eviction actions against current residents. Because of the terrible condition of the apartments, there are potential remedies for us under state law that would hold the owner accountable, but these remedies require a city inspection.

Brian Wilson, the City Manager, has refused to send an inspector, something the city is explicitly required to do under municipal code once a complaint has been made. Even with tenants calling the city council, a tenant attorney explaining the state law, and other community members pushing the city council, they refused to call on the City Manager to send an inspector.

It seems that the city is concerned that the new owner may sue them for sending out an inspector – which sends a message to the public that powerful interests can hold the council hostage and exploit community if they have deep pockets. The only Councilmembers who have continued to stand with us are Councilmembers Pedro Olguín and Krystal Marx. The other Councilmembers have offered us only platitudes, without action. Platitudes, unfortunately, will not stop our families from becoming homeless.

These options under the state law are not the most ideal – but are our only option until Burien passes strong tenant protections for our community. Several Councilmembers have expressed interest in creating tenant protections for Burien, but if they are too scared of one developer to call on the City Manager to send an inspector, how can we trust that they will pass tenant protections into law? As it stands, in Burien, developers can still buy up apartments, push tenants out without any help, and flip the building to rake in outrageous profits. The only repercussions the developer faces are admonishments from the city without action.

Both the new owner and the City of Burien can rectify this injustice – the new owner needs to offer tenants relocation assistance. The city needs to immediately pass tenant protections, especially relocation assistance for tenants displaced due to displacement, to prevent this type of exploitation from happening to Burien families in the future. We cannot wait another day.

Jay Kay, Don Thurston, and Artie McKellar are residents of Fox Cove Apartments and are fighting for stronger tenant protections for Burien.

Here’s a video of some residents’ recent protest:

Here’s a photo of the letter tenants submitted to the property owner:

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