Byrd Barr Place has a problem.
The nonprofit organization that fights against gentrification and displacement in the Central Area operates out of a building owned by the city of Seattle that was constructed in 1908. Byrd Barr Place wants to make much-needed — and expensive — seismic upgrades, and even has a state appropriation to do so.
But the Legislature won’t hand over that money until the organization controls the property, something promised two years ago that has yet to be delivered. The legislative authorization expires on June 30, according to a spokesperson for the state Department of Commerce.
“We have all of the funders lined up to leverage state money that was appropriated for us, but they needed some kind of guarantee the facility would be in our long-term care,” said executive director Andrea Caupain.
Byrd Barr Place is not alone.
Six nonprofits in Seattle are waiting for city officials to make good on a two-year-old promise to give them city-owned properties out of which they operate, allowing them the authority and stability to invest in the buildings.
Greenwood Senior Center, operated by the Phinney Neighborhood Association, talked about launching a capital campaign to install an elevator for its aging clients in 2017. Byrd Barr Place wants to upgrade the existing edifice so that it can provide services in the event of an earthquake. Sound Generations, which operates senior centers including the Central Area Senior Center in Leschi, just wants to know that they will be able to occupy the space for the foreseeable future.
“There are some major improvements we want to make, but are delaying making the improvements because we don’t know how long we’ll be there,” said Jim Wigfall, chief executive officer of Sound Generations.
The process to transfer the properties was initiated in 2017. Six organizations — the Central Area Senior Center, Greenwood Senior Center, Byrd Barr Place, South Park Community Center, Southeast Health Clinic (Neighborcare) and Northwest Senior Center — were on the list. At least three of those transfers were slated to be completed by 2018.
The transfer stalled when the city launched a new review of the program, according to Lois Maag, spokesperson for the Department of Neighborhoods.
“In partnership with the community groups, the City went through an intentional process to discuss these issues,” Maag wrote in an email.
The Mayor’s Office created an interdepartmental team between the Office of Economic Development, Department of Neighborhoods and Financial and Administrative Services to create draft criteria for organizations to request a transfer.
The city is in the process of scheduling meetings with each organization to review the new criteria, Maag wrote.
The draft criteria ask for documentation on each organization’s operations and financial viability, technical capacity and ability to maintain the facilities, among other criteria.
The timeline of a transfer is “in the hands of the tenant organization and is driven by its urgency for a transfer,” Maag wrote.
For Byrd Barr Place, that urgency is real.
The organization stands to lose $1.5 million appropriated by the Legislature in 2015 to complete the necessary seismic upgrades to the city-owned building unless it can lock down either ownership of the building or a long-term lease before June 30.
The current capital budget includes an amendment that would extend that funding for another two years, but it hasn’t yet passed.
The nonprofits are not the only ones who stand to gain from the transfers.
The city of Seattle is currently landlord to these six organizations, but big-ticket items like seismic upgrades or an elevator are expensive. Transferring the properties would remove the city’s financial responsibility to provide basic maintenance,and allow the organizations to raise funds for improvements.
The Central Area Senior Center, perched on top of a hill with panoramic views of Lake Washington, wants to resurface its parking lot. The existing gravel lot functions, but it’s far from ideal, Wigfall said. Prior to former Mayor Ed Murray’s resignation, the property was to be transferred to Sound Generations in mid 2018.
“The can just gets kicked down the road,” Wigfall said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Read the full April 10 - 16 issue.
© 2019 Real Change. All rights reserved. | Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change and donate now to support independent, award-winning journalism.