The federal government is softening its stance against Spokane apartment house owners who want to invoke strict discipline in the freewheeling West First area.
A top official with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Monday the agency likely will let the owners of the Commercial Building do as they wish. HUD is reversing an earlier decision to stop house rules - including room searches, urine tests and curfews - which the department said violated tenants’ civil rights.
Now, the agency simply asks that the building owners include a tenant-counseling program in the proposed alcohol-free regimen, something co-owner Jim Delegans says he already had planned.
After months of wrangling, it appears the nationally publicized policy clash over the renovated Skid Road apartments at 1115 W. First stemmed from poor communication - and may be resolved soon.
The federal government cut off rent subsidies and support for the project in April because house rules were deemed unsuitable for permanent housing and violated the state landlord-tenant law.
Commercial Building representatives accused the government of endangering a $1.6 million renovation project and spiking efforts to upgrade the West First area.
Printed excerpts of a letter from HUD on the subject struck Rush Limbaugh and other national voices as evidence of bureaucratic nonsense prevailing over common sense.
The HUD letter stated the Commercial’s house rules “would discriminate against the persons they seem to intend to house, drug addicts and alcoholics.”
Lynn Martin, HUD director of public housing for Northwest states, said the agency since has discovered other HUD-supported apartments enforce similar rules and that a deal can be crafted.
Martin said the nearly empty, often violence-ridden Commercial Building should start getting federal subsidies and tenant referrals as soon as the Spokane Housing Authority approves new counseling plans and house rules.
“Nobody wants that project to go more than we do,” said Sharon Lord, operations director of the Housing Authority. “My feeling is that we’re close,” she said of the ongoing negotiations. “We’re real hopeful.”
The Commercial Building had about 40 tenants when HUD turned off the subsidies and the building dropped its house rules two months ago. It now has only 12 people living in its 52 rooms, which rent for $328 a month.
Manager Ann Fink said some tenants have relapsed into addictions and that crime and intimidation are commonplace without the structure of the house rules.
One tenant recently was threatened with a meat cleaver when he complained about late-night noise, she said. Another tenant concealed a marijuana plant and the head of a city parking meter in his room.
Delegans said he still doesn’t understand the fuss.
His applications for the project four years ago stressed the involvement of a social worker and tenant counseling, he said. He said he was in the process of implementing those programs when HUD stopped the money this spring.
“It’s amazing how all this mess was created through significant miscommunication of government agencies,” Delegans said, indicating he thought the Spokane Housing Authority and HUD weren’t in harmony.
Delegans said the Commercial’s proposed social worker program includes four people, including a coordinator, a mental health counselor and a caseworker.
He also hopes to keep all of the building’s proposed rules in place.