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It’s A Miracle On Post Street Cash Infusion To Pump New Life Into Carlyle Apartments

Sat., Aug. 9, 1997

One of Spokane’s most troubled apartment buildings for the elderly poor and mentally ill will be stripped to its 109-year-old frame and rebuilt.

More than $3.89 million is being poured into the 102-unit Carlyle Apartments, a seven-story building at 206 S. Post, making its renovation one of the most ambitious housing projects for such clientele in Spokane history.

Carlyle tenants are the poorest of the poor, advocates say, some living on $339 a month. After the remodeling, they’ll be living in clean, safe, air-conditioned comfort, the building’s owner said.

Money for the remodeling is a patchwork of generosity and scarce state funding for low-income housing. It was triggered by a $100,000 gift from the nonprofit organization that runs the Rockwood Manor Retirement Community on the South Hill.

Others followed suit, including a matching $100,000 grant from Wells Fargo Bank. The gifts helped convince US Bank to issue a low-interest loan for $3.8 million.

“Rockwood cares for the people in the top 70 percent” of income brackets, said Steve Wuitschick, Rockwood’s CEO. “The Carlyle is probably caring for the lower 30 percent. We felt this had to be done.”

Financing the Carlyle project was the highest priority last year for the Washington Housing Finance Commission, a state agency which helps fund low-income housing. The commission arranged tax-exempt revenue bonds for the project.

“That’s phenomenal,” said Kathleen Fuller, housing coordinator for Spokane Mental Health. “All we ever hear is there is no money. For one project to get that kind of money - whew, that’s just phenomenal.”

Construction will begin Aug. 20, provided the Spokane City Council agrees as expected to approve a $150,000 federal Community Development grant. It is intended to pay for, among other things, stoves and refrigerators, according to Mike Adolfae, director of the city Community Development office.

Residents will remain during renovation. The apartments will be rebuilt floor by floor. When one floor is finished, residents will move into the new digs and crews will tear up their old apartments.

Walls of warped and tattered plaster board will be stripped to the studs. Faulty wiring and ancient plumbing will be replaced.

Owner Ed Hoffman said current residents can stay, as long as they agree to a new policy banning drugs and alcohol, aimed at making the building safe and reducing wear and tear.

The Carlyle’s recent history is spotted with fires, suicides and deaths. It became a refuge for the mentally ill when the state emptied out hospital wards in the mid-1970s, and remains known to social service providers as “Eastern State Hospital’s east branch.”

Sheltering the poor is not a profitable business, Hoffman is quick to remind visitors. He and his wife, Debbie Hoffman, both of Spokane, have tried to remodel the Carlyle for years.

Hiccups of public money paid for a kitchen and helped with some remodeling on the second floor. Those apartments are for elderly patients who qualify for assisted care, including visits from nurses and meals cooked on-site.

After the full renovation, Hoffman hopes to attract more assisted-care tenants. Rent in those apartments is about $700 a month, more than triple the rent for the boarding rooms also in the building.

Until now the Hoffmans, who make about $36,000 a year running the Carlyle, had been unable to get a loan for improvements.

“Hey, we’re not millionaires, we don’t have deep pockets,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman knew of the history and tenants when he bought it 12 years ago. He intended it to be an investment, never dreaming of becoming a caretaker.

“But something just clicked,” he said with a shrug. “I saw the people’s needs and had to do something.”

Hoffman’s building is among the best of its kind, said Dianne Kinzel. She sends her students at the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education to the Carlyle and other downtown apartment complexes to treat tenants.

While researching her master’s thesis on the health needs of the mentally ill, she lived in the Carlyle and on the streets. “(The Carlyle) was the place I used as a home base because it was the safest,” she said.

Gordon Berg, a Boston-based financier who helped Hoffman gather money for the remodeling, agrees.

“He has gathered a whole lot of people who are hurting, and cares for them almost as if he was a saint,” said Berg.

Charlotte Coston, a Carlyle tenant since 1978, chuckles at all the excitement over renovation.

The 74-year-old couldn’t imagine living elsewhere on her tight income. “Where else could I afford to go, Ed?” she asks her landlord.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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