September 5, 2007 in City

Otis sale finalized; dozens to be evicted

By The Spokesman-Review
 

An estimated 86 residents of the Otis Hotel, one of the few housing options for sex offenders, will receive eviction notices today.

Developer Chris Batten told Mayor Dennis Hession’s affordable housing task force Tuesday that the group he represents finalized the purchase of the Otis Hotel on Friday. After the meeting, Batten stressed that residents will be assisted in finding new places to live.

“There are resources out there. We’re all trying to deploy these resources,” Batten said. “Our hope is at the end of the day that everybody will have a place to call home.”

The Otis is part of a strip of brick buildings along West First Avenue that is being transformed, forcing a couple hundred people to find new homes. The New Madison and Commercial Building were emptied earlier this summer after several weeks of effort by social service agencies and the city to find new residences for the evicted. Officials say a large majority of those folks found new homes.

Despite a similar effort expected to help displaced Otis tenants, there’s wide concern that more of them will end up on the streets. That’s, in part, because the Otis has lower criminal background standards than most places available to rent.

“We need to be prepared that our success rate may not be as successful,” said Marty Dickinson, chairwoman of the affordable housing task force.

That concern is echoed inside the Otis, said Dave Bilsland, an advocate for the homeless and a former Otis resident.

“They are in panic mode, and they’re approaching desperation mode,” Bilsland said.

Although many in the Otis have no criminal record, the Otis is well-known as one of the few housing options for level 3 sex offenders, described by the state as most likely to commit more sex crimes.

In July, the Spokane City Council devoted $250,000 to help those displaced through redevelopment to pay for moving expenses, security deposits and first month rents at new locations.

Batten is a principle owner of RenCorp, a member of the investment group that purchased the Otis. He said RenCorp will donate $10,000 to the relocation efforts. Until early August, Batten had been negotiating with the city to help pay expenses to keep the Otis open up to nine extra months to give tenants more time to find homes.

Spokane’s Chief Operating Officer John Pilcher said Batten needed about $400,000 to make his plan work, and city officials decided that there were better ways to solve the city’s affordable housing crunch.

“Once that money is gone then that’s less money to invest in the more permanent solution,” Pilcher said.

Batten said RenCorp has not decided how the Otis will be redeveloped. The New Madison, which also is being redeveloped by RenCorp, will be turned into 63 apartments. Most will be upscale, but about a third will have rents affordable to the poor or middle class.

Otis tenants will get longer than the 20 days required by law to leave their apartments, Batten said. He declined to give more details about the time frame, saying that it will be described in the eviction notices.

Meanwhile, Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities in Spokane, said he’s concerned that the loss of the Otis will put more strain on homeless shelters.

The House of Charity, which is run by Catholic Charities, has had to turn people away because its 109 beds have been full.

“We’ll turn people away in February, but we don’t turn people away in warm weather,” McCann said. “That’s unheard of.”


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