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Closure likely for Martindale

Thu., April 10, 2008

At a time when Spokane is desperately in need of affordable housing, a 51-unit, low-income apartment building in Hillyard likely will close because its former management company hasn’t paid utility bills.

Electricity, water, sewer and garbage service will be discontinued May 9 at the Martindale Apartments, 5313 N. Regal St., unless an agreement is reached with the owner, according to spokespeople at Avista Utilities and the city of Spokane. The building is managed by the REM Association, a nonprofit corporation affiliated with Jim Delegans, who had a role in other Spokane buildings that have been lost as low-income housing.

Forty-one people live in the Martindale, said Marlene Feist, public affairs officer for the city.

Raven Garrison has lived there for four years.

“Me and my girlfriend, I’m not sure where we will go,” Garrison said. “That’s not much time to find a place, a month.”

He and Cheyenne Cuevas, who said they live on disability and are in the care of a Spokane Mental Health caseworker, pay $364 a month for their apartment, which also is subsidized by a federal housing voucher.

Damage from a small electrical fire in their apartment a week ago has yet to be repaired. The single elevator in the Martindale has been inoperable for more than a year, they said, even though people with disabilities live on upper floors.

“A guy named Charlie had a seizure and fell down the stairs and cracked his skull open,” Garrison said. Another tenant verified this.

Feist said Mayor Mary Verner signed off on the decision to stop city services after months of working with the owners “to get them current.”

Feist said Verner was “distressed” by the decision and its effect on the Martindale tenants.

“We will do everything we can to minimize the impact on these citizens,” Verner said in a news release.

Spokane was hard-pressed to find housing for nearly 200 people displaced last year by the closure of three downtown apartment buildings: the Otis Hotel, the Commercial Building and the New Madison Building.

A January survey of rental properties in Spokane revealed a vacancy rate of 1.6 percent for one-bedroom apartments and 1.2 percent for studio units, according to Cindy Algeo, of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.

“We have been telling the city there are other properties that will be closing due to lack of funding or redevelopment,” Algeo said.

“The Martindale is being lost because it hasn’t been properly financially managed.”

Built in 1912, the Martindale formerly was Hillyard High School, and it is on the local, state and national historic registers. It was converted into apartments in the 1940s.

In November 2005, the crime-ridden building was purchased for $750,000 by Martindale Place LLC in cooperation with the Spokane Community Housing Association as 1 percent owner, The Spokesman-Review reported at the time.

The association’s participation made possible federal grants – obtained through the county and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – to help finance $3.8 million in renovations.

At the time, the REM Association was manager of the project. Principals in Martindale Place LLC could not be reached for comment Wednesday to verify that they still own the property or whether REM Association still manages it. Delegans did not return a voice message left on his cell phone Wednesday afternoon.

Martindale is still listed as the owner on the county assessor’s Web site.

The Spokesman-Review previously reported that Delegans lost the Commercial Building as collateral on the Carlyle Care Center downtown, when it went bankrupt. Last year, he lost an appeal in the Washington State Court of Appeals to enter arbitration on the Otis, which was formerly owned by another nonprofit he headed.

At the Martindale, about half of the units were subsidized by as much as $150,000 in HUD Shelter Plus Payments. These payments were discontinued last November, Feist said, because the units did not meet federal requirements.

The building’s on-site manager, Vickie Johnson, said Wednesday she answers to Hillyard Holdings LLC. The corporation’s registered agent, Cory Colvin, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Johnson said a $40,000 Avista utility bill was delivered to her office Tuesday, the day Avista put a notice under the door of each apartment that it intended to discontinue service for lack of payment.

Johnson blamed Delegans for not paying the bills.

“I think he shouldn’t be able to own any other buildings for low-income people,” Johnson said. “He had the Commercial, and he had the Otis for a while, so here we are again.

“I have to tell all these people on fixed incomes they have to move,” she said. “They are lost.”

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