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Washington Voices

New apartments cause angst

Rumors wrongly contend housing authority placing sex offenders in Hillyard

The Spokane Housing Authority is spending $6.5 million on a complete renovation of the former Hillyard High School, now named the Agnes Kehoe Place. Construction began last fall, and the building is scheduled to open in spring of 2012. Everything is progressing according to plan, except one thing: a persistent rumor that the building, located on the 5300 block of North Regal Street, will be used for registered sex offender housing.

Recently, a threat was made to burn down the finished building.

“Some individual walked up to one of the workers at the site and filled him in on the sex offenders we are supposedly going to be housing in the building,” said Art Noll, development director for the Spokane Housing Authority. “He said he feared for his kids and his family and that he was going to burn the building down. We don’t house registered sex offenders at any of our facilities, period.”

Noll said the Spokane Housing Authority is taking threats seriously and is now sending representatives to community meetings in northeast Spokane to dispel the rumors.

“We need to do a better job communicating with neighbors about our projects,” said Lucy Lepinski, asset director for the Spokane Housing Authority. “The housing authority goes above and beyond what many other landlords do to background check tenants.” Lepinski said that the housing authority does a credit check, a national criminal background check and rental history check going three years back for all potential tenants.

“It’s not a group living facility,” Noll said. “There are 51 one-bedroom apartments at the Agnes. Ten are set aside for formerly homeless veterans, with counseling provided by the Veterans Administration. Another 10 are set aside for persons with disabilities.” The apartments will be available for people with low incomes, defined as less than 50 percent of the area’s median income.

Lepinski said the building is undergoing a “complete historic preservation” and that the final project will include a computer lab and landscaping around the building.

“The Spokane Housing Authority has been active in Hillyard for more than 15 years,” Noll said. “We work with, and get input from, many of the northeast neighborhood organizations.” He added that the housing authority puts about $2 million in the hands of private landlords every month through its rental assistance program.

“The housing authority benefits Hillyard,” said Lepinski. “We are not in any way a negative for the neighborhood. In many cases, people would be homeless without the housing authority.”