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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Council’s Otis visit canceled

Jessica Meyers Staff writer

Uncertainty continues to grow surrounding a proposed subsidy designed to delay the evictions of more than 100 low-income residents of the Otis Hotel, including nearly 30 sex offenders.

A planned tour today designed to assure Spokane City Council members that conditions inside the deteriorating downtown apartment building remain suitable was abruptly canceled Thursday. No reason for the cancellation was given.

City Council President Joe Shogan said the tour plays a critical role in determining whether the city will pay the $180,000 requested by developer Chris Batten to cover costs of housing residents for an additional nine months. It’s intended to give inhabitants more time to find alternative low-income housing in a market that lacks it.

“I thought the tour was arranged and I find out from (Batten) this morning that he said he wasn’t notified,” explained Shogan, who said the arrangements had been made with the building’s managers.

Shogan announced the tour on Tuesday and sent out public notification indicating that four or more council members would be in attendance, a stipulation that requires general access to the event. A new tour has not been rescheduled.

Batten would not comment on the canceled viewing but said RenCorp is following procedure as his company prepares to take over the building Aug. 1. “We are using appropriate channels to go through what we are doing,” he said. RenCorp plans to renovate the 167 units into new apartments and will reserve some for poor or middle-class tenants, Batten said.

Earlier this week the City Council earmarked $250,000 of unspent money from 2006 to assist more than 200 residents along West First Avenue, which also includes the New Madison Apartments and the Commercial Building, set to become a manufacturing plant for next-generation DVDs.

But this doesn’t solve the short-term problem of housing the soon-to-be-evicted Otis Hotel residents, almost 30 of whom are previously convicted sex offenders.

Batten asked the city and county to help reimburse the current owners for operating costs that would reach $440,000 during the nine-month reprieve, $210,000 of which would be donated by the county. Batten would contribute $50,000.

Shogan said the council will not relinquish more money until they see the condition of the Otis Hotel. “We would be leery to provide funding for a facility that is substandard,” he said.

Councilman Al French had planned to attend the tour and agreed that a decision could not be made without viewing the facility, known for its dank bathrooms and sparsely furnished single-room apartments. “What we want to do is confirm that the units are livable units and we are not putting people into a situation that is not habitable,” French said.

Councilman Bob Apple doesn’t feel this is necessary. “The tour would have been a waste of taxpayer money,” said Apple, who opposes spending taxpayer money for temporary housing in a decrepit building.

Apple had not made plans to attend the event. “It’s probably pretty shocking, and trying to make it code is a pile of garbage,” he said, citing annual complaints from the Fire Department. “The previous owner didn’t maintain it, and the new owner doesn’t want to,” he said. “Our community can do better than that.”

Downtown Spokane Partnership President Marty Dickinson, who heads the city’s new housing task force, said the Otis Hotel issue is more complicated than simply staving off impending evictions.

“I don’t know if just throwing money is the answer,” she said. “We have some individuals who no matter how much money is provided cannot pass certain requirements. It’s a major problem because we have entities, but they don’t accept certain backgrounds.”

But Cathy Mann, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group VOICES and a member of the task force, said securing housing for Otis residents is still an emergency situation. She planned to attend the tour and had not been informed that it was canceled. “I hope they reschedule and soon. I have been in the Otis, but that was 20 years ago, and it was bad then,” she said.

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