CAMPAIGN 2003 UNDER WAY
Tenants' maven Judy Nicastro is drawing opponents like Madonna draws paparazzi. Two realtors have lined up to oppose the one-term City Council member, who faces a re-election campaign next year, and an attorney is thinking about throwing his hat in the ring.
Robert Rosencrantz, a landlord and King County Housing Authority manager who spent 15 years selling apartment buildings for big real-estate firms, plans to declare his candidacy this week. Rosencrantz stepped into the middle of a Nicastro battle two years ago, when his company, Rose Properties, handled the sale of the Biltmore Apartments on Capitol Hill. The new management at the Biltmore, RP Management (unrelated to Rose Properties), was accused of retaliating against tenants who protested an illegal rent hike by doubling the rent increase. Nicastro used the retaliation claim as a campaign issue, calling the Biltmore's management "greedy pigs" and seeking to toughen the retaliation law. At the time, Rosencrantz wrote a letter to Seattle Weekly in which he said Nicastro had "failed to provide leadership" on the Biltmore.
Kollin Min, a 35-year-old attorney with a long r鳵m頬isting his involvement in affirmative action, housing, and environmental causes, is starting to mull a council run, and Nicastro's seat is on his list. Min worked on the housing levy that passed last September; Nicastro opposed it because she said it provided too much for home-ownership programs. "To run on a platform of affordable housing issues," as Nicastro did, "and then turn around and vote against the major source of funding for nonprofit affordable housing providers—that's not providing effective leadership," Min says.
Add to those two Windermere real-estate agent and Columbia City activist Darryl Smith, who already has socked away a few thousand bucks toward his bid for Nicastro's seat. . . .
Households in Ravenna and Capitol Hill reported receiving this alarming bit of news from the "Office of the Mayor" over the weekend: A pointed flyer calling on neighborhood residents to do their part to "fill the government's traditional role as a human service provider" under Mayor Greg Nickels' new "Shelter to Street" program. Among the suggestions: "Deposit change along the street. Place mattresses in your doorways and/or backyards for the homeless. Leave your vehicles unlocked so people may sleep in them. (Stereo faces should be removed to prevent theft.)" No one has stepped up to claim responsibility for the flyers. . . .
The evidence kept piling up that something was wrong with the rent the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) was charging low-income tenants. But nobody knew how wrong until earlier this year, when the Seattle Tenants Union teamed up with a group of residents who received housing subsidies from SHA under a federal program called Section 8. Together, the tenants discovered that many of them were paying far more than they were supposed to. In one case, the overpayment totaled $1,830.
What happened? According to SHA Section 8 manager Kathy Roseth, the overcharges resulted from "a training issue" with SHA staff, who review and adjust the tenants' payments every year. The tenants who received the housing vouchers from SHA lived in private, market-rate housing, which formerly had been subsidized by the federal government. As long as they remained in the same buildings, the tenants' rents were supposed to be frozen at 30 percent of their income, with SHA paying the difference. When SHA realized its mistake, the agency took the highly unusual step of paying the tenants back—with interest—and reviewing the files of all 87 people in the program. Tenants Union organizer Siobhan Ring says it's one of the first times she can remember that SHA "has been held accountable by a group of tenants." But the long-term problem might be beyond SHA's power to fix. At least 10 subsidized buildings have opted out of the Section 8 program in Seattle. As tenants move away from their subsidized buildings, their protected status ends, and many end up paying 40 percent and even 50 percent of their income for rent.
Erica C. Barnett