A homeowner during happier times at NewHolly (Photo by Judith Eve Lipton)
Homeowners at NewHolly, Seattle Housing Authority’s mixed income community that has been hailed as a national and international model, filed suit today against the public agency seeking relief from a litany of construction problems and alleged mismanagement. A complaint in King County Superior Court cites a faulty heating system in one phase of the massive Rainier Valley development (a “green” hydronic system that sent hot water in tubes through the floors and into the tap, which not only failed to heat homes sufficiently but may have contaminated drinking water with lead). Other problems allegedly include a leaking water supply system, parks throughout the development that seem to be sinking or turning into marshland, and SHA’s failure to collect adequate homeowner fees while maintaining control of the homeowners association.
What to make of it? Up until recently, NewHolly seemed a success. A couple years ago, demand for houses was so great that would-be buyers literally camped out overnight in front of the sales office. (See this story.) Prices topped out over $400,000. It all validated the risky premise of the project, which relied on the willingness of average folks to pay market-rate prices for houses that sat alongside subsidized public housing.
But Erika Bliss, president of the no longer SHA-controlled NewHolly Homeowners Association, believes that the agency’s big shortcoming was that it was not adept at “dealing with actual homeowners…We’ve been ignored and treated like children and disregarded at the beginning.” As homeowners would repeatedly bring up problems, she says, the agency would “pat them on the head” and tell them not to worry about it.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. SHA’s historic role has been providing rental housing to the low-income. While it has faced plenty of cantankerous criticism over the years from tenants and advocates, it has never quite had to tangle with the likes of Bliss, a doctor who works at the boutique medical organization Qliance. Bliss and many other NewHolly homeowners (including Bliss’ mother who owns a home next door to her daughter) are there in part because of their ideals. She says she loves the mix of folks, many of them immigrants, who share her streets. But she and others also have an investment to protect, and if SHA doesn’t favor them with its good graces, they have the resources to do something about it.