The Central supporters strategize uphill battle with mayor

Durkan facing criticism for delaying transfer of properties to nonprofit operators

The Central supporters strategize uphill battle with mayor

The Central supporters strategize uphill battle with mayor

Update: Councilmember Kshama Sawant will hold a press conference 1:30-3 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Seattle City Hall to discuss CASC’s attempt to get the property transfer completed. 

Mayor Jenny Durkan could soon see a large group of senior citizens marching up to city hall if she continues delaying the transfer of The Central property to its nonprofit operators.

“I believe we’ll get this property, but it’s not because somebody wants to give it to us,” said Central Area Senior Center executive director Dian Ferguson. “It’s because we did the work.”

A march on city hall was just one action considered during a community meeting at The Central senior center on April 15, where Ferguson laid out the nonprofit’s history trying to get the city-owned property transferred.

CASC spent around $180,000 developing business, communications, marketing, operations and other plans to satisfy conditions set by former mayor Ed Murray in order to acquire the property, Ferguson said.

“So then you know what happened with him; he resigned,” she said.

The nonprofit still expected the transfer to be in last year’s budget, but Durkan didn’t include it. The Seattle City Council ended up passing a green sheet calling for The Central, as well as the Byrd Barr Place and Greenwood Senior Center properties to be transferred to the nonprofits operating in them. Negotiations were supposed to be well underway by March 31.

“I can’t count too well, but I think that was like 16 days ago,” said John Perkins, a consultant working with CASC to get the property transfer completed.

Ferguson said CASC reached out to the mayor’s office in March, after a lack of communication. A mutually offsetting benefit (MOB) interdepartmental team had been formed last September to negotiate with the nonprofits and assess their financial and operational readiness to assume ownership of the properties.

The team set a March 13 meeting with CASC and representatives from Byrd Barr Place and Greenwood Senior Center. One day before the meeting, Ferguson said, CASC received the MOB Eligibility and Evaluations Criteria.

The Seattle Finance and Administration department determined in 2013 that CASC could assume ownership of the property, as did a 2017 Soul Light report submitted to FAS.

The building at 500 30th Ave. S. was constructed in 1959 to serve as the Christian Science Church. A group started providing senior programs and activities there in 1968, prior to the City of Seattle acquiring the property to serve as a senior center in 1975, Ferguson said.

The purchase was mostly funded with $185,000 from the state through Referendum 29, passed in 1972. The measure authorized the state to issue $25 million in general obligation bonds to acquire and build health and social service facilities.

The Central notes in its response to the MOB interdepartmental team that no Referendum 29 funding would need to be returned, as the building would continue serving as a senior center, just as it was prior to the city purchasing the property. The senior center cites Washington code related to transfers of real property and facilities to nonprofit corporations (RCW 43.83.410).

Ferguson said she has no intention of responding to the “busy work and nonsense” being asked of CASC in the MOB Eligibility and Evaluations Criteria, which public records show was generated as far back as December but only provided to the nonprofit in March.

Those public records, obtained by the Madison Park Times and provided to CASC for comment, show a restrictive covenant agreement drafted for the Phinney Neighborhood Association, which operates the Greenwood Senior Center, committing it to continuing to provide social services to the public. Under the covenant agreement, any development or redevelopment would have to include affordable housing, and all maintenance and property insurance would be the responsibility of PNA.

The records also show that, prior to sending CASC its eligibility and evaluations criteria, the MOB team already provided the mayor with recommendations for either selling, leasing or holding the building, plus potential covenants, including conditions on future development, all of which were redacted, as were recommendations for other city-owned properties being considered for transfer.

“The draft Eligibility and Evaluation Criteria were developed in response to the community’s request that the City set clear and consistent expectations regarding the transfers of these properties,” writes Kamaria Hightower, Durkan’s deputy communications director, in an email response to MPT’s questions about the memos. “Once submitted by the organizations, the information requested in the final criteria will inform the decision on whether to transfer the properties. The final decision will be made only after reviewing and evaluating the information provided by the MOB organizations.”

Further questions by MPT as to why recommendations had been made last year, before the criteria was issued to the nonprofits, went unanswered.

Ferguson said the MOB team also undervalued the property in its assessment, which the CASC director believes was done to help the mayor’s case for using the site to build affordable housing.

“We already know that there’s no low-income housing that’s going to be built on this property,” Ferguson said.

Developing affordable housing at The Central site has already been determined to be unfeasible.

“WHEREAS, on October 7, 2016, OH [Office of Housing] determined that mitigating the steep slope on the east side of the property at 500 30th Avenue South (Central Area Senior Center) would make redeveloping the site with affordable housing financially unfeasible,” according to the resolution adopted by the city council last November, “and the benefits of having Central Area Senior Center (CASC) continue to serve African-American seniors in the community far outweigh the benefits of redeveloping the site for affordable housing.”

But CASC board member Cliff Hollands and others at the April 15 meeting didn’t believe that would stop the mayor from proceeding with housing plans.

“This is prime-view property,” Hollands told MPT, “and people want this site.”

The senior center has unobstructed views of Lake Washington, and Hollands said it wouldn’t be hard to rezone the site to build affordable housing upward.

“The legal part of it, it’s in our favor,” he said about getting the property transferred to CASC, “but what does that mean when you’re getting stonewalled?”

District 3 City Councilmember Kshama Sawant led the charge to confront Durkan at city hall, proposing the seniors benefiting from the 14 programs offered at CASC protest outside her seventh-floor office. Community members agreed it would be more realistic to march outside city hall, and Sawant promised to organize the rally and come back with a date soon.

“I think we need to remind the mayor that this is not a share-cropping situation,” said resident Louis Drake.

The councilmember shared an April 3 letter of support she sent to Durkan and city departments involved in the MOB team with seniors attending The Central meeting.

“The Central Area Senior Center, Byrd Barr Place, and the Greenwood Senior Center are jewels in our community, annually providing essential services to thousands of Seattle residents,” a portion of the letter reads, “especially seniors, low-income people, and working families.”

Sawant said the resolution approved by the city council last year committing to the property transfers is nonbinding, so the mayor missing the March 31 deadline is not illegal.

“What it does show is she doesn’t care what the community thinks, that’s for sure,” the councilmember said.

The city council could pass an ordinance to transfer the properties, Sawant said, which would have more teeth than last year’s resolution.

“If we have to go that route, we can and absolutely will do so,” she said.

District 3 opponent and Mount Baker resident Pat Murakami criticized Sawant for not responding to the issue sooner, and then denounced the recently passed Mandatory Housing Affordability program, which she said will disproportionately impact low-income and communities of color.

“It is wrong, it needs to be reversed, and I will do this if elected,” Murakami said.

Ferguson warned the property transfer controversy could become a state issue if the City of Seattle does not turn the site over to the nonprofit. Since the property was mostly funded by Referendum 29, if it stops serving as a senior center, the state could petition to take ownership of the site, Ferguson said.

“But we want to own it before that happens.”

Memos - All Combined Redacted by on Scribd