A group of tenants is hoping to organize against the new owners of the 1926-built Capitol Hill brick apartment building they call home and fight back against what they say is an “economic eviction” underway on 16th Ave E.
“Tenants have been here as long as 11 years and we’re invested in staying in our homes in a way that is affordable and sustainable,” the Milestone Tenants Fight Back group writes. “We know the only way to do this is through our collective action and with the support of our broader community. In other words, we want to stay and fight!”
According to King County records, a company operated by Milestone Properties closed its purchase of the Kenton Apartments for $4.6 million in late January. The owner and manager of apartments in Seattle’s University District, Queen Anne, Greenwood, Interbay, Capitol Hill, Fremont, and Wallingford neighborhoods purchased the 300-block 16th Ave E property from its longtime family owners.
Milestone’s Jenny Domoto says it was the kind of transaction that is increasingly common in Seattle and on the Hill where smaller property owners are selling to larger companies. But she adds that, in Seattle’s real estate market, Milestone is puny compared to the national investors.
Domoto said that Milestone did, indeed, raise rents when it took over on top of charging for things the previous owners didn’t like parking or utility fees. It also started asking tenants who had been month to month to sign year-long leases. “It wasn’t run as a business,” Domoto said. “One guy owned and managed and created a really nice community.”
Domoto said Milestone realized its error after hearing the initial complaints about the increased costs and backed off the larger rent increase to a smaller uptick. But that hasn’t been enough to satisfy the tenant group. UPDATE: Domoto says they also offered Kenton tenants units with cheaper rents in other buildings on Capitol Hill.
“They are just demanding,” Domoto said. “I have tried negotiating. We cut the utility fee. We reduced the rent increase.”
“It’s like a campaign. It’s like they’re kids demanding more dessert.”
Some tenants have taken their “utility concession” money and put it toward helping fund the group’s campaign against Milestone.
A tenant in the building who has been part of the organizing said the group is open to negotiations and that they’re listening to Milestone. The group has countered with a list of demands for their new landlords — including “no more than 10% TOTAL housing cost increase per year for all tenants, present and future, starting immediately” — and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has joined in with her support.
“The Kenton tenants have made you a reasonable and accommodating proposal,” Sawant writes in a letter to Milestone management (PDF) she posted publicly. “I urge you to accept it.
“My Council office and our housing justice movement will stand with the tenants of the Kenton, and indeed with all tenants, who are resisting greedy companies like Milestone,” Sawant writes. “Our movement is only just begun – to fight extortionate rent increases, demand citywide rent control with no corporate loopholes, and tax big business and the rich to fund affordable social housing for all.”
Earlier this month, CHS reported on Sawant’s ongoing support for tenant advocacy as she mounts a 2019 reelection campaign. The District 3 rep has also helped organize rallies for residents of the Chateau Apartments, a 21-unit Section 8 subsidized building purchased by a Seattle developer two years ago and slated to be replaced by a new microhousing project with 73 “small efficiency dwelling units.”
Despite its relatively small size in the world of multifamily real estate, Milestone still manages more than 500 units in the area including the Roni Lee building on E Harrison just off Broadway. The tenants group is now hoping to leverage that size and organize other buildings including the Roni Lee to join its call.
Domoto says the situation at the Kenton has been politicized and that Sawant and the tenants are up agains the realities of building ownership in Seattle. “I grew up in Seattle, I see how crazy it’s gotten. On the management side of things, things are expensive,” Domoto said.
Domoto says Milestone hasn’t heard from any other Seattle officials.
She said Milestone has taken a rational approach to owning an old, expensive building and not taking the teardown route to new development.
“We were fair,” she said. “We’re negotiating. The rent increase is definitely not out of this world.”
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