Task force fears findings will displace apartment residents
Olympia, WA – A search for environmental health and structural problems at west Olympia’s Forest Glen Apartments could lead to condemnations, widespread repairs and displaced tenants.
A structural engineer and an industrial hygienist hired by the city of Olympia began inspecting apartments in the 116-unit complex’s J building Wednesday.
Throughout at least the next 14 weeks, the consultants will try to root out the source of mold and leaks in all of Forest Glen’s 18 buildings at 1717 Cooper Point Road.
“Right now, we’re not sure how many units will be deemed uninhabitable,” Olympia Building Official Brian Washko said.
Forest Glen owner Eli Moreno plans to keep at least three vacant units ready for renters who might be asked to leave uninhabitable apartments, Washko said.
“If we take one unit at a time, (Moreno) can relocate people and make the repairs,” Washko said.
City officials already have condemned a unit in the J building and a unit in the E building because of code violations, Washko said. Both remain empty so repairs can be made.
History of problems
During a March 2000 inspection of the apartment complex, city code officers found violations in 85 of the 116 living units.
Apartment management was given until September 2000 to address the mold, rotting wood, exposed wires, structural damage and leaking roofs.
Forest Glen’s K building was condemned then and remains empty, Washko said.
Members of the Thurston County Housing Task Force’s ad hoc Forest Glen subcommittee fear that many more condemnations will come amid the latest inspections.
“We are very concerned that, because of the contamination of mold … units may not make code and (will) be condemned,” said Thurston County Undersheriff and task force Chairman Neil McClanahan.
“Our concern is, we’re going to have a situation where these families are going to have to leave … and going to be homeless,” McClanahan said of the Forest Glen renters. Many have criminal records or poor credit and have difficulty finding places to live.
Next week, the task force will present Thurston County elected officials with a report highlighting concerns that Forest Glen apartment closures will create an influx of homeless.
The report poses more questions than answers and has no suggestions about where displaced Forest Glen renters could go, McClanahan said.
Rather, it cites statistics about a decreasing stock of affordable rental housing and an increasing number of homeless women and children in Thurston County.
Last winter, an average of more than 20 women and children seeking overnight shelter were turned away from the county’s core network of social service and faith-based shelter providers, McClanahan said.
“It’s up to the community to say, ‘What are we going to do with these people?’ ” McClanahan said. “Forest Glen is just another hole in the lifeboat.”
Just days into the inspections, Washko said, inspectors are uncovering past attempts to repair recurring water damage to apartment interiors.
Apartment management has replaced interior drywall and used bleach to kill mold. But in many instances, the repairs haven’t stopped the leaking in the walls and roofs of the flat-topped buildings, Washko said.
Upon determining the source of external leaks, the structural engineer will recommend repairs.
Building owner Moreno then would need to obtain a city permit to complete the repairs, which would be monitored by city code inspectors.
The industrial hygienist will inspect the units for mold and other health hazards before and after the repairs, Washko said.
The city will pay about $24,700 for the consultants, and the combined cost of consultant and city staff work could climb to about $60,000, said Subir Mukerjee, Olympia’s director of Community Planning and Development.
The use of city funds would give the city the necessary legal muscle to require Moreno to repair the units, Mukerjee said.
“We want to issue a ‘notice of order’ to make the owner repair the buildings; to do that, we need someone to go throughout the buildings and gather the data,” Mukerjee said. “If we end up in court, we need to have not just anecdotal data, but factual data, to support our case.”
The funding comes from the city’s dangerous-building fund, a budget allocation for code officials to spend on demolishing or repairing buildings with the most serious code violations.
Because the Forest Glen inspections are likely to dry up the fund, Mukerjee requested July 12 that the City Council allocate replacement funding in its 2003 budget.
The 2003 budget will be approved in December.