Tenants of eight Capitol Hill buildings are organizing a pro-marriage-equality fundraiser on September 22 after discovering that their landlord recently made a large donation to Preserve Marriage Washington, the campaign opposing marriage equality on the fall ballot.
Breier-Scheetz Properties, LLC, contributed $20,000 to Preserve Marriage Washington on August 24, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. That makes the property owner and management firm the fourth largest donor to the campaign attempting to reject Referendum 74 and thereby block a state law to legalize same-sex marriages.
"This property company is profiting off the backs of primarily LGBT people who live on Capitol Hill," says Dane Boog, a resident of the Breier-Scheetz-owned New McDermott Apartments. He and his neighbors were very upset to discover that their rent is helping fund an anti-gay campaign, he says.
Such a clash between tenants and landlord seems particularly stinging on Capitol Hill, hub of the region's LGBT community. Some residents say the generous anti-gay donation is a blatant slap in the face to the hundreds, if not thousands, of tenants living in Breier-Scheetz Properties' 438 apartment and condo units in the neighborhood.
The tenants also believe that their attempts to organize a fundraiser for a pro-gay-marriage campaign earlier this summer may have provoked the anti-gay property firm to make its big donation.
A tenant of the Granada Apartments at Belmont Avenue and East Howell Street named April, who asked that her last name be withheld, says the trouble began in June, when she first approached her property manager (and Breier-Scheetz employee) JoAnn Huth about hosting a small fundraiser for Washington United for Marriage, the campaign working to approve the marriage-equality law. Although Huth initially gave April and her boyfriend Ben Allen, who also lives in the seven-story building, the green light for an event, the tune changed a few weeks later.
A gay-rights fundraiser "was not something we want to have at the Granada," Huth reportedly told April on behalf of Frederick Scheetz, owner of Breier-Scheetz Properties. The rejection struck April as strange: The Granada's tenants often host events in its lush courtyard and, to her knowledge, no one has ever been told they couldn't have a party.
Huth, Scheetz, and representatives of Breier-Scheetz all declined to be interviewed for this story to explain their thinking. But in July 25 and July 28 e-mails obtained by The Stranger, Huth told April that the property owner stood by the refusal to allow a fundraiser.
So April contacted a lawyer.
"The only apparent reason for you to bar [April's] event is due to her political ideology or the political ideology, sexual orientation, or gender identity of her guests," attorney Justin R. Jensen wrote in an August 1 letter to Breier-Scheetz. "All three of these are protected classes in the city of Seattle, and... [that] is illegal discrimination."
The couple never heard back from Scheetz or Huth. So on August 16, following the advice of their lawyer, April and Allen went ahead with their fundraiser. In two hours, the couple raised $1,800 for marriage equality.
But Breier-Scheetz Properties escalated the clash the following week, making its $20,000 donation to the anti-gay PAC.
"I think that if other tenants knew their rent money was going to hate organizations, they'd be as enraged as I am," April says. She and Allen want to out-fundraise Breier- Scheetz for marriage equality, so, along with other tenants, they are planning the Party to Out-Raise Breier-Scheetz, tentatively scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 22.
"I was outraged when I heard," Boog adds. "But it's amazing to see people rallying against this. It's grassroots organizing at its best."
And there are likely more people like Boog, April, and Allen.
According to King County property tax records, Breier-Scheetz Properties owns nine residential buildings on Capitol Hill: the Hillsborough Condominiums, Lenawee Apartments, Terrace Crest Apartments, the New McDermott Apartments, Mission Inn Apartments, the Granada Apartments, Corinthian Apartments, Second and Pine Apartments, and a duplex at 604 East Howell Street.
"We're sending them a message: Don't come into our community, take our money, and use it against us," says Allen.