The tenants channeled their experience into a social justice movement, said Knoll Lowery, and attorney for the group.
The tenants "channeled their experience into a social justice movement," said Knoll Lowery, and attorney for the group. Clay Showalter

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When renters fight back against big developers, they win. At least, that's what happened today, as a group of tenants announced they've reached a $5.7 million settlement with Triad Development over its troubled downtown Civic Square Project.

The settlement casts further doubt on the project's viability. Earlier this month, a Triad executive tried to coerce city council candidate Jonathan Grant, the former director of the Tenants Union of Washington, into getting the tenants to drop their lawsuit against the company, which alleges that the city illegally renewed a Triad permit on the Civic Square Project. Mayor Ed Murray said he no longer wanted the city to partner with Triad, but the company has said the project will go move forward anyway.

Under the terms of the settlement, Triad will immediately pay $500,000 into a housing affordability fund controlled by the tenants, according to Knoll Lowney, their attorney. If the developer and the city close the deal on Civic Square and the building is built, the company will put an extra $5 million into the fund. ($200,000 will go toward other fees, including attorneys' compensation.)

Triad didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, and Lowney said he couldn't share the text of the settlement. But he did show me the signatures on the settlement agreement. They include Shawn Walton, one of the Theodora tenants, and Fred Grimm, the president of Triad. "Even though I lost my home, I feel like I learned an invaluable lesson," said Walton. "Rather than just being victims, we organized."

The tenants were displaced over the past two years by Goodman Real Estate, which hiked rents at the Lockhaven apartments in Ballard and purchased the Theodora, formerly a nonprofit housing complex in Ravenna last year. The founder of Goodman Real Estate, John Goodman, is also an investor in Triad. The lawsuit represented an attempt to hold the company and the city accountable. The tenants say the city turned a blind eye to their displacement while giving Triad all the time it wanted to build its project.

Tim Doub, a military veteran, said he was "really happy" with the settlement, even though it won't impact him personally. Doub said he was "lucky" to have received some assistance from Volunteers of America, the veterans support group that ran the Theodora, in finding an affordable studio in the University District.

Grant, the council candidate and former Tenants Union director, said much of the credit for the settlement goes to Eliana Horn, a Tenants Union organizer who dug up the records on the Civic Square Project and proposed filing the lawsuit.

"These tenants—especially Shawn Walton, Evan A. Sugden, Lee Blackden, and Tim Doub—are my heroes. They are fighting for everyone in Seattle, and this is only the beginning," Horn said, speaking from New York City. "This money will allow the housing justice community to explore community land trust and housing co-ops that create permanently affordable housing where tenants will not be displaced."

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UPDATE: “This is good news for Triad and the City of Seattle,” said Grimm, the president of Triad, in a statement that confirmed the terms of the settlement. “We can now move forward to re-activate an important piece of downtown Seattle and bring to fruition incredible public amenities and benefits including almost $15 million for affordable housing in Seattle—that's two to three times the amount being provided by other new developments downtown."

I wasn't allowed to see the text of the settlement agreement, but the signatures page is something: the signature of Shawn Walton, a former renter at the Theodora, alongside the signature of Fred Grimm, the president of Triad. Knoll Lowney

This post has been updated since its original publication.