The Richard Hugo House—a nonprofit that provides classes, lectures, a reading series, and performance venues for local writers—announced today that it will terminate one of its successful residency programs, which housed local writers at the Belltown cottages, in September. The Hugo House says their decision was prompted by liability, safety, and security concerns written into their contract that the city has been unwilling to address.

"We reviewed our agreement with the city and realized we were financially responsible for improvements that we, as a nonprofit, can't possibly afford," explains Sue Joerger, executive director of Hugo House, citing improvements such as lead-paint abatement on the huts, which is scheduled for the fall, and a collapsing garage beneath one of the cottages.

"We're also not comfortable holding month-to-month lease agreements with our artists that can be terminated by the city at any time," she added. "We're in an arrangement where we hold a lot of responsibility and no real authority, and for that reason, we must end the program."

Jeorger says she's approached Seattle Parks and Recreation to address Hugo House's concerns. The parks department manages the Belltown P-patch and the huts, which are city property. A spokesman couldn't be reached for comment on the future of the huts, as today is a furlough day for parks staff.

Hugo House has managed the low-rent cannery cottages since 2003, when the nonprofit was invited by the city and Historic Seattle to start a residency program. Since then, writers have occupied two of the cottages located in the Belltown P-Patch for one or two year terms, where they write, teach, and meet with the public for one-on-one writing advice and personal critiques.

Full disclosure: I'm a current Hugo House writer in residence and I've lived in the huts for almost two years. The residency is an amazing opportunity for writers and offers a huge security boost to the garden, which attracts drug users, homeless individuals, and the odd masturbator. And at a time when 4Culture is struggling and the city's Arts and Cultural Affairs is facing up to a 14.5 percent budget cut, this was one program that actively supports artists that didn't need to go.

"I'd love to continue putting artists in the huts," says Joerger, "but right now, as our agreement stands, we can't afford the risk. It's just not feasible for us."