Greenwoods resident purveyor of baby-sized burritos reopened again on August 20.
Greenwood's purveyor of baby-sized burritos reopened on August 20. Hal Miller

Nearly six months after an explosion leveled three buildings in the heart of Greenwood, Gordito's Healthy Mexican Food is back up and running.

But restaurant-owner Shannon Hall says there won't be any grand-reopening celebrations or rallying the neighborhood to line up for sorely missed baby-sized burritos. After all, his work isn't done yet. Currently, 10 residents are waiting to move back into their apartments above the restaurant, but they are still in limbo thanks to city permitting delays, he says.

Hal Miller, 60, was made homeless when the blast, caused by a natural gas leak, destroyed Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros, and Quik Mart on 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue on March 9.

A lack of available space in Seattle's homeless shelters meant Miller was forced to crash at friends' houses and camp out in Discovery Park after donations to put him up in a motel ran out. Today, he's living out of a rental van until he's able to move back into his apartment, which he had lived in for four years before the explosion.

Hal Miller, 60, stands in the apartment buildings shared kitchen space in the wake of the Greenwood explosion.
Hal Miller, 60, stands in the apartment building's shared kitchen space in the wake of the Greenwood explosion. Ana Sofia Knauf

Gordito's reopened on August 20, but move-in dates for upstairs tenants keep getting pushed back due to delays in repairing a fire alarm panel. Hall says that acquiring a permit for the work will take at least another week, a month past the initial August 2 move-in date given by the city and the contractors working on the building.

Although he's frustrated, Miller says he knows Hall is not at fault.

"Personally, the city should have something that could streamline the process of getting people back into their homes faster. I've gone into debt. I've gone for days without showers. It's just really hard and it just makes it worse to be told, 'You can return on this date.' Then you get there and they tell you a different date," says Miller.

Hall says that in order for the apartment units to be habitable, he must upgrade the building's fire alarm system, per city regulations.

"It's out of my hands at this point," he says. "The city is requiring more of us than they already have. They kind of hold everybody's futures, everybody's fate in their hands. If I could have it my way, I'd [have it done], but I'm not going to put somebody's life at risk over something like that."

The apartment units, which run about $400 per month with utilities, are some of the city's few affordable housing options. These low-rent rooms are critical for people like Miller, who are unable to work and survive on meager monthly disability checks. Ten of Hall's former tenants are 10 are eagerly waiting to move back into their homes.

"It seems like they would be more responsive, I would think," says Miller. "It's been months. ... It's more than frustrating. I'm just crushed. I'm running out of energy and optimism."

Bryan Stevens, a public information officer for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), denies Miller's and Hall's claims that the city is at fault for the permitting delays. Other factors including possible problems with Hall's insurance company and contractors could also be part of the problem, he says.

"Ever since the explosions, we've been expediting permits and making them the number one priority when they're ready to be reviewed and plans have been pulled together," says Stevens. "Those permits were reviewed immediately when they came in. Any claims that the city is slowing the process down is just flat wrong. We've held our end of the bargain."

Hall says the SDCI's way of expediting the permits is still incredibly slow. "Just to get the reconstruction permit to fix the outer wall [which faced the explosion] was three weeks," he says.

"I'm not dragging my feet at all—I want this to be done almost more than anyone," says Hall. "This whole thing has been everyone dragging their feet. Everybody is trying to scapegoat each other."

In the end, says Hall, pointing fingers isn't what matters. It's making sure residents like Miller have a place to call home again.

This post has been updated since publication.

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