Patricia Bruce has had enough.
Patricia Bruce, a resident of a senior living community managed by COAST, has had enough. Her sign lists a number of her demands: "We need better security, a cleaner environment, rent equity, and a show of respect and dignity." HK

Returning to his apartment building with a grocery bag in hand, one resident of a South Seattle senior living community was greeted by a courtyard filled with picket signs.

“They didn’t lock you up? They didn’t send dogs on ya?” he asked his protesting neighbors. “This one has warrants out in ten states,” he joked with one of the protestors.

The women within earshot laughed. They had just finished a lap around their senior living community to protest what they called “deplorable” living conditions at Dakota Court and Columbia Gardens, which are owned by SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) and managed by COAST.

“They don’t want to mess with us,” one of the women responded.

You might not expect a group of senior citizens to march around their community shouting “People over profit” and calling the property owner a “slumlord,” but landlords will fuck over anyone. And, according to Violet Lavatai, executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington, everyone — not just these seniors who protested last week — is fed up.

Tenants from the senior living communities Dakota Court and Columbia Gardens have concerns: discrimination, a locked-up community space, unresponsive onsite management, and, on top of that, almost every unit is subject to a $100 rent increase starting Nov. 1. With backup from the Tenants Union, Be:Seattle, and Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office, the tenants made some noise Thursday in hopes they would not be ignored.

Patricia Bruce has lived in a townhome in the community for seven years. She said she experienced every complaint on the list. This past summer she got roaches. Since July, Bruce asked several times for her unit to be fumigated. She still has roaches.

When asked about the discrimination the protest sought to bring to light, Bruce, who is Black, paused. She prefaced her claims with “call it what you will but…”

“[The manager] always tells me to ‘calm down, calm down,’” Bruce said. “She always wants to put a stigma on me like I have an attitude when I talk to her all the time. And not only that, she does that to a couple of other of my African friends because we talked about it.”

For Bruce, the upcoming $100 rent hike on her fixed income adds financial injury to these insults.

“You rob Peter to pay Paul and you go without and it's senseless,” Bruce said. “We shouldn't have to do that. I shouldn't have to live that way. You know, I worked. I had a career. I was a social worker. I did investigations with child protective services for over 30 some years. I shouldn't have to deal with this, you know? I shouldn't have to, so that's why I'm here today to protest for my rights. What I think that I should have as a senior.”

A spokesperson for SEED said:

SEED and the property management company Coast work hard to have well maintained properties. Due to COVID and supply chain issues, the focus has been on essential repairs and some maintenance work is taking longer than usual. We always ask residents to put maintenance requests in writing and respond to them as quickly as possible. Staff need to communicate better with residents and soon a new online portal will be launched to make that easier.

We’ve worked to provide rent relief to residents struggling to pay rent and will continue to connect them to other rental assistance resources as well.

After the protest, the tenants met with Sawant’s office to talk about organizing with their other neighbors.

“We are not going to win just by this action alone, but this is step number one,” said Sawant.

Sawant warned the crowd of a long road ahead: she said she has been advocating for renters as a council member for eight years, and only this year was she able to secure an ordinance that requires landlords to give tenants relocation assistance in some cases and a six months notice for any bump in rent. Councilmember Alex Pedersen was the only member to vote against it.

Rent is going up for everyone in Seattle. With the end of Washington’s eviction moratorium, landlords can once again raise rents. Even with measures to keep renters housed in the face of a pandemic-induced economic catastrophe, Seattle landlords have raised rents 25.6% since January, according to industry analyst

Lavatai said rent increases account for the most frequent complaint that the Tenants Union hears on its hotlines, which have tripled in activity since the onset of the pandemic.

Sawant’s bill goes into effect too late to help out the residents at Dakota Court and Columbia Gardens, but “oh my gosh will it be helpful" in the future, Lavatai said.

However, Lavatai seems to believe tenants need more.

“Right now we're on the road to bring rent controls statewide,” Lavatai “I think this is the thing: If we don't bring rent control in at this time, you will see more people on the streets.”