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Evictions at Angelus Apartments Are Only the Beginning

1a11111-1068x601In early May, over a third of tenants of the Angelus Apartments in downtown Olympia were issued 20-day tenancy termination notices. New co-owner of the property, investor and apparent house flipper Tom Glaspie neglected to include any justification for the sudden evictions. Tenants called management to find out why they’re being asked to leave, only to be told they don’t “fit with the plan for the future of the building.” If the plan for the building involves anything like making mad stacks of profit on jacked up rent, newly possible due to creeping gentrification, it requires vacancies. Any low-income tenant in the way already “doesn’t fit with the plan.” Allegations such as noise disturbances, illegal activity and unpaid rent leveled upon tenants by Glaspie that were later reported by news agencies, apparently bore little on the eviction process however. Therefore, instead of issuing “pay or vacate” or “cure or quit” notices that relate to specific landlord-tenant disputes, no-cause tenancy terminations were issued, permitting a swift and indiscriminate boot and hinting at the larger economic forces at work.

Sudden, unexplained mass evictions and likely subsequent conversion of Angelus apartments into expensive, market-rate units is a forewarning to Olympia residents: as our property values increase in our downtown core, real estate investors and developers will gobble up cheap property, drive up rents and kick out lower-income tenants to seek a more affluent and exclusive clientele. The more luxury apartment complexes pop up all over town, the faster residents will be priced out of longtime homes.  

While gentrification can appear a complex and inevitable process, it is constituted by specific individuals who make conscious, calculated decisions: landlords decide to hike rents and evict families and developers decide to tear down low-cost housing and replacing it with luxury units. From a brief gleaning of available public information, Tom Glaspie seems to fit the profile well: a shadow investor who apparently periodically creates shell companies for the purpose of house-flipping and other shady real estate endeavors. Some of these shell companies have been administratively dissolved, indicating sketchy, potentially illicit financial behavior. The predatory real estate industry producing gentrification in city after city is fraught with money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and other illegal activities. In cruel irony, while landlords and real estate investors frequently skirt the law to secure hefty profits, they have no problem invoking the law to punish and displace tenants.

The City of Olympia’s proposed offer of financial assistance (this offer hasn’t been guaranteed as of this writing) to Angelus tenants facing displacement isn’t unusual either. City governments frequently intervene to smooth over the thorniest aspects of gentrification. This often takes the form of punitive policing and the criminalization of homeless and marginalized residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. Olympia is no stranger to anti-homeless practices, from a policy of “whack-a-mole” homeless camp sweeps to the closure of the Artesian Commons. But city governments also assume more conciliatory approaches, such as providing moving assistance to tenants being pushed out. These funds can be crucial for tenants in immediate terms but they do nothing to stymie displacement or address the severe lack of affordable housing. Moreover, the landlord in question is let off the hook. Instead of landlords or developers assuming any responsibility for the social consequences of their actions, the city government effectively subsidizes displacement for them. This pattern could encourage further mass evictions in the future.

The evictions at Angelus are only the beginning. More than ever, it is time to talk, organize and strategize with our neighbors – whether we rent an apartment, own our home or have no housing at all. The gentrified vision of Olympia that the Angelus evictions point to is not an Olympia for its current residents. It is an Olympia for the rich, complete with ugly condos no one can afford and fancy shops selling stuff no one needs. Let’s keep this vision a vision, and not a reality.

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OlySol Response to Recent Comments on New Campaign

Our recent post announcing the start of a new campaign received significant backlash, much of it rehashing familiar complaints and arguments. Supporters also made their voices heard—we appreciate these commenters, and thank all those who challenged and contrasted the histrionic rhetoric pervading the thread, with composure and humanity.
We’d like to address some of the most egregious and recurrent accusations. The decision to do this in a singular post rather than in direct comment replies has mainly to do with avoiding unnecessary repetition and our intent to reach those who may agree with grievances against OlySol or question our politics/actions generally, but have not engaged with us explicitly.

Should tenants just ‘move out’? Moving out can be a fine solution to housing problems if a tenant is capable of doing so. Tenants who are capable of moving out of poor housing generally tend to do that instead of working with OlySol—commenters are correct in their assumption that moving to a better location is the easiest and most immediate resolution to housing disputes. So if tenants aren’t moving out, it stands to reason that this is because leaving is not an option. Moving is a particular hurdle for disabled tenants or tenants with children or elderly dependents. It is only those without a significant degree of individual power who must opt for collective bargaining instead. Olympia is actively undergoing rapid gentrification, leading to increasingly less affordable housing for low income residents to choose from. Without countermeasures like rent control policies or public housing availability, the ability of long term community members to maintain a minimum consistency and quality of life becomes ever more unstable and uncertain.

In regard to the notion that this complex’s rent/conditions are not so egregiously unbearable as to warrant this campaign: we are sorry that you and/or people you know are experiencing worse situations than the tenants we are currently working with. OlySol’s main mission is to improve the lives of all tenants who are experiencing harassment, are vulnerable to being priced out of their homes, and lack basic necessities which are minimally functional and accessible. It is unfortunate that our capacity to help those in the worst situations, in order of need, is limited according to who contacts us and by the relatively modest scope of our personnel and resource availability. Thus far we have only been able to take on one campaign at a time, and without being in contact with every renter in Olympia, it is almost certainly always going to be the case that there are tenants facing more drastic rent hikes, poorer quality conditions, and/or crueler landlords, who we are not actively working with. We don’t disagree that our current campaign may not be addressing the most exploitative, neglectful, unpleasant slumlord in Olympia—it is more or less regrettable that we are unable to do so, but nevertheless we firmly assert the justifiability of the current campaign and the fairness of our demands to address legitimate grievances by tenants who are subject to lower quality housing and at a greater risk of houselessness than the majority of Olympians.

The assumption that OlySol “votes Democrat” is totally baseless and irrelevant. Nothing about the work we do is on behalf or in support of the Democratic party. We don’t endorse them as an organization and it is incorrect to associate us with the party. It’s almost hard to really even take issue with the complaints about the Democrats on our page because they are so unrelated and inconsequential.

Our right to make demands comes firstly from the material necessity for tenants’ collective action in order to secure, minimally, conditions and affordability constant with standards previously adhered to over the duration of tenancy, promised in lease agreements, and guaranteed by state and federal law. Unfortunately, it is the case that this minimum may be met and yet living circumstances by no means constitute much more than abject squalor. It is because of this reality that landlords may be directly challenged by and on behalf of their tenants who are otherwise at their mercy, defenseless not only to indignities and inhumanities permitted by law, but also illegal transgressions which tenants circumstantially cannot afford to battle in the expensive and time consuming arena of court. A person without money and without time nonetheless has a moral and legal right to not be exploited or forced to live in slum conditions.

Are we ‘ignorant of the law’ or ’terrorists’? OlySol and the tenants we work with cannot afford to have legal action taken against us, while the landlords we confront have significant advantages, legally and financially, at their disposal to pursue that course of action against us. Thus OlySol must and does work meticulously within the boundaries of the law—which in Washington state are already relatively more stacked against us. Such claims that we are criminals or legally oblivious are plainly absurd.

To those genuinely fantasizing about OlySol members or the tenants we work with becoming victims of homelessness or worse: your cruelty and spite speaks for itself. It is never surprising, but always disappointing, to witness this magnitude of vitriol directed at one’s own neighbors. Even if the harshest accusations leveled against us were true, to wish such violence and/or destitution upon any human being is still appalling and unwarranted. We don’t direct or desire violence toward our opponents, whether spectator, landlord or boss. We only demand basic decency and respect.

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OlySol Response to Recent Olympian Editorial

For reference, here is a link to the original Olympian article:
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Dear Olympian Editorial Board,

From the beginning, your skewed coverage has made it clear that the Olympian sided with anti-homeless downtown business/property owners, and was unwilling to provide a fair and balanced depiction of what OlySol is actually doing and why. But OlySol members are glad that the Olympian Editorial Board finally came out and put their bias on full display.

The Olympian uncritically prints claims of business owners saying they “feel threatened”, in spite of the fact that they don’t have a single documented example of any threats from OlySol. OlySol has never committed any violent acts or threatened violence against anyone. Meanwhile, the comments sections on the Olympian’s Facebook page are full of business owners and their far-right allies making calls for mass murder and violence against the homeless population and OlySol. There, anti-homeless advocates are calling for the starving, violent displacement, and killing of homeless people as well as  wishing that everyone in the homeless camps would die of overdoses. They are calling for white nationalist organizations to show up in town and form vigilante street patrols and “clean things up”. Business owners are calling for tougher vagrancy laws, increased policing, and employing private security to expel homeless people from safe sleeping locations downtown, putting their lives and wellbeing  at risk. If the Olympian Editorial Board really cared about “violence” or about people feeling threatened, they would be publishing articles about the threats faced by the homeless community, about the violence of gentrification, the violence of the white nationalist groups – threats coming from the well off downtown business and property owners that the Olympian has sided with.

OlySol, which is busy organizing material aid projects, such as Mutual Aid Mondays, for the homeless and preventing private security guards from harassing people while they sleep are “enemies of the homeless”. Organizing working-class people to fight back against anti-homeless campaigns is “creating division” instead of “unity”. Meanwhile, greedy landlords and business owners are literally creating homelessness by driving up rents and paying low wages, so that people can’t afford housing. But they are portrayed by the Olympian as compassionate and caring members of the community who are trying to solve “the homeless problem” (i.e. the proximity and visibility of homelessness to the monied interests of downtown.) If only these meddling kids at OlySol would just “grow up” and stop getting in the way of more “civilized” efforts to make things “safer” and more “vibrant” by driving all of the homeless people out of town, so that downtown businesses can make more money.

The Olympian Editorial Board’s proposed solution is to deploy police violence against OlySol, encouraging the arrest of OlySol members if they protest again. On what grounds? The Olympia Police Department, while I’m sure they’d love to arrest and suppress OlySol members, has already made clear in public statements that they cannot arrest OlySol for exercising their legally protected first amendment rights to protest. If you think that the non-violent forms of protest that OlySol has been using (street demonstrations, flyers, social media campaigns, etc) are not “civilized”, what exactly would you suggest that community members do? The fact is that OlySol’s tactics have worked, and that the influential business and property owners you represent are angry about that, and are using the Olympian to run a propaganda campaign painting their opponents as terrorists.

OlySol gives a thumbs down to the Olympian for blindly reprinting the lies of greedy, anti-homeless business owners and landlords who want to see OlySol members in prison on “terrorism” charges, and the homeless community either dead or violently expelled from Olympia.

OlySol gives a thumbs up to the working-class people who have showed up to support and participate in solidarity actions, collectively proving that direct actions gets the goods (although it might make you some enemies on the editorial board of the local paper).