Arion To Become Low-Income Housing

The owners of the vacant apartment building occupied last month by housing activists have offered to donate the structure for low-income renters and as a shelter for homeless people.

Under the arrangement, the owners would lease the land beneath the 34-unit Arion Court building on a long-term basis - perhaps as long as 75 years, said Bob Santos, director of the International District Public Authority.

Santos has acted as intermediary between the builder's owners, Shizuko Tamaki and Hiromi Nishimura, and the activists who broke into and occupied the building for four days until they were thrown out by police on May 23.

The protest, called Operation Homestead, was sponsored by the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which has occupied other vacant buildings in the city.

The owners' attorney relayed the offer to Santos yesterday. "The owners want to see the building re-habbed for low-income people," said Santos.

"We have to hand it to the family," Santos said of the owners, "because they responded when they were contacted. And you have to hand it to the Operation Homestead people for bringing public attention to the fact that there's a problem out there with too much vacant housing."

The proposed arrangement pleased the activists who had occupied the Arion, at 1814 Minor Ave., to dramatize their view that the city does too little to preserve older structures that could house poor people.

Too often, they said , the city allows buildings such as the Arion Court to deteriorate so much that they eventually must be torn down.

"We're heartened by the interest on the part of the owner," said John Fox, coordinator for the displacement coalition.

The coalition had earlier scheduled a rally for 5 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall, then a march to the Arion.

"What may happen on Friday is that the event may turn into a victory celebration," Fox said.

He said he is now trying to identify a nonprofit organization that might manage the Arion project. He said it was important that agency also would allow the Arion's future tenants to have some say in the building's management.

The mayor's office also has agreed to assist Santos in locating public dollars to possibly rehabilitate the building, said Sue Taoka, a staff assistant to Mayor Norm Rice.

"This is a project that could help bring more low-income housing on line, and Bob Santos is a person I know the city trusts a lot," Taoka said. "We will work very closely with Bob."

The public agency for which Santos works already manages two buildings in the International District for the owners of the Arion. Both buildings have space set aside for elderly residents on public assistance.