Demand building upgrades

Imagine a calamity that might have been prevented.

Imagine lives that could have been saved if some inspector, regulator or public-safety official had acted with greater diligence or urgency.

The heart-rending disaster in Oso has taught us a bitter lesson about hindsight. When a recognized hazard takes a sudden, terrible toll, we are left with painful questions: Who could have seen this coming? What could we have possibly done …?

Keeping the grim lesson of the landslide in mind, let’s consider the numerous inadequate and unsafe rental units that exist in the city of Everett.

Recent fires have endangered dozens of occupants in two buildings that were permitted to maintain old wiring, unreliable elevators and stairwells that weren’t fireproof.

In November 2012, one man died of smoke inhalation when the McCrossen Building on Hewitt Avenue burned. The building was subsequently demolished and now is a gravel lot. And in December 2013, dozens of people were displaced by a fire at the Hodges Building in the same block of Hewitt.

One man, operating two separate companies, owns both properties, and the city gets a bit of credit for putting pressure on him for upgrades at the Hodges. Despite the pressure, an April 30 deadline passed without the landlord, Pete Sikov, resolving his code problems.

This is the familiar regulatory minuet. Inspectors take two steps forward. A property owner takes two steps to the side. And everyone keeps dancing in place. At no point in the process does either side act as if lives might be at stake.

It is time for those who consider themselves city leaders to imagine a better future for Everett’s most venerable buildings. It starts with zero tolerance for businesses or individuals who find it profitable to rent space that can barely (if even barely) pass city inspections.

The city should forge redevelopment standards that require and encourage, with resources and incentives, owners of sub-standard buildings to enroll them in a civic-improvement program or face consequences.

Previously in this space, we have pointed to success stories: The rehabbed Monte Cristo Hotel (affordable housing and case management for tenants, run by Catholic Community Services); and the Commerce Building, a 100-year old showpiece across Hewitt, run by Housing Hope, that offers attendant, wrap-around services.

We should not tolerate the sense of slow decay that dilapidated buildings inflict on a downtown. And, more importantly, we cannot wait until an urban calamity leaves inspectors, regulators or public-safety officials wondering what they could have done to save lives.

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