Residents move out of an apartment Wednesday afternoon at the Whispering Pines Complex in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Residents move out of an apartment Wednesday afternoon at the Whispering Pines Complex in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Despite promises, Whispering Pines tenants feel abandoned

Money was meant to help renters at the low-income apartments. Some still haven’t gotten it.

LYNNWOOD — A few days ago, Kathryn Colpitts learned she and her neighbors are supposed to receive $2,000 for moving expenses.

Colpitts was shocked. Why hadn’t anyone told her?

In the past week, the Whispering Pines resident had contacted both the property management company and the county housing authority, which owns the low-income apartment complex in Lynnwood that is scheduled for demolition in October. Both agencies said they couldn’t help her.

Then, Colpitts learned the county had earmarked $100,000 to relocate Whispering Pines’ remaining residents. Her neighbor had already been promised money. She called again.

It turned out she was eligible, but there was a catch.

To receive the $2,000 for moving expenses, Colpitts learned she must first turn in her keys. The landlords told her earlier this week that only the residents who completely move out before Aug. 31 get a check. Colpitts has since learned some people are getting the money sooner. She isn’t one of them, and she’s concerned, because her new apartment won’t be ready until Sept. 4.

“Right now, my account has like $540 in it,” Colpitts said. “On the 28th, I’ll be out like $500. I am really getting nervous about not being able to comply with what Whispering Pines wants me to do.”

As demolition day approaches, however, so does Colpitts’ deadline to leave. The apartment complex has been scheduled to close since 2018, due to health and safety issues. But a lack of affordable housing options — and the pandemic — kept many families from moving out.

It’s unclear how many people still live at the complex near the intersection of Highway 99 and 52nd Avenue W, but roughly 50 units were still occupied last week. It’s also unclear if the people who leave Whispering Pines are becoming homeless or have found permanent housing.

Despite millions being funneled into local government coffers that could prevent homelessness, people at Whispering Pines weren’t receiving financial help for the move.

That changed when the county set aside $100,000 earlier this month.

“The funds delivered to residents are for anything they may need to move (Moving truck, deposit on their new place, screening, etc.),” a Housing Authority of Snohomish County spokesperson emailed The Daily Herald on Aug. 19. “… Tenants that have communicated with HASCO that they need assistance will receive a one-time, lump sum of $2000.00.”

The money would be available Aug. 20, Pam Townsend wrote.

County Council Member Jared Mead — who helped set aside the money for the housing authority — said the intention is for the money to cover any expense that keeps people from becoming unhoused during the relocation process.

Last week, however, the directors for the county agencies that will distribute the money were less confident about how they can use it.

“I don’t have a copy of the grant agreement, so I don’t really know what the requirements are for use of the funds,” the housing authority’s executive director said Aug. 19, a few hours before the spokesperson’s email. “Until I get all that, it’s kind of an unknown situation.”

Then, the director of the county’s Human Services Department wrote that the money would help up to 40 households, even though about 50 were still living at the apartments.

After the Aug. 19 interview, housing authority executive director Duane Leonard did not respond to additional requests for comment on issues raised by the Whispering Pines tenants.

Empty apartment doors are marked Wednesday afternoon at the Whispering Pines Complex in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Empty apartment doors are marked Wednesday afternoon at the Whispering Pines Complex in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Some Whispering Pines residents didn’t know about the $2,000 lump-sum payments, nor did volunteers, nonprofits and politicians trying to help them move.

State Rep. Lauren Davis, who helped secure the $100,000, said the housing authority’s executive director told her only eight tenants were still living at the apartment complex. When asked about the relocation plan, the Shoreline Democrat said $2,000 per family wasn’t enough to help people move and that she was frustrated with how the housing authority was handling relocation.

“At this juncture, HASCO needs to do absolutely whatever is needed in order to make sure these individuals have safe passage and a soft place to land,” Davis said. “… We put about $1 billion toward housing, broadly, in the last (legislative) session.”

The county money earmarked for the housing authority comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. The federal money went directly to cities and counties, which can use it for a wide range of issues to aid economic recovery. Snohomish County will receive nearly $160 million. The city of Lynnwood is slated to receive $10.9 million.

County Councilmember Stephanie Wright, whose district includes Lynnwood, did not respond to request for comment.

Kathryn Colpitts, who’s moving soon, said her new apartment is beautiful. She has enjoyed living in her Whispering Pines apartment for the past several years, but her kitchen lights have gone out and most of the outlets don’t work anymore.

“That’s OK,” Colpitts said while describing her current apartment. “My bedroom is absolutely huge and I have a walk-in closet.”

Colpitts spent years working for the Edmonds School District and the City of Mountlake Terrace. She served on educational boards and task forces and worked with multiple nonprofits. She briefly taught at Edmonds Community College.

Colpitts is also living with a physical disability that makes it difficult for her to move. She receives money from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), but lives on less than $1,200 per month. She also has a lot of medical bills. In her case, the timing of when she receives the $2,000 from the housing authority could have far-reaching implications.

In July, the apartment Colpitts had planned to move into fell through. She’s secured a new one, but can’t move in until Sept. 4.

“I asked if I could please stay (a few more days),” Colpitts said. “… They said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

Between the end of August and her move-in day, Colpitts doesn’t have anywhere to store her belongings. She borrowed money from family to rent moving pods, which cost $1,000.

Colpitts said she hasn’t received help from the property management company or housing authority. In July, Colpitts asked housing authority staff for a list of affordable housing complexes in the area. They didn’t have one.

Residents interviewed by The Herald said they’ve mostly been responsible for their own moves. Hilary Lohman, who recently moved out, said the only guidance she received in the past year was to call 2-1-1.

“They gave out a packet to show different opportunities of places to live,” Lohman said of the property management company and housing authority. “It gave us possibilities, but they didn’t do anything outside of that.”

The 2-1-1 number connected her to Volunteers of America, the nonprofit that distributes rental assistance money to Snohomish County residents. It was more guidance than some of the other tenants received.

Colpitts learned about the rental assistance from Pam Hurst, a member of the city of Lynnwood’s Human Services Commission. Another tenant told The Herald she didn’t learn about the rental assistance until it was too late.

The tenant couldn’t afford to pay August rent and her family’s moving expenses. When she explained the situation to the property management company, she was told she didn’t have a choice. If she didn’t pay her rent, the bill would go to collections. She paid her rent.

At that point, however, the money from Volunteers of America couldn’t help the tenant.

The money from Volunteers of America is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. If a tenant fell behind on rent during the pandemic, the nonprofit can help pay their delinquent rent bills or possibly future rent. The money doesn’t pay for a moving truck, application fees or a security deposit.

Galina Volchkova, senior director of Volunteers of America’s Housing Services, said the nonprofit has distributed rental assistance to more than 150 Whispering Pines families since 2020. However, relocating the remaining residents is more complicated than qualifying people for money, Volchkova said.

Many families struggled to meet new landlords’ screening criteria. Combined with a major shortage of affordable housing, the renters are in a tough spot. If they can’t afford to move or live anywhere else, where are they supposed to go?

“Many families got paralyzed from stress and frustration,” Volchkova said. “They had been trying, and trying, and trying and getting denied and getting rejected. … They are facing a variety of challenges, including the housing affordability issue.”

Over the past three years, Lynnwood City Council President George Hurst and his wife, Pam Hurst, have helped residents move. The Hursts and the housing authority disagree about the level of involvement volunteers should have in the relocation process.

The housing authority’s executive director, Duane Leonard, said outside help complicates the agency’s ability to reach people.

“When other people show up on site, and try to help, and start telling residents different things than what we’ve been telling them, they get confused,” Leonard said. “It gets more complicated.”

George and Pam Hurst said they both regularly hear from residents who have sought help from the housing authority and haven’t gotten it. They aren’t willing to stop helping people who need it, Pam Hurst said.

“Don’t just tell me, ‘Well, we’re taking care of it the best we can,’ when I get someone calling me up in the middle of the afternoon, in tears, because she doesn’t know what to do,” Pam Hurst said.

The Hursts said Leonard asked them not to go on the property, unless invited.

Before the county earmarked funds for residents’ moving expenses, however, the couple raised money with the religious nonprofit Isaiah 58 House to rent moving trucks. Last week, they helped two tenants move. They plan to help more before August ends.

“They were helping some but not everybody,” Pam Hurst said. “They’re overwhelmed — I get it. But now at the end? You guys, help everybody whether you like them or not.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of nonprofit Isaiah 58 House.

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