The Waits Motel in Everett, Washington on Thursday, June 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The Waits Motel in Everett, Washington on Thursday, June 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Despite turnaround, Everett buys Waits Motel for $1.85M

The city has no immediate plans for the motel with a history of illegal activity. Residents still need to be relocated.

EVERETT — The Everett City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to buy the historically troubled Waits Motel for $1.85 million.

It’s a significant step forward in a months-long process that began when the council voted to condemn the north Everett property in August.

There are no plans yet for the property’s future, city spokesperson Simone Tarver wrote in an email. The city will keep working to relocate long-term motel residents, she said.

County records show the motel’s current owner bought the property for $2.3 million in 2021.

The Waits has had an unsavory reputation for years. Neighbors have talked about seeing drug abuse, sex work and garbage at the motel.

But last March, a new manager took over the property. Emily Simpson made it her mission to turn around the motel at 1301 Lombard Ave. She worked to deter drug activity, make renovations and clean up rooms.

Early signs showed her efforts were paying off. Calls to 911 from the property decreased from 147 in 2022 to 47 in the first half of 2023. More than half of those calls happened before March.

In an interview last June, neighbor Kate McFarlane said the motel’s transformation made the area feel safer.

Simpson planned to buy the motel and make it an attractive destination for visitors.

Not all neighbors found her vision convincing.

“I don’t want to risk my future on a plan based on only one or two people with no current ownership of the property,” Holly James, chair of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, said at a July council meeting.

In August, the city contracted with Commonstreet Consulting to help long-term motel residents relocate. In the original agreement, the contract had a ceiling of $45,000. Last month, the City Council raised it to $260,349.

State law requires local governments to help with relocation and pay moving expenses when they acquire property. The government must also pay residents what they need to afford new housing for up to 42 months.

In a council committee meeting last week, Community Development Director Julie Willie said five motel residents had moved to hotels temporarily and two were finalizing their moves to apartments. That left residents in six units still in need of relocation help.

Simpson wrote in a text Wednesday that there were still 12 people living at the motel, including herself and her husband, with eight units occupied.

There’s no exact timeline for relocating the remaining residents, Willie said last week, adding the city will hopefully be able to help them move in the next month or two. Once the sale is final, staff will assess the building and figure out what repairs and cleanup are needed, she said in the meeting Wednesday.

In public comment before the vote, Simpson called the acquisition “government overreach.”

She plans to leave Everett, hopefully out of the county, she wrote in a text earlier that day.

“I’ve seen so much suffering and desperation here,” she wrote. “This acquisition had nothing to do with anything but money and political power.”

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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