Another fire ignites debate

Urban planning by benign neglect: An historic, poorly tended property catches fire, takes a human life, and displaces those navigating between homelessness and the working poor. An injustice and a tragedy, magnified.

As The Herald’s Noah Haglund reports, a fire Sunday morning at the Hodges Building downtown killed a woman and left 36 other residents homeless. Just east on the same block rests the gravel footprint of the McCrossen Building, which was gutted by fire 13 months ago and later razed. That disaster took the life of Michael Beard, 61, and displaced 40 people.

Sadly, several former McCrossen tenants had relocated to the Hodges Building. So, too, residents from the Strand Hotel, a 1915 downtown landmark on Colby that burned in 2012, upending two dozen tenants. The Hodges property was under a city condemnation order to make fire-safety upgrades including fire-resistant doors. The problems were flagged in 2010, and the landlord had until Dec. 20 to make improvements or vacate the building. Progress was being made, a city spokeswoman said.

These are not budget-busting upgrades. But Hodges residents are as politically invisible as they are voiceless.

As Haglund reports, Pete Sikov is the landlord for the Hodges Building and the McCrossen property. Each is held by a different limited liability company under Sikov’s name. If there is evidence of criminal negligence, Sikov must be held accountable.

The pattern is striking: Often a 21st century slumlord, low or fixed-income tenants, and a fatal fire. In 2009, a fire at an eight-unit apartment complex on Lombard Avenue near the county jail caught fire and burned down, killing one resident. Thirty people, including young children, lost their homes. And there’s the 2011 mystery surrounding a man who died in a fire at an Everett storage facility. Officials speculate that he was living in a storage unit.

Those existing on the margins are by definition vulnerable. In Everett, their biggest advocates are preservationists who not only want to maintain downtown’s historic heritage, but also recognize the need for mixed-income housing.

Everett has examples to emulate: 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.

A comprehensive solution holds property owners accountable and elevates programs such as Housing Hope. It requires we acknowledge those who are struggling. For now, consider donating to the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Call 425-252-4103 or go to www.redcross.org/wa/everett.

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