Knock ’Em Down

A simple solution to the vacant-home plague?

By Matthew Halverson July 17, 2009 Published in the August 2009 issue of Seattle Met

THE ANONYMOUS CALLS from Seattle city employees told Mike Dady he was on to something. After months of raising a ruckus over the rotting, abandoned houses in his neighborhood—and the sketchy element they attracted—the whispered encouragement convinced him he was making progress. “You’ve got their attention,” the voices on the other end of the line would say. “It’s an election year. Keep pushing.”

Dady, a cochair of the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, started shaking the city’s tree in earnest after the Skylark Café, near Delridge and Andover, was burglarized in February; Dady and Skylark employees surmised that the perps had used the long-vacant shack across the street to stake out the bar. But he’d been dealing with the problem since at least 2005, when a wanna-be house-flipper bought the crumbling property behind his, tore into it, and then ditched the renovation when he decided the house wasn’t worth saving. Four years later, stripped by copper scavengers and overrun by weeds, its collapsing, dried-out husk stands open, inviting squatters. “I’m not in favor of tearing down houses for the sake of tearing down houses,” Dady says. “But I’m in construction, and I’m aware of when things are architecturally insignificant.”

Architectural insignificance—not to mention boarded-up windows—plagues the three-mile stretch of Delridge Way south of the West Seattle Bridge, but as far as the city’s land-use code is concerned, it’s not justification for demolishing a home; an owner needs a building permit for the replacement house before tearing down an existing structure. But that rule, instituted decades ago to prevent speculators from snatching up swaths of affordable housing, clearing the land, and then selling it once it had appreciated, may be about to vacate the books. After Dady led city officials on a tour of five of the hood’s ugliest examples of real-estate neglect in April, the Department of Planning and Development began drafting a change to the code to make it easier to level a lost-cause property. “The ability to tear it down before you know exactly what you’re going to put in its place might be the thing that gets these owners to remove what’s become a nuisance in the neighborhood,” says Sally Clark, a city council member who joined Dady’s tour. She expects the change to be in place by the end of the summer.

If it’s approved, North Delridge—and other nabes nagged by dangerous eyesores—may soon be dotted by open lots, but the way Dady sees it, that’s the lesser of two development evils. “A vacant lot is way, way better than having a boarded-up house or, worse yet, a house that’s open to entry,” he says. “In a vacant lot, there’s no place to hide.”

Show Comments