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Some Displaced Tiki Tenants Moving Back In, After Landlord Deal

Courtesy of Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee
Tenants of the Tiki Apartments and their supporters outside Tacoma City Hall in April.

Some of the people displaced from the Tiki Apartments in Tacoma are headed back to their former home, the result of a deal between the landlord, activists, and the Tacoma Housing Authority.

Dozens of tenants were forced out of the complex at the at the end of June, after a Seattle developer, CWD Investments, bought the neglected, low-cost apartments and announced plans to renovate.

Many of the tenants are on fixed incomes and struggled to find housing they could afford. Some ended up homeless.

"This whole experience of the displacement and moving has been an emotional roller coaster," Donna Seay, a former tenant, said Friday. "Me and a few others just got approved to move back in, and I'm just like in shock right now." 

CWD Investments has agreed to set aside seven units in the newly renovated building, renamed Highland Flats, for tenants displaced from the complex who are homeless or close to being homeless.

Rents will be subsidized by the Tacoma Housing Authority. Tenants will pay $420 a month, which is less than what they paid at the Tiki Apartments.

Leaders of the housing authority said they've agreed to pay the landlord $560,000 a year to subsidize the rents.

The Tiki episode drew attention to the plight of tenants in Tacoma's increasingly unaffordable rental market, launched a local activist movement around housing, and prompted City Council members to pass tenant-friendly laws.

In October, CWD Investments announced it had reached an agreement with the Tacoma Housing Authority to make the former Tiki complex's 62 units available at a subsidized rate to homeless or near-homeless students from Tacoma Community College. 

But activists with the Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee, a group that formed to advocate for Tiki residents, argued the displaced tenants should have been part of the deal.

"I’m happy for the students, but what about the Tiki tenants?" Sarah Howe, a former Tiki resident who is blind and uses a wheelchair, said in a news release.

"After a painful and stressful ordeal moving to a place that was not accessible, I have finally found a good apartment in Tacoma, but I know many Tiki tenants who aren’t in a great place and they should have the opportunity to move back to the renovated apartments," Howe added.

Michael Mirra, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority, said in a news release that failure to consult the activists was "an oversight."

He said the Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee helped the housing authority, landlord, and college "understand the continuing need of previous Tiki residents and helped the discussions to accommodate them."

Former Tiki tenants seeking one of the seven units must be eligible for the housing authority's help and meet the landlord's "screening criteria," the Tacoma Housing Authority said in a news release. The bulk of the building's units will still be available to homeless or near-homeless Tacoma Community College students.

"I'm very appreciative," said Seay, the former Tiki resident who has been approved for a unit. "But it doesn't wipe away the fact that the bigger picture here is that our system is broken. We need to figure out something to where people aren't just kicked out on the streets." 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.