Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

City council hears ideas for sex offender housing

The presence of convicted sex offenders in a neighborhood generally creates apprehension among neighbors. This was the case earlier this year in Hilltop. Several residents of this section of town brought their concerns to a recent Tacoma City Council meeting.

A woman who purchased a house near the intersection of South 9th and ‘M’ streets began renting rooms to convicted sex offenders. It is owned by a limited liability corporation that has a rental property license with the city and operates several houses under that license. A total of six unrelated people can live in such a house. A conditional use permit is required if more than six unrelated people were to live there.

Some, but not all, sex offenders in the city are under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Mac Pevey, a field administrator with the agency, said offenders released from prison are provided with housing vouchers for their first three months of release.

Adrian Johnson, a regional housing specialist for the department who oversees the housing vouchers, said they last for three months with the intention that the recipient will land employment and become able to pay their own rent. He said 82 percent are in the same residence two months after their voucher expires. “It is a fairly stabilizing factor,” he remarked.

Councilmember Lauren Walker, who lives a block away from this

particular house, noted that Hilltop attracts many such people to move there because they have limited funds and housing is relatively inexpensive in this section of the city.

Jeannie Peterson of Hilltop Action Coalition said this particular four-bedroom house was in foreclosure and was purchased for $35,500. She said there are 15 such houses with multiple sex offenders in or near Hilltop with a total of 91 offenders.

While concerned about the number of offenders on Hilltop, Peterson does feel that having them reside together has advantages. She said studies show that when they are housed together, they are less likely to re-offend. This is not always the case with people with other forms of criminal backgrounds. And sex offenders do not trash their rental units, according to Peterson.

City staff was directed to provide advice on ways to increase regulatory activity related to sex offender housing. Tansy Hayward from the City Manager’s Office gave an update during the April 2 meeting of the council’s Neighborhoods and Housing Committee.

Most housing for offenders is similar to boarding houses and thus are not regulated in the manner of special needs or transitional housing. Because many housing providers will not rent to people with felonies, many felons resort to what she called “predatory landlords.” Such providers often own sub-standard housing and have little concern about the maintenance and oversight of conditions, both physical and behavioral, at their properties.

Among short-term goals is to cross check all housing addresses DOC has in its database for local business licenses. The city requires such a license for landlords who exceed a threshold in annual rent collections. Another is to do exterior inspections of such houses for compliance with building codes.

A mid-term goal is to share compliance rates with licensing and building codes with DOC. A long-term goal is to study housing provisions, including congregate housing, focusing on this segment of the population. It would identify unintended consequences on students, the elderly and others who share living quarters.

Walker requested that information on this topic be posted on the city’s website so concerned citizens can easily find it.

Peterson noted the house near South 9th and ‘M’ streets had a family with two young children next door, a factor that generated much anxiety in the neighborhood. Several neighbors have made plans to move as a result. She fears that as Hilltop loses families with young children, the area would slide backwards from improvements in stability and safety made over the years. “We cannot close our eyes to what this does to our neighborhoods.”