Judge Reverses Earlier Decision: Community Volunteers Keep Milwaukee Hotel Open

Gary Iwamoto October 15, 1977 0

Thanks to community support and the resistance of the Milwaukee Hotel residents, Municipal Court Judge Barbara Yanick ruled on September 23 to keep the Milwaukee Hotel open. The International District Housing Alliance, which has spearheaded the effort to keep the hotel open, praised the unselfish support of volunteers and contributors without whose efforts the hotel would have been closed.

The well-coordinated community effort was prompted by a ruling from Judge Barbara Yanick on September 12 to officially close the Milwaukee Hotel. The ruling was based on a complaint filed by the Seattle Fire Department, charging one of the owners of the hotel, Donald Louie, with 60 fire code violations. The judge gave the residents seven days to move out of the building.

On September 15, Inter*im and the International District Housing Alliance, represented by attorneys Anthony Lee, Diane Wong, and Rod Kawakami, met with Yanick. The judge gave three days to remedy the major violations or the hotel would close. The hotel owners did not contest the closing.

For the hotel to remain open, the Fire Department required the hauling away of debris, closing off of the west portion of the hotel, the relocation of several tenants, and the maintenance of a 24-hour fire watch.

What followed has been well publicized in the local media. The International District community responded to the judge’s three-day deadline in droves. Up to 75 people, volunteers and residents, went to work—hauling away approximately 20 tons of debris, boarding up the access to the west portion of the hotel, scraping walls, taping walls, putting up exit signs, and relocating tenants from the closed portion of the hotel Residents and volunteers worked together.

On September 19, in a hearing before Judge Yanick, the Fire Department recommended closure of the hotel because only 80 per cent of the required repairs had been completed by the three day deadline. Judge Yanick agreed with the Fire Department, but granted a five-day extension time to appeal the judge’s ruling. Yanick fixed a final deadline of September 23.

In the three days that followed, volunteers and residents worked around the clock to remedy the remaining required violations. Through the co-ordination of the Housing Alliance, tenants who had to be relocated found space in other hotels in the International District, such as the Alps, the Publix and the Terrace View.

An impossible task

By the September 23 deadline, the required violations had been erased. The Fire Department made an 8:30 a.m. inspection. In recommending that the hotel stay open, the Fire Department, in a letter to Yanick, stated:

“The Fire Department applauds the International District Improvement Association (Inter*im) and the International District Housing Alliance for their superior effort at what had to be a most impossible task. In a period of 8 days, they were able to complete the requirements which (required) the removal of 20 tons of debris. We believe that the owner, who was ultimately responsible, has benefitted considerably, although he has not helped in any way.”

The Fire Department noted that it takes about ten years for a building to get in as bad a condition as the Milwaukee Hotel. In one week, the volunteers and residents worked to undo the damage of years of neglect. Volunteers noted the damage caused a fire in the hotel in 1976; the walls were still visibly charred. Cockroaches, fleas, and spiders of varying shapes and sizes fled as the legions of volunteers and residents tramped up and down the floors and through rooms.

The owners, Jordan Wong and Donald Louie, and the former manager, Joe Banda, were conspicuous by their absence. Negotiations were underway between the International District Housing Alliance and the owners to undertake management of the hotel. Judge Yanick has ordered the owners to cooperate.

A celebration

To celebrate the initial victory, the Housing Alliance sponsored a potluck and rally for residents and volunteers. Bob Santos read off a list of volunteers and contributors, which included such groups as I.D.E.A. (the International District Economic Association) and the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. Residents Mrs. Louie, Mr. Wait, and Mr. McDonald, praised the support of the community and criticized the lack of support by the owners. Shari Woo and Greg Della of the Housing Alliance emphasized that work remained to be done. Judge Yanick placed a one-month deadline for remedying all the violations which remain or the hotel will be closed. Twenty violations of the Fire Code, although not essential to keeping the hotel open for the initial deadline remain.

Why did the community work so hard to keep the Milwaukee Hotel open?

According to the many volunteers, the residents, Inter*im, and the Housing Alliance, the Milwaukee Hotel struggle dramatically demonstrates the need for low-income housing and the lack of such housing existing in the District today. Action by the Community groups, the volunteers, and especially, the residents themselves in refusing to move, prevented the Milwaukee Hotel from becoming the 30th hotel in the International District to close.

But there is another deadline to meet and as those involved in the Milwaukee Hotel fight emphasize, “The struggle for low income housing continues.”

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