Housing Justice and Injustice in Tacoma, WA

I don’t know that I’ve ever been witness to a situation quite like what’s happening at the Tiki Apartments right now. I missed the initial meeting on Thursday. I was at work. But I met up with Brian that evening and we spent hours talking about it. He looked fucked up. Shell-shocked. I listened to everything my friend told me and I soaked it up, but still wasn’t really prepared for yesterday.

Last week, over a hundred residents at an apartment complex here in Tacoma received notice they were all getting the boot. Some Seattle developer, some millionaire asshole named Chad Duncan bought the place and is throwing everyone to the curb to fix it up and rent it back out for more than double the rent — going from $600 to $1250. Old tenants don’t even get priority (if they can afford it). They go on a waiting list. Duncan’s group, CWD Investments, purchased the lot back in November but waited until just now to tell everyone. Could have given people months to save up for a move, make a plan, find a place. But they didn’t. Now people are scrambling and many don’t know where they’ll even go.

A few are fortunate enough to make it work. Skiff, Tyler, Pete, and I turned out in the morning to help one woman, Donna, move the few things she’s got into a small studio downtown. We heard stories and testimonies from her and her neighbors though, about all their uncertainties and the dehumanizing injustice of being thrown out like that — of dealing with bad management beforehand too, about the old managers offering free rent to women they like for you know what, constant harassment and other abuses.

There’s sixty apartments with families in them, people who are sick, disabled, the elderly, working poor, onetime felons who finally got their lives straight, every one of them — out! People who just had surgery or accidents and can’t even pack a box, let alone lift one as they move into a new place. One woman who was homeless for over twenty years and just in the last few months finally got a decent place to live. Too bad. She’s gone too, back to the streets. There’s a fucking blind woman in a wheelchair who doesn’t even know where she’ll go!

I’ve never seen anything so callous, so blatantly heartless to the point I’m wondering if this is some parody, some awful joke. It’s like a fucking trope in a movie but it’s goddamn real.

But the guy, the guy who got to me most — when we were knocking on doors, handing out fliers with other tenants for their action at City Council on Tuesday — this guy we talk to steps outside to chat and tells us about being clean for nine years, about getting out of prison and years later finally getting his life on track, being stable and proud. But then this. He tells us that he spent twenty years as a professional criminal, boosting joints and moving goods around. And he was good at it too and proud of that.

He went from being somebody in some place in the world, to prison, to getting out and not feeling like anyone and finally gets things together, is proud of something again, but then this. “I did my time! I paid my debts!” And then he stops — this hard as fuck guy who looks like he could rip a phone book in half — his eyes well up and he asks, his voice cracking, “How could they do this to us?” He turns away for a moment, apologizes and then says, “It’s a good thing they didn’t try to do this to the old me.”

I think I’m often oversaturated by the constant news of new injustices to the point where, while I still know what’s right and wrong, I’m admittedly not moved in the same way anymore. The news and social media is a constant stream of woes, terror, tragedy, and heartbreak and it wears you down after a while. It breaks you, or at least dulls your senses. You still know what’s right and wrong, and you’ll act on those impulses from time to time, but it’s been a minute since I’ve been so outraged that I feel like I have to drop everything else and go all in for a cause.

Every person I met there is modest and kind. A lot of them are folks who have been through shit I can’t even imagine. And then this. None of them deserve it and they all know it too. I heard Donna say it — shout it! “We’re human beings!”

To be frank, I don’t care what “rights” management or these property developers have to do what they will with their property. I don’t care if any of this is legal or not and I never will. That something is legal does not make it just, and I am at my very core fundamentally at odds with the notion that a landlord is free to lord over other people, to decide whether they have a home or not — especially for such vulnerable, kind, and genuine people like those I met yesterday.

I want a world without landlords — without lords of any kind for that matter. I want a society in which there are no bosses or speculators and nobody gets to profit at your expense in any way. I want a free society, where there’s abundant and democratically owned and controlled housing for anyone and everyone who needs shelter, whether they can afford it or not, whether they’ve got a clean record or not, whether they “deserve it” or not — cause we all do. Housing is a human right. I want to see our community building towards that, all the community groups, the activists and the organizers and the unions together. Fuck all these condos. Let’s build truly public housing.

There’s an action at City Council on Tuesday at 5:00. I hope you’ll be there. In the short term, it’s about the tenants at Tiki Apartments, but thinking long range, it’s about the rest of that too. I don’t have any real faith in our City Council to do the right thing and help us get there though. They’re a bunch of fine liberals who talk a nice game but they don’t really do shit for the people here.

What I want instead is a mass movement that will make them. Let’s hit the bricks.


Zack Pattin is an organizer and labor activist in Tacoma, WA. He is part of the newly-formed housing justice coalition: Tiki Tenants Organizing Committee.
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