Workers board up 216, 218 and 220 Third Street this morning.
UPDATE: Eureka City Councilmember Kim Bergel has informed the Journal
via Facebook that she was told the city has offered all 20 or so displaced residents of the condemned buildings the option of staying at the local Motel 6 until Monday, when relocation funds are expected to be made available. The Journal
hasn't yet been able to verify this and it wasn't an offer given to all residents on site this morning.
The city of Eureka condemned three properties on Third Street owned by Floyd and Betty Squires this morning, forcing about 20 people out of their apartments and, in some cases, onto the streets.
Deputy Public Works Director Brian Issa says the city felt the need to take immediate action due to hazardous, unsanitary conditions that posed a danger to residents and the general public. Tenants said they were notified first thing yesterday morning that they had 24 hours to vacate the premises and move all their stuff. Known as the “Heroin Hilton,” the apartment building at 220 Third St. has been the site of several recent drug busts, and neighbors have long complained of constant streams of people coming in and out of the building, along with pervasive drug use in and around the apartments.
“This place has just descended into chaos,” Issa said. “It’s a trap house. On any given day, there are people lying on the floor in the hallway and on the stairs with needles in their arms, feces on the floor.”
Inside the building, a small swarm of flies circled at the entrance before a steep staircase that looked battered and littered. Upstairs, about half the building's rooms were boarded up from past enforcement actions. Graffiti lined the walls, and a few cigarette butts and orange syringe caps were scattered on a dingy laminate floor that otherwise looked recently swept. A makeshift tinfoil pipe lay discarded in a corner. A maintenance worker was going door to door to touch base with tenants.
Residents said the city shut the water off at the properties on Tuesday but it was turned back on Wednesday. Issa said the Squireses were $16,000 behind on their water bill, which prompted the shut off. He said tenants were given advance warning that the water would be turned off and it was switched back on as soon as the property owners paid the bill.
Down the street, Barry Post stood on the sidewalk with a small cart packed with a couple of duffle bags and a box. For five years, he’s called a small one-bedroom apartment in 220 Third Street home.
“It’s the Heroin Hilton,” he said. Dealers live there, he said, and people come and go constantly, sticking around only to shoot up and nod off in the hallways. But Post said he kept to himself and the place gave him shelter. “I took what I needed — what I can carry — and left everything else.”
“Floyd Squires saved my ass,” he said. “I was going to be living in my car. I had nowhere else to go. I’ve always paid my rent and we’ve had no problems.”
Others were in similar situations, leaving with what they could carry, uncertain of where they would go. James Timmerman said his developmentally delayed stepson had lived in one of the apartments for more than a year and called him a few days ago, asking Timmerman to stay with him a while because he was scared because of all the drug use at the property.
Timmerman said he understood the city’s need to take action and close the place down, but he wishes tenants had been given more time. As it was, Timmerman said he got what he could of his stepson’s belongings out of the apartment and loaded into his van.
“I would have cleaned the place up but I didn’t have enough time,” he said, adding that he hoped to get his stepson’s $850 deposit back from the Squireses.
Issa said the Squireses knew this action was coming and could have easily proactively moved tenants to another of their dozens of properties in the city.
“Instead, Floyd came in and told everyone, ‘Everything’s fine, not to worry, don’t move,’” he said. “He made it that much harder on people.”
By law, Issa said the Squireses are required to give tenants relocation assistance funds, as well as returns on rent and deposits. But if the couple fails to do so, Issa said the city will have $1,600 available for each living unit in the three properties, as it did when it vacated the Budget Motel
last September, but those funds won’t be available until Monday.
And to receive the funds, tenants have to sign a form agreeing to waive any potential legal action against the city for being displaced.
This being the beginning of the month, many tenants also said they had just paid Squires rent for September, leaving them with little leftover and few options for finding shelter for the weekend. Most said their rent was $600 a month.
Post said he was waiting to speak with Betty Squires, hoping she would have money for him. He was frustrated that the city was condemning the place with little notice. The building isn’t much, he said, but it’s shelter.
“This is how Eureka solves its homeless problem? By making more people homeless?” he asked.
Around back, a man with a cane and a bad limp helped his friend load her belongings into an SUV. Another man helped a friend, who he said is schizophrenic, load her belongings into a van. Others walked off with what they could carry and left what they could not.
Back out front, Timmerman told Issa that he and his stepson didn’t have anywhere to go. Issa suggested they check into a motel but Timmerman said they didn’t have any money and wouldn’t be getting paid until later next week.
“Just go down to the motel, make the reservation and have them call me. I’ll put it on my credit card,” Issa said, giving the man his cell number.
“God bless you all,” Timmerman’s son called to the assortment of code enforcement officials, police officers and workers gathered outside the dilapidated apartment building as he walked across the street to Timmerman’s van.
The boarding up of the long maligned apartment building is the latest in what appears to be an escalation of the city’s attempts to push its most notorious landlord into compliance, and follows the razing of two Squires-owned properties — and a very colorful press release — last week. (Read more on all that here
Tenants’ anger seemed to be split this morning, with half directing their ire at the city and the other half at the Squireses. Floyd and Betty Squires, who were on scene for about an hour this morning talking to officials and a few tenants, said they were not given any notice by the city that the property was to be condemned. They declined to comment further.
As Floyd Squires walked off down the street, one tenant looked scornfully from her doorway. “That man should be in jail,” she said, before turning back to packing her things.