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City tackles squatters with new rules

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The issue of “nuisance” calls to law enforcement was addressed in two different cities last week.
In Snohomish, a new ordinance requires a property to have utility services and allows the city to take action if utilities are shut off for more than 14 days. The law allows the city to post a “Do Not Occupy” sign and board up windows at abandoned buildings that no longer have utility services. 
The law mentions properties that are in foreclosure and often abandoned. In a phone interview last week, Mayor John Kartak said it is not targeted at any one group or demographic, such as homeless people. 
“This is not targeted at any particular demographic,” he said, adding “it is a public health and safety issue.” He was referring to buildings with water service shut down, which have non-functioning toilets and sinks.
Kartak celebrated passage of the new law on social media. “This gives the city of Snohomish and our police department a tool that is much more efficient and timely than what is otherwise available, for solving some of the problems in town that threaten the health and well-being of both the individual and the community,” He wrote. 
As government leaders often do, he is tasked with walking the line as an advocate for both the sheltered and unsheltered. 
Kartak has been a high-profile advocate for low-income people, but regularly comments that he doesn’t support enabling homelessness. He meets regularly with Spruce Up Snohomish, a nonprofit founded by nurturer and watchdog Shayn Bancroft. Liaising with Bancroft keeps Kartak in touch with what the city’s outdoor residents are experiencing. 
Bancroft connects through clean ups and his own welfare-check protocols: he talks to homeless people daily, while removing spent hypodermic needles and refuse from around the city.
The city’s new law creates a tool to address calls made by the public, offering the city THE ability to board up doors and windows when a facility is a health and safety hazard, Kartak said. 
The law says the city can vacate residents until water and sewer service is restored. If residents violate a “Do Not Occupy” order, they can be charged with a misdemeanor, and failure to secure a residence can result in a civil infraction.
In Monroe, a nuisance building is soon to be demolished, in a move that addresses squatting.   
“I’m pleased to announce that demolition of the buildings at the southwest corner of Fryelands Blvd and U.S. 2 began this week. The owner plans to remove the existing structures in anticipation of future development. This is a big step to revitalize this site and a benefit for the entire area,” Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas wrote on social media last week.
Ben Swanson, community development director for Monroe, said the soon-to-be-leveled building was drawing squatters, but at that site the bigger problem was repeat trespassers and vandals. It was used as a makeshift park by teens, and known to officials to be a regular site for fires and graffiti.  
“The Mayor, Fire Marshal and Police Chief all pushed to have the building secured or demolished,” Swanson said.
Eastside Masonry Products owns the land, and is redeveloping the site for future use, Swanson said. The owner is in the process of getting permits for a new structure. Its prior use was manufacturing cinder-block type products, Swanson said.
Demolishing the building will take several weeks, and will eventually provide the opportunity for new jobs, Swanson said.



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