[Updated at 11:50 a.m. February 13, 2015—see note below.]
Residents of the federally subsidized Winslow Arms Apartments at 220 Parfitt Way have come forward with allegations of ongoing harassment and abuse in their housing complex.
Six residents of Winslow Arms approached Inside Bainbridge with complaints about the apartment manager, who will be referred to as Tracy. Correspondence records between other residents at the housing facility and its private Seattle-based management company, Pan Pacific Properties, reveal a broader record of alleged abuse.
Winslow Arms is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) facility, which means that its management company receives HUD funding to provide “affordable, decent, and safe rental housing” for low-income seniors and disabled individuals.
Approximately 65 people live in Winslow Arms, many of whom are elderly and/or severely disabled. Allegations against 44-year-old Tracy, who took over as manager last May, include the following:
- She has physically “shoulder-block” shoved one of the residents (a small fragile woman with a heart condition) on two occasions, saying “f*ck you” and “you better be careful.”
- She routinely threatens residents with eviction without cause, putting notices on their doors.
- She has verbally attacked numerous residents, saying “f*ck you” and giving them the finger.
- She yells at, stands in the way of, and rushes at residents, using her large body (6′ 1″ and 230 pounds) to bully them.
- She speeds in her car at 30-40 mph through the parking lot of the residence.
- She smokes on the premises, against HUD policy.
- She slams doors. Residents provided photographic evidence of holes from a doorknob and doorstop of a recently slammed door.
- She denies her hostile actions, lies about tenants, and acts victimized by tenants.
- She does not consistently keep the posted business hours in her office and has failed to show up for some scheduled meetings.
- She threw hot coffee on a tenant’s door.
- She has “torn down” tenant-provided holiday decorations and removed a tenant’s radio from the common area, with no explanation.
- She has canceled longstanding scheduled excursions and regular driving trips to Walmart for residents without explanation.
None of the reporting tenants were willing to go on record with their names in this article for fear of reprisal, including targeted harassment, eviction, and physical harm. In a group meeting with this writer, several tenants described Tracy as “a ticking time bomb” and said that they believed it is just a matter of time until she resorts to serious physical violence and harm. The tenants present at our meeting said they have lived at the apartment complex for between 3 and 5 years and have never had cause for complaint about previous managers. One tenant said she has filed an anti-harassment order against Tracy but has not used it for fear of retaliation. She said she is prepared to move to a women’s shelter to avoid further harassment.
Numerous residents said they have contacted Pan Pacific dozens of times for months with their concerns, in person and in writing, and that the manager there, Laurie Hirschberg, has whitewashed their complaints and done nothing to address the problems at Winslow Arms. Copies of correspondence provided to Inside Bainbridge corroborate this claim. One tenant said of Pan Pacific, “They won’t do anything unless they are threatened with having to pay money for legal fees.” Residents sought legal consultation but lack the financial resources to pay a lawyer to pursue the matter in court. They reported that when three representatives from Kitsap Adult Protective Services met with 12 concerned residents at Winslow Arms, they told the residents the situation with Tracy was “terrible” but they were unable to intervene because no physical abuse had occurred. After the alleged shoving incidents, the assaulted individual contacted Adult Protective Services again and was told that they were sorry but because of budgetary constraints they could only intervene in cases involving the disabled.
Nontenants of Winslow Arms also have complained to Pan Pacific about interactions with Tracy. For example, Eileen Magnuson, Program Specialist for the Bainbridge Island Park District, wrote a full-page letter to Hirschberg dated August 26, 2014, describing an incident in which Tracy reportedly became combative with her and others from Waterfront Park Community Center when they parked in the Winslow Arms parking lot to take residents and other Bainbridge Island seniors on a field trip, something the Park District had been doing for over 20 years. Magnuson said that when she stopped into Tracy’s office to introduce herself and explain the longstanding arrangement, Tracy became “very upset” and began collecting the names of the people parked in the lot. To appease Tracy, Magnuson, the participants, and the bus driver moved to another location. “Though surprised and embarrassed, we did our best to salvage the positivity and enthusiasm that our trips usually inspire,” wrote Magnuson. “. . . I understand that this conversation came as a surprise to Ms. [Tracy]. It may be that your company does not want us to park in Winslow Arms lot in the future. I can understand that. My concern is as to how Ms. [Tracy] conducted herself as a representative of your company. We could have had a professional conversation discussing how to best remedy the situation rather than the confrontational and accusatory dialogue that ensued. . . .”
A Helpline House counselor wrote a letter dated November 3, 2014, on behalf of one of the tenants, saying, “The manager has chosen to verbally abuse and bully many of the tenants. The environment has become very stressful and unsafe. This atmosphere has had an extremely adverse effect on [my client’s] health.”
When Inside Bainbridge called Pan Pacific, we were told Hirschberg was the contact person for issues regarding Winslow Arms and she was unreachable that day. When we called her the next day she declined to speak on the phone and asked us to submit our questions in writing. We sent her our questions and requested a prompt response to them. She wrote us a day later, saying she would respond in two more business days.
Domestic abuse counselor Barbara Chandler-Young of the Kitsap County YWCA, who works from an office on Bainbridge Island, also approached Inside Bainbridge on behalf of several residents of Winslow Arms. Chandler-Young, who has worked as a counselor and client advocate at the YWCA for 9 years, said she believes Tracy is abusing the residents of Winslow Arms: “I don’t usually go public in my work, but in this case I want to shout it from the rooftops. What is happening there is outrageous. We need to shine the light of day on this situation. I would hope that the community would be up in arms.”
When Inside Bainbridge called HUD about the situation at Winslow Arms, we were referred to the Bremerton Housing Authority, which has a contract to administrate management of HUD housing across the state. Bremerton Housing Authority Executive Director Kurt Wiest told me his organization has received a complaint from a resident at Winslow Arms about Tracy’s treatment of tenants. “We take this very seriously. Where somebody lives is a very deep part of their lives,” he said. Following HUD regulations, Wiest notified HUD and the owner of Winslow Arms, Bess Uchimura, about the complaint and our inquiry. Wiest suggested we try calling HUD again, but no one was available to answer our call. When we tried to contact Uchimura, her phone number was disconnected, and her email address was defunct.
Note: After reading this story, Bainbridge Island Police Chief Matt Hamner contacted Inside Bainbridge with concern about the situation at Winslow Arms. He said as far as he is aware there have been no reports by Winslow Arms tenants of criminal activity. Inside Bainbridge made a public records request for reports involving Winslow Arms to the department earlier this week. Chief Hamner said a detective is currently working on an in-depth review of police files. He encourages anyone who has experienced a criminal offense to come forward to the police. The tenant who was allegedly shoulder blocked told Inside Bainbridge that she reported the incidents to the police but was told that without evidence of physical harm the case was unenforceable. She said the consulting Officer, Jeff Benkert, told her she could get a restraining order against the manager. As stated above, she said she filed for an anti-harassment order but has not used it for fear of retaliation.
Photo by Sarah Lane.