By Lily Katz
Snohomish woman rents U-District homes to sex offenders, felons
A yellowed page of an old newspaper is taped to the wall of Carol Clarke’s aging U-District rental office. In bold letters, it reads: “Abstinence. It works every time.” Jesus looks down from several paintings atop the windowsill, and a “no smoking” sign hangs crookedly behind the desk.
Most people have retired by their mid-70s. But Clarke, 74, is still on the job, renting rooms in her five U-District homes to sex offenders, felons, and the mentally disabled. Clarke believes that everybody deserves a home and a second chance.
“I just feel like if a person is interested in becoming a better human being, then someone better give him a leg up,” she said.
Often times, it’s difficult for sex offenders and felons to find housing, so Clarke is well known behind prison bars and among law enforcement officials.
How it all began
Born in Tacoma and raised in Seattle, Clarke spent the first eight years of her life on a chicken farm.
Many years later, she still hasn’t outgrown her affinity for animals. Now widowed, Clarke lives alone on her farm in Snohomish. When she’s not busy tending to her cows and chickens, she is hard at work interviewing prospective renters, filling out leases, and sorting out details with officials at the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) with regard to her tenants.
Although Clarke has been leasing her homes for many years, she only began renting to people with criminal records 15 years ago.
It began when she found out one of her tenants was a sex offender. Clarke consulted the man’s corrections officer, then gave her tenant a firm talking to. His determination to change, Clarke said, is what inspired her to continue renting to criminals.
“Do you think [that] because a guy did something really, really stupid that he should be condemned for his entire life, if he changes his life?” she asked.
Clarke has been renting out rooms in her U-District properties to sex offenders and felons ever since. Many of the houses are only a few-minutes walking distance from the UW campus.
While unorthodox, Clarke firmly believes that her housing system does not pose a threat to neighboring residents.
“If you put groups of sex offenders together, everybody thinks that’s a bad thing, when in reality, when you put them in these cells, they’re super quiet, like in Carol’s area,” said MacGregor Gordon, a detective in the SPD’s sex offender and kidnapping unit who has been working with Clarke for 10 years.
In fact, Clarke won’t rent to students because she believes they cause more trouble than her tenants do.
“They’re brats,” Clarke said. “In September, when they come around looking for rooms, I say, ‘I’m sorry; I will rent to felons. I will rent to sex offenders. I will rent to the mentally challenged, and I won’t rent to you.’”
UW senior and psychology major Ross Yeilding lives next door to one of Clarke’s homes and does not think neighboring residents have anything to fear.
“No more than you have to worry about [safety] in any other urban area,” Yeilding said. “It just kind of comes with the territory. We live in a large city and there are going to be felons and sex offenders living amongst us.”
David Hotz, the UW’s director of fraternity and sorority life, said he has not received any complaints about Clarke’s tenants, and he, like Yeilding, is not concerned about the situation.
“Quite honestly … if the lady is operating things within the law and they have a right to exist within the law, then so be it,” Hotz said. “I trust that the authorities … wouldn’t release them to that neighborhood unless it was a safe situation.”
UW Police Department (UWPD) Cmdr. Steve Rittereiser echoed these remarks when he said he doesn’t believe there is any reason to have a “heightened awareness” around the rental homes. The UWPD has not received any recent complaints about Clarke’s tenants.
Mark Janney, a community corrections supervisor at the DOC, said that Clarke “runs a good program.”
But, Janney added, “I also think it’s concerning to have a whole house full of sex offenders in that kind of an area … I would be uncomfortable if my daughter were in a house next door.”
Controversy in 2007
Six years ago, university and state officials took action to force registered sex offenders recently released from prison, and under the supervision of the DOC, to leave Clarke’s housing. Former UW President Mark Emmert took his concerns to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who agreed that the tenants should be removed. The DOC complied under pressure, and Clarke lost 14 tenants in one month.
“We didn’t think, and still don’t think, it’s a good idea to house those folks in the middle of a college-age population … It’s that simple,” said Norm Arkans, the UW’s associate vice president for media relations and communications.
To this day, Clarke is upset by the action. She claims that neither she nor the Seattle Police Department had received complaints concerning her renters. Yet, of the 14 tenants who were instructed to leave, Clarke said one committed suicide, two ended up homeless, and several were forced to leave their jobs.