James Barrett speaks to a reporter after his court hearing at the Dimond Courthouse on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. Barrett is fighting being evicted from his house at Harris and Fourth Street he co-owns with his mother, Kathleen. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

James Barrett speaks to a reporter after his court hearing at the Dimond Courthouse on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. Barrett is fighting being evicted from his house at Harris and Fourth Street he co-owns with his mother, Kathleen. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

‘Problem’ downtown house to be vacated by next week, judge orders

Safety concerns at the heart of eviction, judge says

Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that one of the residents of 401 Harris Street was there through a Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority program. A representative from the housing authority said it is highly unlikely that someone is there through one of their programs.

The occupants of 401 Harris Street, including co-owner James Barrett, must be out of the house by next week, Sitka Superior Court Judge Jude Pate ruled Monday.

Due to safety concerns about the home, Pate ruled that the house must be vacated by next Monday, Oct. 1. The house has been at the epicenter of hundreds of calls to police in recent years, according to the Juneau Police Department, and neighbors have long complained about noise and disturbances at the house. City Attorney Robert Palmer said in a recent email to the Empire that the CBJ views 401 Harris Street as a “problem property.”

The City and Borough of Juneau issued a letter Sept. 5 stating that there were “numerous and severe health and safety violations” at the house. The discussion at Monday’s hearing centered around whether James could find another place to live before Oct. 1, but Pate said the priority was to ensure the house and residents are safe.

“If I’m going to take that condemnation order seriously, and I’m going to rely upon it, I have to take it by its terms that continued occupancy with the state of the code violations as they are, poses a risk to the structure and to its occupants,” Pate said.

The question at hand Monday is where James can go upon his eviction. James’ mother Kathleen — the co-owner of the house — and his sister Maureen Barrett-Smith have been looking for a place for him to live. Barrett-Smith was at the hearing via phone, and described a condominium on Nowell Avenue on Douglas that should fit James’ needs.

The condo has about half the square footage of the Harris Street house, James pointed out, and he said he was uneasy with how steep the road leading to the condo is. His sister acknowledged that this is a smaller property, but said it should still be suitable for James’ needs. She said it’s near a bus line and reasonably accessible for emergency vehicles in case James — who is in poor health — needs assistance.

One problem, Barrett-Smith said, is that the current residents of the condo won’t be moving out until Oct. 27. Pate said he wanted to be safe and get James and the other three residents out of 401 Harris Street by the Oct. 1 deadline that the city set. To do that, Pate said, Kathleen would have to pay for James to stay in a hotel until the condo is available Oct. 27.

Barrett said one of the residents is there through a Tlingit and Haida program, but Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority Housing Manager Norton Gregory said the housing authority almost certainly would not have placed anyone at that address. The person is likely a member of Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 477 program, CCHITA Employment Training Manager Grace Hawkins said. In that program, which helps the unemployed or underemployed find work, participants receive some assistance but pick their own housing.

Joe Josephson, the attorney representing Kathleen, said Kathleen would be willing to put James up in a hotel for that time. James said there are three other people living in the house now, and there were no plans discussed in court for those three people.

In an interview after the hearing, James said he felt the hotel stay is a waste of money, and that this whole process is being “driven by interlopers.” Multiple neighbors were in attendance and have been in attendance for all of the hearings in the case.

Earlier this year, Kathleen began pursuing a partition, which would give her control of the property. One of the main questions in the case, Pate said at a hearing in August, is whether allowing James to live at the property would cause irreparable harm to Kathleen.

Dave d’Amato, who is Kathleen’s power of attorney and makes legal decisions for her, explained that Kathleen could suffer harm if the city seizes the property and Kathleen has to go through an expensive legal battle with the city.

She is fresh off another costly case, as she and the CBJ reached an agreement in August that stipulated that Kathleen would repay $1.5 million to mostly cover the cost of demolishing the Gastineau Apartments. The apartments, which were owned by the Barretts, fell into disrepair and caught fire twice before the city demolished the buildings in January 2016. As part of that settlement, Kathleen agreed to continue the case against her son “with a view to the eviction of James Barrett.”

The case is not finished yet, Pate said, as Kathleen is still seeking to gain full control of the house and eventually sell it. Pate said a trial is still scheduled for mid-March.

After court, Barrett said he calls his mother every day but hasn’t been able to talk with her. He lamented that his family’s business has played out in court.

“It’s a shame,” Barrett said, “because if my mother and I had a cup of coffee, I think this could all be resolved.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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