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Originally published Friday, August 23, 2013 at 8:29 PM

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Kent cracks down on housing of sex offenders near schools

Sex offenders are living illegally in a number of group homes in Kent, and the city has given operators of the homes until the first week in September to get them out.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The split-levels and ramblers tucked in neighborhoods near schools and parks were supposed to be “clean and sober’’ homes for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.

Instead, 70 registered sex offenders — many of them high-level offenders — have been housed in 10 homes in Kent. Now, the city is cracking down on six owners and managers.

They have until the first week of September to move the sex offenders out or face $500-a-day fines and the filing of an injunction against them in King County Superior Court.

Even with the threat of legal action, the owners and operators of the homes are doing little to make changes, says Deputy City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick. The city first notified them of the violations back in May but since then has moved the deadline ahead more than once, Fitzpatrick said.

But now, the city is prepared to move quickly, he said.

In all but one of the group homes, the majority of the offenders were convicted of crimes involving minors.

In one home, 17 sex offenders were housed together, according to city documents, and all had been convicted of crimes against children, including first-degree rape of a child. That home is within 500 feet of a day-care center in one direction and 500 feet of a school in another, according to the city.

Kent’s regulations say that sex-offender group homes must be in commercial areas and not within 1,000 feet of a school, park or residential area.

Many of the offenders who reside in the 10 houses cited by the city live there for up to three months after being released from prison, and then they move on, Fitzpatrick said.

That’s because for three months after a sex offender is released from prison, the Department of Corrections (DOC) will pay owners of group homes where they live $500 rent per sex offender per month.

A home with 10 sex offenders can bring in $5,000 a month, paid directly to the owner.

Will Mader, DOC spokesman, said community-corrections officers visit the homes of such sex offenders in transition to be sure the homes are not near schools, day-care operations, or areas that would be a violation of city regulations.

Mader could not say why sex offenders have been allowed to live illegally in Kent. The DOC does not regulate group homes; that’s up to individual cities, he said. “There may not have been any other options.”

Kent officials have not been in contact with the DOC about the housing of sex offenders.

During their home visits, community-corrections officers go to a home “and look at what’s best for the offender and what’s best for the community,’’ Mader said.

Evelyn Dale, who owns two of six sex-offender group homes managed by a man named Eddy Weber, said she is upset by “the city’s harassment.’’ She did not say whether she or Weber would comply with the city’s demands.

Weber, she said, “does this because he has a good heart and he wants to provide a place for these offenders where they can feel safe and comfortable and not suffer all the negativity thrown their way.”

Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center said research indicates that sex offenders are unlikely to reoffend in neighborhoods where they live, and she acknowledged that appropriate housing — away from day-care centers and schools — is always difficult for them to find.

However, sex offenders must be within the law in where they live, she said.

As for the property owners, “I don’t know if they were simply unaware or just didn’t care,’’ said Tom Brubaker, Kent’s interim chief administrative officer. “When we became aware of the violations, we were pretty surprised and upset.”

One of the arguments that owners of the group homes have raised is that the sex offenders living in the group homes are drug- or alcohol-addicted and therefore qualified for “clean and sober’’ housing under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The city allows those types of group homes.

Maybe they are addicts, but the sex-offender status changes everything, Fitzpatrick said.

Says Brubaker, “We have plenty of drug and alcohol housing for those kind of folks. It doesn’t mean (sex offenders) should have an unbridled right to situate themselves wherever they want.”

Kent has 300 registered sex offenders. When it comes to placing them in housing where there are as many as 17 in one unit, DOC “should be paying more attention,’’ he said.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

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