Kennewick families concerned about sex offender boarding house

The front yard of Chris Tarr’s Kennewick home should be a safe place for his 2-year-old daughter to pedal her tricycle and splash through the sprinkler.

But his yard is off limits to her and his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son because a short fence is all that separates them from six sex offenders living next door.

The house at 1132 N. Arthur St. isn’t an apartment complex or state-run halfway house.

It’s a five-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac off Canal Drive in central Kennewick.

And Tarr and other neighbors are fed up.

They maintain that the city of Kennewick and state prison officials have allowed the single-family home to become a sex offender boarding house.

“It’s someone illegally renting their house for money,” Tarr said. “As soon as (an offender’s) money is gone, their stuff is out on the curb.”

But the self-ordained minister who owns the home says he’s doing nothing wrong. He’s helping reform the sex offenders he houses, he told the Herald.

Neighbors say city and state officials have ignored the issue for four years.

Now, a new law goes into effect July 28 that finally could give officials leverage to remove the offenders and stop state prison officials from giving them rent vouchers to live there.

Rising tensions

Tensions have been rising in the neighborhood since Roger Reiboldt — leader of Steel Against Steel Ministries — starting renting rooms to sex offenders in 2009.

Reiboldt, 55, said he was called by God to rehabilitate sex offenders and to “hold them accountable.”

“God put a nugget in my heart to answer the call,” he told the Herald. “I didn’t willingly wake up one morning and say, ‘I want to work with sex offenders.’ God tricked me into it.”

County records show Reiboldt bought the modest two-story, 1,875-square-foot home on North Arthur Street in 2011. The home, built in 1945, is assessed at about $119,000.

Since 2009, at least 21 sex offenders have lived at the home, said Officer Alan Knox, who monitors sex offenders for the Kennewick Police Department.

Of the 21 who’ve lived there, 13 were deemed “high risk” by authorities, meaning they are considered highly likely to re-offend, Knox said.

At least six sex offenders, including three high-risk offenders, currently live there.

It’s unknown how many other people are living at the house. Department of Corrections officials confirmed people convicted of other crimes have lived there in the past using state-issued vouchers to pay their rent.

Neighbors have been outspoken about their disapproval of Reiboldt and the perception that their tight-knight neighborhood is unsafe. They claim there are constant fights at the home, drug use and thefts in the neighborhood.

Kennewick police have been called to Reiboldt’s home 42 times in four years, Kennewick police records show.

“This is a danger to the community,” said Lloyd Washan, who has lived in the neighborhood 25 years. “These are dangerous people. They didn’t just accidentally end up in jail.”

Phyllis Hirschel, who has lived in the neighborhood 60 years, said the mood of the neighborhood has changed since the sex offenders moved in.

“You ask anyone if they would want this place in their neighborhood,” she said. “They would say, ‘No.’ We have people moving out because of this.”

Residents argue Reiboldt’s ministry lacks the support programs and training to help sex offenders rehabilitate.

While having all the sex offenders living in one place makes it easier for Knox to track them, he agrees Reiboldt’s model of support within the house is broken.

“A lot of them are fresh out of prison for their sex charge or something else,” Knox said. “Roger can say what he wants, but he is no bona fide therapist, counselor or pastor.”

‘A legitimate need’

Neighbors believe Reiboldt’s motivation is purely for financial reasons with no real intention of helping the men transition safely back into society.

Reiboldt charges each offender $300 to $400 a month for a “shared living cost.” The price fluctuates depending on different factors, including how long the person has lived there.

He said no one in the neighborhood has ever directly expressed concerns to him.

He called the group of five neighbors who spoke to the Herald “worried people who don’t know the whole story.” His ministry’s services include Bible study sessions and counseling, he said.

“The only profit I get is the investment in these men for the kingdom of God,” he said. “It’s not for the money, it’s because these guys have a legitimate need.”

Offenders living at the house declined to talk about Reiboldt or his services.

Reiboldt wants to offer more programs, such as a workshop to teach offenders basic job skills. He claims he uses at-home urine tests to make sure offenders aren’t using drugs and has a 10 p.m. curfew.

His vision continues to be to try and change the negative stigma of sex offenders.

“The minute we hear ‘sex offender’ we think ‘pedophile,’ ” Reiboldt said. “Evil, terrible, sex-stalking, sex-crazed maniac.”

Reiboldt scoffed at the idea that he is making any profit off the offenders. He said the rent money goes to a nonprofit account and is put back into the house.

But a check of the Secretary of State’s website shows Steel Against Steel Ministries is not registered as a nonprofit organization.

Reiboldt said he recently moved to Arizona to “support the ministry,” though he told the Herald he is not working.

Lee Moses — who, when the Herald first spoke to him, was an avid supporter of Steel Against Steel and was helping to take the house in a “new direction” — said recently he has cut ties with Reiboldt because he questioned his motives and his management of the house.

“It’s like (he’s) using (the sex offenders) as a source of capital because it’s hard for them to find a place to live,” claimed Moses, whom Reiboldt referred to as his “spiritual adviser.” “That’s pretty pitiful,” he said.

City, state take action

Neighbors recently reached a boiling point when Reiboldt indicated more offenders would be moving in.

They thought the problem was resolved two years ago after a meeting with Kennewick and state prison officials. They said they were told Department of Corrections would stop issuing vouchers to Reiboldt’s address.

Joel Fort represented the DOC at the meeting and doesn’t remember telling neighbors or officials that no housing vouchers would be issued anymore.

Fort, a community corrections supervisor, said DOC agreed to “cut back significantly” on placing offenders at Reiboldt’s house.

“Did we release offenders there (after the meeting)?” he said. “Yes, but we were careful to monitor that.”

Fort couldn’t provide the exact number of offenders the state has released to the address because they “don’t keep records of where offenders were released,” he said.

Neighbors also are frustrated with city officials, whom they say have repeatedly refused to enforce city codes.

Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton agrees Reiboldt’s house is in violation of city code because it is zoned as a single-family home and cannot have more than three occupants who are not relatives paying rent.

“He’s running a rental business out of a single-family home in violation of our zoning code,” she said.

Beaton recently sent a letter to state corrections officials asking them to remove Reiboldt as a housing provider.

And she said the city is prepared to take Reiboldt to court to enforce the zoning code.

“We thought the problem was solved when DOC said they would stop issuing vouchers,” Beaton said. “Turns out that was not correct.”

Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said they are “not pleased” with the situation and also have now asked the state to stop releasing offenders there.

Stricter laws

Senate Bill 5105 creates strict guidelines for the Washington State Department of Corrections to use when issuing housing vouchers to any offender being released from prison.

Some offenders are given vouchers for up to $500 a month for three months, said Norah West, DOC’s communication specialist. The offenders use the vouchers to pay for housing.

The new law gives the community the ability to remove a housing provider and give input before a provider can be approved by corrections officials.

“Prior to the bill, (DOC) didn’t have any requirements to coordinate with the community,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, who sponsored the legislation. “Now (DOC) has a much closer responsibility to work with the community and make sure (transitional housing) is a good fit for everybody.”

The law will require DOC to maintain a list of approved providers and where offenders are released.

DOC has no criteria for placing sex offenders, other than to make sure they have “proper accommodations,” Fort said. There are no limits on how many offenders can live together.

Fort said he feels he listened to the residents in 2011 and did what he could to make sure their concerns were adequately addressed.

“Prior to the meeting we had more offenders living at the address then we did after that meeting,” he said. “We were being responsive to their concerns.”

Beaton said she has not heard back from prison officials on the issue.

Fort told the Herald the state wants to work with city officials and the police department to help them enforce city codes. He was adamant that Reiboldt will be removed as a provider and no more vouchers will approved for his Arthur Street address.

“I feel real confident right now saying that we will not release any offenders to that address as long as Roger Reiboldt is there,” Fort said.

Residents are skeptical. They feel like the city has looked the other way at a problem that has caused them a great deal of stress the last few years.

“My thing all along has been (Reiboldt) is running an illegal boarding house,” Washan said. “Why haven’t they done anything about it? I’m as mad at the city of Kennewick for not enforcing their ordinances.” If nothing is done soon, Washan said he will form a citizen committee and sue the city.

“I think everybody is to the point where if something doesn’t change we will start picketing or something,” Tarr said. “The whole neighborhood is pretty tired of it.”