Seattle Times tells winsome story of a year of Jubilee and generous Pentecostal landlords

It was the kind of story I rarely see in the Seattle Times.

We’re talking about a religion piece that is, well, positive about people with strong religious beliefs.

In recent years, religion headlines were mostly about Mark Driscoll, the former pastor of Mars Hill, once the city’s largest church. The rise and fall of that congregation left a sour taste in the mouths of many who wanted faith to not be so poisonous.

In this story written by the newspaper’s real estate writer –- the Seattle Times does not have a religion reporter –- we hear about how a pair of Pentecostal Christians are employing an Old Testament rule that dates back at least 3,000 years to apply to the 21st century.

Husband and wife Kory Slaatthaug and Mickey Bambrick are landlords. For the past half-century, Slaatthaug’s family has owned a small apartment building in Greenwood named for the Norwegian town where Kory’s father grew up.

They’re also devout Pentecostal Christians. When Slaatthaug, a 74-year-old retired carpenter, does repairs at the building, he drives there in a Jeep with a 4-foot-tall Bible on top.

The Old Testament has a passage about the year of jubilee — every 50 years, debts are to be forgiven.

So Slaatthaug and Bambrick are celebrating the family’s 50 years as property owners by doing something unheard of for a landlord: For the month of November, everyone in the 11-unit building goes rent-free.

Which is about $15,000 out of their bank account. Apparently the reporter spotted the story on Reddit and realized this couple’s complex is in a very nice section of Seattle. The couple apparently can’t afford the city’s stratospheric rents themselves; they live two counties away in Mt. Vernon, Wash.

But the property referred to in the article is worth $1.3 million, which they will hopefully get when it comes time to sell.

The jubilee-year reference that inspired the gift comes from Leviticus 25. It describes a process whereby slaves would be freed and debts would be forgiven every 50 years in ancient Israel.

“You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants,” it reads. “It shall be a jubilee to you; and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.”

Slaatthaug, who describes himself as “a little bit of a radical Christian,” made the modern interpretation to free his tenants of rent payments for a month, figuring it would be “a good way to honor both my heavenly father and my earthly father” who first helped built the apartments.

Several media, including the local Fox channel, picked up the story. If you want to reach the heart of any Seattleite, lower his or her rent.

“There are a lot of longtime residents who feel the same way as we do about Kory and Mickey: They’re like family,” tenant Eric Staples said. “Kory is always around tinkering and improving the apartment and talking with the tenants.”

They already rent out the apartments a bit below market rate. Large one-bedrooms run from $1,100 to $1,400, with parking, water, sewer and garbage included.

Greenwood, which is the expensive area where this complex is, brings in those kind of rents. The city’s housing bubble has died down a bit, but the home of Amazon, Nintendo, Starbucks and Microsoft has made for some of the fastest-rising housing costs in the country.

What I liked about the story was the kind way in which it was written and how the peoples’ beliefs were explained respectfully.

Had the reporter been more of a religion specialist, maybe he could have gone into how the concept of a jubilee year as divine reset didn’t last all that long in Israel’s history. Once Jews were exiled to Babylon in the sixth century BC, the anniversary was no longer celebrated.

Many centuries later, there’s some debate about the original Jubilee command and whether all 12 tribes would have to be living in their original land allotments for it to be observed today. This article from an Orthodox Jewish site is an example of the debate in Israel over this topic.

But there’s no commandment for non-Jews to observe a jubilee in any form, which is why the efforts of this couple is almost endearing. It makes one wonder how many other cool stories are out there that haven’t made it onto Reddit yet.

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