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Autistic 'Mayor of Ballard' forced to move out of longtime home

Last month, 67-year-old Joel Romero was told by his landlord his lease was not being renewed, and he'd have to move out of his home of about 20 years.

<p>Joel Romero, the unofficial Mayor of Ballard, moves out of his home.</p>

SEATTLE, Wash. -- For three days, the towers of things that made up Joel Romeo's home were loaded into boxes, destination somewhat unknown.

Romeo, 67, is affectionately known as the 'Mayor of Ballard', but must move out of his rented home by Friday night.

"This is where his roots are. It's where his community is," said Tom Haupt with The Arc of King County.

The term 'Mayor of Ballard' comes not only from the length of time he's lived in the neighborhood, but the uniqueness of who Romeo is.

He has autism, is partially deaf and almost entirely mute. Communication is an improvised mix of sign language and gestures.

"Usually, he's a really happy-go-lucky guy," said his case worker Leah VanLaarhoven, "He's very unfiltered."

And what VanLaarhoven has noticed recently is an unfiltered frustration from Romeo. For a man in his condition, uprooting a routine and home known for two decades has the potential to be traumatic.

"Seeing him this frustrated this often," said VanLaarhoven, "I can tell that its getting to him."

A GoFundMe page was setup to help pay for storage and other assistance for Romeo. Other non-profits have stepped up to find a new, though smaller, home in Ballard. But it will not be ready for at least a month.

For now, Romeo will live in a cheap hotel along Aurora Avenue.

"I don't really know how he's going to react when he gets there," said VanLaarhoven, "He might be upset, he could be just fine with it. We won't know until we get there."

Advocates for those with developmental disabilities said Romeo's situation is not uncommon. It's simply too expensive for people on fixed incomes to live in Seattle.

"A lot of folks are being forced to move out," said Haupt.

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