Doing the Math on Homelessness and Housing
Note: An earlier version of this post included a typo regarding the homeless population in Seattle. The 2015 One Night Count of homeless individuals was 10,047 for King County, not the city of Seattle. This count includes individuals in shelters or transitional housing as well as on the street. The post has been updated to reflect this change.
Seattle’s struggle to fight homelessness is similar to the battles playing themselves out in major cities across America. Despite our best efforts, the number of people living on the streets has risen steadily. In Seattle, we are waking up to the full scope of the homelessness crisis: 4,505 unsheltered people were counted in January of this year, a 19% increase over last year. That doesn’t include at least 6,000 people in shelters and transitional housing.
The causes of homelessness are complex and the solution may seem impossible, but it’s not. Like the late Bill Hobson used to say, “The solution to homelessness is not rocket science. It’s a home.” In 2014, he put the price tag of housing all the homeless at $800-$900 million.
Let’s take a look at the math. The cost of building a single unit of apartment housing in Seattle depends on a lot of factors, but $200,000 is a reasonable estimate. At that price, housing the estimated 10,000 homeless people in King County would cost $2 billion, well beyond what Bill predicted in 2014. The sad truth is that homelessness has only grown since 2014 and the cost of building has skyrocketed. That’s the price of our inaction.
With vacancy rates at all-time lows and only a few hundred affordable apartments in the pipeline each year, it’s unrealistic to expect our existing housing stock to fill the need. The logic that a person with an addiction, living in the Jungle is suddenly going to compete in the housing market is unsound. And while sweeping people into shelters may hide the problem, it doesn’t fix it. It’s a temporary solution that doesn’t provide a platform for human growth.
We simply must build more housing. All of it. Ten thousand units. To do any less consigns people to the inhumane conditions of the Jungle.
Two billion dollars is a lot of money, but we regularly come together to fund solutions to the big challenges we can’t solve on our own. Two billion dollars is less than half the $4.8 billion we’re spending on a two mile long tunnel; it’s only four times more than what we would spend on a 500 million dollar basketball stadium. If we can muster the political will to build tunnels and stadiums, what will it take to summon the courage to end the inhumanity of homelessness in Seattle?
Bill Hobson was well known for saying there is no such thing as a throwaway person. He was right about that. But truly honoring the humanity of all our neighbors, those with homes and those without, comes with a cost. The question is whether we are willing to pay it.
Christopher Persons, CEO
Seattle voters have a strong record of support for affordable housing at the ballot box. Since 1981, voters have approved one bond and four levies to provide money to keep the city affordable. Seattle has now funded over 12,500 affordable apartments for seniors, low- and moderate-wage workers, and formerly homeless individuals and families. Those same funds have provided homeownership assistance to more than 900 first-time low-income home buyers and emergency rental assistance to more than 6,500 households. Voters face another big choice this August.
Last Thursday, May 26th, CHH held its annual community forum. The theme this year was Gearshift. When people talk about “shifting gears” they often mean a sudden change, a shift in direction or turn in the topic of conversation. On a bicycle, shifting gears has little to do with changing direction. Shifting gears on a bike is about maintaining an optimal pedaling effort for maximum efficiency. It’s about moving on down the road without getting exhausted. Shifting gears is a metaphor for resilience, about adapting to the current landscape with all of its ups and downs.
We had an incredible line up of presenters who shared their ideas for projects that can help improve the resiliency of Capitol Hill. After the presentations, the crowd broke into small groups to discuss what they heard. We were lucky to have Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant in attendance, as well as staff from Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s team on hand to listen to community members’ ideas and concerns. They joined representatives from the mayor’s office in helping the community identify priorities and figure out what comes next.
We are working on uploading recordings of the presentations from the evening. In the meantime, catch up on some of the online conversation in the Storify below.
CAPITOL HILL HOUSING
SPECIAL MEETING NOTICE
March 10, 2016
Capitol Hill Housing will hold special meetings of the CHH Board Finance and Asset Management Committee in the Pike/Pine Conference Room at 1620 12th Avenue Suite 206 from 4:00 – 5:00 pm on the following dates: Tuesday, June 7, 2016; Tuesday, July 5, 2016; Tuesday, August 2, 2016; Tuesday, September 6, 2016; Tuesday, October 4, 2016; Tuesday, November 1, 2016; and Tuesday, December 6, 2016.
Capitol Hill Housing
A little over a week ago we held our annual fundraiser, Top of the Town. (Thank you to all who sponsored, attended and donated—because of you, we exceeded our fundraising goal.) What follows is a version of the remarks I gave at that event.
Originally I had planned to talk about the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing in Seattle and King County—an issue that has not only been in the local media spotlight lately, but one that is at the very heart of CHH’s mission. However, the events that have transpired in the past few weeks surrounding the Liberty Bank Building have made me realize that there is a different dialogue I want to engage in today.
On Monday, April 25, CHH held a community design charrette to solicit input from community members about the Liberty Bank project, a CHH development in the works that will create 115 new affordable apartments in the Central District. The architects presented current massing studies and other early design elements; then community members met in small groups, brainstormed their priorities, and reported back to the whole group. It was great! We got a lot of good ideas that will be incorporated into the final design of the building. It’s exciting when these events function as they are supposed to, extracting meaningful feedback from stakeholders that will make a project more useful and equitable for the immediate community. But this charrette stands in stark contrast to the design meeting we held the week before with the Land Use Review Committee (LURC). At that meeting, there was so much pent up frustration from a small number of people in the audience that CHH was unable to even make a presentation.
To understand why this happened, you need to understand the history of the Liberty Bank Building. Liberty Bank existed on the corner of 24th and Union from 1968 to 1988. It was the first African American owned and operated bank west of the Mississippi. The founders, the owners, the managers, the tellers, the borrowers and the depositors were all local residents. The bank became a hub for the Black community, a proud institutional resource for a community that has historically been excluded from the kind of banking services that White America takes for granted.
Sadly, as is the case with most small businesses, Liberty Bank suffered some turbulent times and was forced to go out of business. When the bank closed, people lost money. That was 28 years ago, and to this day there are lingering resentments and a sense of ownership loss.
When CHH acquired the building in 2015 it was from Key Bank, who had been operating a branch there for 22 years. Although we had significant community support, we were also met with an effort to turn the site into a historical landmark, preventing any future development on the site. Though the landmarking effort was ultimately unsuccessful, we listened closely to the community. We convened an advisory board that included two daughters of Liberty Bank founders, and worked with them to determine the most sensitive and dignified way to memorialize the history of Liberty Bank at the new development. Among other things, we’re naming the development “the Liberty Bank Building”; we are incorporating the original sign into the building; we are creating places with remembrances of the bank for people to sit and reflect on that history; and we are displaying many old photos of staff and bank history.
Since making those commitments a year ago, we’ve been doing normal development stuff like demolishing the old building—but we’ve preserved the vault door, the safety deposit box doors, and many, many bricks, all of which we’re incorporating into the design of the new building. We’ve done our soils remediation work, hired our general contractor and architect, and have been negotiating a partnership with Centerstone. All of this work led up to the productive charrette at the end of April, where we continued to absorb stakeholder thinking that will lead to a design supportive of community priorities.
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What I’m about to say next will seem like a tangent, but if you bear with me, I promise these stories will come together.
Let me tell you about Uncle Ike’s marijuana shop. A little over a week ago, there was a protest outside Ike’s. If you don’t know, Uncle Ike’s is likely the most successful marijuana shop in the state, and is located at 23rd and Union next to the Liberty Bank Building. It has a huge marquee lit sign, murals and glassware displays—and, as you’ll know if you’ve ever walked or driven past it, it’s a pretty popular spot.
As it turned out, the coordinated protest of Uncle Ike’s also happened to be the same day as the Liberty Bank LURC design meeting. The community was protesting because they don’t want a pot shop in such close proximity to a church, Mt. Calvary Christian Center, and its teen center. Now, there’s no State law against how close a marijuana shop can be to a church or teen center, and no one complained about Ike’s proximity during the formal licensing period in 2014. These protestors had gone to court and for these reasons, the judge ruled against them. That ship has sailed. But how would you feel if a drug dispensary opened up next door to your place of worship?
A lot of people roll their eyes at the protesters and write demeaning things about them in the comment sections of the blogs. But I understand their frustration, because there is a dark irony at work in the background of Uncle Ike’s. For a hundred years, the Central District was the only neighborhood in Seattle where Black folks could live. They were shunted there by redlining and racially restrictive covenants so that by the 1970s and 80s, seventy percent of the Central District population was African American. The community faced disinvestment from business and industry, and from public investment. So a concentration of poverty built up. And the corner of 23rd and Union became the place where some young Black men, who were given so few options and so few opportunities, plied the drug trade. Some were arrested; some were killed; and most were unable to gain employment because of their newly minted criminal record.
So this corner is steeped in symbolism and history. It is entrenched in the memory of a community who banded together for economic freedom, to create a Black-owned financial institution that was a community hub. And it is now at the epicenter of the radical change that is happening in the Central District. It has changed from an African American poor and working-class neighborhood to an increasingly white and affluent one. It has changed from a neighborhood where young Black men were arrested and jailed for selling marijuana, to a neighborhood where White people buy and sell pot freely—not only without fear of arrest or violence, but also at great profit.
So after the protesters were done demonstrating at Uncle Ike’s, a small number of them (perhaps eight) came to the Liberty Bank LURC meeting, steeped in a hundred years of neglect, indifference and inequity. We could not make our presentation because of the hostility, yelling, and sometimes hateful language.
I don’t condone their behavior—it was beyond disrespectful and certainly misplaced. But I do understand it. I hear it. As a community organization and as a developer that builds for the benefit of the community, we respond to those concerns, angry or not. In the end, the project that we deliver will have shared ownership with a local Black-led organization; it will be designed to reflect the priorities of African-American and African cultures; it will memorialize the history of Liberty Bank and its role as a hub for the Black community; it will be set up so that small local and Black owned businesses can operate there; and it will be planned so that African American individuals and families may find the Liberty Bank Building a comfortable and welcoming place to call home.
The commitment of CHH isn’t to do what we want. Our commitment is to do what the community wants. Some communities ask for theaters in their buildings (perhaps you’ve heard of our award-winning 12th Avenue Arts building). Other communities ask for ownership. And in this case, as in all cases, it has not been easy to meet all of the stakeholder priorities. But that does not mean that CHH shies away. We stand firm in our mission and will continue to listen, humble ourselves and take on the projects that we know will build up the cultural fabric of this great city. And in the process we will provide affordable housing to the families and individuals who serve as the backbone of our communities.
Of course, no community is a monolithic voice. It is a thousand voices. In the presence of this chorus—or perhaps more accurately, this cacophony—our vow is to listen. We listen so that we can reflect those voices, and out of them, together with the community, we strive to bring them into relative harmony. At the end of each project there can only be one song, but it is composed by many, many authors.
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My friend George Staggers and I sometimes share funny e-mails exaggerating how much we get beat up in the community. But I sent him one the other day that shared some real exasperation, and he said, I don’t have any solutions or advice except to be honest and sensitive. And then he said, Peace.
This is my expectation of myself. To be honest, and to be sensitive. And if I may be so bold, this is my expectation of you, too. Our design team and contractors, our vendors and stakeholders, our staff and board members, I say this to you. As we venture into these grounds steeped in symbolism and mired in history: be honest, be sensitive.
Christopher Persons, CEO
Housing Urban Development (HUD) Section 4 Grant Program
Request for Proposals Summary
Release Date: May 6, 2016
Deadline for Submission: Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 11:59 PM PDT
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is dedicated to helping community residents transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy and sustainable communities of choice and opportunity — good places to work, do business and raise children. LISC is America’s largest community development support organization. It provides financial, organizational, and management support to local organizations dedicated to revitalizing its community and improving the quality of life for its residents. LISC has a 30-year history of investing in both urban and rural communities in Washington State.
Capitol Hill Housing, a Seattle-based affordable housing developer and community builder, has strengthened neighborhoods and created affordable apartments for 40 years. CHH has been a long-time partner of LISC and shares their commitment to building sustainable communities. In 2016, Capitol Hill Housing is serving as LISC’s Interim Program Manager, providing LISC with an on-the-ground presence in King County. In this role, Capitol Hill Housing will provide oversight of grant investments, and deliver technical assistance and capacity building services that support community-developed solutions to local needs. LISC will continue to work in rural areas of Washington State through its National Rural program, and in Pierce County.
About HUD Section 4
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 4 funds are used to increase the capacity of experienced Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to carry out community development activities, build the capacity of smaller and emerging development organizations, and assist underserved communities in meeting their community needs.
LISC’s King and Pierce County Priorities
We are requesting proposals for place-based projects that will contribute to the affordability and livability of the greater Seattle area, specifically in the historically and/or currently under-resourced areas of Southeast Seattle, Central Area, Chinatown/International District, Duwamish Valley/South Park, White Center/North Highline, Skyway West Hill, Lake City and the City of Tacoma. HUD Section 4 funds are focused on place-based holistic community development programs, projects, and initiatives that will reduce inequities among low- and moderate-income people or communities which include the following goals:
- Develop and implement community development strategies in distressed or gentrifying urban neighborhoods that reduce economic or racial inequities;
- Create or preserve affordable housing options;
- Restore and/or preserve cultural hubs;
- Minimize displacement of historically-disenfranchised populations;
- Support immigrant and people-of-color-owned business clusters;
- Promote community health and sustainability; and/or
- Strengthen and amplify neighborhood character through arts and cultural placemaking activities.
Grant Allocation and Term
We anticipate awarding between 4-5 grants, ranging in size from $25,000-$60,000. The grant period is twelve months beginning summer 2016, and is contingent on LISC approval.
The HUD Section 4 Capacity Building Program is exclusively for King and Pierce County Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDOs). CDCs and CHDOs must be organized under Federal, State or local law to engage in community development activities (which may include housing and economic development activities) primarily within an identified geographic area of operation. The full checklist used to qualify CDCs and CHDOs can be viewed here http://bit.ly/1qms8yz. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your eligibility to receive funds, please contact CHH to discuss your eligibility.
Deadline and Submission
Please click HERE for attached proposal requirements, including narrative and documentation.
All proposals should be submitted by Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 11:59 PM PDT. Please submit an electronic version (Microsoft Word or PDF) via email to email@example.com
For inquiries and or clarifying questions, please email Jamie Stroble at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-556-3328.
For more information about LISC: www.lisc.org.
For more information about LISC’s local program manager: www.capitolhillhousing.org
Thursday, April 21, 2016, 8:00 – 9:30 am
12th Avenue Arts, Pike-Pine Meeting Room
1620 12th Avenue, Suite 206, 2nd Floor
Seattle, WA 98122
Join us for this annual briefing by Capitol Hill Housing leaders on CHH’s strategic plan, programs, and financial activities.
RSVP to email@example.com
Thank you to our 40th Anniversary sponsor: Chase Bank
This new program supports CHH residents with one-on-one mentorship from professionals in the Seattle community by providing personalized and encouraging guidance on residents’ job and career goals.
In a mentor session, volunteers will review and assess resident interests, skills, work history and employment goals. Residents will develop their interests, learn what opportunities are available in their field of interest/skill, polish their resume building skills, prepare for the interview process, and gain assistance in applying for opportunities. Mentor sessions are designed to provide personalized and individual services, where the resident is at the helm and the volunteer is a navigator.
If you are a CHH resident interested in enrolling, or if you’re interested in volunteering as a mentor, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.