Homelessness Authority Scrambled to Find Shelter Provider in Winter Storm; Displacement Coalition Alums Argue Against Social Housing Initiative

1. During the freezing weather earlier this month, as the city’s two downtown shelters filled up, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority found itself scrambling to find a homeless service provider who could open up a backup emergency shelter at City Hall.

The Salvation Army, Urban League, and Low-Income Housing Institute were all busy operating full or nearly-full shelters at Seattle Center, in Pioneer Square, and in North Seattle, respectively, and couldn’t spare workers to staff City Hall. So the KCRHA landed on an unusual substitute: Tender Angels, a Bellevue-based home health care and senior living operator with no experience operating shelters or working with homeless people.

According to agency spokeswoman Lisa Edge, Tender Angels is “uniquely qualified to meet the needs of folks seeking shelter from … frigid temperatures” despite their lack of experience working with homeless clients. “Their staff is experienced in providing overnight care and maintaining public health guidance in congregate settings,” Edge said. “They are trained in trauma-informed care practices, de-escalation, and conflict mitigation/resolution.”

KCRHA staff were on hand at the City Hall shelter while it was open, Edge said. However, staff availability was limited by the fact that the agency essentially shut down between Christmas and January 3, leaving severe weather response in the hands of “roughly 20 people,” including a 24/7 duty officer, according to KCRHA CEO Marc Dones. On December 20, Dones told PubliCola that KCRHA’s offices were closing “in order to provide staff with an opportunity to recharge[. T]he leadership team and the 24/7 Duty Officer will be available for any emergencies.”

The Salvation Army, Urban League, and Low-Income Housing Institute couldn’t spare workers to staff the City Hall shelter, so the KCRHA landed on an unusual substitute: Tender Angels, a Bellevue-based home health care and senior living operator with no experience operating shelters or working with homeless people.

Historically, the Salvation Army has operated a shelter at City Hall every night during the winter months. Last year, then-mayor Jenny Durkan eliminated all the city’s nightly winter shelters, arguing that the conversion of several emergency shelters to 24/7 operations was an adequate replacement for shelters like the one at City Hall, which now opens only during weather emergencies. This resulted in chaos last year, when the KCRHA ended up sending its own staff to handle transportation away from the City Hall shelter and other logistics during a late-December snowstorm.

KCRHA has lowered the threshold for opening winter shelters so that they will open more often, but virtually all the city’s winter shelters are downtown, making them inaccessible to people living unsheltered in most parts of the city. As PubliCola noted earlier this year, opening shelters downtown does nothing to help people living in areas without easy access to bus service (typically limited or nonexistent during ice and snow) or other transportation options.

2. Several longtime advocates against market-rate development banded together to write the King County Voter’s Guide statement against Initiative 135, a February ballot measure that would establish a new public development authority to build permanently affordable public housing.

The “no” statement, written by John Fox, David Bloom, and Alice Woldt, claims that I-135 would build “mixed-income” housing and that the measure “diverts attention” from the need to pass a robust Seattle housing levy next year.

“Creating another agency to compete for scarce housing dollars that costs several million to set it up before one housing unit is produced doesn’t make sense,” the opponents wrote. “The city’s housing priority must be the 50,000 individuals below 50% of median [income] and 12,000 homeless with little or no income—not prioritized mixed income housing including housing to 120% of median.”

Fox and Bloom co-founded the Seattle Displacement Coalition in 1979; Woldt is a longtime ally of both men and Bloom’s former colleague at the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Displacement Coalition spent much of its time fighting publicly funded mixed-income projects like the Seattle Housing Authority’s New Holly redevelopment, arguing that such projects deprioritized very low-income residents while promoting the neoliberal idea that low-income people are uplifted by proximity to wealthier neighbors. However, the group’s advocacy against new development has often dovetailed with NIMBY concerns about “protecting” exclusionary single-family zoning by banning new multifamily housing almost everywhere in the city. 

I-135 does aim to create “cross-class communities” in permanently affordable public housing, including some units affordable to people making up to 120 percent of median income, currently around $110,000 for an individual or about $155,000 for a family of four. However, unlike the Seattle Housing Authority’s controversial redevelopments, the new social housing properties would not include market-rate housing.

Seattle voters will decide the fate of I-135 in a special election on February 14.

3 thoughts on “Homelessness Authority Scrambled to Find Shelter Provider in Winter Storm; Displacement Coalition Alums Argue Against Social Housing Initiative”

  1. I support I-135 for social housing because it dovetails and does not overlap the proposed Seattle Housing Levy renewal. The Housing Levy targets mainly people experiencing chronic homelessness, mainly those with disabilities with incomes from 0 to 30% of Area Median Income. Permanent Supportive Housing with services is the answer to solving homelessness.

    Currently 90% of subsidized housing includes tax credits that force tenants to move if they make too much. This includes seniors in SHAG housing who may receive a one-time windfall. Tax-credit funding requires enormous overhead.

    There is currently no funding source for workforce housing for those with incomes from minimum wage (about 30%) to 60% of AMI.

    By contrast, the Seattle Housing Development Corporation will buy or build mixed-income multifamily housing targeting working people with incomes of 30% of AMI to 120% of AMI. Rents will pay for operations, maintenance and debt service for bonds. Tenants will pay 30% of their incomes as rent, making the projects sustainable. We need both I-135 and the Seattle Housing Levy.

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