Seattle, Washington 2020-10-27 14:45:00 –
Alvin Sweet is a resident of Martin Court in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. Martin Court is a former motel that was transformed two decades ago into a supportive housing complex. New funding for King County health through the Housing Ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler / staff photo
On a cool Monday afternoon, case manager Richard Gibson walked through Martin Court in the southwest corner of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.
The weather of the previous days had taken a cold turn, and the colorful children’s play area he was striding through was empty. On either side of the yard and parking lot were rows of doors, each housing a homeless person or family.
And each represents safety, and a place to weather the weather, for the people who live there.
“It’s just extremely important,” Gibson said.
Martin Court is one of many similar properties managed by the Low Income Housing Institute, which provides housing to residents of King County. This is a former motel that was renovated two decades ago into temporary supportive housing for the homeless.
Residents can stay at Martin Court for up to two years to find their way around. Gibson and his colleague Charmaine Day help residents get services like mental health counseling, find permanent housing, and even take healthy cooking classes. Administrators say the program is largely successful, with most people moving into permanent accommodation after their stay at Martin Court.
And it’s programs like this that could be expanded under the housing ordinance recently approved by King County Health. The ordinance was approved by the Metropolitan King County Council on October 13.
He created a 0.1% sales tax, which the county plans to back up against, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for affordable housing projects.
This funding can be used to purchase existing hotels, motels, and retirement homes, and then transform them into emergency and affordable housing units with mental and behavioral health services. The original proposal would have raised nearly $ 68 million per year, allowing the county to raise $ 400 million in bonds. But seven cities have adopted their own version of the tax, reducing the amount the county will collect by some $ 17 million per year.
King County Department of Community and Social Services Director Leo Flor said they were still calculating the amount they could tie up for.
But while hotels, motels and nursing homes are likely to go up for sale in large numbers due to the economic fallout and the reduction in travelers from the coronavirus pandemic, Flor said the county is hoping to buy them.
“We are waiting and seeing signs of opportunities in this market,” said Flor.
The ordinance could create homes for up to 2,000 people by 2022. According to the 2020 Point-in-Time Count, there were about 11,751 homeless people in the county last winter.
Flor said the county is going through three crises that are fueling the current homelessness crisis. The first is the coronavirus pandemic, which makes collective shelters dangerous. The second is the economic crisis that has created homelessness for years as housing becomes too expensive for many. The third is the crisis of systemic racism, which results in disproportionate homelessness in some communities.
Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by homelessness, according to the Point-in-Time Count.
In addition to immediately tackling homelessness, stable one-room housing – like that provided by converted hotels – has been proven to keep people safe during the pandemic.
A recently published study from the University of Washington found that this type of shelter prevented people from contracting the coronavirus. The study suggested that it reduced the number of outbreaks.
“It was sort of a ‘mission accomplished’ for the first lens,” said Gregg Colburn, associate professor at the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington.
Stable housing gives people a sense of stability, safety and security – a place to come together and start thinking about their future again without the mental stress of surviving on the streets.
These benefits are something Lynn DeMarco, the regional manager in charge of Martin Court, sees. The old hotel’s two-year program aims to get people into permanent housing and equip them with the skills they need to be successful and keep housing.
“Our job is to make sure that, first of all, get them out of the crisis. To make them healthy, physically, mentally, ”DeMarco said.
Even providing accommodation in motels on a temporary basis has proven to be effective in the Snoqualmie Valley. Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services operates a motel voucher program for its most medically vulnerable residents.
The next step is to find permanent housing, which the county lacks. King County set a goal last year to build or maintain 44,000 affordable housing units within five years. It’s a step towards the 156,000 affordable units the county needs today and the additional 88,000 units it will need by 2040.
This is where Alvin Sweet, resident of Martin Court is. Sweet moved to Martin Court a year and a half ago with his girlfriend. They used to live in a small camp in South Lake Union.
They hope to find permanent accommodation afterwards, but he says he has found a community in Martin Court.
“It’s a great place, it’s been good for us,” said Sweet.