Seattle invests heavily in supportive housing for the chronically homeless

Speed is the Key

Seattle invests heavily in supportive housing for the chronically homeless

A row of tents in Seattle's International District. (Joe MabelWikimedia Commons)

Despite facing a rather bleak budgetary quagmire due to the ongoing crisis-within-a-crisis spurred by the emergency closure of the West Seattle Bridge and the economic fallout of COVID-19, the administration of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has announced that the city will invest generously in creating permanent supportive housing, 599 units in total, for chronically homeless individuals through the end of next year.

Bolstered by federal and state funding, the city’s $60 million upfront investment—the most ever allocated to housing of this type by Seattle officials according to the Seattle Times—underscores both the magnitude of the homelessness crisis in the city and the ongoing commitment by officials to curb it while providing members of the unsheltered community.

“From healthcare to the criminal legal system to education, every system has deepened racial inequity across our Country—this inequity is deeply evident with the disproportional impacts of housing and homelessness on our Black, Indigenous and communities of color,” said Durkan in a news release. “The City of Seattle is making a significant investment to create more housing in our community. With this investment, we are breaking the mold by developing new innovative strategies to build even more permanent supportive housing, more quickly for our neighbors who need it most.”

In July, city officials announced the allocation of $13 million to support the homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic.

More recently, city council members moved to defund and dismantle the Navigation Team, a special task force comprised of both members of the Seattle Police Department and outreach workers dedicated to persuading those living in homeless encampments to seek shelter before clearing away said encampments. Per the Times, activists rallying against the removal of the camps declared the council’s decision, which was made as part of a larger set of budget revisions prompted by the pandemic, to be a victory while Durkan and some community leaders opposed it. The funds will now go directly toward supporting nonprofit homelessness service providers in lieu of encampment-removal efforts, which have largely ceased during the pandemic.

As for the newly announced investment in supportive housing, it will ve sourced from the rental production and preservation funds—all of them—included in the voter-approved Seattle Housing Levy. As reported by the Associated Press, the $60 million will enable the city to fund more than double the number of supportive housing units than it typically does on an annual basis. The 599 units will be spread across six new buildings and, as mentioned, be available to those experiencing chronic homelessness, which in this case applies to individuals “with a disabling condition” that have been homeless for more than a year or have experienced periods of homelessness four or more times within a three-year span according to the AP.

Roughly 6,500 people are chronically homeless in Seattle and greater King County, per estimates from the Third Door Coalition, a decidedly eclectic alliance composed of various factions including public health officials, advocates, and business leaders that’s pushing for a sharp influx of supportive permanent housing for the chronically homeless that it believes will alleviate—and ultimately end—the crisis.

In addition to providing safe, secure, and dignified shelter, the units will come equipped with multifaceted, wraparound services that enable residents to maintain their newfound housing permanence. As noted by the mayor’s office, five established organizations “with long-standing expertise in addressing homelessness” will provide these services including the Chief Seattle Club and DESC. The apartment complexes themselves, located largely in north-of-downtown neighborhoods such as Lake City, Ballard, Greenwood, and Green Lake, will be erected posthaste using hybrid prefab building methods and an accelerating permitting process. Just shy of 500 units are expected to be available to up and running by the end of 2021.

“We are proud to make substantial investments in the proven solution to homelessness and to support community-based organizations with track-records of success in serving our vulnerable neighbors,” said Seattle Office of Housing Director Emily Alvarado in a statement.

Seattle’s new permanent supportive housing units will join 3,700 such apartments already in use and 350 that are currently under construction across the city.