By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
After first word of the nonprofit Downtown Emergency Service Center‘s proposal for a 75-unit apartment complex near the Delridge Library emerged at last night’s North Delridge Neighborhood Council meeting (WSB coverage here), we contacted DESC to seek details, ahead of its planned June 27th community meeting to outline the project.
Here’s what emerged in our conversation with DESC executive director Bill Hobson:
DESC has property “under contract” on the east side of the 5400 block of Delridge (photo above – the parcels are behind the trees and have several older housing units on them now), for a complex that would include 75 studio apartments, each to be inhabited by one person, with full kitchens/baths. Hobson describes the plan as being “in the very beginning stages.” No permit applications have been filed yet, though Hobson says they have spoken with city reps, and are having internal design meetings, while now beginning the process of talking with “relevant neighborhood stakeholders.”
The Delridge complex, he says, would be like their others (described here): Permanent housing for people “who are homeless – most have long periods of homelessness – that are living with mental-health problems. Our agenda is to provide them with housing, which eliminates the whole chaos that homelessness generally envisages in a person’s life and provides a platform for clinic and social stabilization.” And the housing may come before they “stabilize,” according to DESC’s philosophy (explained here).
DESC, he explains, is a licensed mental-health-treatment agency as well as a housing provider. “What we’re trying to do is help people achieve the highest level of self-sufficiency” that they can. That includes “supported employment programs.”
But it’s not fully independent living: “Our projects are intensively staffed … 24/7, [many are] professional clinical staff. We’re housing people with a lot of challenges in their lives.” Their average age, he says, is 49.
So with all their previous projects outside West Seattle, why here? “A combination of things. We have done a bit of research on Delridge. There is a lot of interesting movement to try to stabilize the neighborhood – we would like to be an active participant in that.” And, Hobson said, this site fits their propety criteria: “Affordable properties that don’t present any significant development challenges like environmental hazards, unstable soils; so far [geologic, etc.] reports have come back fairly nice.”
One question that came up at last night’s DNDC meeting, we mention, is how this would work, given that there isn’t a full complement of businesses/services nearby – particularly, no grocery store – but the DESC project is, as he put it, “basically trying to help people reacquire the basic skills required for daily living.”
He acknowledges that’s a bit of a challenge – “We want people to go out to grocery stores but we have developed properties in neighborhoods [without them]. We always have vans assigned to each of our housing projects and they will take people [to stores].”
Residents don’t have to shop for all their food, Hobson explains: “We will serve two meals a day … a catered meal will be brought once a day by FareStart, and the staff will prepare continental breakfast … As our projects mature and people begin to reacquire abilities, we’ll be encouraging people to rediscover how to prepare your own meals and live more independently. Sixty to seventy percent of residents are preparing their own meals within a year, so we do have to get them out to grocery stores.”
He says there are many hurdles for the project to clear before it can move ahead: First, they need financing, and he says DESC gets its money from governments: City, county, state. The Washington Housing Finance Commission has a “capital financing round” for which they expect word in December; then in January, they would apply for federal low-income-housing tax credits, and word on that wouldn’t come till July. “If all those are successful, we would form an LLC,” he says, and “in the most optimistic scenario, we could be under construction by the end of next summer, probably more like early fall of next year.” Construction would take 12-14 months, and that would mean the building being ready to occupy in late fall 2012/early winter 2013.
Hobson did not have details handy of the building’s proposed “massing” – including its height – but said he expected it to be within what current zoning allows. (That would be roughly four stories.) He did mention he’s been told of a potentially “significant” tree on the site, a deodar (Himalayan) cedar, that would have to be preserved: “That would yield an L-shaped building with a bit of green space,” and an arborist, he said, is on the case.
No working name for the complex yet, according to Hobson – “We’re simply calling it ‘the Delridge project’.” More than names, he said, they want to focus on “responsible management and responsibility to the neighborhood. We’ll be active members of neighborhood councils … engaging [the complex’s] residents in block watches, graffiti paint-outs, and so on. One of the things we’re trying to teach our residents is, this is your home, and your home is in a neighborhood, and that’s important to the quality of your life.” No, that’s not language meant to “chill out opponents in a neighborhood,” he insisted – “we really believe [in it].”
DESC, which began as a downtown shelter provider in 1979, is hoping to answer any and all community questions at that upcoming meeting, all welcome – Monday, June 27, 6 pm, at Delridge Library. Wonder what the meeting might be like? Check out this Aurora Seattle report on a similar-intent meeting almost exactly one year ago, regarding the DESC project that’s about to break ground up there.
(And Pete Spalding of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council tells WSB the proposal will be a topic at the district council’s meeting tomorrow night, 7 pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.