By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tonight (8 pm at the Senior Center of West Seattle), the Southwest Design Review Board takes its second, and possibly final, look at DESC’s Delridge Supportive Housing Project, a proposed 66-unit housing complex for homeless people living with challenges such as mental illness and/or substance abuse.
It’s the second community meeting this week related to the project. On Tuesday night, the project’s Advisory Committee met for the second time. During that meeting, DESC distributed a printed list of its answers to community questions about the project, which have since been published online (see them here).
One section of note, since the topic has come up in multiple discussions:
DESC runs a criminal background check on all potential tenants prior to offering an apartment, but they are not prohibited from being housed due to a criminal background, including sex offenses. We do screen out those whose criminal histories indicate that they would be a threat to vulnerable people. Even though sex offenses are not prevalent among DESC’s target population, contrary public perception is so strong that DESC has informed Delridge neighbors that we will exclude sex offenders from living at our Delridge location if such a request is made to DESC by the organized neighborhood group. So far, that request has not been made.
The FAQ wasn’t discussed during the meeting, but many other topics were. Read on:
The committee’s first meeting 2 weeks ago (WSB coverage here, including video) was primarily to listen to public concerns. With this one, it was scheduled to start getting down to business. Its membership is drawn from the community as well as from DESC, whose executive director Bill Hobson co-chairs it along with Pete Spalding, a longtime community advocate. They were both on hand for the meeting, along with Nicole Macri of DESC, Vonetta Mangaoang of the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, and Jane Appling from Seattle Public Library. (Full committee membership can be seen here.)
Six community members were in attendance, and there was a third group of people present – government representatives: Rick Hooper, city Office of Housing director; Brian Hawksford from City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen‘s office; Shannon Braddock from County Councilmember Joe McDermott’s office, and Cheryl Markham from the county. Rasmussen and McDermott themselves have attended meetings on the project at different points along the way and committed to facilitate information; their staffers reiterated that commitment during this meeting.
The meeting began with community concerns/comments:
First was Tanya Baer of Delridge Community Forum, a volunteer group that has been researching and publishing information about the project (see the DCF website here) and has held two of three community meetings funded by a small city grant. Her concerns included not receiving enough information about how the Advisory Committee’s expectations, process, and schedule; she pointed out that the Tuesday night meeting “was announced fairly late to the community, on Sunday, and neighbors need significant time to plan, so that if they want to participate in the process, they should be able to.” 6 pm was too early for a start time, she said. And she wanted to know more about whether agendas would be released in advance, minutes would be released afterward, and whether the committee will have a secretary position.
Next, Karrie Kohlhaas, a neighborhood resident. She had sharper questions about the committee’s purpose and makeup. “This advisory committee was set up to address the lack of relationship DESC had with the community – I’m concerned that I don’t know who set the agenda, (but) now we’re being told that we can only comment on the agenda … It’s really important that actual neighbors who live in North Delridge participate in the setting of the agenda.” With that, she questioned how Hobson and Spalding had come to be co-chairs, with Hobson being from the organization “neighbors are advising,” and Spalding not living in North Delridge proper (he lives in Pigeon Point, uphill to the east). “The more I see how the committee was stacked, it’s not representative of community input, and there are other neighbors who feel that way … I’m putting myself out on the line to say that. It’s nothing personal but it needs to be said; it’s like a circular insular conversation that excludes neighbors.”
Next speaker, whose name we didn’t get, was concerned about oversight and accountability, particularly if circumstances changed: “My biggest concern … what guarantee that (DESC will) maintain and run the services for clientele correctly and appropriately for the community, what contract with the neighborhood or community is there. I’m talking about a written contract of some sort.” She expressed concern about what would happen if DESC lost its funding, “what happens to that facility, does it become undermanned, are you unable to maintain … the kind of services that are inherent in dealing with the particular population you’re putting in there?”
Then, John Nuler, identifying himself as a supporter of the project and saying he believes “it has been horribly misrepresented in the community at large.” He said he considers it to be caught in an “endless process of what the speakers before me talked about, which is not about DESC, which is not about the project at hand, which is not about … the building, but is about the respect they feel they haven’t been given … the whole thing is just an example of bloated Seattle process.” He suggested DESC wasn’t getting enough respect in that process: “They have a long established role in the communities; they haven’t failed. You can’t hold the (Delridge) Library down the street to the same (expectations); they have crime in the bathrooms … do we sue the city (about that)? It is not a wholly public project; it is supported in a public way, (so) a lot of people say it deserves the same scrutiny … (but) a lot of modifications already made to the process and the plan are detrimental to it. (The project is) to help people on the street who are at risk of getting raped, murdered, and tortured, and that’s why I’m here.” He also said the “endless process” was driving its cost up, and suggested elected officials’ involvement wasn’t helping matters. “DESC has a dozen places around the city, it’s always fought like this, the neighbors bring up all the same excuses, it degenerates into a political thing … we should realize these things do not have a terrible effect on our neighborhoods … Let everybody do the job they are well qualified to do.”
After him, Mike Dady: “Going forward in the context of the project, I just really want to emphasize for people who do live here, (that) it’s in our back yard and to make it work, means the people here in attendance have a lot of feelings. We have (in the neighborhood) a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable coming to meetings; they would feel completely foreign in this room, but they come to me … now that this project is happening, it is in everybody’s interest, especially DESC’s, to make it work, because if it doesn’t work for you, it’s not going to work for us.” He said he also is concerned about the committee makeup, because “the people who are in touch on the street (is) who we need involved at this table. It’s in everybody’s interest that this gets really vetted, or really laid out clearly, or who knows how this thing is going to go.”
Much discussion of logistics ensued, including the concerns brought up by some of the public commenters, such as the start time, and even what size of room might be necessary. Hobson said there’s no money “in the development budget” for this process, so if there’s not a lot of community members showing up, he reserves the right to book a smaller room, for example.
Then came the topic of how community concerns would be handled. Hobson suggested that neighborhood concerns should be routed through neighborhood representatives on the Advisory Committee. He said it had been difficult “having to respond to so many people in so many groups … that’s a lot for a nonprofit group to take on, to stay informed and abreast of the issues. It’s going to be a lot more manageable if we channel it through the Advisory Committee.”
That notion received some audience pushback, noting that previously establshed groups such as the Delridge Community Forum and the North Delridge Neighborhood Council already had been working extensively on research and dealing with community concerns, so suddenly abdicating involvement might not make sense, especially since some community members may be familiar with the other groups but not plugged into this potential new process. There did not seem to be a resolution.
Hobson then brought up some project updates, including a desire to settle quickly on a commercial tenant for that part of the Delridge Supportive Housing building. He said that DESC might ultimately wind up investing about half a million dollars in the development of the commercial space in the project, which it was not required to include, and which has to be developed with its own money since public financing is not available for that purpose, but, he said, given the stage the project’s in, they need to start working with its architect. It’s been talking with the Delridge Produce Cooperative (as mentioned in the FAQ).
From the audience, Kohlhaas said she had understood “that neighbors would have input on who the commercial tenant would be.”
Eventually, the perception of a fast-track to Delridge Produce Cooperative approval seemed to be abandoned, and Hobson said he would arrange for them to make a presentation at an upcoming committee meeting, preferably the next one, in late March.
One last topic – since this is not the first project of its kind in Seattle, nor will it be the last, shouldn’t there be a sort of generic FAQ with which neighborhoods are presented when they are first told one is on the way? If so, who would create it? . DESC’s Hobson thought it might be up to the Department of Neighborhoods. Housing’s Hooper disagreed. Delridge Community Forum’s Baer said, “Even if (the information provided was) ‘if you want to know more, here’s who to contact’ … THAT learning curve was tremendous.” She pointed out that despite the “learning curve,” neighbors who did extensive research uncovered a bonafide issue, the one that resulted in the project’s capacity being reduced from 75 units to 66. “Neighbors take the time to be involved,” she noted. “It affects our neighborhood.” Aaron Jennings, whose property is adjacent to the development site, put it bluntly, addressing DESC and the government reps, “This (information-gathering) isn’t what neighbors do for a living – it’s what you guys do for a living. It is inherently unfair that (the process) is inherently stacked toward those who do it for a living.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The committee is still working out its meeting schedule and dates. As noted in the new FAQ from DESC, the project is still aiming to start the year-long construction process by the end of this year. One week from tonight (6:30 pm March 15th), the city will hold another meeting – this time to hear public comments about the “environmental review” process for the project – explained in this notice published today.