DESC Delridge project: Advisory Committee’s second meeting

March 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm | In DESC Delridge project, West Seattle news | 14 Comments

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.

14 Comments

  1. OK…I don’t live in that neighborhood, so I can’t be part of an “organized neighborhood group”. Will such an organization please step up and make the formal request to prohibit residents who have committed sexual offenses? Yes, I understand that those with mental illness are probably no more likely to commit a sexual offense than those without (at least this is much repeated, though one could argue that pedophilia is a form of mental illness!). I also understand that pedophiles are usually trusted community members. However, those with prior sexual offenses ARE more likely to commit another offense than the general citizen, and some of these residents may have hurt kids in the past. There will be a SCHOOL next door. Please make the formal request to prevent those with prior offenses from becoming residents…I am all for helping the homeless and I have a relative with schizophrenia. DESC sounds like a great project. But this one factor definitely needs to be addressed for the safety of the kids next door and other neighbors.

    Comment by evergreen — 8:41 pm March 8, 2012 #

  2. So, how did Pete Spalding – who lives in Pigeon Point and has represented that neighborhood council in years past and who participates in a big Pidgeon Point neighborhood annual Block Watch party – come to be a member of that Alliance of North Delridge neighborhood residents.

    Nothing personal Pete, but from my POV, you’ve intimated less experienced ND advocates and or ingratiated yourself into a community “alliance” you have zero legitimacy being in. The fact you are co-chairing is appalling to many, but consistent with your propensity to misalign yourself out of a misguided sense of duty. The ends do not justify the means in my world. I recall your initial support of the city of Seattle’s siting of two misdemeanor jail facilities in eastern
    Delridge. You eventually changed your tune to align correctly to intervention programs, but your first instinct was to suck up to city. Here you go again, it seems.

    Mike and Karrie, your comments resonate. You are speaking necessary truth to misaligned power. Stay the course.

    With admiration.

    Comment by Curiouser & curiouser but again — 9:17 pm March 8, 2012 #

  3. What is considered an “organized neighborhood group” and how can that request be made?

    Comment by childless neighbor — 9:41 pm March 8, 2012 #

  4. So, what constitutes an organized group? Does the NDNA need to make the request? Asking that sex offenders not be housed should be something wee can all get behind.

    Comment by semele — 10:18 pm March 8, 2012 #

  5. Background checks in Washington State only catch what is/has happened in Washington State! Doesn’t let you know that someone was a rapist, murder, abusive in another state! I live in a community bldg. that run’s Background Checks, and is supposed to only allow those who can take care of themselves, or have an aide in attendance! Ha! They just want to fill up the buildings!

    Comment by rmp — 8:38 am March 9, 2012 #

  6. Write to the North Delridge Neighborhood Council ec@ndnc.org and request they write the letter to the DESC for NO sexual offenders to be housed at their Delridge project. Also attend the NDNC meeting on Monday March 12, 6:30 at the Delridge Library and make the request there as well.
    -
    There has apparently been one or two people on the NDNC Executive Committee who have been preventing this letter of request from being written and they need to be put on the spot to explain their unwillingness to represent their neighborhoods best interest. If they do not acquiesce to this most basic of public safety requests they need to be removed and replaced from the NDNC Executive Committee as soon as the By-Laws allow.
    -
    With the addition of the Delridge DESC Supportive-Housing-First building, the population of the singular block of Brandon to Findlay and Delridge to 23rd is being increased by what I estimate to be a factor of two. All of these additional people have major addiction and or mental illness issues. There is no sane reason to want or allow sexual predators to be part of that specific population nor be allowed to live in what is already a very troubled area of the neighborhood.

    Comment by Been There — 10:50 am March 9, 2012 #

  7. My thoughts:

    Fear is a powerful tool. Fear of the unknown can sometimes be more powerful than of the known because we can imagine all sorts of consequences.

    Think of the monster-under-the-bed fears a child can have: only when you evaluate concerns with facts can you determine whether or not it is a monster or an imaginary monster. Sometimes you can never know for certain.

    Emotion is a powerful tool, as well. Sometimes, emotion can get in the way of seeing the facts. It can be a distraction from the facts or it can even dismiss the facts.

    In my life, I have watched people debate and argue and I’ve noticed a few things such as… When someone has a weak argument and they know it, they start making it personal. If your point-of-view can’t stand on its own, resorting to character assassination just emphasizes its weakness, to me.

    I’ve noticed that commenters on the WSB are very eloquent in stating their opinions. But some folks seem to believe that if you don’t agree with them, they can then suggest you do not have the legitimate right to speak your opinion. The criteria by which they try to make their case shifts according to the point they wish to make. “You don’t live as near as I do…” or “You ARE part of an organized group…” or “You are NOT part of an organized group…” or “You don’t know what you are talking about…” or “You…”, “You…” It is my perception that they don’t let facts get in the way of a good fight. It appears to me that the fight is their main point, not the points of their position. Otherwise, stick to your points and don’t make it personal. I can’t take you seriously when you do that, just like I can’t really “hear” someone who is screaming at me; I tune out.

    Making things personal, prompts me to ask “What did that person do to you?” In reading the comments and stories regarding DESC, I’d have to agree with John Nuler’s comments that the arguments seem to be more about the commenters and “…the respect they feel they haven’t been given…”.

    On the topic of DESC, I can see valid arguments on BOTH sides. I haven’t dug a trench into one side over the other. (I’ll leave that to Congress!) But I DO think vulnerable people need help. I also DO believe I can legitimately disagree with someone without hating them or villifying them.

    And I have to remember all the anti- talk about Croft Place Townhomes and that, once they were built, the fears didn’t come true.

    It’s all my opinion. Your mileage may vary. You are entitled to your opinions. I wanted to get my perspective out there because I think there are nuances to opinions and it feels to me like only the extreme opinions are being shared.

    Peace out

    Comment by Kerry — 2:04 pm March 9, 2012 #

  8. @Kerry – Croft Place is not even close to resembling a DESC project. Why even try to compare them? Yet your bringing up Croft Place helps to point out that Delridge is home to more than its share of affordable or subsidized housing. Hence that waiver and other forms of data shenanigans that the city pulled off, or tried to anyway. Apparently nothing has been learned from old High Point or the thousands of ‘housing projects’ around the country that concentrating poverty is not good.
    -
    You raise the issue of fear and nuance. Try this nuance out, how about you come speak to my wife who hid in her apartment while she was on the phone with 911 while a drug addict using a 12 inch long butcher knife was prying her apartment door open. He wasn’t coming in to chop vegetables. Thankfully Seattle Police got arrived before he was able to carry out his intentions. She was able to ID the sicko and he was arrested and jailed. Her knowing that the DESC is moving 60 or 70 drug addicts, alcoholics or severely mentally ill people into our neighborhood does not help her sleep at night. She has a pistol grip shotgun, trained and everything now and would not hesitate to use it.
    -
    If you are a woman, or man for that matter, I hope you have been so fortunate to have never been assaulted, raped or attacked.

    Comment by Been There — 5:14 pm March 9, 2012 #

  9. Been There,
    I am sorry to hear of your wife’s story and glad she was able to identify her attacker.
    I don’t know how you tie that to the DESC development?
    -
    If anyone, you and your wife should appreciate the service of DESC when you write, “If you are a woman, or man for that matter, I hope you have been so fortunate to have never been assaulted, raped, or attacked.”
    That is the criteria for admission to DESC, they house those homeless with the highest threat of being assaulted, raped and/or murdered on the streets.
    It is terrible, but imagine someone like your wife with no door to hide behind, homeless on the street with no shotgun for protection, living amongst the street predators, muggers, rapists, murderers. It is only the most unfortunate people that end up on the street like this, it seems you and your wife would be the most sympathetic to protecting those most at risk of the unspeakable horrors you have experience.

    Comment by Peace & Understanding — 10:17 pm March 9, 2012 #

  10. Been There — is their selection process transparent? They are taking active drug and alcohol users, a population capable of very erratic behavior. How do we know they are excluding violent/sexual offenders? Are they running national background checks?

    I sincerely want to know, not being sarcastic here. Thanks.

    Comment by evergreen — 11:39 am March 10, 2012 #

  11. evergreen,
    You do not need to live in the neighborhood to become involved in the organized neighborhood group, just sign up or show up. You may also come to some understanding that is more nuanced than, mental illness/drug addiction/alcohol addiction all indicate violent sexual predators of children and neighbors. If you are interested in helping the homeless, you might contact DESC and ask about a tour. It might dispel some of the assumptions that are being made.
    -
    Desc “runs a criminal background check” according to their statement. DESC also says they, “screen out those whose criminal histories indicate that they would be a threat to vulnerable people.” That seems to cover “violent/sexual offenders.”
    I don’t know whether they are running state, national or international checks, but the nature of your questions indicates that you are not familiar with the typical resident of DESC. They are not known to be highly functional as in most of these imagined scenarios. There are however real violent sexual offenders that do live amongst us in our communities right now, for the most part, they don’t live in DESC properties and scenarios like the ones you imagine have not proven true for DESC.
    Perhaps you have not been to any of the meetings or read the info available here, but the DESC proposed project is about 1 1/2 blocks from the school, not right next door.

    Comment by Peace & Understanding — 2:15 pm March 10, 2012 #

  12. OK, peace & understanding. I admit that my comments are based on fear, but I am responding to this part of their published statement: “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.” I sifted through their website & see they have a validated tool for identifying “vulnerable” candidates, so maybe I am over-reacting. On a personal note, my relative with schizophrenia was considered non-violent and safe by social services, but when he was drinking, he axed all the furniture in my grandmother’s living room. Mental illness and active addiction are a dangerous combination, and I feel that a wet house should not be near a school. 1.5 blocks is pretty darn close. Better safe than sorry when it involves children. So even if it seems reactionary to people like yourself, since DESC is willing to screen out sexual/violent offenders if a “neighborhood organization” makes the request, why not? It makes people like myself (mothers) feel a little bit more safe.

    Comment by evergreen — 7:44 pm March 10, 2012 #

  13. Where are these meeting times and dates publicized? This is the third that I have heard of after the fact. If I could attend, I would ask the project representatives several things. First, I would like to know if any negotiations between Seattle Public Schools, DNDA, DESC, the Southwest Design Review Board, and the City of Seattle have been discussed for this type of housing to be located within two (2) blocks from a kindergarten through 5th grade STEM school. I have seen the MUP board for this project, located just north of Findlay and Delridge. According to the Seattle Public Schools website, this school is scheduled to re-open September 2012 at the Boren School at Delridge and Juneau. I would be very interested to know how they are presenting this information to parents of prospective students.
    Second, I am also curious to know why DESC might house someone with a sex offense background within such close proximity to not only this new school just two (2) blocks away, but Sanislo Elementary School, Cooper Elementary School, Fairmount Park Elementary School, High Point Elementary School, all located within one mile of this proposed facility. South Seattle Community College and Sealth High School is located within one and one half miles of this proposed facility. And I have a few more questions:
    1. Why aren’t representatives of the local schools, especially the STEM school at this meeting?
    2. Why aren’t community representatives from the Southwest Police Precinct at these meetings to establish procedures for notifying neighbors about residents with sex offense backgrounds?
    3. What do Washington state laws provide for regarding sex offenders and their proximity to schools? It appears from the presentation at the meeting and discussion here on the blog that these issues are not being presented or addressed. I may be mistaken, but I think it is a greater distance than 2 blocks.
    4. There are people living within our Delridge, Puget Ridge, and adjacent neighborhoods who are trying to reduce their dependence on any number of substances. There are also many who are not ready to face their addictions. I have met several of them at the bus stop, on my street, on the Juneau and Graham stairs, found their overnight camp in the woods on Croft, or off Longfellow Creek Trail. They have to travel downtown to get the assistance they need. A neighbor down the street just lost his house to foreclosure in part because he is not mentally stable and wasn’t able to maintain his finances well enough to keep his house. He is forced to move to the north end of Seattle. Why not set up this facility as one that helps our neighbors who need these services?

    Comment by Kim — 9:27 pm March 18, 2012 #

  14. Kim, it appears the meeting dates/times are posted on the DESC website. Next one is listed there as March 27th.

    http://www.desc.org/delridge_supportive_housing_advisory_committee.html

    (scroll down)

    TR
    .
    PS – I have added that to the WSB calendar as well (http://westseattleblog.com/events – been in a long transitional period but the new format is worth it) so in case you have trouble finding notice elsewhere, we will do our best to have the latest listing too … And the North Delridge Neighborhood Council has been tracking it closely as well, http://ndnc.org though I haven’t seen this listed there yet.

    Comment by WSB — 9:39 pm March 18, 2012 #

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