By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“It is not shared housing, a treatment facility, or a halfway house. It is simply an apartment building where all tenants commit to a sober lifestyle and all drug and alcohol use, possession, or consumption is prohibited.”
That’s how the new owners of the waterfront Beachwood Apartments at 4027 Beach Drive SW (map), a company called Seattle Sober Living, explain what they’re doing with the 10-unit building. After we received questions from readers who were curious and/or concerned after rumors started circulating in the community, we contacted SSL to request an interview, and got a quick, affirmative reply. The company bought the building earlier this year and stresses that it will be operated as an apartment building – albeit one whose tenants must meet a particular condition.
“Founded by local families, Seattle Sober Living is a local company focused on providing housing options that support individual tenants’ sobriety,” SSL’s David Gould told WSB in an interview conducted via e-mail. “This effort is deeply personal for the organization’s founders, as each have been touched in a profound way by loved ones struggling with addiction. As such, Seattle Sober Living’s focus is on helping everyday people – our family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors – to successfully live drug and alcohol free.”
Gould says this type of housing is “almost impossible to find in Washington State.” (The website says that was a problem for the company’s five founding families, who “had to send their loved ones away to find a safe and sober environment.”) But, he emphasized repeatedly in our exchange, this remains an apartment building, with units being leased to tenants – not a halfway house or transitional housing:
“Under federal and local laws, transitional housing is temporary housing provided to certain vulnerable populations like homeless individuals or families. Transitional housing must provide individualized support services to its clients like alcohol and drug additional treatment, job training, health care, childcare and assistance in locating permanent housing, among other services. Seattle Sober Living is not transitional housing. Consistent with state law, Seattle Sober Living is a private landlord providing a drug and alcohol free environment to help individuals succeed on their personal sobriety journey. Seattle Sober Living does not provide drug and alcohol counseling, treatment or rehabilitation services or other support services. Seattle Sober Living is privately founded and does not accept public subsidies or limit the maximum length of a tenants’ residency. Seattle Sober Living simply leases individual apartment units to tenants – with the key difference being that all units must be drug and alcohol free.” The parameters for this are set under this state law.
Gould added, “Contrary to the rumors, we are not providing housing for people currently using drugs or alcohol, nor are we subsidized transitional housing for vulnerable populations. We would ask our community to recognize that these are people, just like you and me. Simply put, we provide drug- and alcohol-free apartment units. … Each renter will sign a lease and will have their own apartment unit, consistent with any neighborhood apartment building. The only difference is that, as part of each tenant’s housing agreement, and consistent with state law, they must remain drug- and alcohol-free to remain in their apartment. The use or possession of drugs or alcohol will result in expedited eviction as authorized under state law.”
We asked how many people are expected to live there. Gould says, “There are 10 units in the building. One will be a full-time residence for the on-site manager and one will be used for the management office. The eight additional residences includes 6 two-bedrooms and 2 one-bedrooms. The maximum occupancy if all rooms are fully utilized (with roommates) would be 26 people – but realistically, we would have 15-20. This occupancy rate is therefore the same as under the previous ownership. The rumor that there would be 50 or more people in the building is false.” The units, he adds, are fully furnished. The work that’s being done right now is “to add new paint, carpet and minor electrical upgrades.”
So far, he said, they have three tenants and are accepting applications from prospective tenants who will be screened by onsite management. This is Seattle Sober Living’s only property. “We believe a majority of our tenants will be from the Seattle/Puget Sound region – and here’s why…in Seattle and Washington State, demand for these types of services and housing far exceeds supply for in-state after-care for recovering addicts (in fact, it’s almost non-existent). For a majority of those in Washington State who seek treatment, they must do so out-of-state and then once treatment is complete, their after-care is also out-of-state, which translates to months if not years away from families and loved ones. Seattle Sober House provides an in-state option to help keep families and loved ones together during an individual’s path toward living a clean and sober life.”
The Seattle Sober Living home page describes this as “a community for men.” We asked Gould why just one gender. “As of now, our primary potential tenant will be male. In our experience, we find that environment is most productive for individuals focusing on sobriety. This is standard for housing similar to ours nationwide. We adhere to all state and local rental housing laws.” (In a later followup on the gender issue, he said, “After-care independent housing usually focuses on either male or female residents, as it helps each person stay focused solely on sobriety. That said, we would certainly also lease to a female potential tenant if they were interested.”)
Because of the specific drug/alcohol-free-housing law mentioned above, “Under Washington law, we must provide an employee to monitor for compliance with the drug/alcohol free environment. Additionally, there is a code of conduct that each tenant agrees to as part of the lease to be accountable to their sobriety and that of other tenants. The use or possession of drugs or alcohol will result in expedited eviction as authorized under state law.”
For those who follow the rules, “There is no set time limit on residency.”
While they’re not operating anything that requires community notification, Gould says, “We plan to send a letter and Frequently Asked Questions document to close-in neighbors within the week. We will also set up an informational email that neighbors are welcome to use if they have questions. The owners will field these questions and are happy to respond.”
FOOTNOTE: Research reminded us that the sale of this building touched off a citywide discussion last spring, after tenant Janice Harper wrote an open letter published by Seattle Weekly under the headline “Dear Landlord,” about the housing-affordability crisis and a tenant’s suicide. Its future as a “sober living” building was apparently not known at that time; we didn’t hear about this plan until a recent e-mail from a neighbor, pointing us to the website.