Making housing a reality

Housing stitches together community, so foundational it’s a given, like breathing. In fact, security of property and housing rank just above sleeping and eating in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s celebrated Hierarchy of Needs. No housing, no achievement. No housing, no employment. No housing, and health and family fall away.

Thirty years ago, Western Washington was hit with a homelessness crisis, fronting a bow wave of market and political extremes. “Not since the Great Depression had we seen such a thing,” Housing Hope’s founding executive director, Ed Petersen, writes in “Building Hope,” a just-released program history. “Homeless families with children were sleeping in cars, tents and motels. Jails had become the new mental hospitals because ‘three meals and a cot’ was preferable to sleeping on the streets for de-institutionalized mentally ill individuals. It was the early 1980s.”

Petersen is the founder and animating force behind Housing Hope, Snohomish County’s first nonprofit Housing Development Corporation. Working in common cause with the North Snohomish County Association of Churches and a founding board that consisted of community totems like Todd Morrow, Bruce Eklund and Jon Witte (and later Connie Niva), Petersen conjured a home-grown antidote to a national problem. The approach has been comprehensive and solution-centered. Secure, affordable housing coupled with wrap-around support services (with an emphasis on removing obstacles that undercut resident stability.) It’s a long-term strategy that sidesteps quick fixes and is anchored in a what-really-works philosophy.

Today, Housing Hope is such an integral part of Snohomish County and Camano Island, it’s difficult to conceive a time when it wasn’t part of the economic and social fabric. This year marks a milestone — 25 years of community service.

Housing Hope has emerged as a full-spectrum provider, offering emergency shelter, transitional housing and, most compelling of all, a path to home ownership. This past year, Housing Hope oversaw Copper Station in Stanwood, five sweat-equity homes built by low-income family builders who became homeowners. A similar project, Marvin Gardens in Monroe, also consists of five sweat-equity homes. Complementing this, WorkSource centers opened at four Housing Hope facilities (Stanwood, Sultan, Marysville, Everett) to provide employment assistance for residents of 348 housing units at 20 locations in Snohomish County.

Housing Hope is a template for how to tackle community homelessness and affordable housing (challenges exacerbated by the Great Recession.) It’s predicated on self-sufficiency, and that requires training on everything from financial skills to contingencies of home ownership. Upcoming projects include HopeWorks, a workforce-development center in Everett for social-enterprise businesses. The community-building list goes on, but these successes don’t occur in a vacuum. Housing Hope always needs financial and volunteer support. The dividends, including stronger families and a more vibrant Snohomish County, are impossible to quantify