An artist’s rendering shows plans for the Safe Streets housing project designated for Berkshire Drive. (Catholic Housing Services)

An artist’s rendering shows plans for the Safe Streets housing project designated for Berkshire Drive. (Catholic Housing Services)

County frees up $1.6M for Everett’s low-barrier housing

The plan appears on track for the City Council to transfer land ahead of next month’s groundbreaking.

EVERETT — Snohomish County has agreed to award $1.6 million to Everett’s low-barrier housing project, putting nervous city officials at greater ease.

Mayor Ray Stephanson had worried about losing state funding if the county failed to act by the end of the year. Now, the plan appears on track for the City Council to transfer the land ahead of a ground-breaking next month.

“To me, this comes down to compassion,” County Councilman Sam Low said. “There are so many people hurting in our community, struggling with the addiction of drugs. I think our county wants to see us tackle this problem. I don’t know if everything in here is perfect … but … this is a great way to help those who are struggling, get people off the street and help our veterans who are homeless.”

The vote was 3-1 in favor of freeing up the money, which is just under 10 percent of the project’s total cost. If the county hadn’t signed off, millions more in state dollars could have fallen through, putting the whole undertaking in doubt.

Everett has spearheaded the project through its Safe Streets plan. The 65-unit building would take shape on city-owned land at 6107 Berkshire Drive near Evergreen Way. It would provide a home to people with a history of chronic homelessness who also have had problems with drugs or mental illness.

The City Council expects to vote Jan. 3 on transferring about 1.2 acres of a larger property to Catholic Housing Services to develop and operate the project. A discussion about that and related matters is scheduled to continue at the City Council’s 6:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday.

The new building would operate under a “supportive housing” model. Tenants wouldn’t have to sober up before moving in. But they could be evicted for using illegal drugs on the property, including marijuana, which is prohibited under federal law. They would have access to counseling and other services.

Five apartments would be set aside for veterans and another 10 for people ages 18 to 24, among other target groups.

Catholic Housing Services and Catholic Community Services operate 13 other low-barrier housing projects in Washington. They include Sebastian Place, a 20-unit building in the Lynnwood area that houses veterans who have struggled with homelessness.

Construction costs for the Everett building total nearly $17 million.

The county’s portion of the project comes from the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax dedicated to new programs to address mental health, chemical dependency or therapeutic court services. The county has no obligation to cover ongoing maintenance or rental assistance in the coming years.

“If anyone ever does come in and ask for operations dollars, the bottom line is that it would be a competitive process,” County Councilman Terry Ryan said.

County Council Chairman Brian Sullivan voted against awarding the money. Sullivan addressed the irony, given that it was his idea, two years ago, to set aside county money for this sort of project. He said he wants to get people off the streets, but doesn’t like how Everett went about its plan.

“I have a lot of concerns about the process,” he said.

Sullivan ran for mayor of Everett earlier this year, but finished third in a hard-fought primary election. He has quarrelled with Stephanson, who is retiring soon, about the homeless housing project and other issues. Sullivan remains upset about the location on Berkshire Drive.

“It was unfair. It didn’t meet any of the criteria that Snohomish County put forward,” he said. “I think that’s very unfortunate. We’re kind of picking on a working-class neighborhood where the combined income for two people in a home is at or below the poverty level, but that’s a whole ‘nother argument, I suppose.”

County Councilwoman Stephanie Wright abstained from voting.

“I can’t bring myself to vote against something that I believe in so strongly, but I want to flag those concerns for future projects,” Wright said.

It was unclear whether Wright, like Sullivan, was referring to how officials in Everett went about deciding where to put the housing project. She did not immediately return an email or voice message Monday seeking clarification.

Everett officials maintain they reviewed more than 40 properties before making a decision. The city later hired Catholic Housing Services to develop and operate the site.

Under the county agreement, the money is being awarded to Catholic Housing Services as a loan. It would have to be repaid after 40 years. Everett has put a 50-year covenant on the property to make sure it is used as intended.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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