EVERETT — Housing Hope will get the chance to build apartments for homeless students and their families in the Port Gardner neighborhood.
After months of a moratorium and heated public comment, the Everett City Council voted Wednesday to stick with a 2016 ordinance that allows supportive housing on publicly owned land in single-family residential zones. That means within the City of Everett, property owned by the city, school district or another government agency that is considered surplus could be developed into housing for people experiencing homelessness, or people who have a disability or require 24-hour services. Everett planning staff had identified four sites where that may happen, including a site known as the Norton Avenue play field in Port Gardner.
Neighbors said they were worried about not being notified or involved in the process, losing open space, reduced housing values, crime and parking. Many of those sentiments were echoed during more than two hours of public comment Wednesday before the City Council vote.
“People put a lot of money into these homes and they can’t move easily,” said Leslie Peterson, who lives in the Port Gardner area and asked the city to approve a proposed ordinance that would have removed supportive housing as an allowable use in single-family residential zones.
Supporters of the housing development touted the moral merits of providing a home for children and families, an experience and need that resonated with several speakers.
Kevin Phan said he grew up in public housing, ashamed to be “a welfare kid.” But he said it provided his family stability and could do so for other families if such places were built.
After the hearing, Councilman Scott Murphy said he disagreed with the council “being painted as not caring about homeless children.” He saw the issue for the City Council as needing to watch out for the neighborhoods. He was the only council member to vote against retaining the original 2016 ordinance with design review amendments. Councilman Jeff Moore recused himself because he is an employee of the Everett School District, a partner in the Norton Avenue project.
Everett resident Elizabeth Koenig asked the city to look at other surplus public properties for the project — a common request from commenters. Murphy said he proposed the city inquire about the former Kmart on Evergreen Way as a possible location for such a development, which was making its way through the planning process earlier this year.
The Everett School District owns the nearly 3-acre Norton field and in May agreed to a 75-year lease with Housing Hope, a housing and work-training nonprofit. The agreement called for the nonprofit to build 34 to 50 apartments for the district’s homeless students and their families. In the 2017-18 school year, there were 1,266 homeless students in the district. That total slightly decreased to 1,054 in the 2018-19 school year, according to state data.
Gregg Williams said he wanted the playfield to remain for neighbors who have used it with their children and families. He said the housing would take the grassy patch from them so 30 to 50 families could live there.
Charles Adkins said he came to Everett as a teen “alone and afraid” and experienced homelessness and housing insecurity. Now he’s about to graduate from college in part because of housing stability, he said. He asked the City Council to reject the planning commission’s proposed ordinance to remove supportive housing from single-family residential zones.
Fred Safstrom, executive director of Housing Hope, warned of a critical need to house people without homes, especially children.
“This is a time for extraordinary action,” he said. “You took that extraordinary action when you adopted the original ordinance.”
In 2016, the City Council approved the ordinance that allowed supportive housing on publicly owned land in single-family residential zones. That policy allowed the construction of Clare’s Place, 65 units of permanent supportive housing for people who experienced chronic homelessness, on Berkshire Drive in the Glacier View neighborhood.
It is on city-provided property with a long-term lease for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington to manage the building and tenants. The residents have access to treatment, assistance programs and a medical suite staffed by the Community Health Center of Snohomish County. After opening in July, all of the rooms were assigned in August.
That project led to the land use issue for the City Council, Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said.
“We see now there are wide ranging consequences from that,” she said.
When the public hearing concluded, Councilwoman Liz Vogeli made an immediate motion to lift the moratorium. She did not receive a second.
“That’s despicable. I’m sorry,” she said.
After other council members spoke in support of amending the 2016 ordinance and allowing supportive housing on publicly owned land in single-family residential zones, she apologized.
The city attorney and the planning director were tasked with defining specific design review elements with some of the council members. That process to modify development standards such as building height, scale, open space, setbacks, distance to transit and parking could take several weeks, the city attorney said.