EVERETT — Families have begun moving out of north Everett’s Baker Heights public housing complex, which is headed toward demolition.
As of Friday, 17 households have secured new homes, according to the Everett Housing Authority. Another 227 households still are looking. The relocation process is expected to last into mid-2019. A public hearing is planned next month to discuss potential policy changes to keep the pace on track.
“Overall, we’ve made very good progress,” Executive Director Ashley Lommers-Johnson said.
Baker Heights, in the Delta neighborhood, is a collection of buildings dating back to World War II. The complex is considered obsolete and in need of prohibitively expensive repairs. In June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted the housing authority permission to sell the site. Moves started in September.
It’s an usually large tract of land to become available so close to North Broadway, which is seeing revitalization around Everett Community College and WSU Everett.
At some point, about 11 acres of the property will go on the market, but the details haven’t been decided. The housing authority plans to retain the other 3.6 acres to build new multi-family units.
Most Baker Heights residents are receiving Section 8 rent subsidization vouchers for their new homes, Lommers-Johnson said. Others exceed the income brackets for that program, he said.
The agency has assigned four employees to the relocation efforts full time, including Erica Dias, who is managing their efforts. So far, they’ve assisted all but two of the households who have moved out, she said. Former tenants’ new homes include housing authority properties, private apartments and senior housing.
Each family has different needs, including challenges related to mobility, transportation and school district boundaries, Dias said. The relocation team has provided assistance with searching listings, making budgets and communicating with prospective landlords. Transportation also has been offered to tour potential homes.
The area slated for housing redevelopment has 48 units on site now, Lommers-Johnson said. The housing authority aims to use that land for 82 new units. Most of the floor plans are designed for families, and the number of bedrooms will vary, he said. The construction schedule depends on the relocation of existing households, and how funding comes together. Because of that, there is more urgency to relocate folks in those units.
Of the new apartments, 62 will be reserved for families who are experiencing homelessness and have children in the Everett School District.
Baker Heights residents will have first dibs on the remaining units, he said.
Lommers-Johnson acknowledges the rental market can be demanding and expensive. There has been increased talk in Everett about affordable housing — how much is needed and where. There also are ongoing discussions about the potential need for living spaces that are more attainable than traditional houses, such as condos and town homes.
Organizing hundreds of moving days isn’t a simple task, but the housing authority has experience on that front, Lommers-Johnson said. Through various programs, the agency serves nearly 4,000 households and owns or oversees 33 multi-family properties, mostly in Everett. Baker Heights has the most tenants, with 54 more units than the next largest complex, which is on Broadway.
The agency helped place more than 200 households with Section 8 vouchers from January through June of this year, he said. Unlike Baker Heights residents, those folks didn’t have the assistance of a relocation team.
Lommers-Johnson cited a number of initiatives related to the team’s work. Landlords have been invited to Baker Heights to market their available units. The Volunteers of America and the Northwest Justice Project have been involved. Their offerings include legal guidance, financial counseling and free training sessions on tenants’ rights.
The public hearing is set for 12:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the agency’s main offices on Colby Avenue. It will focus on potential changes to admissions policies, Lommers-Johnson said. Because they are being displaced, Baker Heights residents could be given preference for new openings within housing authority properties, especially tenants on the land being redeveloped sooner, he said.
Last month, the housing authority received an award for the relocation efforts at a community health summit. The award recognized “care and compassion.” The summit hosts were the Providence Institute for a Healthier Community and the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition.