Plan for low-barrier housing angers people in neighborhood

EVERETT — Everett’s City Council approved a rather mundane zoning code change to allow it to build low-barrier housing for homeless people in the city.

But people living in Pinehurst and other nearby neighborhoods took the opportunity to excoriate the council for selecting a site close by without any public notice.

“The first notice anyone had was a newspaper article on May 22, and it was pretty much a done deal,” said Alan Pohl, who lives in the View Ridge-Madison neighborhood.

Other people said the proposed location is inappropriate for a home for the most destitute.

The city has indicated that a piece of property it owns at 6107 Berkshire Drive is where it will seek to build a home for up to 70 of Everett’s most chronically homeless people, many living with addiction or mental illness.

The city considered other locations, most of which were privately owned and would have had to have been purchased.

Many real estate deliberations are protected from public disclosure, but one location considered was the former Village Inn farther south on Evergreen. It was rejected because another buyer reportedly was interested, and the property was subject to some restrictive covenants, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.

The city’s preferred location is on the southwest corner of a parcel that also houses the city’s fire training academy and a concrete building frame used for practice burns.

The location has single-family houses on one side and busy Evergreen Way on the other. The Evergreen strip includes a number of auto shops, restaurants and bars, a Value Village and the Kush Mart marijuana shop across Berkshire from the proposed site.

Connie Hoidal, who owns a business on Evergreen Way, said the area is already distressed, and putting in apartments for formerly homeless people would only degrade the neighborhood further.

“If you are going to put this type of housing at this location, then make sure your focus is to make Evergreen Way a vibrant part of this community,” Hoidal said.

“Without economic development, you’ll never be able to solve the homeless problem,” she said.

Georgina Boss, who lives on Berkshire Drive behind Kush Mart, said the neighborhood has chronic problems with drug dealing, homeless people and prostitution.

“I have needles thrown in my yard all the time. My kids can’t go outside barefoot,” Boss said. “I had a woman who last week thought she could pop a tent in my side yard and just live there.”

City officials pointed out that the decision to locate the building on Berkshire is not final.

“The fact is, this site has not been approved,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said, addressing the council and many people in the audience. “Council has significant oversight and will have a vote on this site. We need to get Catholic Housing Services on the site to see if it’s feasible.”

Notably, Catholic Housing Services, which would develop and manage the project, hasn’t filed a development application with the city, which would include its own public notice process, Hall said.

Catholic Housing Services has long experience operating more than 50 properties with about 2,100 units in Western Washington, including the Monte Cristo in downtown Everett.

Some of them, like Patrick Place in Seattle and Francis Place in Bellingham, use the same supportive housing model that is planned for Everett.

It’s essentially an apartment building, but with around-the-clock security and a staffed front desk, and offices for social agencies to serve the residents.

It is not a drop-in center or shelter, and residents would have to follow rules, such as not selling drugs on the premises or being violent toward others, in order to stay there.

But the lower barriers mean that the residents do not have to maintain sobriety or a treatment program, and the apartment would be the resident’s home for as long as it is needed, even if it means the rest of that person’s life.

Some people who spoke to the council supported the project.

“When I went to the Housing First forum, I saw a ray of hope,” said Carol Gogarty, a former nurse, referring to a November event in Everett that featured a talk by Lloyd Pendleton, the architect of Utah’s successful low-barrier housing program.

Gogarty said low-barrier housing works because it gets people off the street. “Maybe it’s a place where they go to die, but it isn’t on the street,” she said.

Mark Smith, the executive director of the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County, said that the evidence shows that supportive housing reduces the amount of drug activity and street nuisances in their neighborhoods.

“I know it’s a little counterintuitive and difficult to think of when you’re thinking of your families and kids, (but) these facilities actually increase quality of life in the community,” Smith said.

The city council unanimously approved the zoning change, which affects the entire city and is not tied to any specific property. But the council also wanted to be reassured that its involvement didn’t end with that vote.

Councilman Scott Bader asked whether the crime rate in that neighborhood is higher than others.

Police Chief Dan Templeman responded, “What’s been described tonight is not necessarily unique to this location.

“Certainly within the last 12 months the heroin epidemic has reached a critical stage,” Templeman said.

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher conceded that the city needs to do a better job communicating with the public, while reiterating her support for the program.

“I suspect, in retrospect we will all look at supportive housing in the same way, that it enhances our community in the sense that we’re taking care of the people,” she said.

“The process for this has not been elegant,” Stonecipher said. “We need to do better.”

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