Snohomish County seeks to buy hotel to convert into shelter

County Council members approved an agreement for a firm to scope out and potentially buy a property with 125 rooms in Everett.

EVERETT — Snohomish County is searching for an Everett hotel to shelter a fraction of the local homeless population.

On Monday, county councilmembers greenlit a contract with Kidder Mathews to help scope out and potentially buy a property with 125 rooms.

“This small first step is critical for the county to respond to community concerns and address the homeless epidemic in our county,” District 2 Councilmember Megan Dunn said Monday in an email. “As we move into the cold weather season, we’re reminded of how great the need is to shelter those who are sleeping outside.”

According to county spokesperson Kent Patton, no specific hotel has been identified yet and much of the plan still needs to be fleshed out.

“We would still have to find a building, buy it, prepare it, secure an operator, etc.,” he wrote in an email. “There is still a significant amount of work to be done before anything is operational.”

Documents show county officials want the facility to be located in Everett.

American Rescue Plan dollars will pay for property acquisition. The funds will also cover a $220,000 agreement with Kidder Matthews and any potential subcontractors.

Kidder Mathews, the West Coast’s largest independent commercial real estate firm, helped King County buy several hotels this year, turning more than 800 rooms into emergency and permanent supportive housing through the county’s “Health Through Housing” initiative. The idea was to take advantage of pandemic market conditions and use existing space instead of starting from scratch.

Snohomish County documents reference Kidder Mathews’ work in the Seattle area.

In 2020, a point-in-time count reported 1,132 people in Snohomish County either living unsheltered or staying in emergency or transitional housing, a roughly 35% increase over the previous five years. The pandemic hampered this year’s count.

The Snohomish County Council voted 4-1 to authorize the agreement with Kidder Mathews. The no vote came from Councilmember Sam Low, who told The Daily Herald, “I don’t think the county should be in the hotel business.”

“I think the community should have a voice … before the county comes in and starts buying hotels in their city. That’s the bottom line,” Low said. “If the city wants to send off a letter through the council or mayor saying, ‘We want this,’ that’s a voice.”

Everett city officials are aware of the county’s plan, city spokesperson Julio Cortes said Monday afternoon.

“We are very encouraged by the County’s willingness to use some of its resources to respond to the homeless crisis that continues to persist in our community,” he wrote in an email. “The Mayor has been working closely with the Executive’s office as well as other jurisdictions to discuss utilizing ARPA funds and other federal resources to address these important issues.”

The county does not plan to buy more than one hotel, Patton said. But “there may be future conversations if a significant need arises in other areas of housing.”

Patton said the “first facility” will only serve people without homes.

Council documents also reference a pressing need to help the rising number of refugees in Snohomish County.

Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest based at Everett Community College, said she has concerns about mixing the separate needs of homeless and refugee populations. But a hotel offering shelter specifically to incoming refugees could be a “lifesaver,” she said.

Refugees, including an influx of Afghan families, are being placed in local hotels anyway. A county-owned shelter would mean less time spent on figuring out placements and paperwork.

And, Dinh-Kuno said, refugees could “support each other if they stay in one location.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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