Dear Real Change:
Successive issues of Real Change recently featured two separate articles addressing homelessness. Had they appeared simultaneously, the biggest problem facing the homeless community would have become painfully apparent: Our leaders can’t do math.
Reporter Cydney Gillis’ excellent article in your May 2 issue, “Ending Homelessness on a Budget,” relies upon DESC’s Bill Hobson and Bill Block, coordinator of King County’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, in concluding that the “Countywide effort faces [a] $25 million shortage in 2007 alone.” Without focusing on any specific project, Gillis reports that the official business plan budgets $82 million to meet an overall target of 925 additional housing units in 2007, not including another $7.5 million for mental health and other essential services. Bottom line: At about $88,650 per unit, we don’t have nearly enough money to build all the housing we need in just the second year of the 10-Year Plan.
In a separate Real Change opinion piece last week, “If We Say No, How Can We Ask Anyone to Say Yes?” [May 9], King County Executive Ron Sims endorses the proposed DESC 50-unit homeless project for the Columbia/Hillman City neighborhood on Rainier Ave. S. Totally devoid of financial data, Mr. Sims instead dismisses local opposition to the project as NIMBY attacks based upon “ignorance and fear.”
Because the project cost isn’t even mentioned in either piece, Real Change readers should know that the total price tag for these 50 individual units (tiny 320 square foot “efficiencies”) is presently projected at over $15 million — more than $300,000 per unit, exclusive of essential services and maintenance, and more than THREE TIMES the amount budgeted in the 10-Year Plan for needed housing. At this rate, necessary housing would cost $278 million to build in 2007 alone, not $82 million.
His surprising personal attack aside, Mr. Sims advances excellent arguments why we must try to end homelessness. Those same reasons mandate that anyone who truly cares about our homeless brothers and sisters hold our leaders on homelessness accountable: To do their homework, explore all options — including a countywide homeless facility siting policy — and make certain that we’re getting the biggest bang for the taxpayer buck. For instance, if New York City can provide supportive housing for a homeless person from surplus rental stock at just $25,000 per year, why can’t Seattle/King County?
DESC’s warehouse-like facility has many problems in addition to its exorbitant cost; that many residents support a smaller, sounder facility belies Mr. Sims’s charges of NIMBYism. But Mssrs. Hobson, Block, Sims — and Mayor Nickels, too — must first answer a few simple questions: Why do you support a budget-busting project when the overall budget is already in trouble? What will you say to the homeless people remaining on our streets when finite resources have been exhausted, squandered on ill-advised projects? Restating Mr. Sims’ own threshold question, non-rhetorically: If we can’t say no to an improvident project like DESC’s proposed $15 million Rainier Avenue facility, how can we ask anyone to say yes to additional funding for the 10-Year Plan itself?
By Peter Holmes, Anne Sheeran, Mariana Quarnstrom
Note: DESC’s projected development cost for the Rainier Valley building is now $13 million, one quarter of which will provide space for case management and other services.