Seattle’s Federal Reserve Bank, a boxy, gray building with a vault spanning two floors, has been vacant since 2008, when the federal agency moved its operations to Renton.
The six-story building at 1015 Second Ave. could become a shelter or service center for homeless people, thanks to a little-known provision in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The act, known primarily for ensuring that homeless children have access to school, also requires that those who provide services to homeless people get the first shot at acquiring — at no cost — surplus federal property, before it goes up for auction to a private buyer.
The Federal Reserve of San Francisco, which serves financial institutions in the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, outgrew the 60-year-old building and transferred ownership to the General Services Administration (GSA). On Nov. 8, the federal GSA opened up the property to proposals from Seattle-area nonprofits. They have until the beginning of January to suggest ways they would use the site.
The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) is among those eyeing the former bank, which has more than 90,000 square feet of usable space.
“There’s an awful lot of good stuff that could happen in a building that size,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of SKCCH
SKCCH has been considering the site for more than a year and is working with other agencies to come up with a proposal. Eisinger said it was too early to say exactly what providers want to do with the property.
“There’s a whole lot of information we need to obtain before speculating,” she said.
Likewise, it could take months for the GSA and the Department of Health and Human Services to review the proposals.
“[The Federal Reserve Bank is] a federal asset, it’s a taxpayer asset that we own,” said Stephanie Kenitzer, a spokesperson for the GSA. “We need to make sure that we take care of it or manage it in the best interest of the taxpayer.”
To earn the property, interested nonprofits have to show the Department of Health and Human Services that there is a need for services and that the agency has the experience and finances to use and maintain the property.
“This process is very particular, guided by federal law, and there are various steps we have to go through as a federal agency to make sure we do it properly,” Kenitzer said.
While it may take some time, Tristia Bauman, housing program director for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said the process of using surplus government property is promising.
“When it works, it works very, very well,” Bauman said.
The federal government has transferred more than 500 properties to service agencies in 30 states and the District of Columbia since the McKinney-Vento Act was enacted in 1987. The buildings now provide a variety of services to two million people each year.
The Durward G. Hall Federal Building in Joplin, Mo., became a shelter in 2002 under the McKinney-Vento Act. It sheltered displaced families after a devastating tornado in 2012. And Urban Renewal Corp. took over a Naval Reserve Center in Kearny , N.J. to open a technology refurbishment facility for people coming out of the criminal justice system who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Washington nonprofits have acquired three buildings — in Olympia, Kent and Redmond — through the McKinney-Vento Act for emergency housing. The former Federal Reserve Bank could be the first in Seattle.
It’s not just nonprofits and their clients that benefit from this part of the McKinney-Vento Act. Transferring the surplus property takes the burden of maintaining old federal buildings off taxpayers.
“There are countless buildings that are just sitting vacant in cities and rural areas across the nation,” Bauman said. “We still pay things like maintenance costs to the tune of millions of dollars a year.”
More than two million Americans each year receive assistance as a result of McKinney-Vento Act property transfers. Since the program started in 1987, the act has provided access to approximately 500 buildings on almost 900 acres of land in 30 states and the District of Columbia. These property transfers have created space for programs that provide a variety of services every year, including the following:
More than 30,700 people receive emergency or transitional housing, often with accompanying services such as mental health treatment.
More than 3,350 domestic violence survivors and their families are housed.
More than 12,500 veterans are housed.
More than 146,000 poor and homeless people are provided with other services, such as case management and employment training.
More than 150 million pounds of food is delivered to homeless and low-income people.