The owner of the former Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on the 1000 block of Second Avenue plans to turn the building into an office complex, four years after the federal government shot down plans to redevelop the facility into a comprehensive services center for people experiencing homelessness.
According to an application to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Martin Selig Real Estate, the company that bought the property in 2015, will build an additional seven stories on top of the existing four. The company is already in discussions with potential tenants.
The building has been empty since 2008, and its final dispensation left some involved in the homeless services proposal — of which Real Change was a part — with a bitter taste in their mouths.
“Those of us that worked like crazy to secure the publicly owned building for the benefit of people who are homeless and our city for 50 to 100 years cannot help but feel deep cynicism when we walk past that block,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, one of the players in the redevelopment of the building.
The building was originally made available to nonprofit organizations through a little-discussed provision of the McKinney Vento Act. Under Title V of the act, surplus government property must be offered to nonprofits and agencies that provide services to people experiencing homelessness.
A coalition, convened by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, entered an application to convert it into a full-service, 24-hour homeless shelter with a mail stop, bank and resources necessary to secure an exit from homelessness. They even had plans to turn a former vault into a bed-bug decimation zone.
The law doesn’t specify the circumstances under which the government can accept or deny agencies, however. The local application ultimately failed because the coalition could not convince the Government Services Administration (GSA), which held the building, that it had sufficient financial support.
Instead, the GSA sold the building two years later to a private developer, Martin Selig Real Estate, for $16 million, cash. According to the King County Assessor’s Office, the land value of the site was appraised at $20 million that year.
The outcome flagged problems with the Title V law that the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) aimed to fix with one of the first updates since Title V was enacted in 1987, said Tristia Bauman, senior attorney with the center.
The center recently published an explainer for the law to update groups that might want to apply for a property.
“We wanted to, one, inform people about the changes to the federal law and, two, take these changes that we really see as improvements to the Title V program and have that serve as an opportunity to do some much-needed outreach about Title V,” Bauman said. “It’s not a program that is widely known.”
That lack of name recognition was a major concern — the government has not done enough to promote the program, Bauman said. Over 30 years, it’s been used to transfer 500 properties that serve roughly 2 million people each year, according to the NLCHP. While significant, the total pales in comparison to the amount of need and ability — the federal government puts thousands of properties up for transfer each year.
Another issue was the timeline of the application process. Under previous law, the government had to advertise the property in the federal register and keep it available for 30 days. Nonprofits would then have to scramble to put together a program and operations funding, completing a package within 60 days after signaling their interest.
The 2016 update to the law shortened the window to get a package in to 30 days, but bifurcated the process. That means that a nonprofit could submit a programming proposal independent of funding. The dual track makes it easier to get through the process, perhaps even enough to have saved the local proposal for the former bank, Bauman said.
“It’s hard to say under this new scheme whether the same application would have been approved,” Bauman said. “It seemed, from our perspective, a good plan.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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