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Seattle councilmember hopes to speed up ‘tedious’ process for homeless housing

A man walks past a city-sanctioned homeless encampment of micro-homes and tents in front of apartments and condos in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A new proposal from Seattle Councilmember Andrew Lewis would help fast-track the construction of permanent supportive housing for the city’s homeless.

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The proposal would look to cut red tape processes that typically slow the construction of new multi-family housing in Seattle, including requirements regarding lengthy design review periods, inclusion of onsite bike storage, and more.

“Current land use mandates create longer-than-needed processes and make permanent supportive housing projects more expensive,” Councilmember Lewis said in a written release. “This approach cuts through the ‘red tape,’ making what has historically been a tedious process more efficient and less costly.”

Lewis points to data from the Third Door Coalition — a local organization comprised of service providers and small business owners — estimating that Seattle will need 6,500 new units of permanent supportive housing in the next five years “to meet the scale of our homelessness crisis.” It also believes that Lewis’ proposal could save as much as $47,753 per new unit, with the councilmember labeling it a “win-win.”

This comes amid rising concern regarding homeless encampments in public parks across Seattle, with neighborhood residents citing the presence of garbage, drug-use, and unsafe conditions. During the last “point in time” count over the summer, just over 8,100 homeless individuals were observed in Seattle alone, totaling over 11,700 across all of King County.

The 2021 budget passed by Seattle councilmembers includes a 25% increase in shelter funding. But those options are still largely viewed as stopgaps, with the eventual goal of providing full-time, permanent housing options to get the city’s unhoused population off the streets for good.

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“More shelter is necessary but not a permanent solution,” Lewis pointed out.

Other data from the Third Door Coalition indicates that 98% of Seattle’s homeless “would accept a permanent supportive housing placement if offered, and 90-95% of residents placed in such housing are still housed a year later.”

Construction requirements have largely slowed the process of standing up enough of that housing to fill the city’s needs, begetting the need for Lewis’ proposal.

The legislation will be introduced at the committee level in December, with hopes of getting it to a full vote by January 2021.

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