Ursula: $134M high-rise won’t solve Seattle homeless crisis

May 24, 2023, 4:29 PM | Updated: May 26, 2023, 8:17 am

It’s being touted as Seattle’s first “affordable housing” high-rise in more than 50 years. The Rise is a 17-story building in the First Hill neighborhood and it has two separate apartment complexes that will be run by two different non-profits.

Plymouth Housing will operate the Blake House, which has a total of 112 studio apartments for homeless seniors and veterans. Bellwether Housing will run 250 apartments for families making 60% or less of the area’s median income. Rents will range from about $1,000 to nearly $1,800 a month.

The apartment tower is gorgeous, with killer views. Tenants will be able to enjoy amenities, including a fitness center and an outside play structure.

But here’s the rub. The price tag for this high rise was a whopping $134 million! As desperate as we are to see an end to our homelessness crisis, this doesn’t sound like a reasonable solution.

Officials say it was funded with tax-exempt bonds, money from the city, county, and state, and from philanthropists and private investors. Sound Transit “donated” the property that it had acquired for a light rail station that was never built.

Ross: New Seattle low-income housing costs over $134M to address homelessness

First of all, that’s NOT free! And if you do the math, as my colleague Dave Ross from Seattle’s Morning News did, this amounts to nearly $500,000 for each apartment. If 13,000 people in Seattle are experiencing homelessness, it would cost $6.4 billion to build enough high rises, just to house them. That’s assuming construction costs wouldn’t change over the next decade, which is laughable.

But here’s another headscratcher. When the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) recently released its original five-year, $11 billion plan, it called for 18,000 units of temporary housing. But there was no money and no plan for tiny home villages. In fact, the first version suggested King County had too many tiny homes. That was a big point of disagreement between former CEO Marc Dones and other advocates for the homeless, including local leaders who think more tiny house villages make sense. I agree with the latter!

If we want to get people off the streets, and into shelters, and help them get on a path to independence, it shouldn’t require a half-million-dollar apartment to achieve that goal.

The price tag of a tiny home is closer to $50,000 and a lot of them can be built in a short amount of time. While a tiny home wouldn’t work for every situation, it could be a first step in getting many of our unhoused neighbors out of tents and their cars.

After Dones’ announced their resignation, the KCRHA scaled down its five-year plan and revised its stance, saying they believe increasing ALL types of temporary housing is necessary to meet the need. Instead of ending unsheltered homelessness in five years, the new goal is to reduce it as much as possible.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Editor’s Note: The original article said the building cost was $177 million, this has been corrected to be $134 million

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Ursula: $134M high-rise won’t solve Seattle homeless crisis