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Mayor Durkan pushes ‘bridge housing’ for Seattle homeless crisis

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is directing her first major piece of legislation at the city’s homelessness and housing crisis.

Durkan’s “Building a Bridge to Housing for All” proposal aims to make use of funds from the $11 million sale of city property at 1933 Minor Avenue. Durkan’s office states that the property is underutilized by the city. The sale is expected to be complete by next summer.

RELATED: Seattle, King County to use one table for homelessness

bridge housing

(City of Seattle)

“The number one challenge we face as a city right now is affordability, and tied to that issue is the heartbreaking crisis of people experiencing homelessness,” Durkan said Wednesday. “… We simply don’t have the capacity right now to move people off the streets out of the heartbreaking conditions they find themselves in. To make it worse, more and more people are pushed out of the city and on the verge of homelessness.”

The one-time source of money will be used to fund housing programs in 2018. The proposal puts $3.5 million toward essential city services and uses $10.7 million from the sale for affordable housing and what the mayor’s office calls “bridge housing” — shelter to bridge people between living on the street to living in permanent housing. This could be a range of options from tents to tiny homes and other shelters.

The bridge housing proposal is backed by four city council members, including Bruce Harrell, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, and Sally Bagshaw.

Seattle bridge housing

The mayor’s office notes that Seattle’s “sanctioned encampments are currently near full capacity serving 300 people including 149 tiny wooden structures, often called tiny houses. In 2018, the city will fund 1,464 shelter beds, 85 percent that are 24/7 or enhanced shelter beds with services, which are also almost at capacity.”

The program will, therefore, create new shelter opportunities to serve as “bridge shelters” between homelessness and housing. A plan for these solutions is slated for completion by next summer and will include: mass shelter tents; hard-sided tents; wood-frame sheds; portable modular bunkhouses or cabins; backyard cottages; and master leasing of existing apartments.

“First we have to understand that this is just a bridge,” Durkan said Wednesday. “We know that tiny houses are not a solution for long-term and supportive housing that many people living on the street need. But we have to have more capacity, more humane places than the streets, vehicles, tents and unsheltered situation that people find themselves.”

Funding includes:

  • $5.5 million Bridge Housing Investment Strategy: To increase capacity and quickly move people into housing. It will start with chronically homeless women.
  • $2 million for Seattle Rental Housing Assistance Pilot Program: This will be targeted at to residents on “the verge of homelessness.”
  • $2.5 million reinvestment in city communications: This will include the relocation of the city’s IT communication shop that is currently located on the property being sold.
  • $1 million for design and planning of a new Seattle Fire Department building.
  • $2 million for Mandatory Housing Affordability: For affordable housing.

Durkan’s Housing Strategies subcabinet will look into options for rapid deployment, cost effectiveness and increasing housing and shelter capacity. They are charged with developing a plan for the program by the summer.

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