Harvest time

I have always loved Fall – the change in the weather, fall leaves, and visits to Spooner Farms with my granddaughters!

Seeing pumpkins reminds me of all the work that farmers put into them before they end up decorating our porches.  Planting the seeds in the field, weeding, and watering them for months before they are ready for harvest.  Then we take over – carving, painting, stickering, or making them into pie!

Another important effort in our community that has been planted and tended for a long time is ready for harvest.

Next week we will see a very significant milestone for a critically important effort for our community.

Three years ago, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, former Councilmember Connie Ladenburg and I invited all the cities and towns in Pierce County, as well as the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, to work together on regional solutions to the escalating cost of housing in our region.  We knew the dramatic increase in the cost of housing was threatening the quality of life in our communities.  This trend impacted our entire region and was particularly acute for our lower-income residents – but also many of our seniors, our young families, and our neighbors with moderate incomes.  Too many people working in Pierce County were losing the ability to live in Pierce County.

We knew that the challenge and the solutions are bigger than any one jurisdiction.   We need more and more types of housing – at a range of affordability. I was encouraged by the shared commitment from the group.

What started as a four-meeting commitment has resulted in an unprecedented Intergovernmental Agreement among 14 governments known as the South Sound Affordability Housing Partners, or SSHAP (aka “Shape”).  Earlier this year, Councilmember Ryan Mello joined us in this work.  This group will focus on: (1) advocacy for solutions and support from the State and Federal governments; (2) smart local policies that are proven to promote more housing options; and (3) partnerships around projects to actually deliver more units for our communities.  We know that we need to show results – not just talk!

Next Monday we will hold our first Executive Board meeting – an important formal milestone.

But while the official work of SSHAP is just beginning, the spirit of partnership from coming together is already showing some fruit.

Case in point: the purchase of the Comfort Inn on Hosmer stems from the collaboration around SSHAP. The cities of Tacoma and Lakewood, and Pierce County are partnering to help the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) buy the hotel that will initially provide much-needed space for people living unsheltered throughout Pierce County. The sale closes next week.

The three-story property was built in 2000 with 91 furnished rooms with microwaves and refrigerators. The plan is to use the hotel as a 120-bed enhanced shelter from November 2021 through December 2023, using six rooms for offices, case management and storage.

LIHI will have 24/7 staffing for the enhanced shelter, with on-site case managers as well as an on-site, live-in supervisor.  Operating costs for the enhanced shelter are estimated to be $1.6 million per year and will be 90 percent covered by the City of Tacoma and 10 percent covered by the City of Lakewood.

Beginning in early 2024, the property will be converted by LIHI to 80 units of permanent affordable housing, with 100 percent of the units directed to people at or below 50 percent of the area median income.  This conversion will provide great housing options for many people who are already working in this area.

In addition, we are exploring a land partnership with Tacoma that would allow more housing to be built from the ground up. Pierce County owns surplus vacant land adjacent to land owned by the City of Tacoma. The two parcels are on Pacific Avenue across the street from the new South Sound 9-1-1 administrative headquarters, and near the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.  Starting a new housing development on the combined parcels could include “tiny” homes or other types of more attainable housing.

Another hotel purchase/conversion is under consideration that would include the City of Fife, Pierce County and potentially other partners.

Bryan Schmid, from our Human Services Team, has been doing much of the “watering and weeding” as these initial discussions by governmental leaders grew to become a formal regional commitment to take on housing affordability.  Thank you, Bryan!

You might say that housing solutions are starting to take “shape” in the County. We know we can’t create more attainable housing fast enough but we’re making progress. And I’m grateful for that.

Enjoy your weekend,