Story, Photos & Video by Scott Schaefer

On Thursday night, June 3, 2021, Vanessa Potts and Janice Hammond of Burien’s Sunrise Financial Services hosted a community meeting about the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s (DESC) proposed supportive housing facility in Burien.

As we’ve previously reported, DESC wants to build a 6-story, 85-unit supportive housing facility at 801 SW 150th Street. It has been a real hot-button issue for the city lately, and is up for approval to Burien’s Affordable Housing Demonstration Project, and may be voted on at a council meeting on Monday, June 14, 2021.

In a noble attempt to get more public input on this proposal, and strategize ways to effectively develop a better outcome, the two hosts did their best to wrangle and referee an occasionally out-of-control public forum on this contentious local issue. Well deserved kudos to them and their staff for doing this.

And it was clear they both invested a lot of time and energy into this effort.

Seen at the meeting: Mayor Jimmy Matta, Councilmember Kevin Schilling, City Manager Brian Wilson, as well as former Councilmember Debi Wagner and 2021 candidates Patty Janssen and John White. Local businessperson Danny House was also on hand, along with several other familiar and not-so-familiar locals. Far as we could tell, no one from DESC was present.

Outside the meeting on the sidewalk was a group of protestors – including 2021 Council candidate Charles Schaefer (no relation to Scott Schaefer) showing support for DESC. Inside was a crowd of around 30-40 mostly maskless, mostly concerned residents, most of whom were very eager to share their thoughts.

VIDEO: Sunrise Financial Services hosts Community Meeting on DESC facility Thursday 1

While there were no pitchforks or flames visible, controlling this meeting wasn’t an easy task from the start, as one attendee started things off by interrupting the hosts’ opening comments. While Potts and Hammond referenced a large sign they posted on the wall asking participants to show patience, be kind and not interrupt, there was at least one person who apparently didn’t get the memo and often just started talking loudly while the hosts were trying to speak. More than once they were admonished and told they would be removed from the meeting, but that never happened.

“Before we move forward I’m going to let you know what my plan for the rest of the evening is, and if you don’t agree with me, now is probably a good time for you to leave,” Potts said to the crowd about halfway through the meeting.

Despite the interruptions, Potts and Hammond soldiered on, discussing several issues they thought should be brought up at the upcoming June 14 Burien City Council public hearing on the topic (a list of their questions is below).

VIDEO: Sunrise Financial Services hosts Community Meeting on DESC facility Thursday 2Some of the issues discussed included:

    • Will DESC go ahead and build the facility even if they’re not approved for the City of Burien’s Affordable Housing Demonstration Pilot Project?
    • Is there a way to give Burien homeless priority?
    • What standards are tenants held to? What is the eviction process?
    • What precautions are taken to decrease burglarizing, vandalism, public drug use and dealing?

Helping the hosts out was a staffer who timed public comments with a bell ringer. More than once the bell was ignored by commenters, despite the staffer’s valiant efforts dinging it over and over. At times, it sounded like the end of a boxing round with the bell just going off repeatedly (one Facebook commenter said: “Glad I’m not Pavlov’s dog!”).

Nobody ever said that hosting an open community meeting about a complex local issue like housing the homeless was easy. But again, we applaud the community spirit displayed by Sunrise Financial in facilitating this important gathering.

Here are some comments from residents that we heard at the meeting (NOTE: due to bad audio, some of these are paraphrased):

Danny House: “The problems come down to this – they (DESC) started being disingenuous. They’re not placing Burien residents in there, or 25 Burien veterans in there. And the director of housing said that. We don’t know the answers, and asking these questions means we’re not against it or for it. The fear is that they’re going to come in and steamroll us…”

Mayor Jimmy Matta: “I had a conversation with the County Executive (Dow Constantine), and had a lot of questions for him. I want to hear from you all but I don’t like to be yelled at. I want to ask these questions and if they don’t answer them we have a problem…I want to see local people housed here.”

Chuck Rangel: “I’m still waiting for the affordability aspect of it and the definition of affordability? What happens if they (residents) no longer have income?”

John White: “What matters at the hearing is just one question: do they, or do they not qualify for the city’s Affordable Housing program? That’s what you have to focus on.”

VIDEO: Sunrise Financial Services hosts Community Meeting on DESC facility Thursday 3

The meeting lasted about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and below is a nearly-raw video of the meeting (including all the interruptions), with one edit from when our cell signal died and we had to restart our live Facebook stream (you might enjoy reading all the Facebook post comments here). We did our best to de-noise and sweeten the audio as well, however we were constrained by the unexpected disruptive audience chatter and microphone limits :

QUESTIONS FOR DESC
(courtesy Sunrise Financial Services)

    • Where do DESC tenants get their money? How is their rent paid? Is it taken directly out of their government funding? Or do they write a check to DESC every month?
    • What notifications were sent out to the local businesses regarding this proposal?
    • Do you have list of businesses that were notified, educated on the project and also documented acknowledgment of such?
    • Are there any local businesses in support of this project?
    • What happened in Renton?
    • Why is DESC choosing Burien now?
    • Are there any regulations on the harm-reduction policy?
    • Other DESC facilities have adjacent clinics, what is the plan here?
    • Will there be an agreement with local hospitals and clinics?
    • What is the strategy to encourage rehabilitation? What immediate counseling and medical resources are available?
    • What employment resources are available?
    • What percentage of tenants go on to re-join society in a routine capacity?
    • What community can we look at with proven statistics?
    • What community has been documented and proven a proposal of this nature can actually remove homeless from their own streets?
    • What is the average age of their tenants? How long do they live under DESC’s care?
    • What number of staff members will be available and versed in what type of resources?
    • Are there volunteers to clean up littered needles since DESC gives them out?
    • What standards are tenants held to? What is the eviction process?
    • Can we see a copy of the lease agreement?
    • Is there a three strike you’re out system?
    • What precautions are taken to decrease burglarizing, vandalism, public drug use and dealing?
    • Is there a policy in place if a local resident or business member has a conflict or is a victim of a tenant mishap?
    • Are back-ground checks required prior to approving a tenant? What histories are permitted? Is it public knowledge?
    • Are evicted tenants asked to go with next of kin? Back to a shelter near their address of origin? Is it possible to create something of this nature?
    • Is there a way to give Burien homeless priority?
    • DESC published the following statement through B-town blog: “The future tenants will likely already be residing in Burien, but without safe and secure housing.”
    • Our understanding is this is not possible due to the King County Coordinated Entry program – does DESC know something we don’t?
    • Will there be outreach to the local homeless population to sign them up for the Coordinated Entry Program?
    • What other focused efforts will be made to lesson the Burien homeless population?
    • What will be done proactively? How will this actually get homeless off the street of Burien? What are the logistics? How will it work?

If you have additional questions or concerns you would like addressed by the City Council and DESC, please email them to [email protected].

RELEVANT LINKS: