[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident(s). It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]

June 20, 2021

My Perspective – Nancy Tosta

Tomorrow night (Monday, June 21) the City Council will make a decision that’s been debated for the last several months. We will decide whether to accept a proposal from the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) of Seattle as one of the pilot projects in Burien’s Affordable Housing Demonstration Program. This decision is unlikely to make any difference to anyone in Burien this year or next year, or potentially even in the years thereafter. Probably nothing will change during the tenure of any current Councilmember. But beyond that, the impacts of the decision on our community could be profound.

I’ve thought about this for months now and am writing in the interest of transparency on my decision-making process. For me, there are multiple questions to consider.

  1. Q: Does this project meet the criteria for the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program?
    The Affordable Housing Demonstration Program grew out of policies in our Comprehensive Plan that called for creating “a Demonstration Housing Program to test innovative residential designs that would encourage affordable housing production.” The intended goal is to “encourage quality new affordable housing development…towards providing housing for all residents.” Five pilots will comprise this 3-year Demonstration Project and the City Council has the responsibility and final authority to determine which pilots qualify. In voting to support our Demonstration Program two years ago, it was my understanding that the purpose is to demonstrate what it might take to create housing that costs less to build such that it could be affordable to the lowest-income community members. The goal is to identify potential impediments that make this kind of development challenging – is it always the cost of land, (how can land be accessed for lower costs), is it building materials, is it city codes/zoning? If developers brought their expertise and imagination to this, what ways could we find to build housing at a lower cost to be able to replicate it to provide more housing? I expected/hoped we would see creative ideas and innovations to help Burien lead in constructing affordable housing that would meet the needs in our community. My overall hope is to PREVENT homelessness by ensuring affordable housing.A: I do not see that the DESC project meets the intent of the pilot program. DESC is proposing to build what it has in other locations in Seattle at a cost that exceeds typical costs of other affordable housing developments. They will rely on public funding, tax incentives, and subsidies. There is no innovation, new approaches, or demonstration of ways to build housing at less cost. They will not provide any insight into what it might take to build more housing for our low-income residents. Yes, in a few years they will house a number of individuals currently experiencing homelessness, but they will not help Burien understand how to build more affordable housing for our children, couples, families, and the working poor. I do not believe it fits under the intent and definition of our Demonstration Program.
  2. Q: Does DESC understand what’s needed in Burien and will they be a good partner in our community?A: Obviously, this is a subjective question. The DESC proposal is to house disabled homeless individuals residing in King County. They have proposed 95 units, but do not know how many people in Burien might meet their criteria, how many people are homeless in Burien, what the needs are for services for helping the homeless in our community, what percentages of our homeless population might be individuals or families, and whether anyone experiencing homelessness in Burien might qualify to live there. They have not offered to work with the City to understand the services that might best serve our homeless population. They have not been open to suggestions from the community or from Councilmembers on modifications to their proposal. They have chosen a location that is in the urban center of Burien (the center of our economic development) without indicating any understanding of the vision the City has been working on for decades for this space. They have not been responsive to inquiries from Councilmembers (speaking personally). I do not believe they have Burien’s interests in mind and based on experience during this process, have not seen them indicate a real interest in partnering with the City.
  3. Q: Do the potential benefits of this project outweigh the potential risks for Burien?

    A: The potential stated benefits include:
    • Union jobs during construction,
    • Housing for some disabled in Burien experiencing homelessness,
    • Use of local contractors,
    • Relocation funding for businesses at the site.

The potential risks are:

    • No one experiencing homelessness in Burien qualifies to be housed and the homeless population in Burien continues to grow,
    • Emergency service calls to the area/building increase significantly at City expense,
    • Drug dealing and crime increase in the neighborhood,
    • Surrounding businesses lose customers (or move),
    • The nature of Burien’s downtown is altered in ways that limit its ability to thrive and support the economy of the City.

I see the risks outweighing the benefits in this project for Burien. Failure of a project of this magnitude in this location in our community could be devastating for many years to come.

All the above represent “facts” that do not consider the compassionate and empathetic aspects of providing housing for those in need throughout the region. I totally understand that need and continue to work to find ways to provide more housing that is affordable. There isn’t anyone I’ve spoken with, on the Council or in the community, who does not want to find solutions to the issue of homelessness. That desire to find solutions means we should figure out how to address the reality of the situation we are facing right now. I would like to see DESC working with the City, with NAVOS, with Mary’s Place, with our business community, with the Ecumenical Leadership Council, with the King County Homelessness Authority, and with members of our community to identify potential ways and locations to help those in need right now. With all the resources offered by the above entities, we should stop pointing fingers, wallowing in our silos, and be able to find ways to help those on our streets this year, this week, today. I want this kind of partnership to help those in need in our community for the long-term.

– Burien City Councilmember Nancy Tosta

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