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

Why I voted yes on the DESC Affordable Housing Demonstration Pilot Proposal

Whenever I vote, I always ask a series of questions.  The chief three among them are usually: does this create public value? Does this improve the quality of life? And is this beneficial for Burien?  One of the slots in the Burien Affordable Housing Demonstration Pilot Program is for the 0-30% Area Median Income (AMI) range. That means if you earn less than $24,000 a year you can live there. DESC came forward in 2020 with a proposal to build a facility with 95 units of affordable, and supportive housing. One of the elements of this vote that made it more difficult than, say, the first Affordable Housing Demonstration Project City Council approved for Habitat for Humanity,[1] or the Kinect project with 20% of its units for affordable housing,[2] was the fact that this property would be for individuals placed through King County’s Coordinated Entry for All program.[3]  There are issues with this system that need to be addressed, and we had the opportunity to show the county through pragmatic processes what could be done to prioritize local needs.  So, instead of merely voting “no” on a proposal that was going to pass, I took action to ensure that the proposal would not just be a rubber stamp for DESC, but that it would provide tangible benefits to the people of Burien.

During the first consideration of the DESC application, I voted no because it clearly did not benefit Burien.  For example, Coordinated Entry had no way to specifically place Burien homeless individuals into the building, we did not have support for the displaced businesses that reside in the building DESC is buying, neighbors did not have a way to be involved, and impacts to parking had not been considered, just to name a few problems.  This amounted to nothing that would positively demonstrate how to build affordable housing for a 0-30% AMI population. Additionally, it did not establish a positive partnership between the city, the county, and DESC.

When the vote came up for its second consideration, I voted to table the proposal because there appeared to be interest from most of the Council to address the concerns listed above before moving forward.  For the next few weeks, I worked to address these issues by seeing what the concerns were of fellow councilmembers, what the City staff could do to address any additional concerns, getting clarity from DESC about the residents, researched the county placement process, conducted outreach to the downtown core businesses, and responded to the many questions from residents that all echoed the same thing: how does this proposal benefit Burien?

From the beginning, I was clear about what could get me to yes. I wanted priority and preference for people experiencing homelessness that could benefit from affordable and supportive housing who are living in Burien right now. I wanted the City to be creative about local input throughout the entirety of the construction process. But above all, I wanted clear and open communication with DESC and the businesses to build a better relationship. And I wanted to ensure the supportive nature of the building would be held to a high level of accountability consistent with the mission of DESC. All in all, those elements were added to the proposal.

At Council for the vote, I proposed an amendment to make the project design approval conditional on them prioritizing 30% of the units for people experiencing homelessness in Burien, and to memorialize that in an Inter-Local Agreement (ILA).[4] That essentially means DESC and the county must deliver this ILA to us when we receive the Administrative Design Review that legally states the prioritization and preference of Burien people who qualify for the building.  Council made the progression of the project conditional on this ILA.  This objectively benefits Burien.

While doing this outreach and planning, I took time to personally reflect on the needs of the most poor and vulnerable. At church on Sunday morning prior to the vote, the first prayer to the faithful for my congregation was “for local political leaders to always remember the needs of the most vulnerable among us.” Living in the 0-30% AMI range is not easy. Throughout the last few weeks, I have heard incredibly prejudicial things said about individuals who are not only suffering from homelessness, but from addiction and mental illness.  We can keep our critiques of policies brought before us to the merits of the proposal and understand that there needs to be a disaggregation of people impacted by these policies as well. There is no single cause for every person experiencing homelessness; nor is there any single panacea for all that ails them. But by passing this proposal, with the chief amendment requiring 30% of units in the new development for Burien and a preference for Burien in the entry system, we will begin going down the road to effective resolutions for our community and be a demonstration for city-county relationships elsewhere.

The residents of DESC Burien will be individuals who have been our neighbors, but will now have walls, a bed, a kitchen, and a bathroom, not to mention counseling/employment/and medical services. It is my hope that we can continue to spend time coming together as a community to find beneficial solutions to problems in our city.  That is what I tried cultivating throughout the last few weeks prior to my DESC vote.

Please reach out to me with any questions you have.

Sincerely,
Kevin Schilling
Burien City Councilmember

[email protected]

Sources:

[1] Habitat for Humanity Affordable Housing Project – City of Burien (burienwa.gov)

[2] [email protected] – City of Burien (burienwa.gov)

[3] Coordinated Entry for All – King County

[4] Chapter 39.34 RCW: INTERLOCAL COOPERATION ACT (wa.gov) and  MRSC – Interlocal Cooperation

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