A downtown Burien housing project for single, disabled, formerly homeless and extremely low-income adults “will not provide affordable housing in the City of Burien,” according to a Dec. 23 lawsuit filed against the city.
The 7-page complaint filed in King County Superior Court seeks an order prohibiting the city from including the permanent supportive housing project in its Affordable Housing Demonstration Program, which provides flexibility in certain development regulations in exchange for affordable housing.
“Supportive house (sic) and affordable housing are distinctly different types of housing,” the lawsuit states, arguing that the city’s demonstration program “only authorizes projects that provide affordable – not supportive – housing.”
The lawsuit’s lead plaintiff is Burien resident and former city council candidate John White, followed by Tortas Locas restaurant owner Jose Luis Rangel Olivera, Burien Towing owner Lynette Storer and commercial property owner David Burke. Burke’s property and Olivera and Storer’s businesses are all located within 1,000 feet of the housing project’s planned site at 801 SW 150th Street in downtown Burien.
“Plaintiffs and the concerned citizens of Burien wish to stop the development of projects that do not meet the standards of the Affordable Housing Program (sic) and that fail to provide affordable housing in the City of Burien,” the lawsuit states.
Tenants of the six-story, 95-unit apartment building would sign a lease requiring them to pay 30 percent of their income – whatever that may be – as rent, and all units must be affordable to people with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income (AMI).
So long as tenants abide by the terms of the lease, they would be allowed to stay as long as they want, according to the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), which would construct, staff and manage what would be the nonprofit’s first permanent supportive housing project outside the city of Seattle when it opens in spring 2023.
In supportive housing, onsite case managers help tenants access mental-health and substance-use-disorder treatment, attend medical appointments, manage medications, obtain bus passes, keep units clean and pay rent on time. Tenants also have access to onsite meals, activities, therapeutic groups and crisis management services.
In June 2021, the Burien City Council voted 6-1 to accept the project into its demonstration program. On Dec. 16, city staff approved the project’s design with conditions, clearing the way for DESC to apply for building permits. In approving the project’s design, the city granted departures from design standards for upper-story step backs, horizontal modulation and roofline modulation, and it agreed to zoning-code accommodations pertaining to building height, gross floor area, recreation space and parking, among other things.
The plaintiffs “have no objection” to the project so long as it “meets all of the requirements,” according to the complaint.
“… the central issue is that the exceptions and wide latitude granted to projects under the Affordable Housing Program (sic) cannot be used for anything other than affordable housing and supportive housing does not qualify,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint also takes issue with the fact that the project would only serve single adults who are disabled and formerly homeless, stating that the project “is not open to people in relationships, people with children, families, people without disabilities or substance abuse issues, or people with pets.”
The city has 20 days to file a response to the complaint or a default judgment could be made granting the plaintiffs what they are asking for: a prohibition on including the DESC housing project in the city’s demonstration program. Otherwise, a trial has been scheduled for Dec. 27, 2022.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify design-standard departures and zoning-code accommodations, and to remove a specific value related to King County’s area median income (AMI) as such values are adjusted annually and thus subject to change over time.
Nicholas Johnson (he/him) is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who grew up in Boulevard Park, graduated from Highline High School and studied journalism at Western Washington University. Send news tips, story ideas and positive vibes to [email protected].