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

DESC is a privately held nonprofit corporation approved to build a congregate setting for homeless persons in downtown Burien. DESC’s last publicly viewable tax return (on the IRS website here) is for 2019. It reveals DESC has $57 million in assets. In 2019 it paid $37 million in salaries, benefits, and other compensation. It had $194 million in income in 2019 (page 17) including $43 million of “other” (unspecified) income. Page 8 of that tax return discloses a payment of over $1 million for “architecture service” to an upscale firm and over $600,000 for a “commercial lease” to a CJ & J Pacific, one of 11 firms registered to the same small space address https://opengovwa.com/corporation/602119515

DESC is not only rich but also powerful. Its Vice President, salary undisclosed, is also a State Representative and it has sponsorship from the likes of Premera Blue Cross and Vulcan. During and after building its Burien-approved, zoning-variance-granted 95-unit congregate setting units, taxpayers and voters have no say in operations. DESC can quickly subcontract or sell it to a lax outfit living off the residents’ checks and spending nearly nothing for security and custodians, for example, or flip it for a profit to a wealthy buyer who kicks out the residents and remodels.

A scholar said you know how civilized a society is by how it treats its poor children. In public health, the Infant Mortality Rate, IMR, the number of newborns who die before their first birthday, is the most fundamental measure. For King County, in 2006, it was 7.0 dead Black babies per 1000 live births. In the most recent data for King County from CDC, 2018, it was 9.4 dead Black babies per 1000. White newborns born in King County dead before their first birthday for 2018 was 3.1 per 1000. Washington State’s IMR is 4 per thousand. The very worst rate for any state was in Mississippi, with 9.0 per 1000. King County Black newborns survival is worse than that.

Over 1500 King County families with children were receiving shelter each day in 2021 and there were additional kids living with families in cars. Joe Queenan, who grew up poor in my hometown, wrote this:

“…the deck was stacked against us, that whatever adults may have done…, it was unfair for their children to begin life with their chances for success preemptively sabotaged. In this sense, poverty is not so much cruel as unsportsmanlike…”

Our local Burien leaders and King County could create government owned housing for poor families with children. King County owns some public housing, including in Burien, but the upscale autos in the parking lots suggest poor kids aren’t the beneficiaries.

I grew up in a city-county of 1.7 million where there was county-owned public housing. Some residents paid rent and some couldn’t but there was heat, hot water, and shelter. Residents and neighbors had a say because it was county owned and county governed—the public kept local government responsive, they didn’t have to beg a private unreachable company to please control and properly operate the premises because that was the government’s job.

Instead, King County contracts out many millions for failed homeless services while wealthy firms like DESC profit and turn into financial behemoths. It’s a racket. I oppose waiving Burien code for the wealthy private unaccountable DESC, which isn’t “affordable housing” in the first place. I would welcome King County-owned public housing for families with kids in the same location, a place that hired locals at King County salaries with King County benefits to help cook, clean, police, and operate the place. It would be a public asset for Burien and accountable to the public when something goes wrong.

– Bruce Davidson

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Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.