SEATTLE - Those who typically have been shut out of affordable housing options get more than a home at Evans House. Thirty-five of the 75 units are reserved for people who have just been released from a state psychiatric hospital and who are at very high risk of being re-institutionalized.
Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), a nonprofit based here, provides permanent supportive housing, clinical services, and emergency services for homeless adults, those with developmental and physical disabilities, the chemically dependent, and seniors. DESC completed its newest affordable housing development in October 2007. It’s a 75- unit supportive-housing project for chronically homeless single adults with mental illnesses.
“Market studies don’t mean anything to us,” said Bill Hobson, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We are concerned with transforming lives. When you eliminate the chaos of homelessness from somebody’s life, clinical and social stabilization occur much faster and are far more enduring.”
All of the units are reserved for individuals earning no more than 30 percent of the area median income (AMI). On average, however, residents at the $15 million development earn just 12 percent of the AMI. The average monthly rent is $170. Four apartments are reserved for individuals who are both mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
DESC is a state-licensed and county-contracted mental health case management provider. Despite a reduction in Department of Housing and Urban Development funding for ongoing supportive services, DESC found a way to underwrite services at the project. Evans House is one of the first housing developments in the nation to use Medicaidfunded mental health services to pay clinical staff who work on-site, providing what Hobson called “assertive engagement.”
At Evans House, the clinicians come to the tenants. “All the residents are engaged,” he added.
The key to engaging residents is to show them that staff can meet tangible needs, such as getting a resident new pairs of socks, helping them with shopping, or cleaning their units. Staffers also ask questions and take an interest in tenants.
“The most benign reaction homeless people get is being ignored,” said Hobson. “It often gets worse than that. Sometimes they are met on the street with fear, anger, disgust. Inside a safe apartment building with staff that really cares about them, it’s easy to get residents engaged. It’s a slam dunk.”
Without housing with appropriate support services, the residents likely would cost taxpayers more, yet receive less help. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Washington’s mental health officials, “The [state] Department of Social and Health Services Mental Health Division spends half its budget on psychiatric hospitalizations for less than 8 percent of its consumers.”
The project, which is located minutes from downtown Seattle at the bottom of a steep hill, features green elements including low-VOC paints, carpets, and sealants, energy- efficient lighting and plumbing, and planters that retain and treat stormwater runoff from the building.
Sources of funding include $9.9 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from Enterprise Community Investment, Inc.; $2.4 million from the city of Seattle Housing Levy, a property tax that creates a fund for affordable housing; a combined $2.7 million from the state and King County; and $50,000 from Enterprise Community Partners’ Green Communities.