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Downtown Emergency Service Center proposes 100 units of affordable housing on North 96th Street

This report was written by Zach Alexander, who attended the Aug. 30 meeting about a proposed building of 100 affordable units in Greenwood. Thanks, Zach!

On August 30th, the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) had a town hall meeting to discuss a proposal to build 100 units of affordable housing on N 96th St between Linden and Aurora. The meeting was held at Aurora House, another DESC housing unit on N 105th St and Aurora.

DESC is a private non-profit organization dedicated to housing the most vulnerable citizens of Seattle. The meeting was led by Daniel Malone, the Executive Director of DESC. It began with a short slide-show presentation explaining DESC’s mission and other housing units constructed by DESC. DESC has successfully built housing in a number of neighborhoods, including Columbia City, Pioneer Square, South Lake Union, and Eastlake. These units are dedicated to providing housing for the people least likely to escape homelessness. Daniel explained the common characteristics of the people likely to be accepted into DESC’s housing. Although he emphasized that these were broad strokes, many of the potential residents suffer from mental illness, suffer from addiction, have poor or no credit, have no jobs, and have a criminal history for misdemeanors commonly associated with homelessness, such as trespassing.

Daniel also highlighted the effort DESC made to integrate DESC housing units into the surrounding community. There are strict codes of conduct for the tenants, onsite counselors who are present 24/7, and a phone number for community members to call if someone is exhibiting disruptive behavior in the neighborhood. The buildings are equipped with video cameras and security staff. DESC reports that historically, residents value their housing and do not wish to cause trouble.

After the presentation, Daniel took questions from the audience. Many questions were focused on the impact of DESC housing on the neighborhood. Daniel re-stated that many neighborhoods experienced either no impact or a positive impact after DESC units were constructed. One question asked about the density of DESC locations, given Aurora House and the 96th St proposal are 9 blocks away. Daniel responded that Pioneer Square has much higher density of housing, but DESC tries to match the existing density and character of neighborhoods when selecting new locations. A follow-up question was asked about the selection of 96th St given a shooting occurred recently across the street. Daniel answered that although existing crime was a factor in placement, there were a variety of factors that focused on letting residents live in a variety of neighborhoods across the city.

Some neighbors asked questions around logistics of having new housing come into the area. Although the proposed housing will have about 100 studio apartments, new parking will be limited because the tenants do not own cars or drive. Tenants can be kicked out of DESC housing if they are uncooperative and cause harm, but Daniel reiterated this was an extremely rare occurrence, and when it happened DESC still attempted to connect the ex-tenant with other resources to help them. DESC tenants come from all across the city, and are found mostly through referrals from other services. DESC does not do very much direct outreach in North Seattle.

Several questions also focused on the residents who would be coming into the neighborhood. A question was raised about sex offenders moving in. Daniel emphasized that the number of violent criminals housed in DESC was very low. Another question asked about interactions with the Seattle Police Department. DESC provides training for the SPD on interactions with the homeless, but does not have dedicated police officers to build relationships with DESC tenets. DESC instead relies on its onsite staff to manage relationships between tenants and the community. A few questions asked about neighborhood safety, given the construction of new schools in the neighborhood. Daniel emphasized that DESC did not expect any problems, given he often brought his own children to visit DESC housing and tenants tended to “melt” around children.

A few tenants of Aurora House were also present at the meeting. They used the opportunity to raise concerns about existing DESC policies and maintenance issues. One tenant also spoke about his experience: “DESC has done nothing but help me. I get you’re concerned, but this place is a blessing. I know everyone in this building, ain’t no dealers here.” He promised that as soon as the 96th St housing opened, he would sit in front to ensure no one caused trouble for the neighborhood.

More information around the proposal can be found at DESC’s website, including contact information. They welcome additional questions and concerns.