Housing opportunities, crime & safety @ North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting

Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for White Center Now

Improving housing opportunities and increasing awareness of local crime issues were key topics last Thursday night at the November meeting of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council (NHUAC) at the North Highline Fire Station.

As mentioned in our preview of the meeting, special guests were Helen Howell and Dan Watson from King County Housing Authority and Major Jesse Anderson who leads Precinct 4 (southwest King County) from the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Howell and Watson provided an overview of the Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) program, which is a joint “housing mobility” project between Seattle Housing Authority and King County Housing Authority. The program is offered to eligible families from the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist, and aims to support families struggling with poverty to help them move to “opportunity neighborhoods.” According the CMTO website:

Innovative research shows that where people live matters, especially for young children. Kids who grow up in opportunity neighborhoods are likely to earn more money as adults and are more likely to attend college as compared to their peers who live outside of opportunity neighborhoods.

Howell and Watson said $20 billion is spent annually in the United States on low-income housing vouchers, but 80% of voucher holders are housed in high poverty neighborhoods, which in King County are mostly concentrated toward the south.

CMTO aims to change that dynamic. It’s a multi-year randomized study (currently in its 2nd and final phase) designed to “develop and test which strategies most effectively support opportunity moves by families with young children using a Housing Choice Voucher”:

  • Baseline Phase: Jan 2017 – Mar 2018 (Planning, design, and pilot testing)
  • Phase I: Apr 2018 – Jun 2019 (Randomized test of bundled intervention strategies)
  • Phase II: Jul 2019 – Dec 2020 (Randomized test of isolated intervention strategies)

Howell said participants are supported by 3 key elements: customized search assistance, direct landlord engagement, and short-term financial assistance. The study has involved 499 families and 430 vouchers, 209 in them in the control group (which received vouchers) and 221 of them in the treatment group (which received vouchers in addition to resources to support moving into high-opportunity neighborhoods). Howell added that the results of the earlier phases have been very positive thus far, with 54% of participants in the treatment group opting to move into the opportunity neighborhood (compared to 14% from the control group), and said the current project phase will further examine the impact of individual components of the CMTO services (financial assistance, informational toolkit, and coaching/resources).

“We can’t afford to provide all but services we’d like to give,” Howell said, “but the results will tell us the best way to spend our resources.”

Helen Howell, King County Housing Authority

Howell said the project is an important next-step for public housing efforts in areas like White Center, with developments like Greenbridge and Seola Gardens, and the focus on families with young kids is particularly important. “We are doing our best to equip children with tools and opportunities they need to succeed in life,” Howell said.

Watson then talked about the “deconcentration of poverty” effort, noting that some of the highest poverty rates in King County had traditionally existed in White Center, largely because of WW2-era housing. “What we’ve now been doing for 20 years,” Watson said, “is to make every attempt to deconcentrate poverty and to encourage low-income households to not reside in high-poverty areas,” citing the extensive research showing that low-income families do better if they live in high-opportunity areas. He said a major goal of the Greenbridge vitalization was to rebuild WW2-era derelict housing and to reduce the concentration of lower-opportunity areas.

Dan Watson, King County Housing Authority

Watson said there is a much smaller percentage of low-income families living in Greenbridge now than the number that lived in older WC developments such as Park Lake, and that the number of low-income units in White Center is actually decreasing. He contrasted that with Bellevue, where “we’ve actually been growing our inventory of low-income housing.” He added that housing vouchers that are “tenant-based” are portable and can be used anywhere in the area, and after one year the recipient could even use them to move out of state. Some recipients opt to continue living where they are, but an increasing number do take the opportunity to move.

Q&A with attendees:

  • Q: Are these properties single-family homes? A: Generally no, these are rental units.
  • Q: How do you define high-opportunity neighborhoods?  A: Leading researchers like Raj Chetty generally use sources like IRS and census data, tracking how participants are doing from childhood through 30s, and sometimes proxy data is used, but generally it’s based on outcomes.  It can be hard to define, no doubt safety and quality of schools contribute to it. Chetty’s research was nationwide and we were lucky that King County was already working on offering choice to low-income families, as a result the impact has been considerable here (see a recent Vox article).
  • Q: What’s the difference between the control group and the treatment group? A: The control group had access to vouchers but didn’t have the same support and education regarding opportunity neighborhoods.
  • Q: What’s the status of Greenbridge and Seola Gardens?  A: Seola Gardens has been completely built and sold. Greenbridge in still in progress, the market will only absorb so many sales, 170 houses can go on vacant property but we still have houses there that aren’t sold yet.  The houses on the northwest corner have already sold.
  • Q: Comparing concentration of low-income housing between White Center and Bellevue doesn’t make sense because Bellevue is so much bigger. A: That’s true, but regardless the trend is that White Center has less low-income housing while Bellevue is gaining more and more. We’ve reduced the concentration in WC a great deal. Areas like Shoreline and Redmond are also growing as it relates to subsidized housing.  Follow-up Q:  The data I’ve seen shows that most of the low-income housing in Bellevue is actually for people who are in the workforce. A: Yes, in Bellevue most of it is “workforce housing” for those with lower income but they do have jobs.
  • Q: Are there options for how the vouchers are assigned? A: Yes, we can “project-base” the vouchers.  Some of them are “hard unit” vouchers that are fixed to the unit, such as some of the Greenbridge units which are apartments that are permanently subsidized with very low rents.  The average household size of those using vouchers is 2.5 people.
  • Q: What is “shelter burden” as it relates to low-income housing? A: It’s the percentage of your income that you spend on housing, we look at the percentage of households paying more than 30% and 50%. Based on that metric, there is a higher percentage of low-income households with 30% and 50% shelter burden in areas like Bellevue than there are in White Center.
  • Q: What about the Wind Rose site at Greenbridge (northeast corner)? A: Fur us, what we’re talking about is the big building near 4th and Roxbury, next to the Connor Homes development. Watson said they have no immediate plans for it, just conceptual ideas, the areas once had an auto repair shop and a convenience store that were demolished. Generally speaking, senior housing or assisted living is most likely, a building of that density wouldn’t make sense otherwise, it could hold accommodate approximately 80 1-bedroom units but only 15-30 larger units for families.  Follow-up Q: Would the usage be limited to housing or could it be a live-work development with retail? There’s not much in that area for shops and food. A: Again, no formal plans exist, the area could be anything, we could potentially sell it for development but options are likely a bit limited, there isn’t a lot of parking. Follow-up question: When will the homes at Wind Rose be completed, and what about other projects?  A: Wind Rose will likely be built and sold within the next 12 months. There are also townhomes down toward the bog, and the developments between 4th-6th won’t go on market until later.
  • Q: What are the criteria for a family to take advantage of the housing vouchers, and what’s their value? A: To get a voucher, you have to be added to a very lengthy waiting list, the last time we opened it up for new applications we had 20,000 applications for 2,500 available vouchers.  It’s challenging because we have so many shelter-burdened families, rents have gone up but wages have gone up so little. Regarding voucher value, it changes and is relative, if the voucher is a fixed dollar amount then people will go where rent is cheaper, but our approach is to adjust the value so that it’s worth more if you want to live in high-opportunity area, we recognize that this means we have to pay more but the research certainly tells us it’s worth it.
  • Q: Does your program have funding to sustain and grow? A: Growth is challenging. A lot of our work has been federally funded but that amount isn’t increasing, but some state and local resources are increasing, we have to be creative, we can’t really “grow” but we can redirect funds and use them wisely.  Trying to focus on families with children. Follow-up Q: White Center also has projects like Unity Village (WCN coverage here), and other private projects like Southside by Vintage, there are more than just those worked on by the housing authority. A: We’re finding that there’s such an overwhelming need for housing that it gets built in places that we normally don’t expect it to go. This prompted a discussion about gentrification in areas like the Central District where demographics have really changed. Watson said approximately 65% of very low-income households now live entirely outside of the city, they’re priced out, and there’s a lot of concern about people leaving White Center and King County.
  • Q: How many low-income homes are on the tax rolls? A: Almost half of the land that was off tax rolls is coming back on, and eventually all of the homes will be back on tax rolls.  Those homes are selling for $500k-$700k, while homes in Seola Gardens started at $300k and the Conner Homes are $600K or more. According to project data, by 2026 there will be 481 new taxable homes built out at Seola Gardens and Greenbridge combined, worth $200 million and generating $2.78 million in annual tax revenue.
  • Q: What about the maintenance of Greenbridge and Seola Gardens such as streets and roads? Originally the federal government provided that money. A: We have contracts with the federal government, but now the streets are public and should be maintained by county, although we maintain landscapes and even some of the hardscapes because the county doesn’t have a lot of resources. There is also a homeowner’s association, so private owners put money in the pot that helps with maintenances.  The buildings themselves are largely maintained through rents (not just subsidies). Follow-up comment from an attendee: While walking around Greenbridge it seems like there’s a line between where the street maintenance ends and the homeowners’ maintenance ends, which means there are stretches that never get maintained and need replanting every year.
  • Q: Does the housing authority get to control building designs? For the most part, the designs have been very good. A: We have a say in the lot sizes, design guidelines, covenants and rules and regulations.   We agree that the designs have been good, with the help of the community.
  • Q: What about the problematic intersection at 4th Ave and Olson? It’s dangerous.  A: That’s the city of Seattle, we have designed it up to a point, Seattle DOT has plan to fix that intersection, hopefully they’ll take out some cement. It’s a problem and the city knows it, we actually talked to the city today and asked that it be moved up to be a higher-priority project.
  • Q: How long can a family receiving vouchers continue to receive them? Is there a time limit? A: There’s no timeline, we don’t see a point in enforcing a limit but we hope that people will successfully transition from receiving a voucher to buying a home.  The problem is that costs are going up and people with vouchers have a hard time making that leap. We’ve had discussions about enforcing a time limit but haven’t gone for that, we feel there’s something wrong with potentially cutting people off after we get them properly housed.
  • Q: Do subsidized properties get privatized?  A: We generally anticipate owning the properties forever, there have been some criticisms nationally in instances where subsidized properties are privatized, but Watson said “that won’t happen here as long as we’re around.”
  • Q: It seems like entities involved with housing support should also be fighting for a livable wage, since that’s a huge part of the problem. Maybe we need to get a lobbyist? I heard it costs an average of $202K to live in Seattle now. A: Yes, we certainly try to support those efforts where we can, but it’s important to note that in some cases the individual getting our support has a disability and isn’t eligible to work. Follow-up Q:  I know someone who has been on subsidies for 20 years. Do you maintain a job board or send job opportunities to those who are receiving housing benefits and could be eligible to work? A: Yes, we have a resident services department with programs for education and finding jobs. We often say that people have a better opportunity to find work if their housing situation is stable and can take classes, etc.

Next, Major Jesse Anderson talked about criminal activity and trends in the area:

  • There was an incident on Halloween night in which 4 juveniles stole a car, drove into Burien and were “shooting at cars and people with a pellet gun.” Officers followed up on it that night but couldn’t find anybody who wanted to press charges at the time. After the event hit the news, then one victim came forward. There is now one individual who may be charged, but Anderson said “it’s not a particularly solid case because there were 4 people in the car.” Anderson added that his office has seen an increase in incidents (one had happened that same day) in which victims don’t want to press charges, which could be for a variety of reasons — fear of retaliation, not wanting to ruin anyone’s life, etc. “It doesn’t help us out if we as a community aren’t willing to go to court,” Anderson said, “but we need to have a victim for property crimes; someone willing to testify.”

Jesse Anderson, King County Sheriff’s Office

  • There’s been progress at 98th and 13th SW which was a well-known drug house. The property has been “red tagged” and the water shut off, with orders to vacate, and if not honored then officers can go back and make arrests for trespassing. It’s possible that the person who has control of property could fight it, but if they go back they could be arrested. Anderson said he gave directions to the sergeant overseeing it that we could take people to jail and we won’t allow illegal activities to happen in that area — it wasn’t just drugs, it was also car theft and juvelines assaulting people. At another nearby address not far west of that location, similar illegal activity has decreased and someone has been arrested due to a probation violation.
  • There was a robbery at 110th and 1st at the grocery store involving juveniles, at least some of whom were also involved in other incidents, and three of them were booked into juvenile detention.
  • Anderson said his office is currently working on a collision reduction program, looking in unincorporated areas for distracted drivers (like texting and driving). Similarly to how we’ve identified “top crime areas,” we also have “top collision areas” including Roxbury between 96th-98th and between 4th-17th, Skyway and Boulevard Park.
  • We work with Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which will be discussed further in the NHUAC group’s next meeting in December. We getting started with the program and have made progress, once we get policy and training figured out we’ll take the next step. It’s an ideal program to deal with people committing low level offenses with no criminal history, we can refer them to mental health services if they agree to follow through. It’s a tool and a resource, Seattle and Burien have been doing it for quite some time.

Q&A with attendees and Anderson:

  • Attendees mentioned or asked about a few other incidents, including a robbery at Bartell Drugs last week in which someone jumped over the counter, as well as an incident at Proletariat Pizza in which a worker was taking out the garbage and was accosted by someone on a bike with a gun, and an incident of vandalism in which a house was burned.
  • Q: It seems like there have been more issues lately with meth instead of heroin, and it’s hard to watch people melting down. I recently drove an 8-mile loop (near 104th and 120th by Ambaum) and saw all kinds of issues (like chop houses) and it seems like a lot of residents (particularly the elderly) don’t know what’s going on. There are challenging areas such as around Fred Meyer, it really has changed for the worse, there are some good things but I see problems especially by lakes and waterways.  A: We’re trying to make progress in areas where we can make a difference such as dealing with derelict motor homes and trailers and cars, trying to clean up as much as we can under the law, and working with code enforcement.  Follow-up comment/question: If we simply react and don’t offer meaningful help, then what are we really accomplishing? A: Efforts like LEAD will help, but if people are convicted felons then they’re not eligible for LEAD but we can always make social referrals. An attendee mentioned Ricky’s Law (which went into effect in April 2018 regarding involuntary treatment) and Anderson said if officers can show that someone is a danger to themselves or others then they can offer voluntary acceptance but we can also do involuntary intervention.
  • Q: The last time you came and talked at this meeting, you said that your office was doing a sweep, what can you tell us about that? A: It was very successful, we made 7-8 arrests and stopped one person who we know was heavily involved with drug sales, we could impound and search cars, got some guns off street. Was a great example of departments combining resources. Follow-up Q: Of those 7-8 arrests you made, how many are still behind bars? A: I’m not sure, but would guess most or all of them are out. The attendee said “that has to be frustrating for you,” and Anderson responded that juvenile detention centers have restrictive criteria, and adults booked into jail are frequently released due to capacity issues. I do feel good about my job, I know that we’re doing our part and we’re one end of criminal justice system and we work with the prosecutors and courts. Violent offenders are kept behind bars.
  • Q: What about the recent South Park homicide near Donovan and 8th  A: Not familiar with it, was in Seattle jurisdiction.
  • Q: Have there been any issues with marijuana stores?  A: No major problems recently. We did take care of an illegal one off 16th, but our undercover folks aren’t aware of any others at this time. A couple of attendees asked about traffic around one of the pot shops being an issue.
  • Q: Do you expect you can increase the numbers of deputies as part of the new budget coming out, with more population in our area?  A: To be honest, in unincorporated King County we have more officers than other areas do, I used to work in the northeast precinct which had a huge area to cover but different issues.  In White Center we have 2 district cars 24hrs a day, a storefront deputy, a housing deputy, and dedicated CSO and other resources available. We can also get resources from Burien and Boulevard Park.  The county doesn’t have much funding but we do what we can. We have a gang unit and want to build on it. And you have to remember that you’re only seeing uniformed officers, that doesn’t include plainclothes officers. Attendees agreed that deputies are almost always available to help, with a good response time.
  • Q: Are there conflicting goals between the prosecutor’s office (trying to put people in jail) and programs like LEAD (try to keep people out of jail)? A: No, the primary goal is to solve the problem, which sometimes means jail but sometimes means using the tools we have to make referrals.
  • Q: I attended a recent southwest precinct meeting about how to avoid getting scammed, with a presentation from the attorney general’s office, and they may be invited to a future NHUAC meeting. A: In 2007 we unfortunately had to do away with the fraud unit. On occasion we cover cases of fraud against the elderly, but we generally don’t have capacity to do that. The same commenter also talked about ways in which she’s interacted with neighbors about barriers to reporting crime, and how people are confused about who to call (she noted that she can relate, living 700ft from one border and 400ft from other).

Other announcements and comments:

  • Willow Fulton from the Camp Second Chance Community Advisory Committee reminded attendees about their upcoming community meeting (as we previewed here) on Thursday, November 21st to review options for the camp, which recently had its permit extended until March 2020. Fulton encouraged attendees to take a tour of the facility if interested, to visit and get involved.  She also mentioned their regular committee meetings the first Sunday of each month. A few attendees discussed the positive differences near the camp since the area had been cleaned up.
  • NHUAC secretary Pat Price mentioned the White Center Library Guild’s annual fundraiser from 10 am-3 pm on Saturday November 16th at the library, to raise funds for teens and children.
  • White Center Kiwanis is doing their annual fundraiser, selling nuts for $20 per can with all proceeds going to help kids in White Center.
  • Jerry Pionk from King County Local Services encouraged residents to send questions, comments, and concerns to asklocalservices@kingcounty.gov, and to connect on social media with the group.

The next NHUAC meeting will be December 5th with a presentation from the Seattle-King County LEAD program (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), and likely a representative from prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s office.

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One Response to “Housing opportunities, crime & safety @ North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting”

  1. The reported shooting on Halloween was reported as a air soft gun not a pellet gun . Even though the kids are dumb for doing it should be locked up . You should never aim or shoot at a person with any gun . Should consider them selves lucky they did not run in to a person with a real fire arm . We could of lost young life’s over stupidity .

    Air soft is a yellow or white plastic bb shape object a pellet is lead or copper item that can do a lot more damage . Air soft guns run at about 25 to 100 fps some a little more if you have the $$$ (could hurt if hits your eyes) and pellet guns run at 400 to 2000 fps (could kill you if hits your eyes or punctures skin deep enough) damage health with lead posing and need trip to er to get pellet remove and anti lead posing meds .