Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Seattle Visit, Plymouth Housing Group

The first part of our visit to Seattle, Washington was with Paul Lambros, Executive Director of the Plymouth Housing Group. Paul spent over two hours with us on Wednesday afternoon (September 23) on a walking tour of Plymouth Housing’s developments in downtown Seattle.

The tour was very impressive. Plymouth Housing Group owns eleven buildings serving almost 1,000 formerly homeless persons scattered all over the downtown area.

Many of the buildings were rehabs of former “fisherman’s hotels”—places that in the past were rented by fisherman as a land base, even though most of their time was spent at sea. As the number of fishermen has declined, these buildings have become surplus and Plymouth Housing Group has acquired a number of them.

As those types of properties have become scarce, Plymouth Housing Group has become more creative and is now acquiring and building on properties that for one reason or another (usually lack of parking) aren’t suitable for other types of development. The picture here is of their newest development under construction with the Space Needle in the background.
How has Plymouth Housing Group accomplished so much? One answer is that it’s been at it for thirty years. By now it has a reputation in the community and an unquestioned expertise that lets its go forward without community opposition for the most part.

Second, Plymouth Housing Group has a model. All of its projects are 100% formerly homeless, have approximately 100 units and feature ground floor retail (which is required by code in downtown Seattle). Sticking with its proven model let’s Plymouth Housing Group build a project about every eighteen months—a breathtaking rate of development by most standards.

Third, and probably most importantly, Plymouth Housing Group has a sufficient and reliable funding stream. That fact applies equally to its rival homeless organization in Seattle, Downtown Emergency Service Center, so I’ll wait until I’ve talked about DESC before describing how Seattle funds housing for the homeless.

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