Friday, October 9, 2009

Seattle Visit—What Did We Learn?

In Seattle a varied group of us—neighborhood leaders, developers, city officials—had the opportunity to learn how two very successful organizations, the Downtown Emergency Service Center and the Plymouth Housing Group, provide permanent, supportive housing in Seattle. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few of the other participants in the trip—and some of them have talked to other people. I think it’s fair to say that we all agree on at least some of the things we can learn from Seattle.

First, the permanent, supportive housing in Seattle has no negative impact on the city or the downtown—none at all. The buildings themselves blend into the neighborhood, and unless you know what the sign on them means, you would never know that they were permanent supportive housing.

All of the buildings we visited (and all but one historic building we walked by) had ground floor retail. Most of the time, it was pretty high level retail—either restaurants or bars. We talked to one of the owners of a restaurant adjacent to a permanent, supportive housing developments owned by Plymouth Housing Group (we ran into him by accident on the sidewalk) and he clearly had no problem with the development at all, and wasn’t reluctant to say so.

Second, we learned that success in building permanent, supportive housing isn’t dependent on the personality of the organization or its leader. Paul Lambros and Bill Hobson are as different in personality as any two people you might meet. Lambros was smooth and urbane; clearly someone entirely comfortable in high level business conversations; he impressed me as a consummate dealmaker. Hobson was gregarious and argumentative; willing to fight for what he believed was right and a force to be reckoned with. It struck me that their relationship might be best described as “grudging respect”. I don’t think they disliked each other, but I’m not sure that I would invite them both to the same dinner party.

Third, both organizations built housing in the same general place and in the same general way. The buildings were located downtown. The number of residents was more or less one hundred. The apartment buildings were debt free and extensive services were provided, some paid out of the rents received on the apartments and others from whatever public or private monies they could scrape up.

Fourth, the buildings basically had 100% formerly homeless people living in them. Management was aggressive. Poor behavior wasn’t tolerated.

All of this worked very well and it worked well for both organizations. I believe everyone agreed that if permanent, supportive housing worked in Dallas just like it did in Seattle that it wouldn’t cause any problems here—and we needed us some of that.

Monday I’ll give some of my own thoughts about why we don’t have permanent supportive housing here like the 1500+ units they do in Seattle and some of the barriers to creating it.

No comments:

Post a Comment