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March 14, 2013
Being cold and wet and sleeping outdoors is no place for a family, child, senior or veteran.
Unfortunately, on a very cold night in January, volunteers for the One Night Count found 197 men, women and children sleeping outside in Bellevue and other areas of east King County. This is a 35 percent increase from the number of homeless people found on Eastside streets in January 2012, according to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
Hundreds of other Eastside households are living in short-term shelters and transitional housing set up by nonprofit agencies and churches, as they are not able to find affordable housing.
What can be done to address the homeless problem in Bellevue and other Eastside cities? What can be done to help the thousands of lower wage workers who are employed in services, retail, health-care, education and hospitality?
Those making the minimum wage or even double minimum wage in Bellevue cannot find affordable housing close to where they work. A wage of $32 per hour is required to rent an average two-bedroom apartment ($1,692) in Bellevue without spending more than 30 percent of one’s monthly income. The Eastside has the highest average rent in the state.
The city of Bellevue continues to grow in population and jobs, and incomes are rising: $86,700 is the median household family income for 2013, reflecting the rapid expansion of high-paid professional and managerial occupations. A family with this income can afford to spend $2,167 or 30 percent of its income on rent.
But what about the families in the services, retail, health-care, education or hospitality industries who only make $35,000 per year and can only afford $800 for rent? Worse yet, how about the 7 percent of Bellevue’s families who live below the poverty level? Or the 13 percent of residents surveyed by the city who are unemployed? An estimated 14 percent of the population is seniors age 65 and over, and 7 percent of seniors live in poverty.
In Bellevue, more than 71 percent of renter households with incomes below 60 percent of the area median income pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent. This includes an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 families.
The Eastside Homelessness Advisory Committee is calling for 831 low-income apartments for homeless families with children, 636 for homeless individuals and 71 for homeless youth.
King County, the city of Bellevue, A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH) and the state of Washington recognize the shortage of affordable housing for a range of low-income households and provide financing for nonprofit housing organizations to build and preserve housing.
In September, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) will start construction on 57 apartments in downtown Bellevue at 204 111th Ave. N.E. to meet the housing needs of low-income working families. Rents will range from $400 for a studio to $1,285 for a three-bedroom apartment. This will enable food servers ($10.76/hour), child care workers, retail sales persons, administrative workers ($14.95) and health aides ($11.90) to live close to their work.
Residents will also be close to Bellevue Transit Center and the future Sound Transit East Link light rail, as well as shopping, recreation and other amenities.
LIHI’s project will have 12 apartments for previously homeless families and individuals, including veterans. These households will pay 30 percent of their income for rent and will receive supportive services from the VA, Sound Mental Health and other agencies to increase their self-sufficiency.
The six-story building was designed by GGLO and will be built by Synergy Construction. The first floor includes community gathering space, a computer lab, children’s play area and offices for counseling and property management. The building meets Washington’s Evergreen standards for sustainability and energy efficiency.
Not only will residents save money on their utilities, they can reside near transit and employment, reduce their commute time and expense, and achieve financial stability.
Let us keep Bellevue livable by housing our most vulnerable families.
Sharon Lee is the founding executive director of the nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute and has developed more than 3,500 affordable apartments throughout the region. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, master’s degrees in architecture and city planning from MIT, and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from Wilkes University for her efforts to end homelessness.