A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 neighbors and interested citizens filled the chapel at Edmonds Lutheran Church Thursday night to learn more about the housing project that could bring up to 90 low-income families to the Aurora Marketplace neighborhood.
The project, the result of a unique partnership between Edmonds Lutheran Church, Compass Housing Alliance, and home manufacturer Blokable, is envisioned to be constructed in three phases. Phase one, the first demo unit, was set in place June 29 on the church grounds. Phases two and three, which are envisioned to add between 80 and 90 additional living units, will be added as fundraising efforts allow (see My Edmonds News coverage here).
The audience was made up primarily of neighborhood residents, and also included Edmonds City Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Dave Teitzel.
The meeting began with a welcome from the church pastoral team, Julie Josund and Tim Oleson.
“The sign on our reader board says ‘Won’t you be my neighbor,’” began Josund. “We’ve been connecting with you about this project for some time now. Along the way we’ve learned that we have many shared values about what might be possible on the land behind our church. We want the church to be here for the long haul, and that means that this piece of land has to be safe, so that we and our neighbors, both new and old, can live healthy lives in peace and safety.
“We all have lots of questions,” Josund added. “Tonight we want to continue this conversation, share about the project, and make sure all your questions are answered.”
After outlining some general procedural guidelines for the evening, Oleson introduced Janet Pope, CEO of Compass Housing Alliance, and Tim Miller, vice president of design at Blokable.
“The answer to homelessness is a home,” began Pope. “But until we can build cheaper and faster, there will be no solution. We see our partnership with Blokable and Edmonds Lutheran as an exciting step that moves us in this direction.”
“Blokable’s mission is to make housing available for everyone,” said Miller. “We want to make them efficient, beautiful and compatible with the neighborhood. We accomplish this by using special low-maintenance materials that look great and last a long time. We can make Bloks fit into neighborhoods by varying the architecture and how they’re connected.
“In the end we want to create lots of housing, but housing that fits into the neighborhood where it’s placed and provides a sense of dignity to the residents,” he continued. “And because this project depends on private funding, these units have to be cost-effective. Blokables are coming in at about $200 per square foot, not including site costs, compared to an average of $600 per square foot in a traditional apartment building.”
Pope then went on to explain Compass’s income guidelines for potential tenants, which require that residents make 50 percent or less of the median area income. The rent will then be set so that no resident pays more than 30 percent of his or her income for this purpose.
“The reality is that homelessness is increasing, and that it’s being primarily driven by the cost of housing,” she said. “We’re talking about people who work — baristas, dental assistants, teachers, grocery workers — who can’t afford to live here on their salaries. Buildings like what we’re proposing here will help meet this need.”
But she was quick to point out that it’s more than just a roof and four walls.
“Compass takes care of its tenants by providing a range of services including case workers,” she explained. “Everyone who lives here will have case management services. The case workers are there to assist with health issues, job training, trauma recovery (being homeless is very traumatic, especially for kids), planning for future housing stability and more. To keep the case workers from being overwhelmed, we make sure that each one handles only between 10 and 15 clients.”
Questions from the audience ran the gamut, including how Compass plans to deal with crime, drug addiction and other social ills, and how it evicts chronic problem tenants; the timeline for phases two and three and the plan for ongoing maintenance. Some attendees simply praised the efforts of the church, Compass and Blokable for coming together with a fresh solution to local homelessness..
In response to questions about crime and illegal or disruptive activity, and how problem tenants are addressed, Pope referred to the set of “good neighbor” guidelines residents agree to prior to moving in.
“Because each tenant has a caseworker, we are able to effectively stay on top of potentially difficult situations and address them before they become big problems,” she said.
Regarding the timeline for future project phases, Pope explained that since the project relies on private funds, the schedule is not set, but rather will move ahead as money becomes available.
“Working with Blokable makes this possible,” she added. “When the funds are there, Blokable units are there. It’s not like we have to construct a traditional building.”
Miller addressed the questions about ongoing maintenance by citing the smart features of the Blokable units.
“It’s not a smart home in the sense that most people think of when they hear that term,” he said. “The tenant doesn’t do the monitoring, we do. For instance, when a toilet is leaking it gets reported back to us via the smart system so we know about it right away and can fix it immediately.”
Suzanne Sullivan of Compass Housing Alliance wrapped up the meeting by talking about the upcoming events and next steps as the project moves forward. These include a “Community Blok Party” on July 29 from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., during which the demonstration unit will be open for inspection and guided tours will be available. More tours will be scheduled in subsequent weeks, and will also be available on request at firstname.lastname@example.org. A reader board next to the new unit will provide schedules and details. Additional information is available on this fact sheet and FAQ.
Pastor Julie Josund took over to close the meeting, wishing all a safe trip home, and reminding the attendees to be thankful that they have a home to go to. “Not everyone does,” she added.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel