As Lynnwood’s plan to purchase a property to house homeless Edmonds School District students and their families moves closer to reality, the Lynnwood City Council met with the project’s community partners during the council’s March 18 work session.
Among those attending were representatives from the Edmonds School District, the City of Edmonds, Verdant Health Commission, Housing Hope, the Lynnwood Human Services Commission, Snohomish YWCA, the Hazel Miller Foundation, Snohomish County Council and the Alliance for Housing Affordability — all organizations interested in partnering with the city to house the district’s 592 homeless students and their families. The meeting provided an opportunity for the city and its partners to discuss the project and provide each other with feedback.
CEO of Housing Hope Fred Safstrom said the organization is now looking to expand into South Snohomish County by partnering with Lynnwood in the housing project. For 31 years, Housing Hope has made housing families with children a priority and sees a need for that countywide, Safstrom said.
“We are consistently and continually bringing (into housing) families that are living in cars with children…and seeing a profound difference that makes for their lives,” he said.
Giving homeless children a place to live improves their educational opportunities and the chance they will graduate from high school, said Verdant Health Commission Superintendent Robin Fenn. By keeping families together, the housing project would serve as a “preventative measure,” she added.
“You are keeping them out of some of your more expensive services down the road,” Fenn said.
At her previous job working with Snohomish County, Fenn said she conducted a community needs assessment that included more than 200 interviews with people who are homeless. Fenn recalled hearing stories from families who have struggled to improve their situations, and education rarely makes it to the top of the list of their priorities.
“What we heard were the stories of the mothers who cried and talked about how they can’t take their kids to the doctor,” she said. “Or ‘I can fix the brakes on my car, but there will be no birthday parties or Christmas.’”
The City of Lynnwood has entered into a tentative agreement to purchase the Rodeo Inn Motel for the housing project. The agreement is currently in a “due-diligence” phase, which includes an inspection of the Rodeo Inn by an architectural firm hired by the city to ensure the building is in a livable condition. The inspection will be completed by April 1.
The city included $4 million in the 2019-20 biennium budget to purchase the property. The Rodeo Inn project is estimated to cost $5.1 million. Should the city commit to the purchase, financial director Sonja Springer said the city will need to amend the budget to accommodate the additional cost.
“We put the budget together way before we had a set purchase price,” she said. “But we will be able to increase our revenue budget to recognize the funding provided by our partners.”
The city has already received funding in the amount of $1.75 million from organizations interested in the housing project. City of Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said the Edmonds City Council has a special interest in being an active part of the housing project.
“We need to put together these pieces of money and enthusiasm for us all to have something we can unite around,” he said.
As the city continues to seek funds to offset the Rodeo Inn purchase price, City of Lynnwood Procurement and Records Manager Karen Fitzthum said the city must also consider operation costs. Since the city will not be responsible for the running the project, a regional partner will have to be assigned that responsibility.
“We are still in the process of working with partnerships, coming up with what’s going to be on this property and how it will be used,” Fitzthum said. “We’re working on all of that, those agreements are not yet in place.”
Lynnwood staff will be receiving a status report from the architectural firm hired by the city this week and provide Mayor Nicola Smith with a recommendation on whether to proceed with the purchase. The mayor will hear city staff’s recommendation at the city council business meeting on March 25. The architectural firm that conducted the inspection will also be in attendance.
In addition to the cost of running the housing project, Councilmember George Hurst said the council should consider what will happen to the current tenants who live in the Rodeo Inn. The motel currently offers weekly rates and is a popular place for those without permanent homes to stay for extended periods of time.
“This is great, and we want to help the kids, but let’s not forget who lives there,” he said.
Because some dates in the agreement are interdependent, the council does not yet have a definite date on when the current Rodeo Inn residents must leave, Fitzthum said.
Lynnwood City Councilmember Christine Frizzell has worked on outreach programs to help the homeless for more than 20 years and said she was grateful for the high level of interest from partners on the project. Housing homeless students and their families could put an end to “generational homelessness” — children who grew up homeless and continued being homeless later in life, she said.
“This project stops filling the pipeline. This project puts a stop to some of that,” she said. “That we do better in our community.”
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton