Following county’s purchase of hotels for temporary housing, what comes next?

Exterior of America’s Best Value Inn on Highway 99

When you answer one question, others always follow. That’s what happened when we reported that Snohomish County is buying two hotels to help bring stable housing to peope who are homeless.

One of the properties the Snohomish County Council agreed to buy is in Edmonds — the America’s Best Value Inn, on Highway 99. The county will pay just over $9 million for the 55-unit motel.

The money comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) pandemic recovery money. In announcing the plan, County Executive Dave Somers said, “We can provide safer places for vulnerable residents, create stability to support communities’ overall health and well-being.”

An America’s Best Value Inn room. (Photo courtesy Snohomish County)

The Best Value Inn and the other hotel the county bought — a Days Inn near Everett Mall — will provide a total of 129 units for those taking the first step out of homelessness. The concept is called “bridge” housing — designed to provide immediate shelter in a stable environment, with 24/7 support services. Those services include health and mental health support, job services, some food assistance and counseling.

Readers wanted more answers to these questions:

  • How can the county use federal pandemic money on this project?
  • How will the county pay for long-term support for these programs?
  • Will this increase my property taxes?
  • What about security – both to protect tenants and keep crime out?
  • What about past gang problems in the area?
  • Must tenants with substance abuse problems be in treatment programs before they move in?
  • How do we know this “bridge housing” can be successful?

Here is what we found out.

Part of ARPA is the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. It permits cities, towns and counties to use federal money to “address the negative economic impacts caused by COVID.” That includes providing housing for homeless populations. This is not a new plan. ARPA was signed into law in March 2021. The hotel purchases are just the first time Snohomish County has used the federal dollars for homeless housing.

Buying the hotels is one thing. Maintaining them and providing 24/7 services means the county is on the hook for the long term. “It’s a big commitment,” acknowledged MJ Brell-Vujovic, the county’s director of human services. For the Best Value Inn, she estimates that will total about $2 million a year.

Where will that money come from?

The Washington State Legislature in 2020 passed a bill to allow counties to impose a 1/10 of 1% local sales tax increase to pay for affordable housing and behavioral health facilities, maintenance, and services. The Snohomish County Council voted to do that in December 2021. Next year, the county says that tax increase will generate more than $23 million. Over five years, the total is estimated at more than $116 million. The money can be used for construction, operation and maintenance of affordable housing, and the services for homeless and low-income people.

We do know that the Best Value Inn will have 24/7 security provided by private contract. Brell-Vujovic told us “somebody will be there to make sure the tenants are safe and that people who don’t live there don’t get in.” Part of the property management agreement, she added, will be to keep out those who are not residents. “The hope and intent and experience in other locations,” she said, “is that there are fewer 911 calls.”

The scene outside America’s Best Value Inn after domestic violence suspect was shot by police April 22, 2022. (Photo by Nathan Blackwell)

Just this past April, Edmonds police responding to a domestic violence call at the Best Value Inn killed a suspect who, they said, came at officers with a knife.

In January, in that same neighborhood, we reported on a four-month crime wave that Edmonds police told us was “the most violence we have ever seen.” Most of that took place next door to the Best Value Inn, at the Emerald Best Motel.

Police response at Emerald Best Motel – on Dec. 16, 2021. (Edmonds police photo)

The 110 calls to police and emergency services in four months included 20 arrests for drugs, gun crimes, stolen cars, violations of court orders and outstanding warrants. The crime in that area, said then-acting Assistant ChiefJosh McClure, is “the number-one public safety issue in Edmonds.” Much of it was related to gang members who started hanging out along Highway 99. Since a police crackdown this spring, crime reports are down.

That was then. Now, with the county motel project, Edmonds Chief Michelle Bennett issued the following statement: “The additional oversight and programmatic services the county will bring to this site are important enhancements from a human services perspective. People needing help will be substantially better served, and Edmonds police will have more partners to work with in providing public safety response.”

Who decides who gets to move into the homeless housing? Will tenants with substance abuse problems have to be in treatment before they can live in the units?

The 55 units will only allow adults — singles or couples. No children. Bridge housing is designed as a first step out of homelessness. It is also what is called “low-barrier” housing, which can mean that those suffering substance abuse problems do not have to be enrolled in treatment to live there.

This strategy says that the first thing homeless people need, especially those with substance abuse issues, is a safe, stable place to live. Brell-Vujovic, the county’s human services director, puts it this way: “It’s really hard to think about anything else when you wake up other than where get food, a bathroom and shelter.” Advocates of the “Housing First” model argue if people don’t have shelter, there is far less chance that rehabilitation and any other service will work.

But some worry about the Housing First model. County Councilmember Nate Nehring introduced an amendment to delay the hotel purchases until the county agreed to require anyone moving in to be already in treatment. Nehring said he wanted “a compassionate approach,” but warned, “Warehousing individuals struggling with addiction in hotels just to get them off the street is not solving the underlying causes of their situation and is not compassionate. My ordinance would require that these individuals participate in a treatment program.” His ordinance failed to pass the council.

The county will contract with nonprofits to provide the services  — mental health counseling, health assessments, job and education services, some food supplies as well as 24/7 property management and security. The county is working on a draft of an affordable housing business plan. The county is asking for public input, and the  deadline for comments is Sept. 15. What happens at Best Value Inn and the Days Inn will depend on what’s in this plan.

Can bridge housing or Housing First succeed?

The National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Alliance to End Homelessness believe the Housing First approach is highly effective at combating homelessness.

The federal U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness identifies the Housing First model as a key strategy.

 Yale University researcher Dr. Jack Tsai thinks that “Housing First is great because it helps with housing,” but he asks, “what comes second?” Tsai’s team studied 30,000 homeless veterans with alcohol and drug disorders and found that many continued to have problems once they had housing — but also determined that their drug use did not get worse. Some service providers told Tsai’s study that they “worry about the lack of treatment requirements in the programs and whether participants are learning what they need to become independent.”

“We know Housing First isn’t the be-all, end-all,” said Tsai. “A lot of times, other services are needed to help them maintain housing over time.” He says success for the programs will depend on the “critical” role case managers play with the tenants.

Proponents insist that Housing First will save communities money, citing fewer police and emergency medical calls. The National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Alliance to End Homelessness have said that the “average cost savings to the public ranges from $900 to $29,400 per person per year after entry into a Housing First program.” It is a sentiment shared by the Everett Herald’s editorial board, which wrote that investments in other communities in 24/7 wraparound services “has been shown to reduce costs common to untreated homelessness, such as police and aid calls, emergency room use, court use, incarceration and more.”

Shannon Burley

Shannon Burley, who oversees the City of Edmonds human services division, calls the county’s purchase of Best Value Inn “a natural fit with Edmonds needs for homeless housing.” The city and other nonprofits already use housing vouchers to send people to the Best Value Inn for a few nights of emergency shelter. Burley said that “through partnerships with the county and nonprofit service providers, individuals will receive much needed wraparound care and services. This is a great addition for South Snohomish County.”

County Human Services Director Brell-Vujovic said that “first and foremost, the people who are in need are in your community right now.”  Our choice, she adds, “is not between doing something and doing nothing, but doing something in a planned, purposeful, humane way.”

The new bridge housing at America’s Best Value Inn is scheduled to open early next year.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. Give it about 60 days before the entire place is trashed. A wind fall for the local contractor who gets the additional contract for continuous repairs and upkeep.

  2. I very much appreciate the extra reporting on this topic, thanks! Please continue to keep us updated, MEN. The community will be best served if we continue to ask the hard questions, adjust plans accordingly, and insist on accountability during the entire process. Strong public safety measures, careful allotment of financial resources, and ample wrap-around services will all be key to the success of this venture. I am not at all optimistic, but hope to be proven wrong.

  3. Bob,
    I appreciate that my edmonds news posted this follow up article with questions from viewers and answers. In the future, I truly believe the site will have more followers and readers as a result.
    I have two quick items…
    I don’t think the contracted/existing security is going to cut it. Snohomish county really needs to take a close look at a new way of security. It needs a more personal approach then what is described in this article. Security can play a crucial role in direction and support of tenants and in many ways will be the make or break for many.
    Second I feel like this hotel is going to sit at 10% occupancy for a long time based on requirements of tenants. Is that a valid use of county funds?

  4. The housing first model had been extremely successful in Salt Lake City for a long time. For those doubting this approach, you should look into Salt Lake City’s success.

  5. Excellent follow up article. Thank you, Bob.

    It now looks like our city will be in a pretty good position to enforce the new ordinance against camping in public spaces; if safe and sanitary housing is available for them elsewhere. This is exactly what we have been needing, especially since Seattle has finally cracked down on illegal camping and abuse of public spaces, and many of their homeless choosing to leave the area, rather than be sheltered. Where do you think these people will be heading? Now we are ready for them, and that is a good thing. Let’s support it, rather than pronouncing it dead on arrival.

  6. While there may be hiccups, I think this bridge housing will overall be a win-win. It will provide a foundation for those who are willing to move forward. It’s important for residents to participate in counseling services.

  7. Has anyone driven south on Aurora at 140th to see the disaster the Holiday Inn purchase has become? It is pure filth on the streets and I cannot imagine the interior is any better. Nothing but broken down cars, trash, needles, people passed out on the sidewalk, etc. The community was promised security and supervision, among other things, as a condition of this ‘project’ in the neighborhood. It quickly became a blight. I don’t foresee anything different for hotel purchases in SnoCo, but always extend my ‘thoughts and prayers’ to everyone involved. Just yesterday, the Seattle Times reported the removal of a camp in a greenbelt in North Seattle that has been there for six years! I have seen this camp many times. Just 15 of the 36 people removed took the county (or city, not sure) up on the offer of services. So now 21 people will just move to a new neighborhood and destroy that one too. Either take the help, go to jail and get clean or mental health help, or get out! Too tough? These projects and the condition of our entire community, both King and SnoCo, is embarrassing and disgusting, to say the least. Your property taxes go up, but the value of this area goes down. Couple that with all the exponential growth that is coming (you ain’t seen nothing yet), our future is an endemic scourge.

    1. Thank you Isabella! Looking at history of what is happening in other communities matters. I do not believe for one second these people will receive comprehensive services! Compass health told me, they will offer mental health to those who have insurance including medicaid. They can also “refuse” services. They will only supervise those receiving services. Not onsight. How many times are people going to turn a blind eye to protecting the greater good? Why isn’t this a treatment center instead? My sister lives in Renton and hotels there too, crime up, now they dont go out at night. What are we becoming when we cater to those breaking the law and the rest of us our 2nd class citizens. Why aren’t these facilities in remote locations away from the bad reputation already on Hwy 99, easy bus access to buy and sell drugs? I thought our govt wanted to clean this up? Now we are adding to the problem. If there are 55 units, what happens to the other homeless users in edmonds?
      This is a plan to grow the problem. This is never going to be workable. Where there is drug use, there are drug sales. Where ever there is drugs, crime follows. Where there is crime, people get hurt if not killed. Sometimes there is collateral damage! Someone you know. Or will you limit your freedom and stay away from those areas at certain times of the day. Good luck, crime occurs day and night around here. A bed until the next drug use is enabling. Ignoring the root cause is denial. People have forgotten we have rights too that are shoved off for an agenda. More to come.

  8. Years ago (I think in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Houston Texas did this…they call it 1st, 2nd, 3 rd Ward now. Police won’t go there in the daylight. The occupants , trashed it. Drug haven. Hope this doesn’t happen here. What’s plan B if it does?

  9. Ask yourself if you would rather have a government owned motel and parking lot full of drug abusers, used needles, old campers and broken down vehicles or have all this in your nearest local park or public library bathrooms and entry ways where you and your kids would like to go without fear of harm?

    I say take what you can get on trying to solve this homelessness and drug abuse, the shame of our culture, and quit bitching because the attempted solutions haven’t been perfect. It’s hard to argue that doing nothing is better than trying something, which has been the approach by the leaders of both our pretty much useless political establishment parties that just function to perpetuate themselves; not solve our ever worsening economic and social problems. If we could somehow use the money wasted on political campaigns and contributions, essentially trying to buy votes, and spend it on actually helping and saving people from themselves, we’d all be better off.

    1. Clinton, my blanket statement regarding Idaho and a 20 minute drive from Spokane is not Boise. It is Coeurdalene, Idaho. Boise is closer to California. Big difference not only in location, but everything.

      1. Then you should just say Couer d’Alene has no problem with this, not Idaho as a whole. I think you are saying Couer d’Alene has no problem because they don’t give away housing and free stuff like Spokane does. I’d say they don’t have the problem because poor people just don’t try to live there just like, for the most part, poor people don’t try to live in Edmonds. If we can give them some very specific space for basic shelter and maybe a little mental health support for those who will accept it ; I say that’s cheaper and more sensible than letting them destroy our precious parks and public buildings, messing up our quality of life as well as their own. Much, if not most, of our property crime is illegal drug use caused and our war on drugs has cost a fortune while being a total failure. Time to try other things until something works.

  10. This morning I saw a male Edmonds police officer and female assistant talking with a man panhandling at the 238th St Safeway. Seeing this local positive action brings hope that the homeless scofflaws will accept help. The next step should be DEMANDING treatment or arrest. I also see regular patrols around the Family Pancake House.

  11. I can tell you where they are heading. Where they were bused. Spokane’s Camp Hope is anything but. Over 600 now homeless and increasing daily. Until we stop all the free benefits it will increase. Idaho is 20 minutes away and they don’t have this problem.

  12. Joy, I suggest you Google Homelessness and drugs in Boise, before you make a blanket statement like, “Idaho is 20 minutes away and they don’t have this problem.” It might be true that Coeur d’Alene doesn’t have this problem, but it is most definitely untrue that Idaho does not have this problem. Coeur d’Alene is a rather upscale resort type; expensive community (sort of like Edmonds) rather than just another big city, like Spokane.

    “Camp Hope” might be a “hopeless” place (I’m accepting your word on that); but I would argue that it’s better to have these folks bottled up there than in all the public places in and around Spokane. If we aren’t spending tax money to maintain these folks, we are spending the money on car repairs (stolen converters and stolen vehicles), higher priced goods to combat shoplifting and theft, and more police hired to fight all the crime that this drug addicted life style creates as a byproduct. We will pay one way or another. Even human cages cost tax money to build and maintain. No easy or cheap answer to this. It would be helpful if all work was rewarded with a living wage and we quit rewarding extreme wealth with major tax cuts and loopholes, but I won’t hold my breath on that ever happending.

  13. Seattle Homeless policies along Highway 99 corridor, “low barrier” Drug offenders as “homeless tenants” HAVE FRIENDS, who will follow and multiply in the neighboring neighborhoods, tents camping for the night OD on front yards, Dealers, prostitution to fund dealers, will follow crime, prostitution, drugs, violence, police extended beyond capabilities to respond.

  14. I guess this is what comes next:

    Eric Nelson co-owns Lynnwood Honda across the street from Americas Best, which is already being used to shelter people through a county voucher program.

    “Crime is rampant. EMT, fire and police are there weekly,” Nelson said. “We’ve had crack cocaine consumed in our bathrooms. We have needles in our landscaping. … This property is meant to serve everyone, and there is no way a single mom with kids would ever go into that hotel in the condition it’s in and the current tenants that are occupying it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.