City of Burien determined to open supportive housing despite lawsuit
The city of Burien, like the rest of the Puget Sound region, is growing fast. And that means some people are getting priced out of their homes. Burien could soon get new supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness, but not everyone in town supports the project.
Hugo Garcia grew up in Burien. Garcia’s family moved here when the city was incorporated and joined King County.
When it came time to buy his own place in town, it wasn’t so easy in Burien.
“Growth that we've seen is just … the housing is really, really challenging and we lived through a recession,” Garcia said.
The city has swelled in recent years with new workers who aren’t just finding jobs at the nearby airport but commuting north into Seattle and beyond.
Garcia had always thought he’d get a house in town but instead he and his brother got creative and moved into a duplex; housing he didn’t think he’d be in 15 years ago.
Now he’s on the Burien City Council and Garcia says like him and his brother, the city has to think creatively about how it will house everyone moving into town. Like a lot of places in and around Seattle, housing costs and rents are on the rise in Burien. That’s forced some people out of their homes.
Brandie Flood is a director with REACH, a group that connects people experiencing homelessness with housing and services.
“A lot of the people we're seeing, they grew up here and now they can't afford to live there," Flood said.
Flood says there are some group homes in Burien but unlike in Seattle, there are few supportive housing options. Supportive housing includes on-site case managers, meal programs, and access to medical assistance.
This year King County awarded the Downtown Emergency Services Center, or DESC, more than $5 million to build a new supportive housing apartment complex near downtown Burien.
DESC could rent 95 units to people paying about 30% of their income, with some apartments reserved for formerly homeless veterans.
“Without buildings like DESC that do support housing there's a lot of people that we won't be able to house because independent landlords wouldn't give them the opportunity to house them," Flood said.
The six-story development would replace a small office building and sit a block from the busy Ambaum Boulevard Southwest with Mexican restaurants and a record shop.
Not everyone in Burien thinks the building should be so close to downtown. Four business owners near the location are suing the city and claim the project doesn’t meet Burien’s standards for affordable housing.
John White, one of the plaintiffs, says the six-story building isn’t right for that location.
“Putting a 95 unit building in the downtown corridor that has no parking is not going to help downtown business,” White says.
White also shared stories he’s heard about the people who move into supportive housing. He says some get violent and mentions a recent incident at Plymouth Housing in Seattle, another supportive housing unit.
"Where are these people gonna go when they do things like come down on the street and swing bats and hit people in the head? Which is going to happen,” White said.
Flood, with REACH, has heard arguments like this before: when supportive housing goes up, so does violent crime.
“But if you don't put resources in these areas to support the homeless, you are going to have them out on the street, in the parking lot," she said. "Maybe committing low level crimes to survive because there are no day centers, there are no shelters, there is nowhere to house these folks.”
The other business owners suing the city didn't want to talk to KUOW for this story. One person who is looking forward to new neighbors is Yoanna Campos. Campos works at Paty Furniture right down the street from where the apartments will be.
“If you can get people into affordable housing they can go out and spend more money,” Campos says. “And I think it'd be good for businesses around here.”
Some people at the nearby laundromat said they are concerned that the 95 units will fill up with people not currently living in Burien.
“It doesn’t matter,” Campos said. “They all need help, you know? They need something and whether it's Seattle, Burien, Kent, whatever, if there's space and the money's there why not?”
Housing advocates agree Burien and nearby cities south of Seattle will have to build not just this one development but more in the future.
Burien Councilmember Hugo Garcia said he can’t talk about this DESC project or the lawsuit but says he will work to keep everyone in Burien housed.
“There's only so much land,” he says. “So we have to just be more open to different types of housing options from duplexes to triplexes to mobile homes and be aware that there's all kinds of needs.”
A trial for the lawsuit is set for December 2022.
Clarification: Originally this story stated that King County had awarded $5 million to Burien. The County awarded money to DESC to build in Burien and this story has been updated with that information.