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County Council approves buying hotels to house homeless individuals short-term

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — A County Council majority last week approved proceeding to purchase two hotels to convert to short-term transition housing for people experiencing homelessness.
One is the Days Inn hotel on Everett Mall Way. The other is an Americas Best Value Inn on Highway 99 in Edmonds.
The two purchases would add 129 rooms to temporarily place people while awaiting permanent housing.
The county is spending about $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars for the property purchases.
They’ll be low-barrier housing, without County Councilman Nate Nehring’s proposed requirement that anyone diagnosed with drug addiction must enroll into mandatory drug treatment to stay in one of the county-funded hotel rooms.
The County Council voted 3-2.
Democrats Megan Dunn, Stephanie Wright and Jared Mead voted yes; Republicans Sam Low and Nehring voted no.
With the council approval, the property deals should be wrapped up by Oct. 28.
The county doesn’t have a clear date for when people could move in, but it could be 2023 after hiring service providers to operate client services.
The county will make each purchase as long as each building meets satisfactory environmental inspections, a council staffer said. The environmental tests
will include methamphetamine residue contamination testing.
The Days Inn is for $10 million and the Edmonds hotel is for $9.75 million.
Low questioned the possible immediate costs of rehabilitating the hotels and the long-range costs to operate and maintain the hotels.
Operations would cost the county about $206,400 a month in total, or about $2.5 million a year, according to county staff estimates.
Other county projects have had cities chip in funds, but on this project, “I have a lot of concerns, not as concerned with the Edmonds one, but (on) the Everett property, a 54-year-old building’s going to have a lot of issues,” Low said.
Before the vote, County Executive Dave Somers outlined that Nehring’s proposal to stipulate mandatory drug treatment would cause a prohibitive funding snag.
The federal ARPA funding contract “prohibits denying anyone with a disability, including substance abuse,” Somers said, so the county couldn’t use this money if it required treatment for entry, and it doesn’t have the money otherwise to buy the properties. The stipulation “would kill the deal and we’d be turning our back on everybody,” he said.
Nehring said without the drug treatment contingency he wouldn’t support voting for the purchases.
There would be 24/7 care services, including access to chemical and dependency services and mental health services, a county press release said. Guests would need to follow a code of conduct to stay in the hotels.
The guests housed would be from all corners of Snohomish County.
“Neither facility will have any geographic restrictions beyond serving Snohomish County residents,” said Kelsey Nyland, the spokeswoman for the county office overseeing ARPA dollars. “The referral process will be refined in partnership with the service providing organizations, which are being selected through a competitive Request for Proposals process. In general, it is likely that if a partner organization operates in a specific area — such as the Everett COET — the individuals they refer will be from that same area.”
The council heard nearly two hours of public comments before the vote.
A majority of the public comments centered on Nehring’s proposal.
Speakers in favor to the drug-treatment proposal said bringing people into treatment is a need. Some called the plan to place individuals in hotels without treating drug issues irresponsible and enabling for their addictions.
Speakers against the drug-treatment proposal said the requirement poses a barrier to entry. Not every person with a drug addiction might accept choosing treatment versus being homeless or taking shelter elsewhere.
The directors of homeless housing services all spoke in favor of prioritizing giving people stable housing first above other issues.
The barrier will cause a failed housing program, said Raymond Miller, the founder of Vets Place Northwest.
Tony Balk of Monroe said people in housing need to be in stable housing to establish their recovery, and recovery could take multiple tries. To tie going through a drug treatment program to stay in housing “is setting them up for failure,” Balk said.
Other public comments focused on operations. It requires transparency and qualified professionals working with clients.
More than 30 people voiced public comments at the meeting.
The Days Inn site has a low residential population around it and transit services, city of Everett community development director Julie Willie said.
Afterward. Somers cheered the council’s vote.
“I would rather have had a 5-0 yes vote than a 3-2, but we are moving forward to get folks off the street, get help, and get their lives back,” Somers wrote on social media, adding that “Together the two facilities will give us 129 new shelter spaces in Snohomish County. The facilities will be staffed 24/7 and supportive services will be provided on site.”



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