By John Larson – firstname.lastname@example.org
As part of the ongoing efforts of the city and non-profit organizations to address the homelessness crisis, Tacoma Rescue Mission plans to convert a building at its shelter at 425 South Tacoma Way into housing with 50 beds. Tacoma City Council heard an update on the project during its April 30 study session.
Linda Stewart, director of the city’s Neighborhoods and Community Department, said there are 400 shelter beds in the city. Providers say an average of 60 people are turned away every day due to lack of space.
The city recently reached to service providers to see what they could do to expand shelter capacity. In response, Tacoma Rescue Mission has offered to convert a building used as a warehouse into permanent housing for men, women and children. Residents would exit in the morning and return in the evening to sleep.
Private donations for this project are at $600,000. Another $350,000 is from Community and Development Block Grants, a federal government program. The City’s General Fund will provide $250,000, while the city will provide $1 million in real estate excise tax revenue.
Stewart discussed the city’s emergency declaration on homelessness and efforts made thus far. Phase three of the plan intended to transition people from the stability site on Puyallup Avenue into transitional housing. Staff have determined that would not be financially sustainable. As a result, money already allocated for that purpose is being slated to fund this project.
The Council will vote on authorizing the funding for this purpose on May 7. If approved, construction will start in June and the project would open next winter.
Stewart noted that architectural and design firms are donating their time and services. “It is truly a public/private partnership,” she remarked.
Assistant City Attorney Steve Victor stressed to the Council that this is money already in the budget allocated for such a purpose. He explained a new state law that allows for more flexibility in using real estate excise tax money. Specifically, the change allows for spending beyond the previous cap of $1 million.
Councilmember Anders Ibsen inquired as to whether the city could issue bonds against this money. Victor said this could be possible, depending if it was an allowable use.
Victor said the Planning and Development Department has agreed to expedite permitting. Stewart said Tacoma Rescue Mission will recruit and train new staff during the time the building is being renovated.
Beale asked about the relationship between the community and the mission. While he expressed support for the project, he noted some people may find it controversial.
Victor noted that the permitting process does not require a public hearing for this and that it is an allowable use. Stewart said the exterior of the building will not change much, except for egress. If approved by the Council, she said city staff will reach out to people in the surrounding area.