This week, the Council will consider the responses they received to the RFP they issued a while ago, asking for proposals to use this year's $550K in CDBG funding and the Smith Building (the big yellow one across from the one City Hall) to address various goals about reducing homelessness, investing in downtown, developing affordable housing, and strengthening relationships among social service agencies,
There are four proposals. Family Support Services would like to spend $1.16 million to convert the building directly into temporary shelter housing and on-site supported transitional housing for families with kids. Their plans show the first floor with six apartments for emergency shelter plus two offices and a common area to allow on-site preventive and supportive services, and a skylit shared courtyard surrounded by six family suites with two and three bedrooms for transitional housing on the second floor. They'd move their current emergency family shelter out of the basement at First Christian (where families have to leave every morning and can't come back until evening) into this new space, and the church says it would develop some new independent shelter operation there - perhaps a year round adult women's emergency shelter space to improve on the current arrangement that rotates from church to church in the winter.
Catholic Community Services' proposal would spend $670,000 to convert the Smith Building into a central access point for homeless services, with 33 on-site offices for staff including people from other collaborating social service agencies, two conference rooms, and a day resource center with computers for homeless people; they would intend to apply for federal and state funding to eventually build a multi-level housing project with something like fifty units on the parking lot next to the current building.
The proposal from Occupy Olympia and Media Island asks for $300,000 and presents a general vision for converting the whole building to emergency shelter space for two or three hundred people as a first step; then adding community center facilities like showers, social services support, washing machines and dryers, computers, medical services, storage lockers, and classes as a second phase; then gradually constructing housing on adjacent lots.
SafePlace proposes using the space for the community service center for victims of domestic and sexual violence that they've been working toward building for some time. They would expand their current 2,300 square foot Community Service Center into 12,000 square feet, spending $2.524 million to remodel the building into rooms for individual and group counseling, an office for a 24-hour crisis line, large classroom/meeting rooms for workshops and community events, a children's room with adjacent staff space, a restaurant to provide kitchen space and job training for survivors interested in starting small businesses, a large lobby for restaurant seating and "community engagement", and administrative office space.
The staff has done a matrix about the proposals, which gives the three from established social service agencies 30, 31, and 32 points out of a possible 35. (They rate the Occupy Olympia/Media Island proposal at 22 because they don't have any secured funding or a specific plan for raising money, they don't have any partners from the established social services organizations, and their experience in providing shelter has been limited.) Though the other numeric differences don't signify much, the columns where proposals got different rankings raise interesting issues.
One column gives up to five points for the Council's goal "to invest in downtown" - in plain language, this means helping to get certain people off the streets. Staff gave the Family Support Center and SafePlace's proposals two points in this column for "shifting a significant service center four blocks away from the commercial downtown core." This seems stretched to me. I don't think that people going to SafePlace's current community service center are among the people generating complaints on downtown streets, and I doubt that the families in the overnight shelter at First United are among them either. (In any case, moving that service center four blocks would simply be making space in the basement for a new shelter, so it wouldn't exactly be moving a shelter away.)
The Catholic Community Services proposal and the Occupy Olympia proposal also got two points for this; they each got two more points for "shifting specific street dependent population service center(s) out of downtown." It seems as if those ratings are better grounded. The Catholic Community Services proposal would move required intake services that are now being handled at Community Youth Services, at Sidewalk, and at the Family Support Center out to the Smith Building, and the Occupy/Media Island proposal would provide a variety of direct immediate services that there's a proclaimed need for, at some distance from the downtown core. (It's the only one of the proposals that seems to approach creating a space where people who are now hanging out on the street downtown might want to spend the day drinking coffee, watching TV, playing pool or whatever instead... The "Day Resource Center" in the Catholic Community Services proposal is shown in the plans as an area for using computers, and their application mentions a "family room" but it isn't shown in the drawings.)
Unfortunately, it isn't clear to me that either the Catholic Community Services proposal or the Family Support Center proposal will help move the people the City would like to get off the downtown streets. I do think they will mean some people who need services will spend some time at the Smith Building rather than downtown, but that doesn't mean the people who generate complaints about downtown won't still spend a lot of time downtown, four blocks away. Deciding that would require knowing who the people who are actually generating complaints are, and then understanding why those particular people spend time downtown. I don't think that the City's research to date has done much at all to answer either of these questions. (If it's only five percent of the people who cause the problems, nothing that doesn't move those particular people will help. If they go downtown every day to panhandle, say, because they need the money, or because they like to have company when they drink, or because they like the food at Jake's, or for a lot of other reasons you can probably imagine, then solutions that don't address their actual reasons for being there are not really going to help.
Another column gives up to five points for "Project Financial Readiness." SafePlace gets five points here because it has 77% of the money for construction in hand; the Family Support Center gets 3 points; Catholic Community Services gets 2; and Occupy Olympia/Media Island gets 1. Staff says that none of these three have more than 2% of their proposed budget in hand, which is only true if you don't count the $550,000 in CDBG funds that they are applying for...
Catholic Community Services' architect estimates their building conversion costs at $506,253, so that would be covered by the CDBG money with some left over. (They're anticipating getting the roughly $100,000 for their first year's operating expenses from a grant application to the County.) Family Support Services' construction estimate is $1.166 million; since they're creating apartments with kitchens and bathrooms they have a lot of additional plumbing to consider. They're planning to use $45,000 of the CDBG money as part of their first year operating expenses, so the remainder of the grant would cover 44% of their construction costs. (Occupy Olympia/Media Island only asked for $300,000, but they didn't include any details about costs for modifying the building so it could actually be used as a shelter for a couple of hundred people...)
SafePlace already has a $778,000 State grant, $180,000 from the County HOME Consortium, $80,000 in earlier CDBG funds it has used for planning, and $378,000 in private donations - $1.416 million altogether. However, their budget for the conversion is also much bigger than either of the other proposals', at $2.524 million - five times the estimate from Catholic Community Services and over twice the one from Family Support Services. This is partly because it includes $255,000 in architects' fees and $190,000 for a "developer fee". (In contrast, Catholic Community Services' costs for architects' and engineers' fees total $46,000.)
It is still true that the Family Services proposal depends on getting over half of the money to remodel the building from grants they haven't yet applied for, and that the housing that Catholic Community Services says they would intend to build would also depend on their applying for and getting state and federal construction funding in the future. (I'm definitely not a fundraising professional, but I would guess getting grants for a capital project would be easier for an organization like Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. They have 3,000 staff, 12,000 volunteers, and annual revenues of over $10 million; their affiliate, Catholic Housing Services, has already built over 2,000 units of affordable housing. Family Support Services and SafePlace are both local and have roughly the same annual revenues, a little over $1 million.)
There are some other policy issues too. The last big step that the City took about homelessness was creating three one-stop access points for homeless services - one for families with kids (at the Family Support Center), one for youth (at Community Youth Services), and one for single men (at Sidewalk). Catholic Community Services' proposal would combine all these in one center. I don't know how much this would or wouldn't undo all the work that's recently gone into setting up the other access systems... The Family Support Services proposal also politely suggests that they think this isn't a good idea, commenting that:
We recognize that different homeless populations each have their own specific needs and actual entry points into the system. Centralizing services for all homeless populations in one location is not always feasible, desirable, appropriate or safe; a lesson that has been learned by the Family Support Center, the Salvation Army, and other service providers who have in the past served all homeless populations in one location.
The Smith Building is certainly an asset, but one with significant problems. The City estimates its HVAC systems will have to be replaced within two years at a cost of around $425,000, which comes close to canceling out the $550K CDBG grant which is the other part of the package. (None of the budgets seem to address this issue, allocating $50K or less for dealing with the HVAC. I would think that it will be much more expensive to replace the HVAC in a newly remodeled building a couple of years from now than it would be to do it as part of the remodel...) The staff's matrix about the various proposals also includes a somewhat ominous remark about the "fiscal risks" of seismic upgrades needed to meet code in the proposals that involve using some of the building for housing; none of the budgets seem to address that.
The biggest question the packet leaves unanswered for me is "What, if anything, would this City grant add to what will happen anyway without it?" It seems very clear that SafePlace has been getting ready to build for a number of years. They've already applied for and won a $775 K State grant for the building that needs to be spent within the next two years. It seems clear that they are in position to build without the Smith building and the CDBG money. I'd like to know what additional services those extra resources would lead to their providing, compared to what they will be able to provide if they go ahead and build a somewhat smaller new center with the $1.4 million and the $570K loan they already have on hand. (Similarly, I assume that Catholic Community Services would be able to apply for State and Federal grants and put up a multi-story housing complex on some other land in Olympia if it wanted to, even if it didn't have the Smith Building's parking lot. I'd like to know what the drawbacks of that alternative would be.)