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As Tri-Cities homeless population grows, Catholic Charities hopes to fill the housing need

An Eastern Washington nonprofit wants to build housing for the homeless

An Eastern Washington nonprofit wants to help homeless people transition into housing. They hope to break ground in Pasco in 2020, with residents moving in by summer of 2021.
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An Eastern Washington nonprofit wants to help homeless people transition into housing. They hope to break ground in Pasco in 2020, with residents moving in by summer of 2021.

Catholic Charities Eastern Washington wants to build a 50-unit apartment building in Pasco to serve the area’s most vulnerable residents — those who have been homeless for a year or longer.

The Spokane-based religious organization is teaming with Pasco’s Hot Spotters and other local agencies to tackle the thorny challenge of serving a population that consumes high levels of emergency care.

If the stars align, Catholic Charities would break ground next year and open the unnamed project by mid-2021, Jonathan Mallahan, vice president of housing recently told the Pasco City Council.

Mallahan said Catholic Charities is committed to pursuing the project but the decision rests on its ability to confirm a location and secure tax credit financing, a loan and ongoing funding.

It has identified several potential sites, though Mallahan declined to identify them because no deal has closed.

Catholic Charities operates similar “housing first” apartments in Spokane and Walla Walla, with more due to open this year.

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Buder Haven is an example of low-income housing built and operated by Catholic Charities Eastern Washington. Catholic Charities wants to build similar housing in Pasco. Courtesy Catholic Charities Eastern Washington

700 homeless a year

The charity is convinced there’s a compelling need in the Tri-Cities for supportive housing.

It commissioned a housing survey in January that concluded at a minimum there are 40-plus chronically homeless people living in the Tri-Cities. It estimated 700 people experience homelessness here each year.

The study, conducted by the Seattle office of Kidder Mathews, a commercial real estate firm, notes the annual Point in Time count, conducted Jan. 24, identified 45 chronically homeless people, up two from a year ago.

The annual count provides a useful snapshot of homelessness, but experts believe the actual number is two to three times higher.

The 700 figure is based on data from the Homeless Management Information System, software that tracks social services, augmented with input from the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission, which operates homeless shelters.

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A housing survey in January concluded at a minimum there are 40-plus chronically homeless people living in the Tri-Cities. It estimated 700 people experience homelessness here each year. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Kidder Mathews concluded there are enough chronically homeless people in the Tri-Cities to support Catholic Charities’ vision of a 50-unit project in Pasco.

“Our faith calls on us to serve those individuals,” Mallahan told city leaders last week.

City zoning already allows such housing with conditional use permits. Catholic Charities asked for the council’s support but no city funds.

City Manager David Zabel said the Hot Spotters group identified chronic homelessness as a problem and Catholic Charities as a potential solution.

“There’s not a huge amount of financial support,” he noted.

Mayor Pro Tem Craig Maloney said he supports the model after touring a Catholic Charities property in Spokane. So too did Councilman Ruben Alvarado. There is definitely a gap in low-income housing that’s only getting worse as rents rise.

Catholic Charities is affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Spokane and operates more than a dozen programs in support of its mission..

Pasco is at the western end of its service area. Benton County is served by its sister agency, Catholic Charities Central Washington.

Mental and physical illness

Residents of Catholic Charities’ Spokane properties were homeless for an average of 10 years before they moved in, Mallahan said. At a minimum, they have been homeless for a year.

Mental and physical illness are leading causes of chronic homelessness. Drug abuse can be a factor, though not always.

“These are not people that have just been down on their luck — lost a job and recently have become homeless,” he said.

Providing housing and support to the chronically homeless benefits taxpayers who underwrite the cost to provide emergency services through law enforcement and emergency rooms.

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The annual Tri-Cities homeless count provides a useful snapshot of homelessness, but experts believe the actual number is two to three times higher. File Tri-City Herald

A Seattle case study involving 91 residents living in supportive housing found emergency response costs decreased between $26,000 and $64,000 per person per year.

In a separate study of Spokane residents, emergency calls dropped from up to nine calls in six months to less than one per person. Spokane saw a 21 percent reduction in chronic homelessness, Mallahan said.

Good neighbor policy

Mallahan said Catholic Charities is committed to being a good neighbor.

Its project will echo its neighborhood, and its residents are required to comply with house rules while they receive support and treatment to address underlying conditions. The building would likely be three to four stories, with ground-level space for case workers and support staff.

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Father Bach Haven IV is one of several supportive housing projects owned and operated in Spokane by Catholic Charities Eastern Washington. The organization wants to build a similar project in Pasco. Courtesy Catholic Charities Eastern Washington

Generally, Catholic Charities seeks urban locations with ready access to transportation, medical services, healthy food outlets and other services. It requires at least two acres with access to municipal utilities.

The 2021 opening is aggressive, but doable, he said.

The budget hasn’t been released.

This spring, Catholic Charities announced plans for its newest project, a 51-unit complex called Father Bach Haven Five. It will cost an estimated $12 million, including about $4.2 million in construction costs.

That project was awarded nearly $10 million in tax-credit equity through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, a form of public-private investment that entails offering tax credits to investors that use them to lower their tax bills.

Catholic Charities would pursue the same financing, as well as operational funds, for the Pasco project.

Shortage of affordable apartments

Supportive housing won’t cure the shortage of affordable rentals in the Tri-Cities.

And while it can improve the lives of the very downtrodden, it probably won’t transform the chronically homeless population into independent people who can live without support.

“It’s not a panacea to homelessness,” he said.

The average Tri-City apartment rented for $983 per month, according to a spring survey of nearly 10,900 market-rate rentals conducted by the Runstad Department of Real Estate at the University of Washington.

The vacancy rate was an extremely tight 1.6 percent, or 177 vacancies. The statewide vacancy rate was 4.3 percent.

There are nearly 4,400 units reserved for people with limited income, while 5,500 Tri-City households are at 50% of the federal poverty rate of about $10,000 per year, according to the Kidder Mathews study.

“(Our project) does not resolve affordable housing needs,” Mallahan said. But he added it will make a marked difference in chronic homelessness and demands on emergency services.

ousing Survey of Tri-Cities for Catholic Charities

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.

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