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Permanent Supportive Housing: One Option for Addressing Homelessness


February 13, 2020 by Steve Butler
Category: Homelessness

Permanent Supportive Housing: One Option for Addressing Homelessness

An aerial view of HopeWorks Station II in Everett. Photos provided in the blog post are courtesy of the City of Everett, unless noted otherwise.

Affordable housing and homelessness are two of the more challenging issues facing local governments today! Finding affordable housing options for the formerly homeless and providing them with needed services to help them lead productive lives is a laudable yet difficult goal. Permanent supportive housing, however, is an option that may help to provide one solution.

What is Permanent Supportive Housing?

What is permanent supportive housing (PSH) and who is it meant to serve; you may ask? The National Health Care for the Homeless Council offers the following definition:

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a model that combines low-barrier affordable housing, health care, and supportive services to help individuals and families lead more stable lives. PSH typically targets people who are homeless or otherwise unstably housed, experience multiple barriers to housing, and are unable to maintain housing stability without supportive services.

 Washington State law (RCW 36.70A.030) defines PSH as:

...subsidized, leased housing with no limit on length of stay, paired with on-site or off-site voluntary services designed to support a person living with a disability to be a successful tenant in a housing arrangement, improve the resident's health status, and connect residents of the housing with community-based health care, treatment, and employment services.

Permanent supportive housing is different from an emergency shelter, tent city, tiny home village, or some other type of temporary/transitional housing for the homeless in that PSH is meant to be a permanent form of housing.

Where Is PSH Allowed?

A bill from the 2019 legislative session was recently signed into law (RCW 35.21.689) that states: “A city may not prohibit permanent supportive housing in areas where multi-family housing is permitted.” In other words, your local zoning/development regulations should contain provisions that deal with PSH in a manner that complies with this new state law.

Several cities already have “supportive housing” as an identified land use in their zoning codes, such as Mount Vernon and Auburn. Other cities, such as Everett, include it within their definition of multi-family housing. 

Who Typically Develops This Type of Housing?

Developers of permanent supportive housing projects are often private nonprofit organizations, but these groups usually partner with one or more public entities to accomplish the task. Financing for this type of housing is especially challenging because funding usually needs to come from many different sources; for example, Everett’s multi-source financial assistance is described later in this blog post. Even if a community cannot provide any direct financial help, other incentives and non-monetary programs (such as impact fee waivers and expedited permit review) could be provided for PSH. If you haven’t already done so, please be sure to amend your development regulations to accommodate this type of land use.

Case Study: HopeWorks Station II, Everett

HopeWorks Station II, a four-story, multi-use, 65-unit development located in Everett, is the case study for this blog post. The project serves low-income and formerly homeless individuals and families. The housing component consists of 28 studios, 27 one-bedrooms, and 10 two-bedrooms. This PSH was developed by Housing Hope Properties and HopeWorks Social Enterprise and opened its doors to residents in the fall of 2019.

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HopeWorks Station II, street view

This supportive housing development provides both on-site and off-site supportive services, such as programs that serve youth and veterans, and a “family treatment court." It also offers an on-site Workforce Development Center, which is complemented by an on-site coffee shop/restaurant, furniture retail shop, and offices for a landscaping business. The concept is that residents of HopeWorks Station II will be able to acquire on-the-job skills by working at one of the onsite businesses.

HopeWorks Station II was designed to be a very energy-efficient building and participated in the Living Building Challenge Affordable Housing Pilot Program. The project developer’s ambitious goal was to go beyond a “net zero” energy consumption level and actually generate 5% more energy than the building consumes.

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The rooftop of HopeWorks Station with solar panels

The City of Everett was an active partner in developing this permanent supportive housing project, both financially and from a regulatory perspective. For the HopeWorks Station II project, the City of Everett provided direct financial assistance, with $200,000 in city general fund monies (for the Workforce Development Center), federal HOME funding ($500,000), Affordable Housing Trust funds ($220,000), federal Community Development Block Grant funds for design ($158,000), and a reduced impact fee payment. Other financial partners include the Everett Housing Authority.

In response to serious interest from local nonprofit housing developers, of which HopeWorks Housing II was one proposal, the City of Everett also amended its development regulations to make it more hospitable to PSH. The city recently revised those regulations so that permanent supportive housing is just viewed as another type of multi-family housing allowed in multi-family and mixed-use zones.

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Interior courtyards of HopeWorks Station II. Photo courtesy of the author.

Conclusion

Homelessness is not just a housing problem. Most communities recognize that homeless people need both housing and related social services. Permanent supportive housing is not a new concept, but the rate of construction of new facilities has not been enough to meet the need. This fact is likely one reason why state law now requires permanent supportive housing to be allowed in all multi-family zones.

While not every community will be able to provide the same level of support as Everett, crafting an approach to permanent supportive housing that meets local needs is something that should be considered by Washington’s local governments.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Butler

Steve joined MRSC in February 2015. He has been involved in most aspects of community planning for over 30 years, both in the public and private sectors. He received a B.A. from St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York) and a M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Steve has served as president of statewide planning associations in both Washington and Maine, and was elected to the American Institute of Certified Planner’s College of Fellows in 2008.

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