A lawsuit to stop King County from converting a former hotel along Highway 520 to permanent units for the chronically homeless is misguided and counterproductive.
A group of Kirkland residents and parents fighting the project should instead focus their energies on making residents welcome and the community informed and safe.
The 121-room La Quinta Inn & Suites is slated to turn into permanent supportive housing, which offers on-site behavioral health, employment and other services. The strategy is proven to increase housing stability and improve health, while lowering public costs for shelters, hospitals and jails, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
On March 1, the Kirkland City Council passed a resolution stating that the La Quinta site would be good for permanent supportive housing if conditions were met, including 24-hour staffing, comprehensive services and a security plan approved by the Kirkland Police Department.
Two days later, King County announced that it paid $28.1 million for the property. A recent lawsuit filed by the group Keep Kids Safe claimed the city and county did not hold sufficient public meetings. The group is concerned that the hotel shares a property line with Eastside Preparatory School, a private school for fifth grade through 12th grade students, and is close to several other schools and child-care providers.
In an online petition that gained 3,700 supporters, Keep Kids Safe noted that land use codes stipulate safe distances between schools and adult entertainment and marijuana retailers. The group also claims crime has risen around permanent supportive housing sites.
Leo Flor, director of the county Department of Community and Human Services, said state law specifically allows real estate transactions to be discussed behind closed doors to reduce the likelihood that the seller would increase the price.
Financed by a 0.1-cent sales tax, the county has so far acquired 10 properties with about 1,000 units, and will add two to three more. Residents are currently staying in sites on Queen Anne and North Seattle, and are just now moving into a Renton location.
There was nothing different in how the county proceeded in Kirkland, said Flor. If anything, he said, his agency conducted more outreach to neighbors and stakeholders. Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet said the complaint was “without merit.”
As for comparing adult entertainment and marijuana shops with housing for vulnerable people, Keep Kids Safe should concede that there were no stipulations about who previously stayed at the La Quinta, and for what purpose. In other words, housing is not one of the troublesome enterprises that should be forced to stay away from schools and day cares.
To be sure, providing stable housing for those who have lived on the streets for years — sometimes decades — presents unique challenges. But it takes a months-long process to place someone in permanent supportive housing, and people must be ready for this new stage in their lives. Calls to emergency services decrease compared to shelters and encampments.
Kirkland’s elected leadership should be commended for its willingness to be part of the regional solution to homelessness.
Concerned parents and residents ought to put the legal fight aside and attend the City Council town hall next month and other events to discuss how the site will function in the community.
In the end, patience and compassion are essential components to fighting homelessness. And both can be found in Kirkland.