Council’s last week before taking a break over the holidays was tense with a pair of big issues: the report and recommendations from the Housing Tools and Strategies work group and action on the transition plan for the Highway 99 camp.
In the first discussion, council received a report containing 83 possible actions to increase the potential for more housing construction that would meet a range of needs. Of those, the work group favored 29 options for deeper investigation and possible implementation. In the first discussion on Monday, council was unable to support a next step out of frustration that cost/benefit analysis had not yet been undertaken. Staff reconfigured this list for the Wednesday meeting identifying 12 administrative cost saving measures that staff could explore and implement without needing further council action. These include streamlining specific permit processes and undertaking some reviews concurrently to save time and costs. Council approved this step forward and will receive periodic reviews on progress.
Ahead are the thornier options, including a Construction Excise Tax. Staff presented an economic analysis of a CET; reviewing where it would and would not have a negative impact on housing construction. The work group supported a CET and staff proposed a modified structure, based largely on stakeholder discussions led by Better Housing Together. This will come back to council in early January for a vote.
On Wednesday, the 12th, council discussed the proposed transition plan for the camp at Highway 99. The county was poised to sign an agreement with St. Vincent de Paul to oversee a Dusk to Dawn and/or rest stop on the county property currently hosting the campsite. Monday’s forum had hosted over 40 speakers, some of whom represented businesses negatively impacted by the campsite and concerned about a more permanent arrangement; and many more who represented the current campers who disliked the option of a St. Vinnie’s managed site, and did not want to lose access to the site during the day, which is a constraint of the Dusk to Dawn model. Council voted against the transition plan, and the county immediately announced that they would step back and leave the city to figure out the future management of the site. Without an alternative or funding in place, the worry now emerged that we would lose much-needed winter shelter just as cold wet weather is settling over the valley.
I called a special council meeting on Monday the 17th to review and reconsider this question. In the intervening 5 days, city and county staff along with homeless advocates and St. Vinnie’s crafted a modified transition and model. Approved by council, the new solution calls for additional “dawn to dawn” shelter on property owned by St. Vinnie's and adjacent to an existing Dusk to Dawn site. Campers will be able to access the shelter during the day as well as benefit from the day services at St. Vinnie’s Lindholm Center. Council also approved the creation of an additional rest stop site on St. Vinnie’s property.
These are not perfect solutions and cannot answer the needs of all the people who need shelter -- but they will help 100 people live in healthier and safer conditions through the winter months. We will all learn from these models and that will inform the conversation about a permanent shelter coming to a joint council/board of commissioners meeting on January 22nd.
We’ll be back at work with a State of the City event on January 3rd, 5:30, in the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater. Happy New Year!