Possible Ballard Urban Rest Stop frightens neighbors
"Who is looking out for our safety?" "Is this a done deal, or can we fight this?"
Those were popular sentiments from most of the three-dozen residents at the Oct. 27 meeting for the Low Income Housing Institute's proposed Ballard project as anger and frustration took over, especially in regard to the project's Urban Rest Stop component.
LIHI's $13 million to $15 million Ballard development would include 40 to 60 units of housing for singles, couples and families earning less than 60 percent of King County's median income, with 20 percent of the units set aside for formerly homeless individuals and families.
The Urban Rest Stop, a facility that would provide free restrooms, showers, laundry and some medical care, would be located on the first floor of the development at 2014 N.W. 57th St. It would be Seattle's second Urban Rest Stop.
Ronni Gilboa, manager of the downtown Seattle Urban Rest Stop, said the Ballard facility, which would include five showers, a women's room, a men's room and a health room, would likely be open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, compared to 16 hours per day downtown. She said they see the Ballard facility serving 75 to 100 people per day.
"When I come down (to Ballard) for coffee or Indian food or something, I run into folks who could use our services," Gilboa said. "We know there are people who have issues. The question is how do we interact with them civilly."
The Urban Rest Stop quickly became the focus of the meeting, with neighbors voting by a show of hands to bypass discussions of the low-income housing portion of the project, including a presentation from the architects, to focus on the Urban Rest Stop.
"You are bombarding Ballard with a lot of unnecessary services," said Dale Jech, president of the Ballard Preservation Association, a group that recently filed an appeal over the proposed Compass Housing Alliance development nearby.
One neighbor was worried the Urban Rest Stop would increase homelessness and car camping on the residential block. Another was worried about people lining up, fighting and starting fires while the Urban Rest Stop is closed.
One attendee suggested removing the Urban Rest Stop component of the proposal, as that is the part most residents are concerned about.
Gilboa disagreed with statements from meeting attendees that there are safety problems after hours at the downtown Urban Rest Stop.
She said 60 percent of its users are employed but are earning minimum wage and have no benefits. She welcomed Ballardites to come visit and see what happens for themselves.
"It's really boring," Gilboa said. "People come in to take care of themselves."
One meeting attendee, who owns condos in Ballard as well as next to the downtown Urban Rest Stop, said it is a misconception that the facility brings problems to the area. It actually brings order and dignity, she said.
Another major concern of neighbors is that a single block of Ballard is being overburdened by low-income housing.
Sharon Lee, executive director of LIHI, said of 1,192 units of housing on the census block containing the potential LIHI site, only 26 are low-income units. There is additional capacity, she said.
Debbie Thiele from the Seattle Office of Housing said the city has a concentration policy for low-income housing, and the LIHI project does not violate it.
But, neighbors disagreed with the numbers brought forth by Lee and Thiele, claiming the actual number of low-income housing units to be much higher.
LIHI has not come to the city for funding yet or purchased the vacant lot across from Wiggen & Sons Funeral Home, but Lee said they plan to soon. Oct. 27 was the first of many planned meetings to gain input and support from the neighborhood, she said.
Lee said there is a very serious housing crisis that has affected working families, artists and others who made Ballard what it is.
"A lot of folks have been pushed out of Ballard because of unaffordable rent," Lee said. "We would very much like to develop new housing in Ballard."
For more information on the Urban Rest Stop, watch this video from the Seattle Channel on the downtown facility.