cottage grove commons supportive housing: Frequently asked questIons

Information on DESC's Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing, created in response to questions from community members.

1) Siting/Location
2) Construction and Design
3) Demographics/Population/Residents
4) Property, Service Management and Operations
5) Quality of Living/Effects on Neighborhood/Neighborhood Responsibility
6) Measuring Success
7) APPENDIX 1 - Specific questions guiding each section above
8) APPENDIX 2 - Delridge Community Forum Questions for DESC


1) Siting/Location
Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing
Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing will provide affordable, permanent supportive housing for 66 formerly homeless men and women living with serious mental/addictive illnesses or other disabling conditions.

Site location
DESC seek sites that are appropriate to our program and building needs. This means looking for properties in areas where people live, and where the zoning supports the sort of multi-unit properties we create. If it's a decent place for other people to live, it's a decent place for our clients to live, too. In our constant effort to create new supportive housing opportunities for our clients, we found a suitable property for development in North Delridge, entered into a purchase and sale agreement in early 2011, then we followed all requirements of the City of Seattle, King County and the State's notification process. We closed on the property in December 2011. We continue active property searches throughout the city.

How residents benefit from the building and the location
North Delrdige has many amenities that make it an attractive location for many people to live and thrive, and we believe the same will be true for our residents. There is plenty of relatively flat walkable neighborhood space before reaching the upward slopes. There are several small restaurants, parks, and walking trails easily accessible from our building site, as well as a public library. Bus stops for north/south bus route 120 are within one block of the DESC site. The current level of bus service is adequate for DESC residents, who may make fewer trips to other parts of the city than would people less dependent on supportive services for their everyday needs. Proximity to schools and day cares is not relevant because our residents are not raising young children and they do not pose any risks to other children. Drug dealing around any of our program sites is a concern, and we mitigate the risks of that to our residents by employing safety and security procedures designed to keep drug dealers out of our buildings. We also work with our residents to understand that engaging in drug activity in neighborhood is not allowed. Many of the people we serve use or have used services in areas of downtown Seattle that have the highest concentration of drug activity in the city, so we look forward to being able to provide them with a place to live in an area that has less of this problem activity.

DESC supportive housing contains a high level of staff and many on-site services that make neighborhood amenities such as banks, grocery stores and pharmacies, less important to DESC residents than to other neighbors. DESC provides meals on-site, and staff take residents on trips to the grocery store and other activities regularly, using a vehicle dedicated to resident service. The vast majority of residents are enrolled in DESC clinical services, and our medical staff act as their primary prescribers. We have longstanding relationships with area pharmacies which deliver medications directly to the housing. DESC's residents are, therefore, less dependent on basic services in the surrounding neighborhood than low-income tenants of non-supportive housing. The city arranges to provide swift emergency services throughout the city, and we have no reason to believe that the presence of our building in Delridge will reduce the availability of emergency response to anyone else in Delridge. top

2) Construction and Design
Building design & construction
DESC anticipates construction on the building will begin in late 2012 and be completed in late 2013. Like all developments of this size and type, Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing must go through the City of Seattle's Design Review process, which will allow for public input on the design before it is approved.

The DESC design team has completed 8 multi-units projects together. Our architect, SMR Architects, designed Brandon Court and the Delridge Public Library. They are familiar with the neighborhood and we always take into consideration the neighborhood’s features and design structures aesthetically compatible with them.

The cost of our building design has to conform to our public funders' expectations. Our capital financing is from public sources and must meet their standards for reasonable cost control.

When the project is being constructed, our general contractor will comply with all City regulations regarding traffic, safety, noise, and utility interruption. We require our contractor to develop a neighborhood communications plan to inform neighbors, in advance, of any significant disruption construction might cause.

The building will be four stories with setbacks in the alley, built in an L-shape with a courtyard located around a large cedar tree on the south side of the property which meets the City's definition as a "tree of significance".

The residential space
The building will have 66 studio apartments located on floors 2 through 4. The ground floor will include offices for the on-site staff and resident common space, including a large kitchen, dining/community room, television lounge and a small computer lab.

The retail space
The building will include a ground-floor retail space fronting Delridge Way, that DESC will lease to a commercial tenant. The retail storefront will be approximately 2,500 square feet. DESC has gathered input from a number of neighborhood stakeholders about the best use of the space to meet neighborhood needs and goals. We are currently in conversation with the Delridge Produce Co-op about the possibility of renting the space. The cost of building and maintaining commercial space is not underwritten by government sources. DESC is committed to investing resources that ensure the space is affordable to a community-focused non-profit tenant for the long term. The commercial rent will be far below market rate. We aim to confirm Delridge Produce Co-op as a tenant by March 2012, with a move-in date of early 2014.

Examples of commercial tenants in other DESC buildings are the Rainier Chamber of Commerce in our Rainier House project, and a thriving take-out restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in our Morrison building.

The building will have 13 underground parking spots, accessible from the alley behind the building. These spots will be used for the building's van, and staff parking. Experience has demonstrated that DESC residents do not own or drive their own cars.

Building security
Cottage Grove Commons will be equipped with a security system and cameras throughout the interior and exterior of the building. Front desk staff monitors security cameras spread throughout the interior and exterior of the building. Staff walk the perimeter of the building several times throughout the day and night to check that doors are secure and perform basic building security, and be visible and available to neighbors as needed. top

3) Demographics/Population/Residents
Referrals of prospective residents
DESC takes referrals from any community providers coming in contact with the client population, then assesses their eligibility and priority for housing. This occurs in collaboration with the King County Client Care Coordination system, which is an effort sponsored by King County and other major local funders to ensure that chronically homeless people with the greatest needs are matched with the resources created to help them. Referral sources include DESC's own shelters and outreach programs, as well as other community services like hospitals and other treatment or service programs encountering chronically homeless people. Vulnerability assessments are performed using DESC's validated Vulnerability Assessment Tool (in use countywide and in multiple other communities in the United States and Canada). Those individuals assessed as being most vulnerable are then recruited by DESC staff for tenancy in the project. Individuals motivated to participate in treatment are certainly eligible for housing in this project. If we were to limit residency to such individuals, we know that the people with the greatest needs would not obtain housing elsewhere and would have much lower odds of stabilizing as a result. We often find that motivation and stabilization follow housing, not the other way around. Eligibility determinations (income, homelessness status, etc.) are made prior to move-in.

Referrals from the neighborhood
As with all DESC shelters and housing programs, referrals to this project might come from any part of King County, including West Seattle. The Client Care Coordination system described above provides a rational way of aligning resources with needs across the larger system and across geographic areas. While homeless, many individuals experience dislocation from their communities of origin or preference. This is often due to the need to acquire shelter, either in established shelter programs or in other areas where individuals feel sufficiently safe. As a result, many homeless people spend time in downtown Seattle, although none were born and raised there. It is not uncommon to receive referrals for homeless individuals inhabiting the area near a DESC project, and we expect such referrals from neighbors in Delridge and elsewhere in West Seattle. This would provide some opportunity for homeless people currently in West Seattle to explore housing when they may have not done so before because they didn't want to leave the area.

Resident characteristics
On average, DESC tenants are in their mid to late 40s, and not infrequently in their 70s and 80s. Depending upon the project, a DESC building can be as much as 50% women. Residents are a racially diverse mix of people - about half are people of color, and approximately 5% are non-English speakers. About a third are born and raised in Washington State - approximately 8% here in Seattle. The rest come from around the region, the country or from other countries. Most have lived in Seattle for five years or more. The overwhelming majority of the men and women living in DESC's housing are diagnosed with major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

The symptoms of these serious and chronic illnesses often cause individuals to isolate themselves in their apartments. Many people with serious mental illnesses are aware of the stigma that follows them, and feel more comfortable in the safety and privacy of their own homes. DESC addresses the tendency to isolate in a variety of ways. We have private community spaces both inside and outside the building where tenants can feel more comfortable than being in public. Each resident has two primary staff people - one within the building and an additional case manager (either at DESC or another mental health agency) that he or she can call on and who checks in on clients regularly.

People with serious mental illness sometimes exhibit behaviors that are socially unusual, but not threatening. Just like many neighbors, they have their quirks and eccentricities, but they have the same aspirations as most people - they want safety and security for themselves and the people they care about, and they want to be considered responsible neighbors.

Criminal histories of residents
A number of people who have been homeless have some history of arrests and convictions. Offenses of status crimes such as public urination, public trespassing or other minor misdemeanors are common. DESC runs a criminal background check on all potential tenants prior to offering an apartment, but they are not prohibited from being housed due to a criminal background, including sex offenses. We do screen out those whose criminal histories indicate that they would be a threat to vulnerable people. Even though sex offense are not prevalent among DESC's target population, contrary public perception is so strong that DESC has informed Delridge neighbors that we will exclude sex offenders from living at our Delridge location if such a request is made to DESC by the organized neighborhood group. So far, that request has not been made.

Homeless people living with major mental disorders generally have lived chaotic lives since leaving homes of origin. Living on the streets without a predictable place to live often leads many to petty crime to simply survive. While it's hard to precisely pin down the frequency of occurrence, national estimates are that approximately 25% of the homeless have felony histories. What we do know, is that the incidence of felonious behavior dramatically falls off once the person has been stably housed. The number of felony convictions among DESC residents since our housing began is less than 1%.

More often, homeless people disabled by mental illness and/or chemical dependency are the victims of violent street predators and other criminals, who consider them to be easy targets. Providing stable housing for people with adequate staff support greatly decreases the opportunities for mentally ill people to be preyed upon. top

4) Property, Service Management and Operations
DESC's Housing First approach
DESC has a long record of serving many of the County's most vulnerable residents with both housing and supportive services.

DESC's supportive housing program is predicated on the evidence-based practice of "Housing First". The Housing First approach is based on a simple premise that people are more likely to be successful in treatment when they have a stable home. Clients are more easily engaged in robust clinical services and experience greater success once the chaos of living on the streets has been eliminated from their lives. Eliminating this debilitating chaos is achieved when a chronically homeless adult is provided a safe and permanent apartment of their own. Housing is seen as a tool, rather than a reward, for recovery.

Housing and Services model
Key to success of DESC's housing programs is having 24-hour on-site-staff. Delridge Supportive Housing will have intensive staff and supervision similar to other DESC projects. The "support" in DESC buildings can be compared to accommodations we are more accustomed to seeing everyday, such as wheelchair ramps for people who can't walk up stairs.   For people with long histories of homelessness and serious mental illness, community spaces, 24-hour staffing and other services are similar to ramps or braille signs. It's not a social services program - it's home, but with the support residents need to succeed in living as independently as possible.

DESC employs a model of programmatic integration of clinical services and property management functions. Instead of having separate staff for these two functions, DESC integrates support services with property management. This integrated model helps to create an atmosphere of trust for residents. Ideally, clients come to understand that the primary goal of all the staff in the building, including the manager and the staff at the front desk, is to help them keep their housing.

The project will be staffed 24/7 by a group of trained staff under the supervision of the full-time on-site Project Manager.   In addition, three Clinical Support Specialists (CSSs) will provide individualized services to the residents. The CSSs make initial and ongoing assessments of residents' skill levels and stability, provide connections to all necessary and appropriate outside service providers, act as case manager and/or coordinate care and services with other DESC or outside case managers. In addition, CSSs support residents with the challenges of daily living, including providing nutritional support, reminders for medications and appointments, counseling on personal hygiene, monitoring of visitors, organizing resident apartments and preventing unsafe situations, assisting with communication and inter-resident communication, encouraging social engagement and outings, money management and a host of other everyday tasks.
Other on-site staff in the project includes ten Residential Counselors who provide milieu support, crisis intervention, meals, and ongoing engagement with the residents. Consistent, individualized contact with residents on a daily basis is vital to the housing stability of the highly disabled residents and an important part of a Housing First service model.

The Project Manager will oversee the property management functions and supervise the round-the-clock staff, as well as coordinate between property management functions and the on-site case managers. Maintenance staff will be responsible for keeping the facility clean and in good condition. DESC utilizes a centralized maintenance department headed by a Facilities Manager who is highly qualified in day-to-day maintenance and janitorial supervision as well as asset management and preventive maintenance.

DESC provides a wide range of services for chronically homeless people. Through the CSSs sited in this project, tenants will be able to access a full array of services. Additionally, DESC provides licensed mental health and chemical dependency case management services to those who qualify and choose its service, and has an extensive network with other health and social service providers. The tenants of Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing will be able to access services from these other agencies.

DESC has a long history of working collaboratively with other agencies and in the community. Some of these partnerships includes: Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS-Belltown), Healthcare for the Homeless Network, and other mental health & chemical dependency treatment providers in the King County Regional Support Network (RSN).

There will be 24 hour/7 day a week on site personnel who can assist and support residents with the challenges of daily living, from providing nutritional support with daily meals, reminders for medications and appointments, counseling on personal hygiene, monitoring of visitors, organizing resident apartments and preventing unsafe situations, assisting with communication and inter-resident communication, encouraging social engagement and outings, money management and a host of other everyday tasks. The residents will all receive case management services on-site from DESC. Regular congregate meals (daily breakfast and weekly dinners) provided to all residents at no cost will help residents achieve appropriate nutrition, and will help foster healthy social relationships among the residents, many of whom tend to be isolative.

The services described above will be provided by DESC CSS who will work on-site. Services will be delivered on-site in tenant apartments, in case manager offices on-site, or in the case of group activities such as community meals and discussion groups will be provided in the community rooms. As appropriate, some services will be delivered off-site. For tenants enrolled in DESC's mental health program (a common status, although not required for eligibility or continued tenancy in this Housing First building), offsite services will occur at the DESC clinical offices. Additional offices services will occur at the agencies to which tenants are referred, such as a community health clinic. These sites are generally accessible to tenants by bus which can be accessed near the site. Where necessary a case manager may accompany a tenant to the offsite service. DESC has expanding efforts in employment services for our disabled clients. While few of them have been able to obtain and sustain employment, we have found that when we are able to apply targeted assistance to clients, work can be a realistic opportunity for some.

Consistent with a Housing First approach, residents participate in case management to the best of their abilities and at a pace that they can tolerate. New service components are introduced when the client shows that she or he is ready to become further engaged. This should not be misinterpreted as an unwillingness to push clients to their greatest capabilities. On the contrary, staff encourages the highest level of self-sufficiency possible. Staff keeps a log of resident sightings so that "welfare checks" can be made if a resident isn't seen for a period of time (between one and three days, usually). Some residents have significant health problems and we may be concerned about medical distress if we haven't seen a resident very recently. Residents may come and go from their housing as they please, without any expectation about being each night by a certain time.

Manangement Plan
The full Management Plan for Cottage Grove Commons will be finalized three months prior to opening and will include sections on the following three areas of priority: (1) program description and eligibility for the housing; (2) management and maintenance of the physical plant; and (3) client responsibilities, rules and regulations to continue residency at Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing. The topics to be addressed in the Management Plan include the following: description of facility, description of target population, management philosophy and description of staff roles and responsibilities; rent structure; description of long-term maintenance plan; building security and emergency plans; tenant screening and selection process; grievance procedure; house rules; evictions; on-going community education and involvement; and on-site services.

Length of tenancy
All units in the project are permanent housing, and the length of residency will not be limited. In general, people are more secure knowing they will not be forced to leave after specific period of time. The wrap around services offered in the building will help tenants stabilize and keep their housing for a longer period of time than in an conventional apartment building where no specialized support is offered. The vast majority of residents will stay in the housing for multiple years. Like any rental housing, tenants have leases. Tenants are required to pay thirty percent (30) of their income as rent. Resident incomes are typically derived from federal disability entitlements unlikely to go away. The bulk of funding for the program's operations and services comes from different government contracts, although the amount from resident rents is an important piece.

Drug use
Some residents will have substance abuse problems, and some of them may use illegal drugs. We do not condone the use or transaction of drugs in the neighborhood, or drug dealing in our buildings. Substance use problems are treated as we treat all service needs, by trying to forge an alliance with the resident to identify and work toward achievement of goals for healthier living.

Visitor Policy
The goal of this project is to provide stable, secure housing for formerly homeless people. It is not a shelter or a drop-in center, it is an apartment building. DESC's visitation policy, building rules and good neighbor commitment are appended to each of the tenants' leases that are strictly enforced by staff. This project will only serve people currently living in the building and will have controlled access to limit visitors and hold visitors accountable for their behavior. The visitor policy will limit the number of people visiting and frequency of visitors a resident may have. It also requires all visitors to leave their I.D. at the front desk while in the building, and be escorted by the resident they are visiting at all times. Overnight visits are limited. Staff are empowered to prohibit non-residents from entering the building, and would do so in the event the prospective visitor has caused problems in the building or the neighborhood. In general, we find that residents of our buildings outside the downtown core receive fewer visitors than residents of our buildings downtown. Staff may also restrict the visitors of specific residents to ensure their safety and the safety of others in the building. top

5) Quality of Living/Effects on neighborhood/Neighborhood Responsibility
DESC is committed to being good neighbors to all who live and work in the area. We will talk with residents about this expectation at length, both when they move in and throughout their tenancy here, and we write it into their lease agreements.

Our experience has shown that tenants are very receptive to this message. After long periods of living on the street, they want to be good neighbors because they value their housing. It is important to us that staff and tenants contribute to the health and stability of the neighborhood and that we are available to neighbors as needed, to answer questions or hear concerns.

It is also important to recognize that people with mental illness are not more violent and dangerous than anyone else in our society. We should be careful not to stigmatize mental illness. One out of four Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in the course of a given year. One out of twenty Americans suffers from a severe mental disorder in a given year. While it is impossible to give absolute assurance that no act of violence will ever occur in our community, we know that the risk of such acts occurring can be significantly reduced by providing appropriate treatment.

Safety of children/Impact on schools & daycares
We have received many inquiries about how it’s appropriate for our residents to live near schools or otherwise near children. This is based on a misconception that our clients are dangerous to children. This is simply untrue. The question about the safety of children walking past our building implies that there are fears our residents would strike or snatch a child passing by. Such incidents have not occurred, and we are at a loss as to how that stereotype ever came to exist. Concerns about sex offenders are often raised, but the fact is we seldom see them among the disabled population we serve. Furthermore, we have stated publicly that we are willing to prohibit anyone with a sex offense from living in our building if the neighborhood finds that a desirable assurance. There is no statistical evidence that mentally ill people are more dangerous than the general population.

Engagement with neighbors
It’s typical for us to hear two principal questions from neighbors: will the project move forward, and if it does, how will it interact with the neighborhood? Thus far our outreach and education to the neighborhood have included our meeting on June 27th, three other community events in which we had a presence (a staffed table with informational materials) in order to talk with people about DESC, a tour for Delridge neighbors of other DESC sites, time spent planning for a Delridge-organized community forum at which we were invited to present about our plans, and other significant time spent responding to multiple questions from neighbors sent via email and in phone calls. These activities, including video coverage, have been covered in at least several postings on the West Seattle Blog, and extensive information has also been provided on other online resources targeted to a Delridge/West Seattle audience.

In all of our communications, we have been transparent in describing our resident population and the model we employ to help them. Our clients have had very difficult lives and we have a strong objective of having a safe and pleasant community for them to live. Neighbors want this as well, of course, and so we are earnest in establishing a relationship with the neighborhood aimed at supporting this mutual objective. Our intent is to continue working with neighbors over the long haul and one way we would do that is through the creation of a neighborhood advisory group to discuss our program and how best to integrate with the neighborhood.

Neighbors are encouraged to call at any time to request a staff person respond to an issue involving a building tenant's behavior in the neighborhood. Staff are prepared to respond immediately whenever possible to help; if the person in question is not a resident of the project our staff will still try to help them get whatever resources they may need.

Lease agreements with all tenants include prohibitions against certain behaviors in the neighborhood including panhandling, drinking, loitering, littering, or other uncivil behaviors.

DESC has a long history of siting projects, and often, neighbors raise concern when we first announce a location. We find that after opening, neighbors appreciate DESC's attentive approach to both how we operate our programs, and how we respond to neighborhood concerns.

In the vicinity of each of DESC's apartment buildings, neighborhoods have become more stable and property values have increased. The following are some examples:

Cascade neighborhood
In 1996, DESC's Kerner-Scott House was a pioneering development in a neighborhood in transition. Originally built in a neighborhood of unimproved parking lots and warehouses, the project was greeted warmly by the neighborhood. It now blends nicely in to the diverse fabric of high-end condominiums, market rate apartments, small business and retail shops.

Pioneer Square neighborhood
In December 2005, DESC completed the $27 million Morrison Rehabilitation that has both reclaimed the former nobility of the building and added to the vibrancy of a historic
district. What was once a negative presence on the block is now a credit to the street. Not surprisingly, development responded all around, including the opening of Tashiro-Kaplan artist lofts in 2004 and the Quintessa Apartments in 2008.

Hillman City neighborhood
DESC opened Rainier House, a 50-unit permanent supportive housing building located in the Hillman City neighborhood in 2009. It is located on a lot on Rainier Avenue that was overgrown with blackberries bushes, and held a large billboard sign. Following a $15 million investment in new construction, neighbors often refer to the building as "the nicest on the block." The Rainier Chamber of Commerce, which at first hearing of the prospect of a DESC development raised serious concern, has been the commercial tenant in the building since it opened, and speak highly of DESC both as a landlord and a housing operator. top

6) Measuring Success
Success in all our housing projects is measured in terms of the residential longevity of our tenants. That longevity is related to the clinical and social stabilization of tenants and is the principle reason we staff our buildings so generously. "Success" in Delridge will be defined in the same manner.

One of the core competencies of the organization lies in the breadth and depth of talent of its highly experienced and competent staff that works daily with one of the most challenging populations in our community. DESC is nationally recognized as expert in providing intensive services to chronically homeless people with mental health and substance abuse problems who are facing multiple obstacles and challenges in their lives. Recent recognition includes: the national Maxwell Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing from Fannie Mae (2008); US Interagency Council on Homelessness (2008); Affordable Housing Finance Magazine (2008); King County Exemplary Program Award (2007); Washington Co-Occurring Disorders Council (2007); MetLife Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing (2004, 2005).

In 2005, DESC won first place in a national competition for Metlife Foundation Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing in the category of Supportive Housing for its operation of the Kerner-Scott House. DESC's 1811 Eastlake project for chronic alcoholic adults was the subject of an evaluation funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which found that the facility saved the taxpayers $4 million per year compared to the cost of jail, treatment and detox programs (results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009). In 2007, that project received a national Maxwell Award from Fannie Mae and King County's Exemplary Program Award for Service Innovation. In 2008, DESC's Evans House received the Affordable Housing Finance's Readers' Choice Awards Finalist for Special-Needs Housing. In 2010, DESC was given a 'Friend of Housing Award' by the WA Housing Finance Commission recognizing its "innovation, partnership, and determination to end homelessness," and its outstanding programs expanding affordable housing resources for Washington’s low-income residents. top

More information about DESC's Cottage Grove Commons Supportive Housing is available here. We welcome any questions you may have about this program. Please contact Nicole Macri, DESC's Administrative Director, at 206-515-1514.

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