Ask the experts–our clients!

If you are building apartments, why not ask the experts–the tenants–how to improve them?

John Putre, an architect with SMR, takes feedback from clients at Interbay.

That’s what DESC’s Property Development Team and SMR Architects did recently, when they visited DESC’s Interbay Place to ask tenants’ opinions on everything from counter space, windows and ranges to TV and respite rooms.

A Client Voice listening session like this complements other ways DESC engages with clients to learn how to better serve them, and it provided good feedback to incorporate in upcoming projects.

One of those is to be built a few blocks north of Interbay, the 15th Ave. W. Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) project which SMR is designing.

SMR Architects also designed Interbay, and wanted to learn how this model works for those who live and work within it. It includes offices, common areas inside and out, and individual studio apartments with private bathrooms, efficiency kitchens, some cabinets, a bed, small table with two chairs, a closet, shelving and windows that open.

Touring an apartment

The visitors’ first stop was an Interbay resident’s apartment, where they spent about 30 minutes asking questions and listening: Would it be better to have more counter space to the right of the stove? Did they use the full-size oven, or should it be smaller?

“Yes, the full-size oven is used…No, it shouldn’t be smaller…The tables would be easier to use for paper work if they were a little larger. …”

SMR representatives heard that the center overhead light in the living space is too bright if you’re lying down. They measured, took notes and considered storage: Could they add cabinets above the refrigerator? Could some of the small shelving areas be something different? Could the bathrooms have some counter and storage space?

What about the street noise, they asked? What about walking in the neighborhood? Is it accessible to get around? Is there a nearby crosswalk?

Checking out the common areas

After viewing the apartment the group invited all of the tenants to the common areas on the first floor to give feedback on those spaces, as well as their apartments. The main lobby space is well-lit by large windows, and features comfortable seating, occasional tables and computer stations. The tenants said that before COVID-19, they liked to use the lobby, TV and computer areas, and that created a sense of community.

The architects wondered if residents use the outdoor common area, which features benches and is screened from the street. Yes, the tenants assured them, they use the common area. Well then, could it be better?

The feedback session lasted about two hours. DESC plans to hold them more regularly going forward–at least once, and maybe twice a year, at various locations. That way, any DESC tenant may voice their opinions.

Several tenants who voiced their opinions that day first moved in when Interbay opened in 2015.

“I love living here,” one longtime resident said. “I just love it.”

National Homelessness Law Center honors Nicole Macri

A woman with chin-length dark hair in a red cardigan, ivory-colored shirt and string of beads speaks into a microphone at a podium bearing the image of Martin Luther King. She has a pleasant bearing. There is a paneled wall behind her.
DESC’s Nicole Macri talks about the benefits of Housing First during the opening of the Mary Pilgrim Inn emergency housing project last fall.

The National Homelessness Law Center (Law Center) honored DESC Deputy Director for Strategy Nicole Macri for her work as Washington state representative for the 43rd district with the State Legislator Award at the 2022 Human Right to Housing Awards.

The Law Center presented the annual nonpartisan awards on Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C., for work to advance solutions to homelessness in America. Also honored were U.S. Representative Cori Bush, Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless co-founder Patricia Mullahy Fugere, Alston & Bird LLP and A Bigger Vision Films.

As the Law Center noted, for over 20 years, Nicole “has championed issues around affordable housing, homelessness, human services, behavioral health and health care. She has been at the forefront of the Housing First movement nationally and is a recognized leader in practical and effective strategies that end the homelessness of people living with serious disabilities. In 2021, her Just Cause Eviction bill became law, ensuring that Washington state landlords provide a valid reason for ending certain leases with tenants, a major step in preventing homelessness.”

The Law Center is the leading national voice defending the legal rights of persons experiencing homelessness and advancing the human right to housing.


Fixing the behavioral health crisis response system

From behind we see a woman's arm raised in a gesture of explanation as three men solemnly look on. They are standing outside on a sunny fall day, and there is part of a tall apartment building and a wooden fence across the street behind them.
Director of Clinical Programs Maggie Hostnick talks about the CSC during a tour in September. Listening are King County Director of the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) Leo Flor, DESC Associate Director of Mobile Response Freyton Castillo and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

By DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone

You may have missed the article, “Seattle psychiatric nurse reckons with the city’s most vulnerable residents,” on Nov. 25, featuring a psychiatric nurse working at DESC trying to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community. 

It’s two stories in one, showing an intense level of suffering being experienced by people living with serious psychiatric conditions and the heavy toll that can take on the people attempting to relieve that suffering. And it’s vividly told, showing minute-by-minute examples of what inadequate support  from the behavioral health crisis response system can look like.

Service providers have sounded the alarm

More than a year ago I joined with numerous colleagues across the behavioral health treatment continuum to sound the alarm to government leaders about the state of the crisis response system and scarcity of appropriate community supports, using phrases like “people in crisis” and “workforce challenges” and “the under-resourced behavioral health system.”  The stories chronicled in this article are the raw versions of what those phrases mean.

People living with psychiatric conditions are not inherently dangerous, but in all walks of life danger rises with desperation.  If you can’t get the help you need for the symptoms you are experiencing and the pain you are suffering, you can deteriorate in ways that might include diminished ability to regulate your emotions.  When that leads to risks of harm to yourself or other people, you need more intense help, and you need it now, not sometime after waiting weeks for an evaluation as described in the article.  Same-day evaluation with immediate placement into treatment used to be the norm in responding to these severe situations, but now DESC and other community providers are often left without that essential backup support.

So with a picture this bleak, what’s the way out?

Last year we and others proposed essentially the three-legged stool of a greatly enhanced crisis response system including the creation of places for people in crisis to receive immediate support, major support for the behavioral health workforce, and investment in the basic infrastructure everyone needs to have a healthy life, none more important than safe and affordable housing. We applaud King County’s recent announcement of plans to ask voters to approve a proposal to build many more crisis centers and to provide appropriate compensation and training to the behavioral health workforce.  The state and federal governments should also provide resources to bolster this system. While enhancements to our crisis system’s capacity are urgently needed, solely building up the crisis response system is not sufficient to fully address the needs of people experiencing crises and frontline workers who are caring for them.

A whole lot of crisis can and will be prevented when we fully attend to the support systems and housing everyone needs.  Evidence-based practices implemented at DESC and elsewhere, such as Housing First permanent supportive housing, Assertive Community Treatment, specialized outreach and crisis response programs, and routine behavioral healthcare services delivered in community-based settings for people with long histories of trauma, have been under immense strain during the pandemic.  Normal supports have been weakened, and timely interventions not as available. 

The Washington state Legislature has an opportunity to invest in these things

The state Legislature will be convening in January and has an opportunity to invest in behavioral health and affordable housing resources and the essential workforce that prevents people from experiencing a crisis and supports their recovery after a crisis.

There are reasons to be hopeful, at least in the long run.  For one, there is an incredible behavioral health workforce, albeit a fractured and hurting one, to build on.  At often great personal sacrifice, people continue to show up every day to carry out the proposition that people with psychiatric conditions deserve direct, personal care and can thrive when they get it.  Likewise, people with these conditions want that help and care, and make use of it best when it’s consistently available and they aren’t fighting for survival. 

System investments can lead us into a new era of behavioral health

The pandemic exacerbated all of this for sure.  As that recedes there should be some level of natural improvement.  Investments to restore and build the system we all need will get us through the current chaos and into a new era where everyone with psychiatric conditions can resume thriving and healthy lives.

(This piece first appeared in The Seattle Times.)

Hobson Place wins affordable housing award

A birdesye view of a double-winged, multistory building with gray siding and blue, white and yellow window detail.
Hobson Place 2 and The Clinic at Hobson Place opened in January 2022.

Hobson Place was named the Affordable Housing Development of the Year at the 2022 Night of the Stars, presented by NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association Washington Chapter on Nov. 4.

Congratulations to all of our partners on this project! Read all of the project and award details and see more photos, on the NAIOPWA website.

The awards recognize the “best commercial real estate development projects in Washington state.” Only the affordable housing development category allowed for projects that received any public funding.

Hobson Place and The Clinic at Hobson Place comprise DESC’s permanent supportive housing project integrated with a primary and behavioral health clinic, operated in partnership with Harborview Medical Center. We opened the second phase of the housing project and the clinic in January 2022.

Affordable Housing Development of the Year

According to the NAIOP website, this award recognizes a project that exemplifies design, construction, and development excellence while creating lasting social, economic and environmental impacts. Projects addressed “the serious affordable housing crisis in our region and 100% of the residential units within the projects in this category must be income qualified.” 

Nominees received points on meeting the category criteria, their community impact, social equity, economic impact, innovations in funding and at the judges’ discretion.