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Bloomside supportive housing FAQs

These are the questions most frequently asked of DESC. Please click on the “plus” symbol on the right hand side to expand the sections.

What is DESC? 

Since 1979, Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) has provided a multitude of services that provide health and housing to vulnerable people experiencing homelessness including behavioral health services, crisis intervention, outreach, over 500 shelter beds and survival services, and over 1200 supportive housing units across multiple neighborhoods in Seattle.  

DESC’s supportive housing has been the subject of numerous research evaluations and has won numerous awards. 

DESC is a 501c3 nonprofit organization funded by a mixture of public contracts, health insurance (Medicaid), tenant rents and rent subsidies, and private donations. 

What is Permanent Supportive Housing? 

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a model that brings support services to tenants to help them live successfully in their apartments. Each tenant signs a lease, their housing is permanent, and they may stay as long as they wish, provided they abide by the terms of the lease.  

Tenants pay 30% of their income as rent. DESC’s operating costs are supported by these tenant rents and other sources likely including a rent subsidy supplied by King County Housing Authority vouchers. DESC Burien tenants have the typical rights and responsibilities of traditional housing with the added support of onsite case management, onsite property management, and 24/7 staffing. 

On-site case managers assist tenants to connect with behavioral health providers, attend medical appointments, keep units clean and in good condition, obtain metro passes, pay rent on time, and manage their medication. DESC Burien will also provide some meal service, onsite activities, therapeutic groups, and crisis management services. 

What will the staffing be like at DESC Burien? 

DESC Burien will have an on-site leadership team including: 

  • Program Manager 
  • Residential Counselor Supervisor 
  • Clinical Support Supervisor 
  • Project Coordinator 
  • Neighborhood Coordinator 

Support Staff will include: 

  • Five Clinical Support Specialists  
  • 10 Residential Counselors (staffing the front desk and property 24/7)  
  • Maintenance and Janitorial staff 

Staff presence is highest during daytime hours, with overnight and weekend times having, at minimum, two staff members onsite. 

All DESC staff receive training across various topics including creating a supportive environment, de-escalation and crisis intervention. All DESC staff are held to high development standards, with required and professional training opportunities being the norm for all DESC employees.  

Building trusting relationships with our tenants is important, and DESC’s Learning and Development department continues to improve upon a training curriculum that allows us to avoid an unnecessary reliance on external sources such as police services.  

Will Bloomside have its own vehicles for tenant transportation? 

DESC Burien will have at least two vehicles onsite for client transportation. Staff frequently assist tenants in taking them shopping or to medical appointments, and when it is not feasible to use public transportation, staff can use the onsite vehicles. 

Why did DESC choose the City of Burien for this project? 

DESC is focused on providing services for individuals experiencing homelessness in King County and provides behavioral health crisis services countywide. In Burien, we see a community with unmet needs among the population group that DESC serves, and a community with a stated intent to address affordable housing needs.  

We seek sites that are appropriate to our program and building needs. This means looking for properties in places where zoning supports the sort of multi-unit properties we create. The site at 801 SW 150th St is suited to our tenants since it is located near a transit hub and features easy access to groceries and other amenities. DESC entered a purchase and sale agreement in summer 2020 and closed on the property in August of 2021. 

Furthermore, with the City of Burien’s Affordable Housing Demonstration Program (which DESC applied for in fall of 2020), we know we are joining a community of shared values, one that supports equity and housing. 

What is the proposed design of the Bloomside supportive housing project? 

DESC Burien will feature 95 studio units for single adults with a service space dedicated to tenant support on the first floor. Amenities include a commercial kitchen, a medical office, a street-facing front desk with 24/7 staffing, offices for case managers, and an alley-facing exterior courtyard that may only be accessed by tenants. We plan to provide three onsite parking spaces for DESC use. Our tenants do not typically own vehicles; thus, we do not expect to need more parking for this purpose.  

This building includes solar panels and electronic utility monitoring systems which allow maintenance staff to intervene in real-time, if a leak occurs in the building or water is running excessively. Additionally, each unit is equipped with an automatic shut-off feature should the water be left running. We also have a landscaping plan that will add trees and green space to the areas along SW 150th St and 8th Ave. 

We are funding the building through Low Income Housing Tax Credits, county and state funding, and through private donation. Construction will be complete in early 2024, and DESC Burien will welcome its first tenants in May of 2024! 

Demographics/Population/Residents 

Apartments are prioritized in the following manner: 

  • 30% are dedicated to Burien community members 
  • 25 are dedicated to United States Veterans 

How will Bloomside recruit and select applicants? 

DESC is working with local organizations to target and outreach individuals already experiencing homelessness in Burien. These individuals will apply for DESC Burien units through King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s (KCRHA) Coordinated Entry program.  

Bloomside will house single adults experiencing chronic homelessness, which means people homeless for one year or longer and living with a disability. Tenants will have incomes less than 30% of the area median income. Since supportive housing is a specialized resource with built-in robust support, DESC selects applicants who need this type of housing to be successful. 

King County has affirmed that new supportive housing programs should be established to meet the needs of people already living within the community. 

Will neighbors see an increase in drug activity in the community? 

Some DESC clients struggle with substance use disorder. We work with people and connect them to support services at their own pace. We don’t tolerate drug dealing on our properties and we have a code of conduct for our tenants that prohibits drug-related and other problematic behaviors in the surrounding community.  

The Bloomside building will have sharps disposal bins in multiple shared areas such as the client restrooms, laundry rooms, and trash rooms. Housing case managers will work closely with tenants to ensure they have the resources needed to dispose of any sharps safely and appropriately. 

Will Bloomside increase emergency response calls? 

Some DESC tenants live with complex conditions that sometimes result in personal crises, especially medical emergencies. We attempt to minimize these events by being attentive to what is going on with our tenants and bringing services to them. Given the disability profiles of our tenants, it’s true that 911 calls are more likely to occur in a DESC building than an average apartment building. Examples of what might happen include a DESC tenant calling 911 to report an issue that either isn’t real or isn’t an emergency. Partnerships with police and fire allow us to ensure we keep these calls down. 

Studies on DESC and other supportive housing programs have shown that crisis events and 911 calls decrease once people go into supportive housing compared to when those people were on the streets, so the overall burden on crisis response systems in Burien will go down. 

What is DESC’s plan if tenants cause disruptions in the neighborhood? 

When tenants move in, they sign an addendum to the lease called the Good Neighbor Policy. This policy requires tenants to observe local laws and ordinances and share in their community’s care. Neighbors may call DESC Burien’s front desk at any time should they suspect that a DESC tenant is not adhering to the policy. If the person resides in the DESC Burien building, we will do our best to help resolve the matter quickly. Please know that due to HIPPA regulations, we cannot disclose any personal information about our clients.  

Will property crimes increase because of your tenants, or visitors of your tenants? 

Research has shown repeatedly that when people experiencing homelessness gain the stability of a home, incidents of arrests and incarceration decline significantly and steadily.

How will DESC help integrate tenants into the surrounding neighborhood? 

DESC’s tenants will all be permanent residents of the community. Many of them will eagerly avail themselves of the range of community activities in the neighborhood, while others will more likely keep to themselves. DESC is excited to help facilitate connection between tenants of our building and other neighbors by establishing low-key social events for people to meet one another, via neighborhood cleanup projects, and other similar activities. 

Will more people experiencing homelessness be living in cars or motorhomes near the building? 

The DESC building will not have services for people other than those who live in the building, so there would be no advantage to parking a vehicle near the building. 

What is DESC’s process of connecting residents for long-term housing for its residents? 

Permanent supportive housing is considered long-term housing. Not everyone stays forever, but the typical tenant stays for many years until another type of environment is needed such as assisted living or skilled nursing. Some people move out to other housing along the way because they desire something else. In such cases, DESC staff assist tenants with making these other arrangements. 

Are the services offered mandatory? 

DESC uses a voluntary model of services. Evidence shows that coercing participation in services is not as effective as devising services and engagement strategies that are attractive to tenants. This results in high service participation rates. 

What organizations have you reached out to in Burien for collaboration? 

DESC has connected with various behavioral healthcare and social services organizations doing work in Burien including: Navos, SeaMar, Sound Health, Catholic Community Services, the LEAD program, REACH, and Mary’s Place (to name a few). 

Will DESC track data on how successful it is in housing individuals from Burien? 

Yes. DESC has a robust data system that tracks people we serve. We will ensure we track updated information about where people were experiencing homelessness to quantify our local positive impact as we open DESC Burien. 

Will DESC prioritize people of color? 

BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) are overrepresented in the population of people experiencing homelessness. As a result, we expect that Bloomside will house high numbers of BIPOC individuals. While many of our prioritization requirements (such as our set-aside veteran units) come from public funding sources, DESC may consider folding other prioritizations into its recruitment. 

What’s the average time tenants stay with DESC? 

For most people, their DESC apartment is a permanent home until they pass away or need a higher level of care. The inflated cost of market rate housing and income levels of the tenant population make it unlikely they will move into an independent market rate housing situation. 

How will DESC connect with non-English speaking communities?  

All DESC materials can be translated into the speaker’s desired language by clicking on the “translate” tab at the top left corner of our home page www.desc.org. We will also be providing information in several languages as we outreach the community in person. 

Is there any City of Burien funding going into the program? 

No, and we do not expect to receive any. 

Are there similar PSH sites in King County?

You may see other similar DESC facilities on our Supportive Housing webpage, www.desc.org/what-we-do/housing  

Are there compliance guidelines from funders that DESC Burien will follow? 

DESC Burien will be funded by capital public sources such as the Washington State Department of Commerce Housing Trust Fund, the King County Housing Finance Program, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.  

We will also be receiving King County Support Services funding, as well as 95 King County Housing Authority vouchers for this project.  

In working with these public funders, DESC Burien will be required to commit to making the building affordable for 50 years, submitting tenant eligibility paperwork each year, and undergoing annual unit inspections, to name a few. 

If someone has a history of violence, would they be vetted in or out of the system? 

DESC does not exclude individuals with criminal backgrounds from its housing programs. We find that people with long histories of homelessness may have criminal records that reflect the difficulties of surviving without shelter or housing. In many cases, past violent behavior stems from lack of connection to behavioral health resources. That said, our tenants are some of the most vulnerable individuals in the community which makes them much more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. The lease that tenants sign upon move-in clearly identifies violence as cause for lease termination. 

What is your pet policy with the tenants? 

DESC does not allow pets but allows service and emotional-support animals. 

Are couples or married couples allowed to cohabitate? 

Our studios are single occupancy studio apartments only. 

How has DESC’s PSH program evolved over the years? 

This model was very new in the 1990s when DESC opened its first housing projects. Housing readiness was a prevailing idea at the time which required that people experiencing homelessness meet certain expectations such as sobriety or employment to obtain housing.  

Over time, providing someone with housing and a safe and stable place to live regardless of their life circumstances became more accepted. Along the way, we engaged with external researchers to evaluate the approach and identify the elements that make it successful. Increasingly, other institutions and sectors have come to see housing as fundamental to having good health. 

What is the eviction rate for DESC properties? 

DESC supportive housing really provides permanent homes for most people and eviction is exceedingly rare. 

What is the vacancy rate for DESC properties? 

Turnover in DESC buildings is extremely low. It varies between 2-5% annually. Most people who move into DESC housing make it their life-long home. 

Will this location have a safe injection site? 

No, Bloomside will not run a safe injection site. This will be a housing development only. 

What is DESCs approach to substance use treatment? 

Some DESC clients are living with substance use disorder. We take an open and honest approach with our tenants about this topic. Much like substance use in the broader community, many addictions play out in private, and we work to connect people to treatment and services.  

We use an approach called harm reduction. This is a practical approach that acknowledges risky behavior, like drug use, exists in our world. Instead of demanding risky behavior simply cease (often with insignificant effect), harm reduction attempts to reduce the dangers associated with the risky behavior. This can take many forms, but the most well-known are access to clean needles and to condoms.  

Harm reduction incorporates a non-judgmental approach, and we have found that clients are more willing to talk about substance use, and to accept services, when they feel like their autonomy is intact. 

A common societal belief exists that the only path to recovery from substance use is immediate and total abstinence and/or a tough love approach. While this approach works for some people, others have not been successful and have worsening outcomes over time. This means that other approaches are required if we hope to meet the treatment needs in our community. 

DESC has partnered with the University of Washington on several studies, and we have not seen any support for the idea that our harm reduction approach leads to increase substance use or a worsening of substance use outcomes. In study after study, we have found the opposite: harm reduction is associated with reduced drug use, reduced harm at the personal and at the community level.