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New cottages to house homeless families in Spokane

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 9, 2017, 3:05 p.m.

Construction began Tuesday on a cluster of cottages that will house chronically homeless people and families in northwest Spokane.

Over the next year, Transitions, a nonprofit focused on lifting women and children out of poverty, will build 24 small homes at the intersection of North Hemlock Street and West Fairview Avenue.

The $6.2 million project has taken years to develop, as staff at Transitions debated what to do with the large grassy lot sitting just south of the organization’s headquarters. They considered projects like a community garden, but decided new homes made the most sense.

“We do housing and we should do housing,” said Edie Rice-Sauer, Transitions’ executive director. The organization also runs transitional housing for women and children fleeing domestic violence, and women struggling with drug addiction.

It’s a unique development in a city that has built several apartment complexes to house chronically homeless people. Rice-Sauer said the property’s location in the Audubon Downriver neighborhood made a large complex impractical, so Transitions decided to build a cluster of cottages, following a 2006 city ordinance that outlines design standards. The complex will be called the Home Yard Cottages.

“It’s a very residential, lovely neighborhood, so we wanted to honor and participate in that,” Rice-Sauer said.

Cottages must be under 1,000 square feet and range from single-story studios to three-bedroom, two-story houses. Some will meet Americans with Disability Act accessibility standards for people who use mobility devices. The complex includes two playgrounds and a small garden, as well as a community building with laundry. Larger houses will have their own washer and dryer.

At a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, Councilwoman Karen Stratton said the city needed more affordable housing projects in economically diverse neighborhoods.

“Poor kids who grow up in those mixed-income neighborhoods have better outcomes,” she said, after speaking about her own childhood in northeast Spokane.

Construction and design funding came from a mix of sources, including donations from private foundations and several orders of nuns, as well as city and state funds.

State funds allowed Transitions to include 15 energy-efficient homes in the mix that will be “net zero,” meaning they generate as much power as they use.

More than 100 people attended the groundbreaking, where speakers at times poked fun at the hot weather. After Stratton said she hoped she could go swimming later, state Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), who helped secure state funding, challenged her to a cannonball contest.

“We’ll make it a fundraiser for Transitions! How about that?” he joked, drawing applause from the crowd.

Closing the ceremony, Spokane Tribe member and retired teacher David Browneagle spoke about the need for compassion across all classes of people before giving a blessing for the new homes.

“Allow us to stand tall amongst the people, and if we see somebody down, extend our hand and help them up,” he prayed.

The cottages will be finished in late summer or early fall 2018, with applications going through the Spokane Housing Authority. They’re open to single adults and families and most require a history of homelessness, though a few will be open to low-income people with a requirement of past homelessness.

Transitions is working with ESD 101 to include student apprentices through Youth Build in the construction process. Rice-Sauer said she hopes the project can double as a job training opportunity for them, though the logistics are still being sorted out.

“Homelessness is finally getting the attention it deserves,” Riccelli said.