As Gov. Jay Inslee walked through the apartments above the Hope House women’s shelter on Tuesday, he asked if the facility would be the perfect landing spot for a patient discharged from Eastern State Hospital.
Unfortunately, the building’s nonprofit operators told him, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t count those people as chronically homeless – thus, they’re ineligible for the permanent supportive housing offered by Volunteers of America above the Third Avenue shelter.
If Inslee came to Spokane for a lesson on housing and homelessness, he received a crash course on Tuesday.
For the psychiatric patients at Eastern – who Inslee said the state has a “hellacious” time placing in housing – Inslee said he would tap federal legislators for help.
“That needs really critical attention,” Inslee said.
It was just one of the takeaways the governor had from a discussion with local leaders and Volunteers of America, the nonprofit that operates the Hope House women’s shelter and offers a variety of housing services.
Inslee toured the new Hope House, which opened last month, flanked by a smorgasbord of Spokane elected officials. On the first floor, the Hope House features beds and a host of amenities for 120 adult women in need of emergency shelter. Above, there are 60 studio apartments for permanent supportive housing.
The Hope House tour was not Inslee’s only stop on a brief visit to Spokane.
Inslee also got an inside look at the new Catalyst Building at the south landing of the University District Gateway Bridge on East Riverside Avenue. After a detailed walk-through of the Catalyst Building and its neighbor, the Scott Morris Center, Inslee lauded the project as a “quiet miracle.”
“It is a miracle but it’s quiet. It doesn’t have sparks coming out of it, it doesn’t have smokestacks coming out of it, it just has clean energy embedded in it,” Inslee said.
Rent is rising and so is the cost of living, but the funding necessary to place people in housing has not kept up, nonprofit leaders told Inslee on Tuesday. Those costs will likely only continue to increase.
Inslee narrowed the conversation to a few things the state could do to help, including providing more funding.
“Wherever I go, that’s the first solution to the problem – more money, higher (housing) voucher reimbursement, more vouchers, more everything, more pay,” Inslee said, adding the legislature provided additional funding for housing programs in the recently adopted state budget.
Inslee also stressed the need for wraparound social services, but asked how involved the state should be in requiring them from providers. The consensus, in response, was that local control was preferable to a state edict, as every community differs in what services it needs and can provide.
“You don’t want to get overly prescriptive. It’s a real fine balance, a little tight rope-walking thing, where maybe it is ‘yes, do wraparound services’ but not necessarily what they may include or what they may look like,” said Bridget Cannon, senior vice president of youth services for Volunteers of America.
The Catalyst Building
Inslee was visibly awestruck as he stood in front of the massive thermal storage tanks inside the Morris Center. Filled with water, the tanks essentially allow the site to store energy and deploy it in the most efficient way possible.
Leaders from the building’s partners – McKinstry, Avista, Katerra and Eastern Washington University – touted their close relationship, which they say allowed them to create a building that was both environmentally and cost efficient.
Eastern Washington University will be the building’s anchor tenant with more than 1,000 people served by a variety of programs.
The $60 million building essentially aims to be its own battery, storing energy when it’s most efficient to do so and then drawing on that supply when it’s most needed.
That synergy is only possible because McKinstry and Avista worked together in the design of the Catalyst, ensuring maximum energy efficiency, leaders of both companies stressed to the governor. The developers aim to have the Catalyst Building certified as net zero energy and net zero carbon-emitting. Earlier this year the building won a national Innovation Award in the Holistic Design category from the American Institute of Architects.
“The innovation I’ve seen here is unparalleled, maybe anywhere in the world,” Inslee said.
Thanks to the state’s Clean Energy Fund, Inslee expects more projects like the Catalyst Building will be completed across the state.
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