The city of Spokane’s plans to start a new homeless shelter on East Trent Avenue took a significant step forward Monday night.
The Spokane City Council approved a five-year deal to lease 4320 E. Trent Ave., the identified location for a proposed 150- to 250-bed low-barrier homeless shelter. The property is owned by developer Larry Stone under an LLC, Lawrence B. Stone Properties No. 4320.
With the lease secured, city officials have hopes to open the shelter later this summer, perhaps as early as August, pending an agreement with the agency recommended to run the facility’s day-to-day operations as well as another agency to provide wraparound services to tenants.
“This is the step for us to get in the right direction,” Council Member Jonathan Bingle said. “That direction is shelter and services for those in need.”
The City Council voted 6-1, with Council Member Karen Stratton opposed.
In her opposition, Stratton cited the many questions still surrounding the Trent Avenue proposal, such as operational costs and specifics on the operations and services that will take place at the facility.
City officials have also repeatedly acknowledged that the Trent Avenue facility is not the end-all and be-all to the city’s homelessness problem.
While the goal is to have a minimum of 150 beds at the Trent shelter, the “Camp Hope” homeless encampment on state Department of Transportation land along East Second Avenue has upwards of 400 to 500 people living there.
“To sit up here and be told ‘if you don’t vote for this shelter, there’s not a plan B’ is really disappointing to me that we have known about this for so long and we don’t have a plan B,” Stratton said.
Camp Hope has grown on the WSDOT land as the city has an inadequate number of shelter beds to house the city’s homeless population.
Stratton said she is disappointed the city has not, in the last six months since Camp Hope emerged on the WSDOT land, thoroughly explored options such as tiny homes, pallet homes and RV parking.
“What happens if it’s slow?” she said of Trent Avenue. “We’re going to open those doors, we’re going to force people into the Trent shelter, and then if they don’t go in, we’re going to be able to say, ‘We have available beds and you’re not using that shelter, so now we get to take you off the streets because we don’t want to see you out here.’ That keeps me awake at night.”
As work continues on the Trent Avenue shelter, the state Department of Commerce has offered $24.3 million to Spokane County to help relocate people out of Camp Hope pending a proposal to do so from the city and county, which is in the works through, in part, City Council staff and the city administration.
With East Trent Avenue, the council on Monday briefly considered perhaps tabling the lease for another two weeks until July 11, which is when City Administrator Johnnie Perkins has promised to give a presentation about several key details. Topics will include a proposed operator agreement with the Guardians Foundation to run the facility’s day-to-day operations and an agreement with the Salvation Army Spokane to provide services.
Perkins, however, said a two-week deferral would have been difficult, especially given that Stone has another party interested in the property.
As part of the lease agreement, the city will pay $26,100 base monthly rent plus a 2.5% lease management fee, down from 4% when the agreement was first presented to the City Council earlier this month during the council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee meeting.
Perkins – stating that lease management fees are collected for services associated with accepting and processing rent payments, ensuring the property is inspected on a regular basis, preventive maintenance and anything associated with emergency maintenance calls – said the fee is standard in similar leases, if not more expensive.
Despite the reduction, the management fee was still a questionable point as council members reviewed the updated lease Monday afternoon. The city’s negotiation team originally sought 2%, while Stone’s side sought 6%, Perkins said.
“It just gives me a little heartburn,” said Council Member Lori Kinnear.
Between the rent, the lease management fee and cost adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index, the lease is expected to cost at least $1.6 million over the five-year term.
The agreement also includes an option to buy within the first six months of the lease agreement, an option to renew for another five years and an early termination clause at the cost of eight month’s rent.
Renovations are underway to fix up the Trent Avenue facility. The first of two phases of renovations – entailing items including lighting, exterior fencing repairs and dividing the facility with temporary wall sections for occupants – will be paid for by “a joint private partnership” with Stone, Perkins said, at no cost to the city.
The second phase – which includes bathrooms, showers, washer/dryer hookups and furnishings for phones and Wi-Fi – would be covered by the city.
The improvements came up during a discussion of how the renovations could possibly increase the building’s purchase price if the city were to exercise that option to buy. While the option to buy calls for an appraiser agreed upon by the landlord and the city, council members noted that there’s no language in the agreement that would hold Stone to that appraiser’s price.
Council President Breean Beggs said he will propose for the city to begin purchase negotiations once the lease is finalized.
“Although we are hoping that in five years, homelessness is a very different situation than it is now we can probably make very good use of a facility like this,” Beggs said, “and if we can’t, rising real estate prices, we can sell it.”
Officials said the option-to-buy clause was added without much room for negotiation.
“In speaking with the owner about this exhibit and the potential for the city to purchase, they are willing to work with us on that and do so in a manner that would not be overly intrusive in terms of what price we would pay,” Perkins said.
Next steps involving the shelter are scheduled as discussion items for the July 11 meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee.
On the services side, the Salvation Army was one of three entities that submitted proposals to provide services at the facility. After two of those were rejected, the Salvation Army proposal was set aside as city officials considered other options, such as contracting individual service providers for specialized care rather than one organization providing a suite of services.
“We felt their relationship with the various providers that they have that deal with mental health, drug counseling, some of the other services we’d like to see,” Perkins said, “that it would benefit those that will be at the shelter to have someone with that experience there.”
City administrators are hoping to open the facility by Aug. 1.
That’s the goal date Perkins offered to Council Member Michael Cathcart who asked when Trent might begin housing people “if things go as expected from here on out.”
“I don’t expect everything to be 110% going on Aug. 1,” Perkins said. “I hope that is the case, but I think we have to be realistic and allow for staffing people and understanding the operations of both the Salvation Army and the Guardians Foundations.”
One of the questions surrounding the facility at this point is how much the shelter could cost the city to operate.
“This is just so fluid that we just can’t seem to get our hands around it to move forward,” said Council Member Betsy Wilkerson. “The building is a building is a building, but everything else, we’re dealing with people, and that’s a little challenging.”
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