Housing the homeless is a good idea, right? But what happens when the housing is next door to you?
On Monday night at Ballard High School, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development convened a design review board that consisted of architects from the Weinstein AIU architectural firm. The purpose of the public meeting was to discuss design options (.pdf) for newly approved low-income housing in downtown Ballard.
The housing is being developed by the Compass Center, a longtime fixture in downtown Seattle. It will be 57,000 square feet, seven stories high and house 80 residents. The building site is on Northwest 56th Street between 17th and 20th Avenues Northwest.
The Compass Center Ballard will be a new housing facility that will provide housing for homeless and low-income men and women who have issues that range from mental health to drug and alcohol dependency, according to its website.
Rumi Takahashi, the project’s lead architect, said although the project is in its early design stages, it will move forward and the Compass Center has already purchased the land. “They have now recently secured funding for the project, so financially we’re a go,” Takahashi said. She added that the money comes from a combination of public sources: the state, the county and the city.
Although the meeting was supposed to be about design options, local residents seemed more concerned with how the residents of the Compass Center Ballard will interact with the community.
Mike Yamaguchi, the owner of the Landmark Apartments and whose building will border the new Compass Center Ballard, said neither he nor any of the landowners nearby were given any notice about the construction of the housing.
“They tried to slide this entire project right behind our back,” Yamaguchi said.
Yamaguchi added that the lack of adequate parking combined with a substantial increase in people could cause problems.
“When you have that mass of people in a small space, violence occurs—all the time,” Yamaguchi said.
Dave Jarrell, an architect who works across the street from the Compass Center Ballard site, said this project has not been clearly communicated about to Ballard residents. He said they probably knew this would concern some people and instead of being upfront about it, they tried to “slide it by” everyone.
“Right away they should have been upfront with the notice here, that it wasn’t just low- income, that it was a segment of low-income that more people would probably be interested in finding out about,” Jarrell said.
Not everyone at the meeting had concerns about the housing. Melissa Hyatt, chair of the safety and security committee at St. Alphonsus Parish School in Ballard, said the project to build the Compass Center has been very visible and she couldn’t understand how some residents didn’t know about it. “Are you not reading your mail? This has been spoken about at the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, the Ballard District Council; this is a well-known project,” Hyatt said. Hyatt said she represents St. Alphonsus and was present at the meeting to support the project. “I am not at all concerned about this building; I think they’re doing it exactly right,” Hyatt said. “I think this is a great place for it.” When asked if she was concerned about the residents being a threat to anyone, Hyatt said she wasn’t. “Data supports that when you take people off the streets and you put them in a stable home they actually settle down, become much more stable,” Hyatt said. Hyatt said the naysayers of the project would say that they want to help the homeless, but when it comes time to “walk the walk,” they’d rather just “talk the talk.” “I don’t think you’d be able to find any location near them (where) they would support a project like this,” Hyatt said.
The Compass Center Ballard project is currently in the first of three stages prior to the breaking of ground and has no completion date yet.
(Contributor CHRIS MONGILLO is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)