For Suzy Stewart- James, things started falling apart in 2004. First, the money that allowed the freelance illustrator to live independently after a divorce, dried up. Then, she took a tumble down the steps of her apartment, causing a hematoma in her brain. Two surgeries were required to treat the injury, during which time she also acquired a blood clot in her right leg, necessitating its amputation. At age 34, Stewart-James was suffering from a severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and living at a nursing home in Shoreline. Though she rebounded and remarried in 2007, her debilitating depression returned when she and her husband were evicted from their apartment two years later. This bout landed Stewart-James in a mental health care facility. With her husband completing an unpaid internship at the Union Gospel Mission and her SSI check, the couple was unable to find an affordable place to live after her release. That’s when Stewart-James contacted Sound Mental Health for help.
Today, Stewart-James is stably housed and resuming her life thanks to a unique partnership between Sound Mental Health and the King County Housing Authority at Pacific Court in Tukwila.
Pacific Court is a public housing complex that provides permanent housing and supportive services to formerly chronically homeless adults with disabilities. The King County Housing Authority owns and manages the complex. It is an example of the “Housing First” approach to addressing homelessness. Housing First is based on the belief that vulnerable and at- risk homeless households are more responsive to interventions and social services support after they are in their own housing. Tenants pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. Since moving into Pacific Court two years ago, Stewart-James has begun to heal.
“Living at Pacific Court is like living in a haven,” said Stewart-James. “It’s a blessing to work with a case manager and be able to talk about my feelings. I didn’t have that at the nursing home. I’m stable and feeling good enough to start painting and drawing again.”
On Dec. 8, Stewart-James and other residents of Pacific Court Apartments, King County Housing Authority, the city of Tukwila, King County, and Sound Mental Health will celebrate the grand opening of Pacific Court’s new community building. The community facility caps a series of efforts by the Housing Authority aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable people, a struggling neighborhood, and the local economy.
Pacific Court previously was a distressed property. It was so crime-ridden and deteriorated that the city of Tukwila forced the owner to close it and relocate the residents. KCHA purchased the property in 2008 with assistance from King County and the state Department of Commerce, eliminating a problem property on the periphery of the city’s Tukwila Village revitalization project.
“This handsome new community building serves a number of critical purposes,” said Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton. “Not only does it provide cost-effective services for a pressing need – getting and keeping chronically homeless mentally ill people off the streets – it’s a nice improvement for the Thorndyke neighborhood. It’s a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable among us, and its construction, along with the renovation of another public housing complex nearby, generated jobs and economic activity in the community.”
Funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the new $285,000 community building provides office space for the coordinated delivery of supportive services, as well as gathering space for the Pacific Court Apartments’ 52 residents. The 1,456 square-foot, fully ADA accessible facility has offices for a site manager, case managers, and counselors. Kitchen facilities, an activities room, and computer lab are also available for residents’ use. The building incorporates an open floor plan with high ceilings and an abundance of windows.
“KCHA strives to create vibrant housing communities” said KCHA Executive Director Stephen Norman. “This new facility will provide the residents at Pacific Court with access to the support they need to allow them to stabilize their lives and acquire new skills.”
The structure, which was built to a Three-Star Built Green™ standard, was designed by Tonkin Hoyne Architecture and Urban Design.
A recent study by the Econsult Corporation measuring the economic impact of construction work on public housing sites nationally concluded that every construction dollar spent generates $2.12 in additional economic activity through wages, purchases of goods and services, and consumer spending by workers.
Since receiving $23.5 million in ARRA funds in 2009, KCHA has made improvements to 24 public housing communities and contracted with more than 206 private businesses that have employed more than 1,470 workers in living wage construction jobs in King County.
In addition to the construction of the community building, KCHA recently completed a $2.65 million renovation of the adjacent Riverton Terrace. This initiative upgraded vital fire safety systems for the building’s elderly and disabled residents, remodeled community spaces, and made significant building envelope improvements, reducing energy costs.
Saving taxpayers up to $285K annually
Chronically homeless people consume a disproportionate share of money allocated to social and health programs. Using conservative figures, a report commissioned by KCHA concluded that Pacific Court saves taxpayers up to $285,000 per year by ending the cycle for formerly homeless residents of churning between hospital beds, shelters, and jails.
“By providing supportive housing for some of our most vulnerable community members, Pacific Court takes us one step closer to our goal of ending homelessness” said Jackie MacLean, the County’s director of community and health services. “Combining a stable home with a comprehensive and thoughtful range of services, we help to break the cycle of chronic homelessness, save money, and most importantly, save lives.”
King County helped fund Pacific Court with a $2 million investment and provides ongoing funding for the supportive services. Additional funding of Pacific Court was provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce.
Helping these individuals improve their situation frees up resources that can be used to serve others more effectively. By living in permanent housing with supportive services instead of on the streets or in shelters, residents at Pacific Court use far fewer public resources. Medicaid claims decline as individuals living in housing stay healthier than those living on the street. Pacific Court residents are less likely to be jailed or rely on emergency medical services and hospitals for their health care. The need to use shelters, which tend to be costly to run and don’t provide long-term solutions, disappears. The improvement in the quality of life for Pacific Court residents, such as Suzy Stewart-James, is inestimable.
Sound Mental Health, a nonprofit licensed mental health and certified chemical dependency agency, provides day to day services onsite at Pacific Court including counseling, case management, medication management, vocational and employment services, and psychiatric and mental health consultation.
“Addressing our shared responsibility to decrease homelessness and increase housing requires a partnership,” said David Stone, CEO of Sound Mental Health. “Pacific Court is an example of the collective efforts of the Housing Authority, the County, HUD, and SMH. We are proud to be a partner at this beautiful supportive housing complex and work towards addressing the challenges of homelessness in the process.”
KCHA administers a range of quality affordable rental and homeownership programs for residents of King County. The Authority serves more than 18,000 households daily including family, elderly and disabled households.
Pacific Court is located at 4028 South 146th St. in Tukwila. Featured speakers will include Pacific Court residents Jermaine Combs and Marqueze Cox, Tukwila City Councilmember Joan Hernandez, King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Jackie MacLean, Sound Mental Health CEO David Stone, and KCHA Executive Director Stephen Norman
The previously privately owned Pacific Court Apartments was a crime-ridden, physically dilapidated property. After being forced to close the complex by the city of Tukwila, the owner decided to renovate the apartments and sell them as condominium units. When the residential market tanked, the owner put the property up for sale instead.
KCHA purchased the 32-unit apartment complex for $3.5 million in 2008 with the intent to house homeless and disabled individuals as part of its commitment to end homelessness in King County. Thanks to the flexibility provided under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Work (MTW) program, KCHA was able to design a unique approach partnering public housing with locally funded supportive services. “The King County Housing Authority has turned Pacific Court Apartments from a negative to a positive,” said Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton. “We encourage other landlords to use similarly effective management strategies to keep their properties well maintained and safe. KCHA’s work has set the stage nicely for our Tukwila Village redevelopment project, which we believe will further revitalize this area of our city.”