Homelessness in FW
Rather than responding to a recent article in the Federal Way Mirror, I am commenting on the Aug. 21 Seattle Times article, “Despite state law, South King County cities limit homeless shelters.”
The article refers to Federal Way and Des Moines, both of which declined requests from Catholic Community Services to establish a shelter. In FW, my understanding is that the Catholic agency wanted to open a shelter on 13th Place S., an area which also provides numerous other services for low income children and adults. It is not particularly close to any residential housing, but close to both a food bank and economical grocery shopping. And Catholic Community Services has an excellent record in our state for providing safe spaces and cooperating with the surrounding community.
As a community which prides itself on its many churches, it’s difficult to square this with no civic desire to house our homeless, particularly homeless men, who are not a part of the Fusion community. In working with the homeless in the past, I found myriad reasons for this, including physical or mental disability, alienation from one’s family, one’s sexual orientation, and work discrimination on the basis of race/ethnic group, etc. Many individuals using drugs found that path only upon becoming homeless and seeking to numb the psychological pain and humiliation of being unable to afford, or qualify for, shelter. And wasn’t Jesus here to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and lead the poor? Don’t most religions teach us that we should be our brother’s keeper and to “do unto others what we would have done for us?”
As was recently reported, the average Social Security recipient in the U.S. is receiving about $1,860/month. If that is their sole income stream, those seniors might be able to afford a studio apartment in Federal Way, but nothing more. Currently there is a new development underway on 348th Street where the proposed rents for studios start at $2,000/month.
The causes of homelessness are myriad, but certainly include Wall Street, and “private equity” companies. Private equity has been heavily investing in the U.S. residential real estate market since the Great Recession of 2008-10.
They invest in homes, condos and apartments, and homes are rarely released back into the public markets, but leased out, or even allowed to stay vacant until market conditions improve. Wherever private equity money lands, it is removing property from the hands of regular citizens; and whatever it owns, it aims to make a very substantial profit to satisfy its shareholders and other stakeholders … hence, this can result in rent increases out of proportion to inflation and maintenance. If you would like to purchase a home, and you see homes, over and over again, being purchased as “all cash” agreements, that’s a private equity purchase — because how many of us have $400K-$600K sitting around just waiting to be used?
Another, almost invisible, strain on our housing resources is the rise of Airbnb rentals. At first these were considered to be ways to “make money on your spare bedroom.” But this idea long ago morphed into people purchasing multiple apartments or even homes and renting them out week after week, or even month after month, to visitors. Thus, many hotel rooms may stay vacant over time, while neighborhoods encounter people who’ll only be there for a weekend, a week, or something more. Such practices are also removing viable housing from long-term public use.
While a local city council cannot, by itself, change these strains on local housing conditions, it should be courageous enough to withstand some public criticism and approve the shelter proposal of Catholic Community Services. The rise of extreme weather events also dictates that we offer our fellow humans shelter from the storms to come.
It is my sincere hope that the Federal Way City Council will approve such a shelter(s) in the near future.