Bay Terrace Phase 2 groundbreaking (July 7, 2016)
Stan Rumbaugh, THA Board of Commissioners Chair Remarks
Thanks for coming today. As I look around I see the backhoes are busy moving dirt to build Bay Terrace Phase 2. Since this is a groundbreaking, I thought I’d be getting the keys to one of those backhoes, but they said no—gave me a shovel … so I started digging.
Even though the pace of construction of affordable housing in our community is more like excavation with a shovel than a backhoe, this is one of those moments when we rightly celebrate our progress. It is a moment of optimism and hope. It is a moment to acknowledge the diligent and dedicated labor of the extraordinary women and men who contribute to the success and innovation at THA. And it is a moment to assess the way forward.
The stubborn fact is we are losing ground in our effort to promote sanitary and affordable shelter to our fellow citizens who are in need. There does seem to be a perceptible raising our collective conscience about the housing crisis, which is equally or more acute here in the Puget Sound basin as it is in many urban areas throughout or nation. Whether through the print media, TV or cable transmissions, social media or just by walking around town, the inescapable truth is revealed. Startlingly growing numbers of people lack housing security. These numbers are disproportionately skewed to the most vulnerable of our community – children, the mentally ill, families displaced by domestic violence, economic hardship or misfortune.
In Seattle, city government has authorized areas for temporary homeless camps. It is unclear to me how homelessness can be authorized by local government, because that implies acceptance of homelessness by government. The goal of government must be to eliminate homelessness and reject out of hand the notion that rows of blue tarps in an encampment down by the river is the solution to providing affordable housing. Cardboard and blankets on sidewalks and in doorsteps, tents and makeshift lean-tos in our alleyways and vacant lots, or towels hung as curtains over windows of old cars cannot be permitted to masquerade as legitimate responses to critically needed affordable housing.
My friends, we all know the contagion of inadequate housing resources is not confined to large metropolitan areas like Seattle, Portland or San Francisco. It is right here, right now, in Tacoma. If we are genuinely honest with ourselves, we not only see the poorly housed, we also recognize our duty to alleviate this human hardship as a moral imperative.
And folks, I’m sorry to confirm your economic concerns—it is not going to be a free fix. Reducing the number of our fellow citizens without permanent housing will not be achieved through fact free, magical thinking. Demagoguery that simply espouses the thinking that the homeless simply need to go away, leave the makeshift tent city, or get out from under the bridge, is a solution devoid of substance.
It will require the thoughtful application of resources, and upfront investment to make meaningful progress. How will that investment be returned—a fair-enough question.
It is costing the city of Seattle between $2,000 and $5,000 to clean up the human detritus remaining when one single, individual’s encampment is removed. The three- of or four-month period of time that those who are struggling spend in one tent city, before being herded to another temporary location yield clean up costs of $6,000 to perhaps $10,000 per year. This for each of the hundreds of such habitations that seem to be everywhere we look.
The Bay Terrace homes going up here will cost approximately $190,000 each to construct and equip. So, 20 years of clean up requires use of funds that could be spent on construction of safe and secure housing. After 20 years, there will still be in place affordable housing usable for another 20 or more years, instead of another 20 years in the chain of endless clean ups.
This simple calculus does not even factor in the savings from reduced jail populations now swelled by the fact that our society has criminalized much of the behavior that is an almost inevitable consequence of homelessness. It does not factor in the decrease in mental health and alliopathic medical treatment that is achieved when people are not living on the streets, or in the squalor of an insubstantial, temporary campsite. Compelling studies provide the data demonstrating, conclusively, that to address the persistent and often heartbreaking effect of mental illness, secure housing must be the first part of the solution. And the costs of the second-order effects of the lack of affordable housing go on and on.
It is not just outright homelessness that is applying pressure on the already insufficient supply of affordable housing in our town. Vibrant and healthy communities need living accommodations for an entire spectrum of income levels. The maintenance and housekeeping staff that our hospitals employ on the Hilltop should not be required to commute an hour or more each way to work because they cannot afford housing in the neighborhood where the work, despite working a full-time job.
The young teacher, newly graduated from college who is struggling with student loan debt should not have to search far afield from the school where they are dedicated to teaching our children, because they cannot afford decent housing near to the schoolhouse. The folks who serve our food, sell us our groceries and provide a whole array of services should not be driven out of the community where they work because housing costs skyrocket out of an affordable range. This has already occurred in Seattle, and it is taking place right now, right here, in this very Hilltop neighborhood in our city. It is an insidious change, and a destructive one. We must recognize that our interconnectedness is a fact, here, and in every city. We are, all of us, intertwined and must foster and celebrate our interconnectedness. We cannot achieve all we can be in a community until we recognize our fortunes are woven together, and to achieve our aspirations for ourselves and our families, housing must be available to a wide spectrum of income levels.
We cannot allow the cost of housing to stress and polarize our neighborhoods. We must insist upon socially galvanizing action from our leaders and representatives, which celebrate our interconnectedness, embrace our rich diversity and differences, and foster honest, fact-based communication among us about how we can live in a truly mixed-income neighborhood. We must demand of ourselves a dedication to interconnected, mutually supportive and socially just communities with affordable housing opportunities for all. That is our way forward through an increasingly polarized and shrill-voiced political environment, which plays to our fears and encourages only division through incitement of our anger. That must be our mission. THA invites you to share this mission with us. That is the important work we do.
Thank you for coming to our celebration today. We are full of gratitude for your support.