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The exterior of the Clarion Hotel located on B Street behind the municipal airport in Auburn is among the properties purchased by the Health Through Housing program. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing

ULMS Selected as Health Through Housing Operator, Federal Way

King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) has selected two operators for the Health Through Housing buildings in Federal Way and Auburn.

The buildings were purchased by the county in 2021 and will be used as permanent supportive housing for people who are experiencing homelessness in the community.

Compass Housing Alliance was chosen to operate the former Clarion Inn at 916th St. NW in Auburn, and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle will operate the former Extended Stay America on 320th St. in Federal Way, according to the county.

Now that the operators have been chosen, the county expects to get people housed by the end of 2022. The two buildings will house approximately 200 people combined, and so far, the county has housed nearly 600 people in Health Through Housing buildings.

“We are excited for Urban League and Compass Housing to join the team of Health Through Housing providers that will house 1,600 people experiencing or at risk of chronic homelessness,” said Leo Flor, DCHS Director.

Health Through Housing follows the housing-first model, which provides people housing before they seek treatment or employment. One-tenth of one cent of sales taxes in King County are used to fund the Health Through Housing program.

Compass Housing Alliance is a housing and service provider for low-income people in Puget Sound. The organization has been serving the community since 1920. Compass Housing Alliance operates day services, emergency shelters, transitional housing, and affordable housing at 23 locations.

“Compass Housing Alliance is excited about this opportunity to bring our expertise and compassion to Auburn,” said Mary Steele, Executive Director at Compass Housing Alliance. “We believe that supportive housing like what is offered through the Health Through Housing partnership is the key to addressing homelessness and housing instability across the county.”

The Health Through Housing location in Federal Way will be the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle’s first time operating supportive housing. However, the Urban League has worked to provide housing and services to Black and underserved communities for 90 years, according to the county.

“We are a first-time operator of supportive housing, but we are experts in uplifting and supporting our community and look forward to partnering with the Federal Way community and others to bring our most marginalized friends and neighbors inside,” said Michelle Merriweather, President and CEO of Urban League.

The county worked with each city to identify operators that would be a good fit for the specific community where the Health Through Housing site is located, King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

Each Health Through Housing location will have wraparound services for the residents, including behavioral and mental health and job resources, but the most important thing is the housing itself, DCHS Director Leo Flor said.

“First and foremost, being housed is necessary for the successful experience of almost any other service,” Flor said. “So that’s really clear to us that you can’t expect a person to improve their behavioral health, for example, if the thing driving their behavioral health concerns is that they live outside and don’t have a stable place to be.”

Health Through Housing is funded through a one-tenth of a one-cent sales tax in the county. King County purchased the Clarion Inn in Auburn for $11.8 million and the Extended Stay in Federal Way for $23.25 million in 2021.

Despite the price tag, county officials say Health Through Housing is the most cost-effective mode for housing people. By purchasing existing hotels and apartment buildings, it costs the county around $270,000 per housing unit. On the other hand, if the county were to build housing from the ground up, each unit would cost approximately $400,000, Constantine said.

For more coverage of the Health Through Housing program, check out Sound Publishing’s podcast “Local Dive,” on Friday, Aug. 12, in which hosts Cameron and Henry speak with Dow Constantine and Leo Flor about the program.

Original article written by Henry Stewart-Wood