The council voted 5-1 to apply for up to $551,500 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for the project. Voting for the project were council members Julie Hankins, Nathaniel Jones, Jeannine Roe, Steve Langer and Mayor Stephen Buxbaum. Councilwoman Karen Rogers voted against. Councilman Jim Cooper recused himself because his wife works for SafePlace, one of the unsuccessful nonprofit applicants to use the Smith Building.
If the federal government approves the dollars, the Family Support Center would use the money to convert the building at 837 Seventh Ave. S.E. into 32 beds of emergency shelter and 28 beds of permanent affordable housing for families with children.
The organization plans to use the city money to attract other grants and fundraising to put a total of $1.9 million into the building and open the shelter by the end of 2013.
Hankins spoke emphatically in favor of the plan.
“Housing transforms lives,” she said, “because a house is so much more than a roof over your head. It’s the foundation on which people are able to get jobs and maintain them. It’s how they become productive members of society.”
The final details are not done. The city still has to sign a contract with the Family Support Center for the building.
Another detail that will have to be decided is whether to sell or lease the building. The city had been talking about selling the building to the Family Support Center for $1, and that’s what the Family Support Center had proposed.
Roe said she was under the impression that the city was talking about leasing, not selling, and she would be more comfortable with leasing the building.
City Manager Steve Hall said if the city leases, it stays responsible for the condition of the building. (The building is deteriorating, which is one reason why Buxbaum is proposing the city sell it to the nonprofit.)
Buxbaum said those details could be worked out later.
Proponents say the shelter is a way to serve the homeless and utilize an underused city asset, but critics say is a giveaway of property at a time the city faces an estimated $2.4 million deficit next year.
The current market value is unknown because there hasn’t been a recent appraisal. The parcel that includes the Smith Building was valued at $1.8 million in 2011, according to data from the Thurston County Assessor’s Office. If the two adjacent city-owned parcels were included, the value rises to nearly $2.3 million.
Roe also had concerns about fundraising.
Hall said the city will set requirements that the Family Support Center must meet to get the money.
Jones asked if the building would revert to the city if the Family Support Center does not use the building for its intended use. Yes, Buxbaum said.
Councilwoman Karen Rogers said the Family Support Center’s proposal was well-intended, but that the idea didn’t come to the attention of the public until late in the process. She questioned why Hall’s idea to put the Smith Building on the market in July 2011 was put on hold. She suggested the city put the building on the market and ask other area cities to pitch in on serving the homeless.