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Plymouth plans to build 800 permanent homes for people experiencing homelessness

The organization has long operated under a “Housing First” model

A rendering of Plymouth and Bellwether’s First Hill high rise.
Courtesy of Plymouth Housing Group and Bellwether Housing

Tuesday, Plymouth Housing Group announced an initiative to build 800 units of permanent, supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. The organization also announced that its capital campaign for the projects, called Proof, is already more than half-funded, with $48.8 million from businesses and private donors already secured out of a $75 million goal. The projects, said Plymouth, will nearly double the amount of households served by the group.

Money from the campaign would also establish an endowment to bolster support services and a fund to maintain five downtown buildings already operated by Plymouth.

Plymouth operates on a “housing first” model—aptly, an approach that provides housing while people receive whatever support they need, like medical attention or counseling. Studies have shown that the method is effective at preventing homelessness, and that being proactive (e.g., providing ongoing shelter and care) instead of reactive (e.g., emergency room visits) costs less than other methods. Plymouth reports their own success rate at keeping people housed long-term at 94 percent.

It’s just a matter of having the money to get started. Multifamily housing costs a lot of money to build in Seattle, whether it’s market rate or affordable—one developer claimed to the Seattle Times that costs rose 35 percent the first half of this decade. Bellwether Housing, another local affordable housing provider, said last year that the typical cost per unit is $300,000.

The units would be spread out among eight buildings, including a couple already under construction. The first will be 501 Rainier Supportive Housing on the former site of Linc’s Tackle in the International District, opening in spring 2020 with 105 units. The next will be at Second Avenue and Mercer Street in lower Queen Anne, breaking ground in early 2020, with 93 studios and art space below. A high-rise in First Hill—at a former Sound Transit property—will provide 350 units, including some targeted toward seniors, and will break ground in 2020. In 2021, the group will break ground on a project at 12th Avenue and Spruce Street in the Yesler Terrace area.

A fifth building will also be completed in the next four years—this one focused on housing homeless veterans—but it doesn’t have a location yet. The remaining three are to-be-determined.

Early contributors to the fund include Microsoft, Amazon, Connie and Steve Ballmer, Providence St. Joseph Health, Premera Blue Cross, Swedish Health Services, and Wyncote Foundation NW. $5 million each came from Microsoft and Amazon. (In the scaled-down version of the “head tax,” Amazon would have contributed around $10 million toward both permanent housing and emergency services.)

The remaining $26.2 million will be raised from the public. Plymouth also intends to leverage $250 million in public funds.

While 800 is a giant number in terms of Seattle’s affordable housing stock, King County’s homeless population is large: More than 11,000 people were tallied in the county’s last point-in-time count, which assesses the number of people experiencing homelessness in one given night. More than 5,000 of those were sleeping outside a shelter.

“Thousands of single adults are struggling with chronic homelessness in King County, those who are most in need of housing and support,” said Paul Lambros, CEO of Plymouth Housing Group, in a statement on the campaign

Lambros added that “these 800 apartments will bring even more people off the streets and into safe homes with the services they need to rebuild their lives.”