Andrew Lewis thinks leasing hotel rooms is so yesterday. SHITTY SCREENSHOT OF THE SEATTLE CHANNEL
Some Seattle City Council members want to buy a hotel to shelter the homeless and then turn that hotel into affordable housing units once the pandemic is over.
To that end, Councilmember Andrew Lewis sponsored a budget proviso that would take $2.5 million from the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program for homelessness assistance to buy a 100-room hotel. But, buying a hotel is a bit more complicated than it sounds at first blush.
According to Lewis and Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who brought forward a similar proposal last week but who is now co-sponsoring this proviso, homeless providers came to them with this idea, and they have already identified potential hotels to buy. The tricky part: though the $2.5 million would potentially cover a down payment on a hotel, the hotel’s ultimate price and maintenance costs are unclear.
Complicating matters further is the fact that the $2.5 million proviso money would come out of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget plan to lease 300 hotel rooms during the pandemic. Durkan plans to lease those rooms for 10 months, using $15 million from ESG and CARES Act money. Lewis wants the city to buy one-third of those rooms to “take full advantage of temporary money” for a “permanent solution.”
The council is faced with a dilemma. Should they use the money to pursue hotelling as a long-term solution, or should they only use hotelling in the short-term?
“Hotelling,” as the people are calling it, has been a popular and successful pandemic shelter solution.
According to a KOMO report, “researchers found fewer clusters and outbreaks of COVID-19 among individuals who stayed in hotels than among those who remained in traditional, large-group shelter settings.”
On Friday I asked King County how many COVID-19 cases public health officials recorded from hotel shelters. A spokesperson told me they’re still working on it, so I’ll update this post when I hear back. But in the meantime, since the pandemic began, the Washington State Department of Health recorded 12 outbreaks across homeless shelters. However, in the last week, the DOH reported no outbreaks in homeless communities.
Hotel rooms have been effective at getting people off the streets and into individual rooms. Part of that is hotelling is more attractive than normal shelter options, as the Seattle Times reported, because it “houses people before asking them to get an income or agree to change their behavior.”
Leasing hotel rooms does cost money, of course. King County leased four entire hotels and motels this year. As of mid-September, leasing and operating those hotels cost $12 million, with over $4.5 million spent on rent alone, according to KOMO News. Federal CARES Act funds will cover most of those costs.
Seattle dabbled in hotelling as well, albeit less successfully. As PubliCola reported, the city blew through $3 million of federal funding in one month of a three-month lease on the 155-room Executive Hotel Pacific downtown. That space was