Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation announced a $35 million partnership Wednesday aimed at tackling the region’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will provide $30 million toward the creation of a combination of permanent housing and on-site services for homeless families. The City of Seattle will add $5 million in capital and additional funds to support operation and maintenance of the center.
Mercy Housing Northwest will develop the housing and services project. Mercy is still looking for a site, so the size of the project, number of units and other details remain unknown. The announcement was held at Mercy’s newest affordable housing project, Mercy Othello Plaza in south Seattle.
The Allen Foundation approached the city several months ago to see how it could contribute to solving Seattle’s homelessness problems. Allen has in the past donated to organizations dealing with homelessness issues, and this time around, he wanted to create a permanent solution to help homeless families.
Bill Hilf, CEO of Vulcan Inc., which manages a variety of Allen’s interests and endeavors, said at a news conference announcing the new project that homelessness is a societal issue and everyone has to pitch in to solve it.
“It’s a tragedy, and it’s unacceptable that we have this happening in our community,” Hilf said. “We believe that tackling homelessness is everybody’s responsibility, from businesses, to nonprofits to public institutions.”
The project could be similar in some ways to Othello Plaza, which just opened three weeks ago. To get a sense of demand for this kind of housing, Mercy received more than 2,000 applications for units at Othello Plaza, a 108-unit structure.
In booming West Coast cities like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, Murray said a Tale of Two Cities situation has emerged, with prosperity co-mingling with extreme poverty. Murray encouraged those who have benefitted from Seattle’s success to help out those who have been left behind. The Allen Foundation’s donation paves the way for more businesses to step up, Murray said.
“It is hard evidence that our local business community can help meet this challenge, and its millions of dollars will transform the lives of families and particularly the lives of those children,” Murray said of Allen’s contribution to tackling homelessness.
Homelessness and affordable housing figure to be key issues in the Seattle mayoral race this year, where Murray is facing a crowded field of challengers. Earlier this month, Murray announced plans to pull a previously announced to tackle homelessness in favor of a King County sales tax measure to deal with the problem.
According to the city, more than 3,498 students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools experienced homelessness during the 2015-16 school year. The city said 1,684 homeless families throughout the county are awaiting housing.
The news conference was streamed live on the mayor’s Facebook page: