Kirkland Group set to drop lawsuit against homeless housing at former hotel

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A lawsuit to stop King County from converting a former hotel along Highway 520 into permanent units for the chronically homeless is misguided and counterproductive.

A group of Kirkland residents and parents who are fighting against the project should instead focus their energies on welcoming residents and keeping the community informed and safe.

The 121-room La Quinta Inn & Suites is set to transition into permanent supportive housing, which offers on-site behavioral health, employment and other services. The strategy is proven to increase housing stability and improve health, while reducing public costs for shelters, hospitals and prisons, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

On March 1, Kirkland City Council passed a resolution declaring that the La Quinta site would be good for permanent supportive housing if conditions were met, including 24-hour staffing, comprehensive services and a plan security guard approved by the Kirkland Police Department.

Two days later, King County announced that it had paid $28.1 million for the property. A recent lawsuit filed by the Keep Kids Safe group claimed the city and county failed to hold enough public meetings. The group is concerned that the hotel shares a property line with Eastside Preparatory School, a private school for students in grades 5 through 12, and is close to several other schools and daycares.

In an online petition that attracted 3,700 supporters, Keep Kids Safe noted that land use codes stipulate safe distances between schools and adult entertainment and marijuana retailers. The group also says crime has increased around permanent supportive housing sites.

Leo Flor, director of the county’s Department of Community and Social Services, said state law specifically allows real estate transactions to be discussed behind closed doors to reduce the likelihood of the seller raising the price.

Funded by a 0.1 cent sales tax, the county has so far acquired 10 properties with around 1,000 units, and will add two to three more. Residents currently stay at sites on Queen Anne and North Seattle, and have just moved into a Renton location.

There was nothing different about how the county handled Kirkland, Flor said. On the contrary, he said, his agency conducted more outreach to neighbors and stakeholders. Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet said the complaint was “without merit”.

When it came to comparing adult entertainment and marijuana stores with vulnerable housing, Keep Kids Safe would have to admit that there was no stipulation about who ever stayed at La Quinta and for what purpose. In other words, housing is not one of the troublesome businesses that should be forced to stay away from schools and daycares.

Certainly, providing stable housing for those who have lived on the streets for years, even decades, presents unique challenges. But it takes a months-long process to place someone in permanent supportive housing, and people need to be ready for this new stage in their lives. Calls to emergency services are decreasing compared to shelters and camps.

Kirkland’s elected leaders should be commended for their willingness to be part of the regional solution to homelessness.

Parents and concerned residents should put aside the legal battle and attend next month’s town council town hall and other events to discuss how the site works in the community.

Ultimately, patience and compassion are key to addressing homelessness. And both are in Kirkland.

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