In Practice
HUD USER Home > PD&R Edge Home > In Practice
 

Putting Families First in the Fight Against Homelessness

Image of an eight-story apartment building next to rail linesMercy Housing’s Gardner House and Allen Family Center. The unique service program and spaces to house those services were developed with input from individuals who have experienced homelessness. Photo credit: Christophe Servieres

In Seattle, a thriving technology sector has driven demand for new housing that has outstripped supply, leading to rising housing costs and increased housing instability for many lower-income residents. Mercy Housing, a nationwide nonprofit developer founded by six communities of Catholic Sisters, opened the Gardner House and Allen Family Center in the city’s Mount Baker neighborhood in 2020 to address the unique needs of families who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing homelessness. The diverse constituents of the Allen Family Center reflect the inclusive methods behind the design of its service program, whereby families with experience with homeless services helped identify the ideal mix of needed onsite partners to best support the transition from homelessness toward greater stability.

Project Details

The 8-story building, with the Allen Family Center on the ground floor and the Gardner House apartments above it, consists of 95 total units divided into different levels of service intensity. There are 28 units of permanent supportive housing for families needing intensive social services. Another 19 units are designated as “moving on” units and provide less intensive services to families in a more stable position. The remaining units are reserved for families earning up to 60 percent of area median income. These units do not come with supportive services attached, although the onsite service providers are available to anyone in the community who may need them. Amenities include a private courtyard, a playground funded by the Seattle Seahawks football team, and nearby transit. Built to the Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard, the project includes solar panels, a stormwater retention system, and water- and energy-saving fixtures and appliances. The project was supported by $30 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, $10 million in equity raised from the sale of low-income housing tax credits, and $5 million from the Seattle Office of Housing.

Image of a new apartment building with a multi-story mural painted on one side.Large murals on the side of the building contribute to the vibrant character of the neighborhood. Photo credit: Christophe Servieres

The Strength of Proximity

An important advantage of bringing people with diverse experiences together is the resulting social capital, according to Colin Morgan-Cross, director of real estate development for Mercy Housing Northwest. Residents create informal networks that help spread important information about potential employment opportunities or advice on navigating school or healthcare systems. Because services are colocated at the Allen Family Center, service providers can form personal relationships with other caseworkers that can strengthen a client’s overall service outcome.

Morgan-Cross also describes the advantages of the project’s location in Mount Baker, a high-opportunity neighborhood. Residents are a block and a half from light rail and a transit center, a major high school is across the street and an elementary school is close by, and neighborhood amenities include multiple grocery stores and pharmacies. As a result, says Morgan-Cross, Mount Baker is also a place with a high risk of displacement, making Gardner House an important asset in the effort to ensure equitable access to high-opportunity areas in an increasingly high-cost city.

The dining area and living room of an apartment.Gardner House provides 95 units of affordable housing to a diverse community. There are 19 units with intensive supportive services to help those transitioning from homelessness or shelter, 28 units of permanent supportive housing requiring a less intensive service plan, and 47 units for families earning no more than 60 percent of Area Median Income. Photo credit: Lydia Brewer Photography

Supporting Families

In addition to Mercy Housing, the service providers at the 8,000-square-foot Allen Family Center include Child Care Resources, Mary’s Place, and the Refugee Women’s Alliance. Mercy Housing selected these providers following a series of focus groups and interviews with families that have experienced homelessness. Services include homelessness diversion, housing placement, and homelessness prevention; assistance finding culturally appropriate and affordable childcare; afterschool programs; health education; financial literacy training; and employment, housing and mental health service navigation, especially for immigrant and refugee families. The operating costs of these services are funded by Seattle’s Human Services Department. Resident input not only helped identify a service program that would best meet the unique needs of families, but it also influenced the design of the Allen Family Center itself. Morgan-Cross said that the Runberg Architecture Group’s goal was to create a space that did not feel institutional and would be friendly and welcoming to children. Finally, an onsite food pantry and a resource room stocked with necessary items such a diapers, socks, and personal hygiene products assist families whose needs are acute.

The Gardner House and Allen Family Center are providing vital resources in the opportunity-rich Mount Baker neighborhood while demonstrating the value of leveraging knowledge from people with lived experience. In the design of the physical space, the selection of service providers, and the informal networks of care and knowledge, residents are helping to support each another. In fact, Mercy Housing worked with Child Care Resources to set aside two units for residents who want to pursue licenses for home child care, designing those units to be compliant with applicable regulations and adding another onsite resource to support local families. In all these ways, Mercy Housing is demonstrating a robust approach to addressing some of the consequences of Seattle’s affordable housing crisis.

Source:

Earlene K.P. Dowell. 2019. “Combining Census Bureau and Zillow Housing Data Show Rise in Rental Prices and Home Values in Tech-Rich Areas,” America Counts, U.S. Census Bureau, 30 April. Accessed 28 October 2020; Mercy Housing. n.d. “Gardner House and Allen Family Center: Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Mercy Housing. n.d. “The Mercy Housing Story.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 2020. “New Housing and Resource Center Opens to Seattle Homeless and Low-Income Families,” press release, 24 June. Accessed 28 October 2020; Interview with Colin Morgan-Cross, director of real estate development, Mercy Housing Northwest, 26 October 2020.

×

Source:

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 2020. “New Housing and Resource Center Opens to Seattle Homeless and Low-Income Families,” press release, 24 June. Accessed 28 October 2020; Mercy Housing. n.d. “Gardner House and Allen Family Center: Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition. n.d. “Gardner House.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Mercy Housing. n.d. “Gardner House Resident Selection Criteria.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Interview with Colin Morgan-Cross, director of real estate development, Mercy Housing Northwest, 26 October 2020; Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. n.d. “Gardner House and Allen Family Center Fact Sheet.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Mercy Housing. n.d. “About Gardner House.” Accessed 29 October 2020.

×

Source:

Interview with Colin Morgan-Cross, 26 October 2020.

×

Source:

Interview with Colin Morgan-Cross, 26 October 2020; Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition. n.d. “Gardner House.” Accessed 28 October 2020.

×

Source:

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 2020. “New Housing and Resource Center Opens to Seattle Homeless and Low-Income Families,” press release, 24 June. Accessed 28 October 2020; Interview with Colin Morgan-Cross, 26 October 2020; Mercy Housing. n.d. “Allen Family Center: A Family Sized Solution.” Accessed 28 October 2020; Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. n.d. “Gardner House and Allen Family Center Fact Sheet.” Accessed 28 October 2020.

×

Source:

Interview with Colin Morgan-Cross, 26 October 2020.

×