The Lynnwood City Council at its July 18 business meeting continued to discuss a Volunteers of America Western Washington’s (VOAWW) request that the council allocate American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the organization’s rapid rehousing program.
VOAWW Senior Director Galina Volchkova went before the council at its June 6 meeting and asked for $500,000 in city ARPA dollars for rapid rehousing and rental assistance.
“[Rapid rehousing] does not target the same population that our rental assistance program does,” VOAWW’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Smith said during the June 6 meeting. “The goal is to get someone with a roof over their head who has been on the streets for a given amount of time.”
The rental assistance program provides up to 18 months’ worth of rental payments per household, while the rehousing program focuses first on getting people off the streets and into a home. It then provides financial assistance for the first year while those people get on their feet.
After some discussion, the council requested more information on the rapid rehousing program. While the funding request was initially met with pushback from some councilmembers June 6, many seemed more open to the idea Monday night after Volchkova said Snohomish County would match the council’s ARPA allocation.
“If we act on these, we are doubling our ARPA funding,” Council President George Hurst said. “It makes so much sense. I think these are worthy causes.”
According to Volchkova, the county has already agreed that VOAA can use those matching funds strictly to assist Lynnwood residents, just as the council’s ARPA dollars would. The funds from the council would aid roughly 30 families or individuals struggling with homelessness.
“The cost of homelessness is way more expensive [than we would think it is],” Volchkova said. “We think, ‘Oh well these people don’t pay rent.’ But think about the fact that they cannot even buy a gallon of milk because it’s going to go bad. They can’t buy a carton of eggs and have a breakfast. There are a lot of challenges that we dismiss not knowing how hard it is when you don’t have a place to call home.”
Volchkova also added that the program is non-discriminatory, and refugees seeking shelter in Lynnwood are encouraged to apply for both rapid rehousing and rental assistance.
In addition, the VOAWW requested $150,000 in ARPA funds for Washington Kids in Transition (WKIT), which serves students and families in the Edmonds and Everett School Districts who may not be able to afford food or basic clothing.
“We help the families that fall between the cracks,” founder Kim Gorney said. “We help the kids that need help.”
While WKIT focuses mainly on providing food for children in the school districts, Gorney also keeps some basic clothing items on hand for any child who needs it.
“We provide emergency clothing and emergency shoes,” she said. “We keep socks, underwear, T-shirts and emergency sweatpants. We receive a lot of donations. But I am not in the kids’ clothing business. Clothes for Kids gets all of those. I love and appreciate what they do.”
Gorney said that WKIT currently focuses most of its resources on families in Edmonds, but would love to be able to better accommodate those in Lynnwood. Out of the roughly 400 help requests the organization has received this year, around half of them have been from residents of Lynnwood.
While her organization has never turned a family in need away, Gorney said funding is tight and would appreciate all the support she can get.
“I believe we’re all in this as a community and working together is the way we will successfully help our families,” she said.
Snohomish County has also agreed to match any amount of ARPA funds that Lynnwood chooses to allocate to WKIT.
The council plans to vote on both of these requests at its June 25 meeting.
In other business, Police Chief Jim Nelson talked to the council about the Community Recovery Center budget. According to Nelson, the two bids the city received for building costs both came in higher than expected. Because of this, the city is approximately $2.3 million short for the building’s completion.
While unfortunate, Nelson said he’s not surprised the bids were high due to national supply shortages and inflation rates skyrocketing.
“All those factors considered, [it’s not a shock] that it took our bid over what we thought,” Nelson said.
The shortage in funding is not expected to hinder the recovery center’s building progress, and Nelson said he is confident the city will be able to obtain funding in plenty of time. However, the council must approve the increased budget for construction to begin.
Washington State Rep. Lauren Davis joined the meeting Monday night, stating how impressed she was with how quickly and efficiently the project is going. None of this would be possible, she said, without Chief Nelson.
Davis said she showed up at Nelson’s office late on a Friday evening last summer, expecting to be turned away.
“I sat there and explained, ‘Gee sir, at the 11th hour, what do you think about totally reconfiguring your project to reduce your jail and add some behavioral health capacity?’” she said. “And appropriate responses to that might include, ‘Who the hell are you?’ or ‘Where the hell were you the last three years?’ But he said neither of those things. And by the end of that [discussion], at 9 o’clock in the evening, we had a piece of paper with some roughed-out drawings of what it could possibly look like to try to be responsive to this community.”
Davis also said she is confident the city will have no trouble acquiring funding for the rest of the project. She said the state has one of its “big budget” years in 2023 and called the amount of money needed “budget dust.”
“We typically allocate about $100 million in a big budget year in the behavioral health facilities fund,” she said. “So we would simply be looking at a [very small amount] to cover this difference.”
For construction to begin, the council will need to approve the $15.4 million total budget: $14 million for construction and $1.4 million for crossover runs.
“This facility will be a flagship for the State of Washington and a flagship for the West Coast,” Davis said.
Council President Hurst agreed, saying he is excited to get the facility up and running.
“This is an opportunity for the state to move forward and really support a mental health facility,” Hurst said. “It is a section of our structure that has been sorely missing the last few years.”
The council will vote on the matter at the July 25 meeting.
In addition, councilmembers received a Complete Street Ordinance presentation from Lynnwood’s project manager Amie Hanson.
According to Hanson, the Complete Street Ordinance focuses on creating roads for all uses, not just automobiles.
“The needs for our streets are not just roads for cars,” she said.
The ordinance will contain an outlined plan on how to create and maintain streets that are safe for cars, bicycles and pedestrians.
In 2020, the city released a survey asking Lynnwood residents to identify barriers that kept them from enjoying roads on foot or bicycle. Among the top answers were lack of sidewalks, heavy traffic, unsafe road crossings and bad weather.
While Hanson said she wished the city could fix the gloomy weather, staff is forced to only focus on the items they can control.
The ordinance outlines goals for Lynnwood’s streets: Meet Lynnwood’s mobility needs, create comfortable and complete bicycling networks, create safer overall street conditions and address inequities and enable access for underrepresented communities.
While the ordinance is still being developed, the city has already received two Safe Routes to School grants from Washington State Department of Transportation.
A public hearing will on the topic is scheduled for the July 25 council meeting.
Toward the end of the meeting, councilmembers discussed their biennium council budget. The budget for the next two years will increase to roughly $1 million, an approximate $200,000 hike from the last biennium budget.
Council President Hurst listed the reasons for the increase: Higher city attorney fees, obtaining security at meetings, software renewals, Swagit recording costs and council training and conference fees.
Hurst added that a switch from iPads to actual laptops had been put in the new budget. However, many councilmembers said they liked the iPads and did not want to switch to laptops, opting to keep council spending down. Because of this, Hurst said he would look into creating a smaller budget window for only those who preferred laptops over iPads, and would add the remaining money to another section of the two-year budget.
Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell also made a statement during the meeting regarding the recent increase in gun violence the city has endured.
“The Spruce Park tragedy, compounded with the shooting death of a community member several months ago at Daleway Park, and too many reports of shootings and other acts of violence across our state and nation are unbearable,” she said.
“Our community deserves better. The City of Lynnwood is committed to being a safe and welcoming community for all people. We are taking actions to address increasing crime, we are offering programming and activating our parks and open spaces by inviting community members to join us at events, we are reaching out to our partner organizations to have critical conversations on how to move forward, together, to heal as a community.”
–By Lauren Reichenbach