Alvin Sweet is a resident of Martin Court in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Martin Court is a former motel which was transformed into a supportive housing complex two decades ago. New funding from King County’s Health through Housing ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

Alvin Sweet is a resident of Martin Court in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Martin Court is a former motel which was transformed into a supportive housing complex two decades ago. New funding from King County’s Health through Housing ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

King County wants to buy motels for emergency, affordable housing

The concept has proven results in addressing homelessness.

On a chilly Monday afternoon, case manager Richard Gibson walked through the courtyard at Martin Court in the southwest corner of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.

The weather in the days before had taken a cold turn, and the colorful children’s playground he strode past sat vacant. Lining either side of the courtyard and parking lot were rows of doors, each one housing an individual or family experiencing homelessness.

And each one represents security, and a place to get out of the weather, for the people who live there.

“That’s just extremely important,” Gibson said.

Martin Court is one of several similar properties run by the Low Income Housing Institute, which provides housing for people in King County. It’s a former motel that was retrofitted two decades ago into temporary supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Residents can stay at Martin Court for up to two years as they get their bearings. Gibson and his colleague Charmaine Day help the residents get services like mental health counseling, finding permanent housing and even healthy cooking classes. Administrators say the program is largely successful, with most people moving into permanent housing after their stay at Martin Court.

And it’s programs like this that could be expanded under the recently approved King County Health through Housing ordinance. The ordinance was approved by the Metropolitan King County Council on Oct. 13.

It created a 0.1% sales tax, which the county is planning on bonding against, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for affordable housing projects.

This funding can be used to buy existing hotels, motels and nursing homes, then turn them into emergency and affordable housing units with services for mental and behavioral health. The original proposal would have raised nearly $68 million a year, allowing the county to raise $400 million in bonds. But seven cities enacted their own version of the tax, reducing the amount the county will collect by some $17 million a year.

King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Leo Flor said they’re still calculating how much they will be able to bond for.

But as hotels, motels and nursing homes likely go up for sale in significant numbers due to the economic fallout and reduced travelers from the coronavirus pandemic, Flor said the county is hoping to buy them.

“We expect, and are seeing, signs of opportunities in that market,” Flor said.

The ordinance could create housing for up to 2,000 people by 2022. According to the 2020 Point-In-Time Count, there were some 11,751 people experiencing homelessness across the county last winter.

Flor said the county is experiencing three crises that feed into the current homelessness crisis. The first is the coronavirus pandemic, which is making congregate shelter dangerous. The second is the economic crisis that has been creating homelessness for years as housing becomes too expensive for many to afford. The third is the crisis around systemic racism, which causes disproportionate homelessness in some communities.

Black, indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by homelessness, according to the Point-In-Time Count.

In addition to addressing homelessness immediately, there’s evidence that stable, single-room housing — like those provided by converted hotels — is keeping people safer during the pandemic.

A recently-released study from the University of Washington found that this kind of shelter kept people from contracting the coronavirus. The study suggested it was lessening the number of outbreaks.

“That was kind of a ‘mission accomplished’ for the first goal,” said Gregg Colburn, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments.

Stable housing gives people a sense of stability, safety and security — a place to regroup and begin to think about their futures again without the mental stress of surviving on the streets.

Those benefits are something that Lynn DeMarco, the area manager in charge of Martin Court, sees. The goal of the two-year program at the former hotel is to get people into permanent housing, and give them the skills they need to be successful and keep housing.

“Our job is to make sure that, first off, to get them out of crisis. To get them healthy, physically, mentally,” DeMarco said.

Even offering housing at motels on a temporary basis has proven effective in the Snoqualmie Valley. The Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services has been running a motel voucher program for its most medically vulnerable residents.

The next step is finding permanent housing, which the county is in short supply of. King County set a goal last year to build or preserve 44,000 affordable housing units within five years. It’s a step toward the roughly 156,000 affordable units the county needs today, and the additional 88,000 units it will need by 2040.

That step is where Martin Court resident Alvin Sweet is now. Sweet moved to Martin Court a year and a half ago with his girlfriend. Before, they were living at a tiny home camp in South Lake Union.

They’re hoping to find permanent housing next, but he said he’s found a community at Martin Court.

“This is a great place, it’s been good for us,” Sweet said.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

Martin Court has 42 rooms which serve a mix of individuals and families. Case managers on-site provide help getting services. New funding from King County’s Health through Housing ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

Martin Court has 42 rooms which serve a mix of individuals and families. Case managers on-site provide help getting services. New funding from King County’s Health through Housing ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

Martin Court, a transitional housing complex in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, includes a community center. New funding from King County’s Health through Housing ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

Martin Court, a transitional housing complex in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, includes a community center. New funding from King County’s Health through Housing ordinance could expand this type of program across the county. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

More in News

Courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are rising in Washington

Data suggests the vaccine is effective in preventing hospitalization for COVID-19

File photo
King County Council OKs millions for courts overwhelmed by pandemic backlog

Some lawyers testified that the backlog has created an “access to justice” problem.

North Bend City Hall. Courtesy of northbendwa.gov
North Bend joins Saving Water Partnership

The North Bend City Council unanimously agreed July 20 to work with… Continue reading

A large brush fire burns near North Bend. Photo Courtesy of Eastside Fire & Rescue.
Brush fire burns outside North Bend

A three-alarm brush fire burned just outside North Bend city limits Thursday… Continue reading

File photo
Brief history of rats in the Puget Sound region – and the problem they present

Local exterminator noticed big change in rats over the past 40 years.

Photo courtesy of Peter O’Donnell.
Snoqualmie Fire Association cancels annual pancake breakfast

The Snoqualmie Fire Association has canceled its annual pancake breakfast this year,… Continue reading

Sponsor of the motion to establish guidelines for the removal of encampments, Councilmember Reagan Dunn (courtesy of King County Council)
King County Council discusses policy for removal of homeless encampments

Still unclear what the standards will be, who will enforce it, and how jurisdictions will interact.

Snoqualmie City Councilmember Peggy Shepard. Courtesy photo
Investigation leads to censure of Snoqualmie councilmember

Peggy Shepard is accused of violating ethics laws.

Design rendering of new development (Courtesy of Runberg Architecture Group)
Vulcan purchases 1.4-acre property in Bellevue next to future light rail station

The real estate developer says the eight-story development will have about 250 units of housing.

Most Read