Local Government

City council moves to halt Rodeo Inn purchase

by Max Erikson

Lynnwood Times Photo by Mario Lotmore

On Monday, March 25, the Lynnwood City Council made the decision not to proceed with the acquisition of the Rodeo Inn Motel after an inspection report by an architecture and renovation company presented scenarios that showed the project could cost upwards of $15 million to renovate and complete.

The tentative plan by the city was to purchase the Rodeo Inn with the goal of turning it into a transitional housing facility for homeless students and their families.

 A statement from the city says city staff and Mayor Nicola Smith made the recommendation to the city council not to move forward with the acquisition of the Rodeo Inn. It stated that the purchase price and ensuing demolition and renovation would not a be good use of city funds or those of its partners.

Mayor Smith says there are many factors that went into the decision other than financial, but the city is still committed to finding a housing solution for homeless students and their families.

“There was a multitude of issues that we looked at and this is not the right property at this time,” Smith says. “The roof has to be redone, the siding and HVAC needs replacing. You’re looking at millions of dollars for just a few rooms to remodel the site.”

Despite the set-back, Smith says the city has learned a lot about this issue and is still committed to finding a property that can be used to address the needs of homeless students and their families.

“I’m very disappointed it did not work out at this time, but our staff and community partners will continue to move forward in finding a suitable property,” Smith says.

The city took the first steps to possibly purchase the Rodeo Inn, located at 20707 Highway 99, in January with a Real Estate Purchase and Sale Agreement between the current owner of the Rodeo Inn and the city. The original purchase price for the property would have been $4 million. That started a 60-day due diligence process to complete a building assessment. The inspection was done by Dykeman Associates and the findings were presented to the council by Dykeman managing principal Tim Jewett.

Jewett presented three scenarios to the city. The first scenario was to renovate the existing structure, resulting in the creation of 17 housing units at a cost up to $5.1 million. The second scenario would involve replacing parts of the building and adding new structures that would complete 24 units pushing costs to $8.4 million. The final scenario would be much more involved, creating entirely new sections and adding another floor to the building, creating up to 45 housing units with a potential cost of $15 million, with construction projected to start by the year 2021. These costs would have been in addition to the $4 million purchase price.

Council President Benjamin Goodwin agrees with Mayor Smith’s assessment that the financial commitment by the city to this project would not be viable.

“This project wouldn’t be prudent or feasible at this time,” Goodwin said.

There was strong engagement by community leaders for the project, and the city received financial backing by the Alliance of Affordable Housing, Snohomish County Human Services and also a $1 million dollar grant from the Hazel Miller Foundation in support of the effort. The city of Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds Community College, the Verdant Health Commission, Premera and Housing Hope all expressed support.

Housing Hope CEO Fred Safstrom agreed with this project because it was inline with everything Housing Hope does.

“At our core, Housing Hope is an affordable housing developer, and we believe this project was well suited for everything we do,” Safstrom says.

Deborah Kilgore, a school board member for Edmonds School District, is disappointed with the results but will continue to encourage the city council to find something for homeless students and their families.

“This can be a real benefit for our schools and our most needy kids,” Kilgore says. “When you have hungry students in the classroom, it affects the whole classroom. I’m hopeful the Mayor and the city council will continue to pursue other properties.”

The Edmonds School District is home to about 20,000 students and is the fourth largest in the state. The district is geographical broad, encompassing 34 schools (elementary to high school) in the areas of Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway and Brier. As of March 18 the district has identified 592 homeless students and their families who qualify for assistance. That includes foster children and those living in hotels, shelters or couch surfing.

A report by the National Center for Homeless Education for the school years spanning 2014-2017 showed that the number of students Kindergarten to 12th grade who experience homelessness while attending school has increased by 70 percent over the last decade. The findings in the report revealed that only 64 percent of homeless students will graduate compared to over 80 percent for non-homeless students. Homeless students also have much lower scores in math and english state testing.

Homeless children and youths is defined as: individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, including children who are sharing housing of other persons due to loss of housing due to economic hardship, or living in hotels, motels or emergency or transitional housing.

The McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act is a federal law that ensures enrollment and educational stability for homeless students and provides federal funding to states and district programs serving homeless students. The Edmonds School district is currently receiving funds from this program.

In 2016, the Washington State Legislature passed the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act to help improve educational outcomes for homeless students, complementing the McKinney-Vento act. The program focuses on identifying homeless students, provides in-school support and helps with housing stability. The district has a McKinney-Ventoand Foster Care Liaison who works to make sure they are supporting students experiencing homelessness. The liaison helps in identifying and providing all services based on the McKinney-Vento Act which includes transportation.

In a letter of support by the district, for finding suitable transitional housing, it reads:

“Increasing transitional housing in our community would enhance opportunities for our advocates and family liaisons to maximize resources and assist students and families in efforts to increase housing stability that will bring about, we believe, an increase in academic achievement, social-emotional development, and access to offerings that are available throughout the community. We are excited to continue to explore this project and partnership to help meet the needs of Edmonds School District families.”

The district also understands that though additional housing would be helpful, it would not alleviate the issue of student homelessness and there are systemic problems that cause homelessness such as the rising costs in housing and the pressing issues of affordable housing in the region. The district says they are seeing an increase in students qualifying for services, pushing the need for greater awareness of the problem.

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