Editorial: Housing the homeless is a tall order on Vashon

Vashon HouseHold has faced some tough transitions over the last couple of years. It lost a popular executive director when Sam Hendricks and his family decided to move to Portland, Ore. In the last few months, some key staff members — including Margaret Cruse, who played a leadership role in the small organization — have resigned.

It also continues to face the huge challenges that come with its mission. On Vashon Island — where there’s a moratorium on water shares in Vashon town, a paucity of land parcels zoned at a high density and the sometimes moribund bureaucracy of the Department of Development and Environmental Services to deal with — building affordable housing is a tall order.

Now, Vashon HouseHold faces an even bigger obstacle. The state Housing Trust Fund, which provides the lion’s share of the funds for brick-and-mortar projects in Washington, is out of money. It will presumably get an appropriation next year, when the state Legislature crafts a new two-year budget. But the appropriation will likely be smaller than previous ones, and competition for grants will no doubt be stiffer than ever.

Little wonder, then, that spirits were high last week, when Vashon HouseHold staff and supporters celebrated the organization’s latest project, a top-to-bottom, $1.8 million makeover of one of Vashon’s architectural eyesores.

Mukai Commons, the new name for the three-building complex just west of the Vashon Post Office, is a remarkable example of what this organization has proven able to do. The apartment complex was a bad scene for years; even a heroin dealer was said to live in one of its units. The rot was so extensive that second-story balconies had to be removed.

Now, it represents the organization’s latest milestone — a maturation of an organization that has gone from small projects to house the elderly and disabled to far-reaching investments in an effort to house the homeless. Early on in the organization’s 21-year history, Mukai Commons would have likely proved too daunting and out of reach. Now, it’s another jewel in the small agency’s portfolio.

Meanwhile, the organization is at yet another crossroads. With no development funds in hand and no new projects in the pipeline, it plans to focus on taking care of its many assets while pursuing other creative ways to house those in need. It makes a lot of sense. Every organization needs a chance to catch its breath.

At the same time, we urge Vashon HouseHold, now helmed by Chris Szala, a seasoned housing development professional, to continue to push hard to create housing for those in need on Vashon. And we urge Islanders to support it in this effort.

This is a hard time in the world of social services, where dollars are disappearing at a rapid clip and needs are as great as ever. Vashon HouseHold has served this community well. With ongoing support from the community and able leadership from its board and staff, we trust it won’t flag in its important mission.

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