Renton Housing Authority, Neighborhood House and the city are still working on raising funds for a Sunset Multi-Service and Career Development Center.
The center, located at the former Renton Highlands Library, would address a lack of human services available in the Sunset area.
The project was also recently awarded $20,000 by the First Financial Northwest Foundation, but still requires another $1.2 million.
Neighborhood House has supported the fundraising campaign for the new center. So far, it has raised $1.42 million in grants.
The housing authority is asking for $1 million from the state to finish out funding, housing authority Executive Director Mark Gropper said.
A medical provider will take up about 4,000 sq. ft. of the center for low- or no-cost medical and dental checkups. Gropper said the authority is talking with local health providers to have these medical and dental services delivered in facility.
There are also planned services for child and adult education and career development, family counseling, citizenship and ESL classes, and event space.
The facility will include an upward mobility element, Gropper said, in the form of a career center with job readiness in partnership with education providers like Renton Technical College.
The Puget Sound Regional Council has indexed the Highlands as an opportunity-poor area. The council considered the available opportunities in education, economic, housing, transportation and health.
Gropper said he also expects the services will be multilingual and ensure the center provides what Sunset families have said they need.
Stephanie Snyder, a VISTA volunteer working with Neighborhood House on the new center, said they are still accepting applications for the Multi-Service Center Community Advisory Committee that helps spread word on the center and provide feedback. Those interested can email Snyder at email@example.com.
Some feedback on the multi-service center took place at a health and wellness fair for Latinx folks in the former library in September 2018.
Of the 25 respondents, 17 said they would like medical services available in their neighborhood. Another 11 said tutoring and education. Seven respondents said dental services.
Spaces for kid activities was the most requested amenity the respondents would like to see from the center.
The housing authority also has several hundred seniors living in their facilities, and have heard those tenants want senior-relevant supportive services closer than the downtown Renton Senior Service Center, Gropper said.
Sunset area housing, historically, was public and WWII-era homes that served primarily Boeing and PACCAR employees and their families as they built fighter jets.
That housing was sold to those families after the war with the intention they would maintain and improve the homes. But instead the buildings, including duplexes and fourplexes, continued to deteriorate.
Now some low-income families in those homes don’t even qualify for Section 8 vouchers due to the distressed condition of the buildings, Gropper said.
He said data from Renton School District indicates many children whose test scores and attendance suffer, and have poor-health indicators, live in this housing.
The decision to put a service center in the Sunset area was somewhat serendipitous, Gropper said. There is a higher concentration of low income families, and the former library happened to have a restriction on the deed requiring the property be for “public use in perpetuity,” he said.
The multi-service center has been a vision in the Sunset plan for several years. The housing authority tried three times to receive a $30 million federal Housing and Urban Development grant, but eventually instead raised the money itself to buy the former library.
In March 2018, the housing authority bought the property from Renton for $885,000.
The authority had sold part of the Sunset Terrace area to the city for the new park and King County library.
“That kind of synergy I think is pretty unique in municipalities, and underscores how valuable it is for a city like Renton to have it’s own housing authority,” Gropper said. “Years ago, the mayor and I shook hands and said, ‘Let’s see how we can get this done.’”
In a press release, Mayor Denis Law said the center aligned with the city’s Sunset projects and will provide needed services.
The city also approved allocating $400,000 to the housing authority for the Multi-Service Center remodel.
It had come up in conversations with the city to possibly look into the center as an overnight shelter or safe injection site, but insurance and staffing requirements quickly dismissed that possibility, Gropper said. A permit revision letter from the city in December 2018 stressed that the health services permit does not allow for these options.
“It wouldn’t fit the building and if we have children services done in the building it would be incongruent,” Gropper said.
The 6,500 sq. ft. building needs a lot of work done, and not only to be a dignified space where folks can receive services. The center must be certified “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” silver. That certification for environmentally and energy efficient buildings was required with one of the grants housing authority received for the project.
Renovations are expected to start later this year. According to a press release the center is slated to open in 2020.