County purchases Renton hotel to serve as homeless shelter

Deal is part of Health Through Housing initiative; controversial Red Lion shelter to be “phased out.”

This week King County Executive Dow Constantine and Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone announced the purchase of an Extended Stay hotel as part of the Health Through Housing Initiative that aims to increase the county’s permanent supportive housing capacity.

The county paid roughly $28.6 million for the property on 1150 Oakesdale Ave. SW with funds that were made available through a 0.1 percent sales tax levy approved by the King County Council in 2020.

The Extended Stay’s amenities and room formatting are an ideal fit for the kind of permanent supportive housing the facility will be used for, said Leo Flor, director of the county’s Department of Community and Human Services.

Each room is larger than a typical hotel room, with a bed, a living area with a couch as well as a kitchen. Flor said the kitchens are an important feature that will allow residents to incorporate nutrition into their lifestyle.

The building has easily accessible laundry facilities and exercise rooms as well as open and unused spaces, which Flor said will be available for different service providers and clinicians.

Flor said the housing facility will have capacity for a little more than 100 tenants. He said that capacity, which is more than 100 less than the Red Lion Hotel shelter in Renton, will provide a better ratio of staff to residents.

The county is still searching for service providers who will be in charge of staffing the facility. The City of Renton will make the final decision on the service provider for the building.

The University of Washington-approved theory behind this “housing first” approach is to get otherwise homeless people into their own space so they can first have a consistent place to feel safe and sheltered. The housing will allow them to first meet those basic needs before being able to focus and improve on the more complicated aspects of their lives.

Flor said sometimes consistent and healthy sleep is the best medicine. Once residents can rest and feel safe, they can benefit from the behavioral health and employment services available to them in the facility.

The Extended Stay is expected to be open for potential residents this summer. Part of its opening will be the “phasing out” of the controversial Red Lion Hotel shelter, which sheltered more than 200 homeless people to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in what would have otherwise been an open-air shared space.

Executive Constantine assured that despite the more than 100-person capacity difference between the two shelters, no one from the Red Lion Hotel will be put out on the street. He said the county would screen and refer those people to the next best available option on a case-by-case basis.

Constantine said the difference between the Red Lion Hotel shelter and the newly purchased one is that the Red Lion shelter was not as focused on long-term permanent supportive housing and instead was an emergency shelter intended to address a situation created by the pandemic.

He said that the newly purchased housing in Renton will be part of a long-term solution to getting people the shelter, services and support they need to get out of homelessness.

Constantine said this first purchase through the Health Through Housing Initiative in South King County shows how the program is “starting to get to scale.”

He estimated the program will help procure about 1,600 additional units of supportive housing in the near future and is beginning to “create the expectation that no one will be living in the streets.”

County officials maintained that they are involved in conversations with multiple cities in the county as they look for other properties to purchase and convert into supportive housing.

Constantine emphasized that the homelessness crisis in the region is not just “Seattle’s problem,” and that cooperation and collective action towards solving the problem will go much farther than “pointing fingers.”

What a room looks like inside of the Extended Stay building (photo credit: Cameron Sheppard)

What a room looks like inside of the Extended Stay building (photo credit: Cameron Sheppard)