King County Executive Dow Constantine and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus announced on Wednesday, July 21 the purchase of the Clarion Hotel in Auburn, which will house homeless people as part of the county’s Health Through Housing program.
The hotel, which is on B street behind the Auburn Municipal Airport and southeast of Emerald Downs, cost the county $11.8 million and will provide housing for roughly 100 people who are experiencing homelessness in and around Auburn.
This is the fifth hotel purchased as part of the Health Through Housing program created by Constantine. The county recently purchased hotels in Seattle, Redmond and Renton. Health Through Housing follows the housing-first model, which provides people housing before they seek treatment or employment.
“Our goal is for anyone who is able to become self-sufficient to do so,” Constantine said. “They may have an addiction disorder that we need to help them with, they may have job training or placement, they may need housing assistance, but ultimately, we want people to reclaim their lives.”
At least 15% of the rooms are for people experiencing homelessness in Auburn, Constantine said. Rooms are meant for adult individuals, but couples and roommates will be allowed to share a room. There will be no maximum length of stay for people living at the hotel.
“This is emergency housing with support, but we will ultimately be able to convert these buildings to permanent supportive housing,” Constantine said. “For the time being, this is meant to get people directly off the streets as quickly as possible and get them stabilized and into the services they need.”
The hotel is expected to be up and running by this fall, Constantine said. The county is working with the City of Auburn to hire a service provider that will operate the hotel.
King County is fully funding the hotel and its operation. One-tenth of one cent of sales tax revenues in the county go toward Health Through Housing.
The hotel will work in conjunction with Auburn’s existing Resource Center.
“I think this will be a perfect partnership with Auburn’s Consolidated Resource Center, which is just a short distance away,” Backus said.
The idea to buy hotels and turn them into housing came during the pandemic, Constantine said.
During the pandemic, travel was at a standstill and hotels were empty, so the county rented hotels and let people live in them. They realized those hotels adequately addressed the need for supportive housing, Constantine said.
Previously, the county had been building housing from scratch, which was time consuming and expensive. It cost the county around $400,000 to build one unit, and buying an $11 million hotel that can house 100 people is much more cost effective, Constantine said. In addition to the cost savings, the hotels are essentially move-in ready, which allows the county to start housing people in months rather than years.
The “housing first” model can be controversial. The idea to give people housing and services without requiring them to stop using drugs may seem antithetical to some, but studies show it is effective.
Housing first models have been proven to save taxpayers money and stabilize people experiencing homelessness. A study on 150 individuals who were enrolled in housing first in Denver, Colorado, found that housing first saved approximately $31,000 per person over a 24-month period in emergency service costs alone.
A similar study found that housing first methods are more effective than treatment first methods in reducing homelessness and increasing housing stability. A study in Canada found that after one year, 73% of housing first participants still had stable housing, compared to only 31% of people who participated in “treatment as usual” programs.
Although Health Through Housing is a county program, the mayor of Auburn and City Council are in full support of the hotel, Backus said.