Why Has Washington Spent $20 Million on Two Hotels That Remain Empty?
There are at least two large hotels Washington State bought to be converted into homeless shelters that are still empty years after spending nearly $20 million. Why?
The Washington Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition (RCHA) Program
Our state has been struggling with homelessness for decades if not longer. In 2021 Washington State Department of Commerce tried to fight that very problem by passing and implementing the Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition (RCHA) program. The program was "intended for applicants seeking funding to acquire or rent real property for rapid conversion into enhanced emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, permanent housing, youth housing, drop-in center, or shelter for extremely low-income people, as well as individuals, families, unaccompanied youth, and young people experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness." Millions of dollars were allocated to hotels or other structures that could be used to house the homeless. But with those millions of dollars suddenly available, who was responsible for making sure it wasn't wasted?
Washington State Paid Over $93 Million Into RCHA Program in 2021
There was over $93 million found by the Washington State Legislature to help pay for the RCHA program in 2021. They passed House Bill 1080 allowing for $71.3 million of funding from the State Building Construction Account and $22.5 million from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Account. After the money was appropriated, structures were identified as potential buys for the project. There were 14 original properties that were proposed for the state to purchase to help house the homeless. You can read the entire plan yourself by clicking here.
Renton Red Lion Leased for $330,00 Per Month
Back in 2020, the Washington State Department of Commerce leased a large Red Lion hotel in Renton to help house 200 homeless for a cost of $330,000 per month during the Covid-19 pandemic. From April to November of that year, the fire department had been called to the hotel 277 different times for emergencies according to Komo News. By November 2020, there was a fire inside the hotel causing it to be evacuated and all the homeless had to be moved to a new permanent location. This is where the story gets complicated for the people of Renton.
King County Still Pays Rent on Emply Red Lion
Even though the hotel has remained empty for years after the evacuations, the county is still paying just over $330,000 per month on the lease. That means Washington State taxpayers have spent over $10.9 million so far on a hotel that is not housing anyone. That dollar amount has been confirmed by the King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office according to Kiro7. A spokesperson for Constantine said that "since the facility is still being leased by the county, the Facilities Management Division has security patrols and has been installing plywood to cover windows to prevent any further damage or vandalism." There is no word on how long King County will have to keep paying the lease on the empty Red Lion hotel. Believe it or not, it is not the only place wasting millions of Washington State taxpayer dollars in King County.
King County Buys Another Red Lion for $8.9 Million
In September of 2021, the Washington State Department of Commerce awarded money to King County for the purchase of a different Red Lion in Federal Way as part of a total $31 million package. The $31 million was designated for 307 homeless shelters in both Grant and King counties. The Red Lion, located at 1688 S. 348th St. in Federal Way, Washington, was supposed to house 84 people and cost $8.9 million. Today, the hotel still has not been converted and work seems to be at a standstill. The crazy thing is that the Mayor of Federal Way just found out the reason for the 2 years of delays, and the news is not good.
Federal Way Red Lion is Still Closed Because of Meth
It has been two years of construction delays that we have just recently learned the reason for. One large reason was the discovery of "high levels of methamphetamine" contamination in a section of rooms that needed remediation. Building remediation is defined as the "removal, abatement, and modification of a building's structure to make it conform to building standards" according to Luff Pier. We are finding now that the company responsible for the building remediation messed up and caused even more damage to the building. The mayor admitted in a recent interview that he did not know "if remediation can solve the problem or if the building is a complete loss." See some of that interview with the Mayor of Federal Way on Twitter by clicking here.
Will the $20 Million Ever Be Used for Washington's Homeless?
Honestly, I don't think anyone has the answer to that question, but I would guess probably not. The Renton Red Lion that was bought for $11 million might be torn down because it is in the way of a light rail project according to reports and is still costing the county $1 million every 3 months. The other Red Lion project in Federal Way has no signs of ever being completed, is still surrounded by fencing, and could also be a total loss. Are all the projects assigned to this RSHA project run this badly or has the rest of the original $93 million been spent well? I guess only time will tell but it doesn't look good.