Low Income Housing Institute’s 57-unit August Wilson Place apartments in downtown Bellevue includes affordable housing unites for households at 30, 50 and 60 percent of the area median income. Photo courtesy of Low Income Housing Institute

Low Income Housing Institute’s 57-unit August Wilson Place apartments in downtown Bellevue includes affordable housing unites for households at 30, 50 and 60 percent of the area median income. Photo courtesy of Low Income Housing Institute

Affordable housing, mental health care among Bellevue’s greatest needs

Need for more affordable housing a top issue since 1980s.

Affordable housing, homes for the homeless and mental health care were among major themes city staff found in the city of Bellevue’s 2017-18 Human Services Needs Update.

City officials present the needs update — a comprehensive set of data from needs assessments — every two years with the most recent unveiling on Feb. 5. The update will drive the Human Services Commission’s upcoming recommendations on which projects to fund during the 2019-20 budget funding cycle. Approximately $3.5 million was available in the Human Services fund in 2017-18 with $685,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding estimated for 2018.

Human Services usually receives about 100 applications for funding each biennium and funds about 70 percent.

“The work that has been done on this needs update is so critical to allocating funding where it belongs and where it’s impactful to the community,” Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson said at a recent City Council study session. Robinson is the liaison to the Human Services Commission.

After surveying 400 Bellevue residents in February and March 2017 through phone and online surveys, as well as other small focus groups and providers, the city received feedback on issues from opioid use to services for older adults and people with disabilities.

Jude Mercer, the Human Services Commission chair, said the commission oversaw the planning and development of the needs update.

Although there were at least 11 areas where staff found ongoing trends, Alex O’Reilly, the city’s Human Services manager, highlighted five major themes at a recent council study session.

Affordable housing

“Housing continues to be a major issue facing the city,” Mercer said of the themes. “And, as you know, this goes beyond just discussions about a men’s year-round shelter. The needs and solutions cover a much broader range including areas that don’t always come up in the men’s shelter conversations, like low cost legal support for landlord or tenant issues, food support, access to affordable health care and help finding or maintaining employment. All of these things impact a person’s ability to maintain housing in crises and these areas can be the tipping point to homelessness or reasons to move out of our city.”

O’Reilly added that in 2017, 77 percent of survey respondents rated lack of affordable housing as the No. 1 community problem facing Bellevue. Just over 30 percent of Bellevue renters reported being cost burdened, meaning they are paying more than 30 percent of income on rent. And 16 percent said they were “severely cost burdened,” meaning they reported paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

O’Reilly said the perception for the need of affordable housing in Bellevue has been a top problem since the 1980s, but it has gone up a statistically significant amount between 2015-2017.

Homelessness

Homelessness is also a major issue. The Bellevue School District recently reported an increase of homeless students. In 2006-07, the district knew of 58 homeless students. During the 2016-17 school year, they reported 257.

O’Reilly said the Eastside winter shelters served 429 men, 192 women and 137 adults and 182 children in their family shelter in 2016-17. Although those are duplicated counts, O’Reilly pointed out the shelter for youth and young adults in Redmond recently expressed their need to expand along the Interstate 90 corridor due to increases in volume for that population.

Racial and ethnic discrimination

Although only 24 percent of survey respondents rated racial and ethnic discrimination in Bellevue as a major or moderate community problem, that was a statistically significant change compared to 2015 data in which only 17 percent rated it an issue. According to the survey results, 7 percent said racial and ethnic discrimination was a household problem. Many also had concerns related to immigration and not feeling welcome in the community.

Mental health/substance use disorder

“We heard great concerns from Bellevue School District staff and members in the community about the increase in serious mental health issues, including suicide ideation for youth and even some younger children,” O’Reilly said.

In 2016, 15 percent of eighth graders, 17 percent of 10th graders and 16 percent of 12th graders in the school district said they had contemplated suicide. Eastside Pathways has also created a mental health and well being committee to look at what can be done.

O’Reilly said agencies across the board from the Bellevue Police Department to health care providers reported an increase in adults with substance use issues, or addiction, to prescription opioids and heroin.

Transportation access

In a providers-only survey as part of the needs update, 70 percent said their clients need access to transportation. And almost a quarter of residents said lack of public transportation was a top household problem.

“Although transportation is not by definition a human service, it has shown up consistently as the biggest barrier to access of human services and, in some cases, employment,” O’Reilly said, noting this affects older adults who can no longer drive and low-income people who work odd shifts, are younger and do not have their licenses or those with disabilities.

The application deadline for those interested in Bellevue Human Services funding is April 10. Applications can be submitted online. For more information, applicants should contact Dee Dee Catalano, human services grant coordinator, at dcatalano@bellevuewa.gov or 425-452-6165.

After staff receive all of the applications, the Human Services Commission will make recommendations on which projects should be funded in the spring and summer. The City Council is then expected to vote on those recommendations in the fall.

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