In Yakima, Washington, the Yakima Herald-Republic
- Under a settlement agreement reached [last month], Yakima Neighborhood Health Services(1) will drop its federal lawsuit against the city of Yakima and instead submit a new application for using Roy’s Market as an apartment building to house local homeless people.
The revised application, which Neighborhood Health must submit within 90 days, will be for an apartment facility in which up to 40 homeless people could stay for 30 days to two years — not for a temporary shelter.
“We’ve agreed the facility will not be designed as a place of temporary sojourn, a mission or a warming shelter,” said Rich Hill, Neighborhood Health’s attorney in the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in February and moved to federal district court in March.
The settlement is a “positive step,” Hill said. “Neighborhood Health is excited to work with the city on obtaining approval for the proposal,” he said.
The pressing issue of where to house Yakima’s homeless population has been in contention since the fall of 2014, when Neighborhood Health expressed interest in installing an emergency homeless shelter in the Roy’s Market site — to which the city responded by passing an emergency moratorium on new homeless shelters in “Small Convenience Center” (SCC) zones in Yakima.
Though a city hearing examiner agreed with Neighborhood Health’s proposal, which included other social services besides the emergency shelter, the city appealed and ultimately denied the application. Neighborhood Health then sued the city in Superior Court to overturn the land-use decision; that suit remains on hold pending the outcome of the new application process.
The separate federal-court suit dealt with Neighborhood Health’s allegations of Fair Housing Act violations and discrimination by the city in making certain zones off-limits for homeless shelters.
Resolving that lawsuit rather than continuing to push it through the court system was in both parties’ interest, said Ken Harper, the city’s attorney on the case.
“The litigation process is full of cost; it’s full of risk,” Harper said . “Over the summer, as we had discussions in and outside the litigation setting, it became obvious that there was an opportunity to resolve this outside of litigation.”
Rather than a shelter, the facility would be an apartment complex, likely with a variety of one- or two-bedroom units to accommodate families in need of housing.
Neighborhood Health would be the landlord, and the individuals would be treated as normal tenants — likely with continued support and case-management services through Neighborhood Health programs.
“The tenant has to behave themselves or they can’t stay in the unit,” [Neighborhood Health's board chairman Don] Hinman said. “We’re not going to turn anybody away, but we’re not going to allow any disruptive behavior, either.”
(1) Yakima Neighborhood Health Services
is a private, non-profit housing & health care organization that provides comprehensive medical, dental , and behavioral health care at seven locations in Washington State's Yakima Valley; and also provides emergency shelter services, and permanent supportive housing locally for homeless individuals and families (including medical respite care).