City moves to put Phoebe House back in operation

The Tacoma City Council Neighborhoods and Housing Committee has directed the Tacoma Community Redevelopment Authority (TCRA) to prepare a draft version of a request for proposal designed to put the shuttered Phoebe House at 1419 S. Yakima Ave. back into operation by either affordable housing or service provider operators in the city.

The decision was made during yesterday’s Neighborhoods and Housing Committee meeting, where Ric Teasley of the Tacoma Economic Development Department outlined the background and community concerns surrounding this city-owned property, which is located in the Hilltop neighborhood.

According to Teasley, foreclosure action was recently completed on the Phoebe House in order to eliminate tens of thousands of dollars of debt accrued by the former Phoebe House Association. The association owned the building between 1995 and 2001, and provided transitional housing for women with substance abuse problems. In 2001, the association “went out of business and disappeared,” according to Teasley. That same year, the city purchased the property, as well as its sister Phoebe House at 712 Martin Luther King Way. In April 2004, the city council transferred ownership to the TCRA, which then had plans to eliminate the debt, rehabilitate the house, and offer the building to another public organization.

“This house is most ideally suited for the type of service it offered before,” said Teasley, referring to the home’s two stories, 4,200 square feet, and 14 bedrooms as amenable to a group-home environment. “However, with the moratorium on certain types of housing, we are seeking direction from the Neighborhoods and Housing Committee on how to proceed.”

On May 17, the city council approved a six-month moratorium on the expansion or opening of new group homes, halfway houses and transitional houses. The moratorium, however, provides exceptions for state-licensed facilities and residences where renters either are not part of a service provider program, or are covered by Washington’s landlord and tenant act.

“I have no problem with this,” said Councilman Tom Stenger, referring to the plan for a draft version of a request for proposal. “We said that we would make exceptions where appropriate, and this might be the place where we make an exception.”

Councilwoman Julie Anderson asked why there was interest in moving forward on the property in light of the temporary moratorium. “Is it possible to allow the property to remain vacant and delay the request for proposal?” she asked. During the six-month moratorium, the city is exploring possible changes to the municipal code regarding the location and dispersal of group homes and other facilities; creating of a blue-ribbon panel to study issues relating to standards of care and community relations for programs that serve high-risk populations; and creating a task force with Pierce County and other cities to address a disproportionate number of facilities in the region. Councilwoman Anderson asked if action on the Phoebe House could be delayed until the end of the six-month moratorium.

Teasley reported that neighbors are asking about the city’s plans for the property. “The location is well-known to the transient community,” said Teasley. He reported that city employees visit the property an average of two times per month to board windows and secure the home. Additionally, the city pays insurance on the vacant house.

Though the house is structurally sound, city staff estimate that approximately $120,000 to $160,000 of repairs are needed to the roof, gutters, windows, entry and exit doors, carpeting, siding, decks, stairs, plumbing, wallboards, and chimney. Potential oil contaminants, lead-based paints, and mold due to moisture infiltration also require attention. The State Housing Trust Fund could provide $89,325 and TCRA could provide $78,545, according to Teasley. The property is valued at $255,000.