Serenity House: Asset Rich, Mission Poor
Opinion by Dale Wilson
Serenity House, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness was started in the early ‘80’s. Since that time it has amassed real estate assets reported at $7.5 million dollars.
You would not know that from the endless news articles explaining their difficulty in raising operating costs. Serenity House recently received $455,000 equity loan against a property it owns at 577 W. Washington Street in Sequim.
They also own property at 2311 W. 18th appraised by the county at $1,192,558, another property at 501 E. Second valued at $231,812, another at 512 E. First valued at $73,927, another at 535 E. First valued at $202,591, another at 551 W Washington valued at $800,000 and yet another located at 577 W. Washington appraised at $800,626. To these you can add a few others valued between $17,000 and $20,000.
With these holdings one must ask the question, “why don’t they sell off some of their assets and put that money toward their avowed mission. A better question is, Why did they sink so much of their precious funding, taxpayer funding, into real estate holdings. Certainly they must have property to house the homeless as well as their thrift shops. However, wouldn’t it make more sense to lease space for their thrift stores and lease shelter from private owners?
Owning that much real estate, even apartment buildings is at cross purposes with the mission. We cannot cure homelessness by buying homes and apartments for everyone. We must teach them to get back in the groove and provide their own lodging. By buying so many residential properties we are only perpetuating the problem and taking resources away from the primary mission.
Rent vouchers for housing in the private sector makes more sense and frees up millions of dollars for their primary mission.
Just last year Serenity House sold a property in Sequim, site of the new Sequim City Hall. Sales price, $1,500,000. It is unclear where the proceeds from that sale went since the requests for more and more government funding has continued apace.
While passing the plate at various government funding sources Serenity House purchased real estate in Sequim in May of 2014, reported value at time of purchase, $1.1 million. The property was formerly home of Swain’s Outdoor. This property now appraised on Clallam County Assessor’s books at just over $800,000.
Recently Serenity House received $30,000 from the Medina Foundation of Seattle. This to fund its HUB and DreamU programs aimed at helping clients get jobs. How many more clients could be served with $7.5 million added to these programs?
Last month the Clallam County Commissioners voted to provide up to $300,000 in taxpayer funds to combat homelessness. Despite a dozen or more agencies lining up for part of this largess Serenity House requested $262,000 of it.
Rumor has it the county commission will provide them with almost $100,000 of their recent pledge of $300,000 to fight homelessness in the county. This squeezes out other fine organizations fighting homelessness on the frontline, at the street level such as TAFY, The Answer For Youth.
Meanwhile the city of Port Angeles is holding the bag for $108,000 in unpaid utility bills owed by Serenity House.
Various property owners are complaining because Serenity House is not keeping up rent payments for housing their clients.
Port O Call suggests Serenity House divest its real estate holdings and put that money back into the mission for which it was intended.