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Monday, March 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Time to abandon the 'wet' apartments

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To build a new apartment house where alcoholics can continue to drink was never an inspired use of the public's money. But the Seattle City Council — the old one, before the recent election — approved this proposal, and it is supposed to be built at 1811 Eastlake Ave. E. The public's hope for common sense now rests with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, which has scored and ranked this bad idea as not good enough for the current year's public money.

This is federal money. Each state gets some of it, and many states allocate it politically — that is, to the dog with the loudest bark. This state does it professionally. The commission staff evaluates each proposal under a point system. This year, the apartments for street drunks, which made the cut two years ago, do not have enough points to get funded in 2004. Backers say they will ask the commission to break its own rules, to ignore the recommendation of the staff and to push this project to the top of the list.

This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, these apartments are a bad idea. If government is going to build housing for 75 alcoholics, at least it should insist they quit drinking in order to live there. Second, it abandons a system of impartial review for one of political favor, which is a kind of corruption. Third, there is a fixed amount of federal money for projects, and funding a bad project necessarily means the abandonment of a better one.

If the advocates have their way, the "wet" apartment house they favor, which has fallen to sixth on the waiting list, would rise to No. 1. That would push back the No. 1 project on the waiting list, La Salle, which would create 76 units for (sober) senior citizens at the Pike Place Market. It would push back two other projects with 69 units for the poor in Seattle, the 85-unit Garden Park project in Federal Way and the 50-unit Lauren Heights family project in Issaquah.

The Housing Finance Commission should not break its rules, and our local politicians should not even think about asking it to. If it doesn't have the fortitude to kill this project, at least let it stay on the list, get bumped downward, and finally slide off the bottom.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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