Under the Bridge

There has been a lot of talk lately about HALA and various ways of achieving afforadable housing, and often these conversations include some reference to the high rate of homelessness around Seattle. Though building more housing is an obvious good thing, and more affordable housing is a good thing, I sometimes wonder how much of an impact just throwing more affordable housing to the market will have on homelessness, and here is why: just the price of rent is not always the only obsticle faced by those that are homeless. My suggestion is that maybe we should look at what we define as “affordable housing”, and maybe even where it gets built.

What if we used the space under overpasses to build small houses? And im not talking the tiny crawl spaces under some of the bridges, but the big spaces. It might sound crazy but they do it all the time in Japan and central America; Japan uses the space under train overpasses for restaurants, shops and yes, even apartments. I lived in Guatemala for 18 months and people built make shift communities under bridges and overpasses, especially where retaining walls were built because the ground was steady there, and at least one wall was already provided.

So what if we modified that idea and built halfway houses, or small dorm-like complexes were those that were homeless could stay. Rooms could be split just like dorms, or single person for a little more. Of course nothing comes for free, so have the rent be high enough to cover the basic utilities like lights, water and heat. Water would be more tricky, but a community bathroom or showers could work, with showers being a flat fee for a set time. It may sound odd, but they actually do this with community bathrooms in some areas in Guatemala and it works pretty well to mitigate the trajedy of the commons. But something like this would be affordable housing specifically aimed at those that are homeless; mixed with the other forms of affordable housing on the table and it could make a real difference.

I’m no engineer so I can’t really say how such a building would be built safely under an existing bridge, but stranger things have been done, and there are already houses and shops under the fremont side of Aurora. And there is certainly enough room for even a 3 story building under Aurora across the way, near the crazy intersection at NE Ravenna BLVD and 8th Ave NE in North Seattle and lots of other places around west and south Seattle.

Maybe this is a pie in the sky idea, but what if that open space was used? What if it cut back vandalism under bridges? And that land is currently under the jurisdiction of the state I believe, so it’s not like it is expensive new real estate, and possibly less opposition from NIMBYs. And talk about transit oriented development!

So what do you think? Is something like this even plausible? And if so, how would you make it work?