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Richmond Beach UCC embarks 24-unit housing project

In October, Richmond Beach UCC in Shoreline voted to replace two 1950s houses on its three-acre property with 24 units of low-income housing built in cooperation with Hopelink Transitional Housing Program, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing and provides social services for the residents.

Jim Civarra
Jim Civarra beside one old house on Richmond Beach UCC property to be replaced with low-income housing.

Jim Civarra, chair of the church’s Long Range Planning Committee, said interaction with members about the future of the church often focused on using the two houses for homeless or low-income families.

One house was the parsonage in the 1960s and 1970s and then rented.  The other has been used as part of the transitional housing program of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

A year ago, Civarra said, the church received a letter from the City of Shoreline inviting churches and nonprofit developers of affordable housing to a forum on homelessness.

After the meeting, he sent a letter to the North Seattle Housing Alliance, describing the amount of land and  zoning.  After reviewing three nonprofits, the church chose Hopelink.

Civarra said 1) it’s in North King County and members have volunteered in its food bank; 2) it provides social services for residents and 3) its arrangement for building would not require rezoning.

City of Shoreline invites churches, nonprofits to collaborate on housing

The City of Shoreline formed 15 years ago, taking in unincorporated areas from the City of Seattle five miles north to the King County line and from Puget Sound east past Interstate 5.  Richmond Beach was one of the neighborhoods.

Much of the western part of the city is upper middle class, Civarra said, but the eastern neighborhoods are low-income and need affordable  housing.

Marcia McLaughlin, spiritual director at the church and member of the Long Range Planning Committee, reported that there are 112 homeless children in the Shoreline school district and 51 percent of households pay 30 percent or more of their incomes for rent.

“In 2000, 6.9 percent of city residents were at poverty level. In 2010, 8 percent were,” she said.

Church finds way to have Hopelink develop permanent supportive housing

Because the area around the church is zoned for low-density residential, less than six housing units per acre, Hopelink agreed to a long-term lease of the land, so the full property is considered, which means they can build 24 units of permanent supportive housing without rezoning.

Hopelink’s social services include education, job training and skills in parenting, budgeting and finances to help families move from crisis to stability to self sufficiency, said McLaughlin.  Since it began in 1989, nearly every family in its program has gone on to find and retain permanent housing.

Joined church at invitation of barbershop quartet friends

Civarra, who lives in Seattle, said the bass and baritone in his barbershop quartet drew him to Richmond Beach UCC. 

“They roped me into coming and then into singing in the choir and joining their theatre production group,” he said.

He joined 10 years ago and became a trustee.  In that role, he earned about the property and was interested in moving beyond repairs and maintenance.  When he became vice moderator, he learned there was a Long Term Planning Committee in the bylaws and revived it when he became moderator.  Since then he has been chair.

Richmond Beach UCC, which has nearly 200 members, has supported local social service agencies, food banks and outreach efforts.

Having not attended a church since childhood, he said, he wanted to be involved in helping people.

“So I began doing what our denomination and most religions want people to do.  I became empowered to act as part of an active, caring church,” Civarra said.

Marcia McLaughlin will help others in church educate neighbors

McLaughlin, who lives one block from the church, will work with other members living in the Richmond Beach neighborhood to educate neighbors about the project as part of the City of Shoreline’s efforts to encourage development of affordable housing.

She appreciates that Hopelink will work with residents who live in the units to be sure they follow rules and reach their goals.

“Housing terminology has changed as we realize there is need to move away from short-term transitional housing to housing where people can live as long as they need to before they move into better housing after they are more self sufficient,” she said.  “So there is no timeline for how long people will stay.”

McLaughlin expects the church may continue what it has done for people who have lived in the transitional house.  They have provided supplies and food when the people first move in.  She said the church is open to other opportunities there may be, including hosting community meals or tutoring children.

“We are open to whatever it will mean for us,” she said. “We have worked in the arena of homelessness for the past decade, but this is still a big step.”

The church, which formed in 1891, describes itself as a “journey”—as opposed to an “answer”—church, open to “discover what it means to be a human being in this world.”

For information, call 206-542-7477, or visit


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © December 2011





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