An asylum seeker asks the Kent City Council for housing help at the April 16 meeting. Screenshot via City of Kent

An asylum seeker asks the Kent City Council for housing help at the April 16 meeting. Screenshot via City of Kent

Asylum seekers, supporters ask Kent City Council for housing help

They want Econo Lodge on Central Avenue reopened; Kent, King County have no plans to do so

The Kent City Council received an earful of public comments April 16 from asylum seekers trying to find housing and nonprofit representatives helping them in their mission.

Many of the nearly 20 speakers at the council meeting emphasized that they want the former Econo Lodge, 1233 Central Ave. N., reopened to house as many as 300 asylum seekers and refugees who have bounced around over the last several months from temporary shelters in tents and hotels, including the Kent Quality Inn on West Meeker Street.

Private donations and public funds the city of Seattle and King County have paid for rooms at the Kent Quality Inn after asylum seekers, many of them from Venezuela, testified at King County Council and Seattle City Council meetings earlier in the year that they needed help to pay for housing and avoid eviction.

Several of the speakers said the city of Kent needs to change its memorandum of understanding (MOU) with King County, which bought the hotel in 2020 to serve as a COVID-19 quarantine facility, in order for asylum seekers to stay there.

King County, however, isn’t looking to reopen the hotel.

“No, the county does not have plans to reopen the hotel,” said Kristin Elia, spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine, in an April 18 email. “The county is in continued conversations with the state and local jurisdictions on a long-term, statewide approach to provide support for asylum seekers.”

Elia said the county has provided $5 million since late last year to support asylum seekers and refugees arriving in the region, which includes the $2 million it announced April 17 to support four nonprofits in their work to provide urgent housing and assistance.

Pat Fitzpatrick, city of Kent chief administrative officer, said in April 19 email that Kent and other cities do not have the resources or budgets to house immigrants.

“This current situation is an issue of national concern and secondarily, statewide concern, and local governments are typically not permitted to pass any regulations whatsoever related to immigration issues,” Fitzpatrick said. “Therefore, cities do not have the resources or budget for this. In light of this, the cities of Auburn, Bellevue, Bothell, Burien, Kent, Redmond, Renton, SeaTac, Seattle and Tukwila issued a joint letter to Gov. (Jay) Inslee outlining the need for a federal and statewide resolution.”

Fitzpatrick said finding permanent housing for asylum seekers presents too much of a challenge for each city. He said a regional approach is needed until state and federal assistance can be found.

“Cities in general, and particularly South King County cities, are ill-equipped to handle these issues,” Fitzpatrick said. “South King County cities struggle with budgetary constraints that other areas of the county may not struggle with. It is appropriate for the federal government to step in, and in its absence, the response to this issue must be spread across the entire region and not concentrated in King County.

“We are of the understanding that King County and many other cities agree with this concept. Right now, it seems that the resolution of this challenge is focused squarely in South King County.”

Part of that focus certainly had to do with immigrants by the hundreds showing up at Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila for housing and assistance. That church is known for helping refugees, but the number of people became more than it could handle and that began the exodus to hotels with rooms paid for by private and public donations.

As far as the Econo Lodge, Fitzpatrick said the agreement between the county and city detailed that the hotel could only be used as a pandemic quarantine facility until the governor’s state of emergency ended.

“(The MOU) required the county to comply with all zoning and land use requirements for any use other than as a quarantine facility,” Fitzpatrick said. “This would be applicable to any landowner or business operator generally by law.”

The people who filled Council Chambers, however, want the city and county to reopen the Econo Lodge.

“We urge the city to amend the language of the MOU with King County to allow to use the Econo Lodge for emergency housing for asylum seekers,” said Jon Grant, chief strategy officer for the Seattle-based Low Income Housing Institute, a nonprofit affordable housing provider. “Riverton Church began turning families away so they started arriving here in Kent.”

Grant said as many as 600 people need housing. He said a private donor paid for 200 people to remain for a couple more weeks at the Kent Quality Inn. He said the Econo Lodge could house 300 people.

An asylum-seeking mother and several children told the council they have been staying at the Kent Quality Inn and need somewhere more permanent to live rather than constantly facing eviction. A couple of the children gave posters to the mayor and council supporting their request for a new place to stay.

Joseph Lopez, co-executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, said his group has worked with the Low Income Housing Institute the last several months to support newly arriving migrants. He said as many as 80 children have stayed at the Kent Quality Inn the last few months.

“Families are seeking a better life and want to add to the thriving city of Kent,” Lopez said. “They need a stable place to live. The county will not open (the Econo Lodge) without your consent. You can provide emergency housing for 300 people with attention to this matter.”

Hamdi Abdulle, president and CEO of SeaTac-based African Community Housing and Development, and a resident of Kent, joined the others in asking city officials for help.

“I am here to share the importance about why all these people are here,” Abdulle said. “They are not here for a room in a hotel but a room in your heart, the council’s heart, the mayor’s heart and the people in the city of Kent’s heart. They are looking for what King County owns, but is in the jurisdiction of the city of Kent and an MOU that made things impossible. ...they are seeking a barrier removal.

“I hope it happens with compassion and love and care. These people did not come here for economic reasons, but for safety reasons, so they come to the United States and elsewhere in the world. You are in control of your heart and they are seeking a room in your heart, and to make sure King County follows your steps.”

After the last speaker, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph thanked everyone for their comments and then closed public comments. Ralph told the speakers prior to public comment that the council would not be responding to any questions or statements.


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Several children spoke at the April 16 Kent City Council meeting asking for a stable place to stay rather than having to move from hotel to hotel. Screenshot via City of Kent

Several children spoke at the April 16 Kent City Council meeting asking for a stable place to stay rather than having to move from hotel to hotel. Screenshot via City of Kent

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