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Low-income housing in Hilltop neighborhood being built by Tacoma church

The goal is to build 60 units of low-income apartments by 2024.

TACOMA, Wash. — Michael Preston’s story is a common one in Tacoma: He needs a place to stay, but can’t find one he can afford.

After falling on hard times, Michael has spent the last 15 years enduring housing insecurity, forcing him from couch to couch just to keep a roof over his head.

“I got so tired of hearing no. When you get turned down so many times, you just kind of give up,” Preston recalled. “My mind was so stressed out from going from couch to couch, and having to live by other people’s rules, I just got real tired as I got older.”

Preston also said the requirements to qualify for an apartment are hard for Preston to overcome.

“I done gave up so many times when trying to get my own place, just because I can’t afford to get three times the rent, but I can afford to pay the rent once I get in,” Preston explained.

Michael’s situation highlights an ongoing issue for Tacoma, more people need access to low-income housing, and there isn’t enough to go around.

Numbers from Housing Urban Development show that an annual income of around $35,000 is considered very low income in Tacoma.

April Black of the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) said she’s seen just how high the demand is for people needing help to secure housing. THA opened its waiting list for people to apply for assistance back in 2018, and got 12,000 applications in just ten days.

“We were only able to put 1,500 people on our waiting list because we wanted to make sure we were setting reasonable expectations to be able to serve everyone on our waiting list within two years,” Black said. “But we still haven’t been able to serve all of those households, and they’ve been waiting since 2018.”

Recently, Preston got a lucky break. He found a room in a house owned by Shiloh Baptist Church.

He pays $500 a month to rent the room. It may not be much, but Michael said he appreciates the space.

“If I want to lay here all day, I can,” Preston said. “When I was on other people’s couch, you know, I had to go by their rules. Here, I’m going by my rules.”

Preston's also excited about the hope Shiloh is building with a $25 million apartment development that will provide 60 total units of low-income housing for the city. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024.

Deacon Russell Jackson said the need for the project is obvious.

“All you got to do is go down the street and look to the left and the right, and maybe we’re not targeting the people in the tents, but the people that but for the grace of God, may be in those tents,” Jackson said.

The development won’t just be apartments, as wraparound services will also be available to tenants to help them stay housed, a unique feature in Tacoma.

“We want this to be their first step for them to go beyond and go back to a place where they’re comfortable, what they’re accustomed to, and where they can even reach back and help somebody else,” Jackson said.

Pierce County Affordable Housing Supervisor Brian Schmid said affordable housing units can cost up to $400,000 per unit, so projects like this help that expense.

“The county doesn’t have those kinds of dollars, so we need resources to be pulled in from other places,” Schmid said.

After years of planning, Shiloh broke ground on Sunday.

Lawmakers from the local, state, and the federal level came out to pledge their support for the project, and encourage others to follow Shiloh’s example. Pastor Gregory Christopher said he’s simply following the vision given to him.

“It’s not about what this community can do for us, but what can we do for the community,” Christopher said. "That’s the philosophy of the late Dr. Brazill and was instilled in myself. We just want to serve the community.”

Preston also claimed he’ll be watching, hoping for a chance to get back on his feet.

“I just have to go from step one, step two, step three, and maybe I’ll have my own place,” Preston said.

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