Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman
Nyer Urness, located at 17th Ave NW and NW 56th St, will begin receiving residents by the end of the month.

Nyer Urness, opening in April, to provide homeless a place to live

By Pete Treperinas

Look for some of Ballard’s homeless people on 17th Ave NW and NW 56th St at the end of April. They won’t be asking for money and they won’t be sleeping outside. They’ll be residents.

Ballard is the destination for the newest Compass Housing Alliance project -- a nonprofit organization that creates affordable housing for homeless and low-income individuals. Many tenants pay only part of their monthly rent, or, in some cases, none at all. Eighty homeless people will be selected for the Ballard building, many of whom were Ballard residents before becoming homeless. For these individuals, Compass provides a fresh start and an opportunity to once again be part of the community.

“These are not folks who got dropped off here from another planet. They have the same hopes, the same joys, the same dreams as anyone else … if they can’t have a house, at least they can have a home,” said Kim Sather, division manager at Compass Housing Alliance.

Nyer Urness

Rooms have all of the basic necessities a person needs in their home. Photo by Zachariah Bryan

Through this project, Compass continues to integrate the homeless population more into Seattle’s neighborhoods. These 80 units build not just homes, but second chances.

Compass’ service to the low-income and homeless community dates back to 1920, when it ran a small center that aided people by serving food and helping them find employment.

More recently, its action helps support Seattle’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. One major component of that plan includes adding 9,500 units of housing for homeless people by 2015.

Compass provides three buildings that contribute to that goal. In addition to Ballard, Compass built a 50-unit facility in downtown Seattle on 9th and Stewart Street less than a year ago. Construction will begin on another building in South Lake Union on Dexter Avenue and John Street this July.

Nyer Urness

Residents have a kitchen stocked with basic dishware and utensils. Photo by Zachariah Bryan

A drive down Ballard’s Market Street is hardly ever free of panhandlers at stoplights or homeless people gathering at bus stops. The area draws large numbers of individuals without shelter. Compass program director M.J. Kiser said that, more than anything, it’s the lack of services and facilities in Ballard that makes them stand out.

“If someone became homeless in Ballard, there’s very little opportunity for them to access shelter,” Kiser said. “There’s so few services and such few low-income housing options in Ballard that we wanted to provide an opportunity for folks.”

Nyer Urness

Residents will have their very own bathroom. Photo by Zachariah Bryan

Not everyone will be moved in at once. People will move in in small groups at a time throughout the summer, allowing staff to focus on residents and helping them adjust to a new lifestyle, as well as help them stay out of trouble.

Residents are only allowed to have one guest until 10 p.m. and incidents involving drugs or other forms of misbehavior are dealt with in a case-to-case basis.

Nyer Urness

Volunteers will cook many of the meals for residents in this full-service kitchen.

Nyer Urness takes a completely different approach in regards to services than previous projects. Dekko Place on 9th and Stewart is considered an affordable housing project. Of its 50 units, only about 10 are set aside for homeless people, while the other tenants fall into the low-income bracket (individuals earning less than $15,600 annually). Many only pay portions of their rent each month.

Stephen Olson, the site manager at Dekko Place, said that when that building opened, eight to 10 homeless people went straight from off the street into units in the building. Since then, several have had to leave.

“It’s kind of hard to go from living on the streets to just a brand new apartment,” Olson said. “It’s just night and day, and some people just can’t take that.”

In addition to the 80 units devoted to the homeless, Nyer Urness also provides a service aspect. Along with the Neighborcare Health clinic moving into the building, the facility plans to have 24-hour front desk staffing and case management services. Other programs will help those recovering from addiction and individuals battling mental health issues.

The staff will work to ensure that people won’t struggle with the transition from the street to an apartment, like many did at Dekko Place.

Nyer Urness

Front lobby. Photo by Zachariah Bryan

Not everyone in the Ballard community responded positively to the new project. Being in a more residential area in comparison to the other two Compass locations, the decision to build in Ballard created a controversy among some neighbors.

A small group of neighbors pursued litigation that would have halted the issuance of a permit required for construction. King County Superior Court, however, ruled that there was no merit to the lawsuit.

This caused a delay in the building process by roughly a year. But Kiser feels strongly that the community as a whole doesn’t share the same negativity toward the project.

“It was a vocal but small group of people who were in opposition of the project,” she said. “I would not characterize it as the Ballard community opposing the project, just a few individuals.”

Now, just weeks from opening, the Nyer Urness house is nearly complete, with just the finishing touches needed on the interior. From the exterior, the seven-story, navy blue building appears finished already.

Nyer Urness

Nyer Urness

A view from the top. Compass Housing Alliance Capital Campaign Manager Amy Besunder said that she thinks this is the best view in town. Photos by Zachariah Bryan

Volunteers are needed to cook, teach classes, help with mail, grocery shop and more. To learn how you can help, email

Donations of household items are accepted, but everything must be new. To learn more, call 206.357.3108.

To sponsor a unit for $1,000, which will provide all the basic necessities, email Amy Besunder at

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