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Housing Company Claims Spokane Government Owes them Over $100,000

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While others viewed Spokane’s sprawling homeless encampment, Camp Hope, as an eye sore and danger to the community, Daniel Klemme recognized it as a tremendous business opportunity.

Klemme is the CEO and founder of Housing Navigator and explained that at the time, he thought, “we will make plenty of money if we have a vast amount of success housing as many people as possible.”

Housing Navigator is a company that financially incentivizes landlords to work with the chronically homeless through referral bonuses and top of the market rent.

“We make affordable housing profitable,” explains CFO Dane Jessen, and “we’ve also helped tenants on our own time.”

Jessen claims the private sector can do this work more efficiently and at a much lower cost. 

“We can house someone for an entire year for thirty-thousand-dollars,” he tells me.

Housing Navigator’s innovative model got the attention of the city, and they secured a contract to help unwind the state’s largest encampment. 

“We started housing people very quickly,” says Klemme. In the first few months, their team had filled twenty units. They were on a roll.

But that was last year. Since then, Camp Hope closed down and new mayor, Lisa Brown, took office in January.

Now, the Housing Navigator team is seeing red. Klemme and Jessen say the city of Spokane owes Housing Navigator more than one-hundred-thousand-dollars for services they provided. 

“Logic is not part of this conversation,” says Jessen, claiming this is a breach of contract.

“Our goal was to beat everybody at housing people, and we successfully did that and then we were punished for it,” Klemme explains.

The team believes the new, progressive administration is shutting them out because of their conservative leanings.

“We noticed when the mayor’s race in Spokane really started to heat up, there was a lot of issues with payment,” says Jessen. “The only thing I can think of is politics.”

Quite candidly, Klemme says their success housing people embarrassed the non-profit sector that has failed to curb the rising homelessness rate in Spokane, despite having access to millions of dollars to address the crisis.

“We can house more people with less money, and that goes counterintuitive to bureaucracy,” Klemme tells me.

Former Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich helped Housing Navigator get its first contract with the city.

“It did work. It was permanent housing,” says Knezovich, who believes this is personal. “They’re not part of that ‘in’ crowd, and if you were not one of Lisa’s friends, you were iced out.”

Mayor Lisa Brown says she had nothing to do with this decision. “As you know, there are always two sides to a story,” Brown tells me.

When I ask if allegations of favoritism are true, Brown explains that the issue with Housing Navigator “happened under the previous administration.”

She’s referring to former mayor Nadine Woodward’s leadership and sent me the contract showing it was terminated last December during the transition of power in the mayor’s office. 

Housing Navigator is accused of failing to meet the expectations of the deal, but Jessen says they’ve had “no official complaints.”

When I asked for specific violations, Brown could not comment on the details.

Woodward declined to share her perspective on what happened. 

“Lisa Brown would like to do it the way she would like to do it, as Nadine did,” shares Spokesman Review freelance columnist Sue Lani Madsen who broke this story.

Madsen says, “everytime you change a contract manager or project manager, there’s opportunity for mistakes,” and that there are still many unanswered questions at the city level.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people off the record who are on the inside who are trying to fix this,” she tells me.

Madsen is also scrutinizing the Washington State Department of Commerce where Brown recently served as its leader. The state agency played an influential role in directing funding to homeless non-profits in Spokane.  

“Their friends are absolutely getting hooked up, that’s who they do business with,” Klemme tells me.

Klemme and jessen have lawyers but have yet to file a lawsuit against the city.

“So far the state government has not missed an opportunity to let us down,” remarks Jessen.

The irony is that after going all in to help people get off the streets, Klemme and Jessen say they’re now on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness themselves.

“Maybe they’ll take me more seriously when I have lived experience,” says Klemme.

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.