City council votes to increase city sales tax for affordable housing

King County missed a deadline, so the city council fast-tracked a vote to take a state-authorized increase for itself

Renton City Council has fast-tracked a councilmanic increase in sales tax in the city in an effort to gather control of state-approved tax dollars for affordable housing funding — and it happened before the King County Council was expected to make a regional sales tax increase.

On Oct. 5, the council voted for a first reading, and second and final reading, unanimously to enact a 0.1% sales tax increase. The city estimates it could create an additional $2.8 million in revenue for Renton to go toward affordable housing and bonding of the revenues generated.

The sales tax increase is a result of House Bill 1590, which allowed counties to impose a one-tenth of 1 cent sales tax with at least 60% of revenues needing to go toward affordable housing or homelessness-related services. Because King County did not vote for the sales tax increase by Sept. 30, a state-set deadline, the county lost exclusive rights to the tax increase and cities were able to use a council vote to collect the increase in sales tax for themselves.

The entire council expressed interest in the councilmanic sales tax at the Sept. 28 Committee of the Whole meeting presentation, a week before the vote. Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone told the council at the meeting that, from discussions with leaders in South King County, other cities were planning to do the same and retain the sales tax.

During the presentation, the city made clear its approach to the revenues would not center on housing for the chronically homeless, as King County’s proposal does, but suggests its policy focuses on broader affordable housing for people living at 60% and below the area median income (AMI), senior housing, housing for domestic violence survivors, families and others.

A Renton resident and mental health professional, who works with the homeless in King County, spoke at the Oct. 5 meeting of the vote, opposing the city taking its own sales tax and therefore taking some revenues away from King County’s plan to house the chronically homeless.

“If Renton were to not follow King County’s plan, that just disservices all our clients and makes it harder for all of us to do our jobs, which at the end of the day is to get the homeless population into housing and out of the street,” she said.

Seven other Renton residents also spoke in support of King County’s plans for the sales tax, and asked the city to work with the county to support stable housing for the chronically homeless. Several of those speakers also work directly on homelessness solutions with the county.

After the public comments, Councilmember Randy Corman made a statement that he was confident Renton would be able to support housing for the homelessness as one of the few cities in the county with its own housing authority, the Renton Housing Authority. Corman said they can supply funding to both their own housing authority and to King County’s plans. Councilmembers followed Corman in agreement that they want to collaborate with the county, but also have control of their own sales tax dollars.

“This is an opportunity we might not ever have again to fund our plans and the Renton Housing Authority,” Councilmember Angelina Benedetti said on Oct. 5. “I recognize there’s a lot of energy behind King County’s plan and want us to work toward solutions that make sense regionally. It’s just right now this makes sense for our community.”

On Sept. 28, Councilmember Ryan McIrvin said while he agreed the sales tax revenue should go toward Renton specifically, the city should also be sure to include some support for the very low income at 0 to 30% AMI, and use some funds to conduct a city needs assessment.

King County Council, while not meeting the Sept. 30 deadline, is still expected to enact the sales tax increase regionally, as included in Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed King County budget. The county hopes to use the revenues to purchase housing for the chronically homeless throughout the county.

“We have a pretty good idea that this one-tenth of 1 cent sales tax is going to be imposed. It’s not a question of whether those buying goods in the city of Renton will be paying, it’s really a question of where those proceeds go and how they’re utilized by some local government entity,” Renton Regional Affairs Consultant Doug Levy told the city council Sept. 28

City leaders will now have control over use of the money and how it chooses to fund housing, including how much it offers to support the chronically homeless in the county and in Renton.

“This is an opportunity we might not get again. I would rather we as a city make a determination what we’re going to do, as opposed to letting someone else determine what they’re going to do for us,” Councilmember Ed Prince, who is also a member of the Regional Homelessness Authority governing board, said at the Sept. 28 meeting.

Videos of both the Sept. 28 meeting and the Oct. 5 meeting are available at the City of Renton YouTube page.