Despite concerns, homelessness authority moves toward final Seattle vote

Seattle’s homelessness committee aligned the city’s plan with King County’s.

A regional homelessness authority took another step forward Thursday morning ahead of a vote by the full city council scheduled for Dec. 16.

Seattle’s Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability recommended the city council pass an ordinance to create an intergovernmental agency consolidating the homelessness crisis response. The agency would be initially funded by the city and King County, and have representatives from suburban cities and people who have experienced homelessness.

The vote was approved with one committee member, Lorena González, abstaining. During the meeting, she raised concerns about how voting would be structured. The committee approved an amendment that brought the city’s ordinance in line with the county’s. Had differences between the ordinances remained, the legislation would have returned to the King County Council in January for more work.

González raised concerns that of the 12-member board, only nine members were needed to hold a vote. And of those nine, only six needed to approve measures ranging from the budget to policy decisions for the authority.

A previous version of the Seattle ordinance, which was overturned at Thursday’s meeting, would have required a minimum of eight votes to approve plans and budgets. It also asked for evidence-based practices to guild funding authority.

González was also uncomfortable with the Seattle ordinance binding the city to follow its principals, while King County’s ordinance did not. She abstained from voting in hopes the county would provide written confirmation that it was committed to the visions and principals outlined in the ordinance.

“Until I receive that assurance, I am not comfortable with the proposal as is,” González said.

Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien said the housing authority would still require buy-in from its members, and that the city could restrict or deny funding if the homelessness authority doesn’t follow the outlined goals.

Without a commitment from King County to follow the guiding principals, González worried the city council would withhold its $73 million in annual funding. She described this as the “nuclear option.” King County will provide $55 million annually.

Council member Bruce Harrell said Seattle likely has more experience than other cities and the county in addressing homelessness. He hoped to lead through experience.

“I think we have the beginning of something great here,” Harrell said.

Seattle’s ordinance is scheduled for a vote at 2 p.m. Dec. 16.

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