Regional homelessness authority approved by King County, Seattle

The authority will consolidate crisis response and services into one entity.

A regional homelessness authority was approved Monday, Dec. 16, after the Seattle City Council voted in favor of creating the agency. Once signed by executives from Seattle and King County and implemented, the new agency will consolidate homelessness crisis response services into a single entity.

The approval didn’t come without debate. Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González cast the single dissent in a 5-1 vote, citing concerns which were echoed by several speakers at the Dec. 16 meeting about the inter-local agreement (ILA).

“I still believe that there are significant flaws in this version of the ILA that have not been addressed,” she said.

The “flaws” included concerns that the agreement foreclosed new regional revenue sources, that it was too easy for politicians to overturn budget recommendations and that there was no requirement for agencies who could receive funding to follow evidence-based practices.

She asked for a letter from King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the county council reiterating their support for following the guiding principals of the agreement. The executives signed onto a letter, but county councilmembers had not, she said.

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said Monday afternoon that she hadn’t received a formal request for such a letter.

“I never saw a draft of a letter, it was news to me when she said that,” Kohl-Welles said.

The agreement as approved by both councils and will need to be signed by the mayor and executive. Following signatures, a governing board and implementation board will be selected. The 12-member governing board’s seats will be equally split between representatives of the county, Seattle, the Sound Cities Association and people with lived experience with homelessness.

Mary’s Place director Marty Hartman addressed the city council and supported the agreement.

“Change is hard, this plan is not perfect, but it’s a first step we hope that this regional authority will bring all resources together to improve effectiveness and efficiency,” Hartman said.

Other speakers, including Building Changes director D’Artagnan Caliman, said a previous version supported by the city would have allowed better power-sharing between elected officials, experts and people with lived experiences.

A previous version proposed by the city council would have required a minimum of eight members of the governing board to approve budgets, the CEO and other major actions. As passed, only a nine-member quorum is needed for meetings to take place, and only six members are needed to approve decisions.

The authority will be funded with $73 million from Seattle and $55 million from the county each year. However, Seattle can withhold funding if the city council believes the authority is not performing to its standards, said city councilmember Mike O’Brien.

Kohl-Welles said ultimately the county voted on a version which had a chance to be approved by the county council.

“That’s what we could get through, so it was really a matter of going ahead with the language that was supported by the council members and unanimously by the Regional Policy Committee the week before that, or nothing,” she said. “… That’s what we could get through.”

González said during Monday’s meeting that she was worried politics had already taken hold in what is supposed to be a non-political agency.

The agency will pool resources, staff and response from Seattle and the county into a single entity which will handle homelessness crisis response. It will incorporate existing county programs like All Home into the new agency. Fragmentation in response and services has been blamed as one of the contributors to a stuttered response to homelessness in the county.

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