Flanked by mayors and elected officials from across King County, county Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan outlined their proposed plan to merge the Puget Sound’s fragmented homelessness services into one regional authority.
Now, they just need their respective councils and cities to agree on approving it.
“No single government, no single program, no single stakeholder can succeed alone” in addressing homelessness, Constantine said.
The Seattle and King County councils are considering creating the new regional authority in response to criticism that homeless services are splintered among at least six different agencies, hamstringing the ability to address the crisis.
The estimated first-year budget for the entity is more than $131 million, all from existing funds, including about $56.3 million from King County and roughly $73 million from the city of Seattle.
As part of that effort, local businesses and philanthropies are also working on a funding partnership to help direct dollars to strategies that help reduce homelessness.
So far, none of the smaller cities in King County have been asked to chip in financially for the new entity. New taxes have also not been discussed, though the issue looms in the background of many conversations about the new authority.
Despite Wednesday’s show of solidarity, some suburban leaders, even those who support the idea of a regional homeless-services entity, were still taking a wait-and-see approach regarding precise details of the plan. They question how much it will acknowledge differences among the various cities across the county — and by how much it will be driven by Seattle politics.
“There is not agreement on every issue yet,” said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, who helped develop the regional plan. But, Backus said, “the proposed legislation incorporates important feedback from the cities.”
King County and Seattle have agreed to allow up to two members from the Sound Cities Association, which represents King County’s 38 cities outside of Seattle, to serve on the new homelessness authority’s proposed steering committee, which Backus said seemed like fair representation.
The association also wants to ensure regional cities have a say in how funding is spent in their respective communities on homelessness. But the details of how that would work still need to be ironed out, Backus said.
Efforts have been underway for more than a year to consolidate and streamline King County’s homeless-services system. For example, the county and Seattle have contracts with some of the same emergency-shelter providers. The new homeless authority would instead oversee those.
“We are not saying that we have a solution or that this is the panacea,” Durkan said at the news conference, “but we know that what we’ve done before has not worked.”
As proposed, the new entity would be led by an 11-member governing board of so-called experts — including three people with some kind of lived experience of homelessness or with an understanding of lived experience — who will hire and fire the authority’s executive director and do the bulk of the meaty policy work.
The steering committee of elected officials, which could have seven to eight members, confirms and can remove governing board appointees, but only has an up-or-down vote on the authority’s budgets and five-year plans.
The fact that most of the policy power will rest with the governing board, and not with elected officials, has been a sticking point for some.
In a statement, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who represents largely rural, Southeast King County, slammed Constantine and Durkan’s proposal as “undemocratically structured” and “yet another expense on taxpayers.” In an interview, he called Seattle “ground zero” for failed homelessness policies.
“You’re going to take Seattle’s failed policies and you’re going to push them out all across King County,” Dunn said.
Enumclaw Mayor Jan Molinaro said he would wait for his council to analyze the proposal, but from his perspective, “the city of Seattle is looking for new revenue to solve their homeless situation, and being able to tap into King County revenue is, from my perspective, one way they’re trying to do that.”
But Redmond Mayor John Marchione said he saw the value in an agency that can cut across jurisdictional lines and hopes that the steering committee allows the governing board of experts to “work without political interference.”
County and city council members must now dig into the proposal itself in the coming weeks and resolve the concepts with reality.
“On the face, it looks great,” said Kent City Councilmember Brenda Fincher. “But you know, the devil is in the details.”