By Erica C. Barnett
Both the city of Seattle and the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) have said they hope to extend the contracts for two hotel-based shelters until the middle of 2022—months longer than the existing contracts, which end on January 31. But it’s unclear where the money will come from, or whether the shelter providers themselves are on board with
Earlier this year, after a lengthy debate, the city approved contracts with three service providers—Chief Seattle Club, the Low-Income Housing Institute, and Catholic Community Services—to operate two hotels in downtown Seattle on a short-term (10-month) basis. The new program, which launched in April, was supposed to move people swiftly from the street into private-market apartments using “rapid rehousing” rent subsidies, which assume that a person will be able to earn enough money to pay full market rent within several months to a year.
“We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing.”—LIHI Director Sharon lee
In theory, this constant churn would make it possible for fewer than 200 hotel rooms to move many hundreds of people in to permanent housing during the 10 months the city planned to keep them open, as people moved indoors, stabilized, and quickly found apartments they could pay for with their rapid-rehousing subsidies. Chief Seattle Club was chosen to run the rapid rehousing program at King’s Inn in Belltown, and Catholic Community Services operates the rapid rehousing program at the Low Income Housing Institute-run Executive Pacific Hotel downtown.
In reality, this never happened at anything close to the scale the mayor’s office predicted when they were talking up the program last year. Instead, the city designated the hotels as receiving sites for people swept from large encampments, including high-profile sweeps at Miller Park, Denny Park, Cal Anderson Park, and Pioneer Square.
LIHI director Sharon Lee told PubliCola she is “very concerned about what to do, as the end of January 2022 is fast approaching and we have over 140 people living in the hotel. … We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing. We would also have to use attrition and stop taking in new people at EHP to meet the January deadline.”
Anne Martens, a spokeswoman for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, says extending both of the hotel contracts is “a priority for the RHA”—a priority that could be funded using “underspend” (money left over) from HSD’s 2021 budget.
Derrick Belgarde, director of the Chief Seattle Club, said CSC isn’t “keen on extending” their contract at King’s Inn, due to issues at the site (the elevator doesn’t work) and the mismatch between the people living at the hotel, a third of whom are elderly or disabled, and rapid rehousing.
In July, PubliCola reported that CSC plans to move many of the people currently living at King’s Inn into CSC’s own permanent supportive housing, including some units that haven’t been finished yet. However, that plan assumed people would have access to rapid rehousing subsidies for at least a year, which isn’t happening; according to Belgarde, funding for CSC’s rapid rehousing program is set to expire in September, before all the new housing is available.
“We have consistently been telling members they have a 12-month subsidy,” Belgarde said. “The [rapid rehousing] contract is moving to KCRHA so we plan to negotiate an extension with them directly.”
Anne Martens, a spokeswoman for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, says extending both of the hotel contracts is “a priority for the RHA”—a priority that could be funded using “underspend” (money left over) from HSD’s 2021 budget. Kevin Mundt, a spokesman for HSD, told PubliCola that “any extension of the operating contracts or establishment of new service agreements with the hotels will be initiated and negotiated by KCRHA.”
“The Human Services Department
If the city and county don’t come up with funds to extend one or both shelter contracts, dozens or even hundreds of people could end up getting kicked out onto the streets in the middle of winter. Lee said that if it looks like LIHI’s shelter will have to shut down at the end of January, the organization will stop taking in new hotel guests and spend their energy finding other placements for the people living there. “We expect a large number of people will return to the street if other shelter, tiny houses, or housing options are not available at the end of the lease term.”