Despite Concerns, Homelessness Authority Approves Budget that Funders “Have No Realistic Ability to Pay For”

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

By Erica C. Barnett

On Friday, after a half-hour of discussion, the governing board of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority voted unanimously to move forward with a 2023 agency budget that would require Seattle and King County to come up with $209 million next year to fund the authority—$90 million more than its current “base” budget of $119 million.

Seattle, which provides about 60 percent of the authority’s direct local funding, just received a six-year budget forecast that includes cascading budget shortfalls after next year, including projected operating deficits of $146 million in 2024 and 2025. Seattle’s budget planners are currently discussing ways to reduce such shortfalls in the future, through better long-term financial planning, reducing the number of times departments can change their adopted budgets throughout the year, and making the budgeting process more transparent.

Seattle and the county are the only local funding sources for the regional authority, which also receives some federal funds, including short-term COVID dollars the authority is using to fund some ongoing programs. The Sound Cities Association, representing nearly 40 suburban cities, has voting representatives on the authority’s implementation and governing boards but does not contribute financially to the authority. The city and county agreed to this financial and power imbalance in 2019, when they signed off on a heavily amended agreement that also barred the authority itself from ever raising revenue or issuing debt to pay for homelessness programs.

My constituents and my stakeholders, in my district and also in my city, are tired of being put in the position where we have to be the ones to say no to aspirational budgets and aspirational regional plans.”—Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis, who sit on the governing board, tried to pass an amendment to the budget clarifying that the proposal was unrealistic without additional funding and “that without such additional funding, the parties to KCRHA’s interlocal agreement will need to make adjustments to reduce” the proposal. The amendment, sponsored by Lewis, also asked the authority to list new spending requests in order of priority “when expenditures are anticipated to exceed current resources” in the future.

After representatives from suburban cities pushed back on the budget amendment—including Redmond Mayor Angela Birney, who said statements about funding required a “broader conversation—Lewis downgraded it to a nonbinding resolution, which passed. But Lewis said that in the future, the authority needs to stop sending the city and county budgets that it knows are unaffordable.

“My constituents and my stakeholders, in my district and also in my city, are tired of being put in the position where we have to be the ones to say no to aspirational budgets and aspirational regional plans,” Lewis said. “If we’re going to pass a budget we know we have no realistic ability to pay for, it puts the city in the position where we draw regional criticism and criticism from the media for not fully funding requests that we were never in a realistic position to be able to do on our own.”

The KCRHA’s budget request includes funding for safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles; a wage supplement for nonprofit homeless service providers; a new “high-acuity shelter” serving up to 55 people with significant behavioral and physical health needs; and “emergency housing,” a kind of intermediate housing between shelter and permanent housing, for up to 345 people.

Mayor Bruce Harrell promised to “identify” 1,000 new shelter or housing beds in the first six months of his term, plus an additional 1,000 beds by the end of the year. On Tuesday, he plans to make an announcement about progress toward that goal, which could include housing and shelter that was already in progress before he took office. Harrell will also unveil a new “dashboard” that could include the location of encampments in Seattle—an idea that many homeless advocates oppose, because they worry it will open unsheltered people up to additional harassment.

11 thoughts on “Despite Concerns, Homelessness Authority Approves Budget that Funders “Have No Realistic Ability to Pay For””

  1. What makes all these experts experts on helping the homeless and knowing what’s best for them everyone of us our situation is different what works for some dissent work for all how long the experts been homeless and mean really without anything nothing but the cloth on there backs so how can a group of folks sit there and say we need more money to. build places for them to live. when it takes for ever to get any kind of housing you folks don’t know anything about what homless people need ya just want more money to line your own pockets with makes me sick hearing how someone came up with idea to help it always comes down to more money have a nice day. 15 yrs homeles with wife

  2. Well – we need to get to a point where cities that pay in can house their homeless in Korea housing and use kcra services – cities that refuse have to provide their own or get no services. Also if the homeless person comes from a city outside Seattle – Seattle can immediately trespass them from camping or Raving in Seattle.

  3. The problems of homeless people are so much bigger than not having a roof over their heads. Money spent on housing will not fix them.

  4. This is just such nonsense! Apparently Dones has now identified a large cadre of cronies that he wants to lift from poverty with our tax dollars. Is this some kind of back door reparations, or just what? We should not provide another penny until we get accountability for all the pennies we’ve already spent. Meanwhile we should spend what funds remain clearing and cleaning our streets and parks. We have spent enough — really thrown away enough — on strategies that haven’t improved anything for anyone, regardless of the spin politicos and beneficiaries of our largesse put on it. The results are there for all to see and they are not pretty. Lewis gets this partly right: providers should not be asking for $ they know can’t be provided and then use that as an excuse for failing to provide any results and leaving us as bad or worse off than before.

    1. So, when we “clear and clean” our streets and parks and remove all the homeless folks, where exactly will they go? If we can’t answer that question, then we will never get rid of campers in the parks. We can push them around from one place to another, but they are all from western Washington, so we won’t simply get rid of them without addressing the problem of low-income housing. It will cost money. There is enormous wealth in King Co, but we are unable to tap into it.

      1. Quite frankly at this point I don’t care where they go. I’d like to see your proof, beyond what these folks say, that they all are actually from Western Washington because I don’t believe that. As for the enormous wealth: we’ve already thrown enormous wealth at it and gotten only more of the same. If we want low income housing, then we’ve probably spent enough to have erected a small town by now, and news reports say many decline what’s available anyway. We won’t get low income housing until 1: that’s defined, and 2: we stop throwing money at things that demonstrably aren’t working, and 3: we quit allowing developers to raze what affordable housing they haven’t already bulldozed.

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