Amidst our housing affordability crisis in King County, I’ve heard from many of my constituents about concern for people experiencing homelessness in our region. I appreciate their desire to hold King County accountable to our goal of making homelessness rare, brief and one-time. Homelessness and the inadequate supply of affordable housing are daunting issues to tackle, and it can be frustrating to see the problem worsen as we continue to invest resources. As a member of the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force and One Table, I am working to address some of the root causes of homelessness.
The short story is, we have to do more. While we continue to make large investments in improving our homelessness-response system and building more affordable housing units, there continues to be a strong correlation between increases in rent and in the number of people experiencing homelessness in our region.
There is no silver bullet to solve homelessness. The Regional Affordable Housing Task Force and One Table have identified dozens of strategies that could be implemented regionally, from preserving existing affordable housing to investing in housing stability funds and training and diversion programs that would help people from becoming homeless. The greatest challenges and opportunities we face are in coordinating the complicated, multilayered social safety net we have in this region and finding the revenue required to make these critical investments.
We also know that solving homelessness is more than just providing affordable housing. People of color are disproportionately represented in the rates of homeless in King County and increasing income inequality, paired with a lack of available affordable housing and a growing population, are all root causes of our crisis. And some who are experiencing homelessness may also need support with such challenges as substance use disorder, mental health challenges, reentry into the community post-incarceration, workforce readiness and access to affordable transportation
With that said, we have still been able to pass legislation and make smart investments aimed at alleviating homelessness. Here are some of the major pieces of legislation I’ve sponsored or co-sponsored as Chair of the King County Council’s Health, Housing and Human Services Committee related to preserving and/or increasing affordable housing.
- Best Starts for Kids Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative Implementation Plan: Ordinance 2016-0156
Effect: Prevented more than 3,000 people from becoming homeless in 2017.
- Regional Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) Fund: Ordinance 2016-0107
Effect: King County entered into an interlocal cooperation agreement with the City of Seattle and A Regional Coalition for Housing for the Eastside of King County for the purpose of joint investment in a public-private, regional transit-oriented equitable development fund.. It created a $21 million revolving loan fund to preserve and create affordable homes in transit-accessible areas for low and moderate income households.
- Biennial Budget Appropriations: Ordinance 2016-0475
Effect: The Council, in the 2017-2018 Biennial Budget Ordinance, allocated an additional $7,500,000 to provide emergency shelter and services to those experiencing homelessness, joining communities around the region that are increasing local support to help those in need.
- Regional Affordable Housing Planning: Motion 2017-0171
Effect: Established a regional task force with membership from North, East and South King County, City of Seattle and a standing advisory panel of experts from the private and public sector as well as members from diverse and disadvantaged communities, to address issues of planning, coordination and funding. Draft recommendations from the task force were presented on June 29th and are available here.
- Surplus Property for Affordable Housing: Ordinance 2017-0247
Effect: This ordinance will require public benefits, such as affordable housing, when the county engages in direct sales of surplus real property to another government. In addition to the county receiving compensation for the real property, in order to qualify for a direct sale, public benefits, such as affordable housing, must also be received.
- King County Housing Authority Credit Enhancement Program: Ordinance 2017-0376
Effect: Creates a new $200 million credit enhancement program for use by King County Housing Authority. The program is projected to help KCHA in acquiring and/or preserving an additional 2,200 units of rental housing.
- The Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy Transition Plan: Ordinance 2017-0406
Effect: Invested $3,532,000 in new housing stability strategies for veterans, seniors and vulnerable populations. Click the following link for more information about the plan: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/community-human-services/initiatives/levy.aspx
- The Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy Implementation Plan: Ordinance 2018-0173
Effect: Invests $60,882,000 to promote housing stability through the following housing strategies (HS), over the course of the 6-year levy period.
HS 1: Build, Preserve and Operate Affordable Housing and Navigation Centers
HS 2: Increase Access to Tenancy
HS 3: Support Aging In Place
HS 4: Navigate Homeless Veterans to Housing
HS 5: Prevent Inappropriate Housing Loss
HS 6: Promote Home Ownership
HS 7: Reinforce Criminal Justice Diversion and Reentry with Housing
HS 8: Support Local Solutions