Recent announcements from Seattle city leaders and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority show welcome progress in the region’s fight against homelessness.
But ongoing transparency will be key to ensuring that public money and other resources are being used effectively. That means disclosing expectations and performance measures, and holding partners accountable for results.
Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda recently announced the city will use nearly $80 million in new revenues generated by the JumpStart payroll tax to secure more than 1,700 units of affordable rental housing. City council members passed the payroll tax on businesses that pay high salaries in 2020, dedicating two-thirds of the funds to affordable housing investments. The controversial tax was projected to generate about $200 million in annual revenues, but reaped $231 million in the inaugural year.
The money earmarked for affordable rental housing will be distributed to a diverse group of community partners to help fund new permanent supportive and affordable housing projects. Those projects are being led by the Chief Seattle Club, Low Income Housing Institute, El Centro de la Raza, New Hope Community Development Institute, Community Roots Housing, Downtown Emergency Service Center, Filipino Community of Seattle, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority, Mount Baker Housing, TAP Collaborative and BRIDGE Housing.
JumpStart funds will also be used to preserve existing affordable units at The YWCA’s 5th Avenue and Seneca Street property, Interim CDA’s NP/Eastern Rehab property, the Low Income Housing Institute’s Jensen Block and Plymouth Housing’s Pacific Hotel.
In other promising news, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority recently announced that it is finally working through a bottleneck of federal housing choice vouchers that were received by local housing authorities more than a year ago. According to the RHA, 786 of more than 1,300 federal vouchers allocated to the King County Housing Authority, Seattle Housing Authority, and Renton Housing Authority had been distributed as of mid-July.
These and other positive steps toward addressing the region’s homelessness emergency should be reflected in Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s online homelessness dashboard, which tracks city spending and progress in tackling homelessness. The tracker, which went live this spring, includes a list of available shelter and housing, tracking progress toward Harrell’s promise to stand up 2,000 new units this year. Administration officials have promised quarterly updates to the dashboard, expecting to publish the first batch of new figures this week.
In addition to housing, the dashboard tracks the city’s spending on responses to homelessness, including health care and services, garbage cleanup and encampment removal. It quantifies public-safety issues associated with some encampments, including medical-response calls, fires and firearms.
But most important, it offers a clear, composite picture of the multifaceted effort to tackle housing insecurity and homelessness — and hard data to show whether policies and investments are working.
That’s exactly the high level of transparency and accountability residents expect and deserve.