Two months after King County’s and Seattle’s top leaders announced their plan for a regional response to homelessness, consensus continues to elude stakeholders.
At the same time, homelessness, including regionalization of services, has been a major election issue in Seattle, Metropolitan King County Council elections and in municipal races throughout the region.
Since it is the incoming council members who will be responsible for shepherding the regional partnership, and be held accountable for results, they should have a hand in hashing out the details. That is particularly true for the Seattle City Council, where Tuesday’s election brings a possibility of turnover and a shift in governing philosophy.
Few would argue with the end-goal — to create an efficient, customer-centered, data-driven system to reduce homelessness in the Puget Sound region to brief, one-time experiences. But how to get there continues to be a matter of legitimate debate. Early timelines called for city and county councils to signal their blessings this fall so the authority could start up in 2020. But it would be a mistake to rush regionalization through without resolving critical points of contention, and without the full participation of incoming council members.
Some see the proposal to create a new Public Development Authority as a critical way to create stability and establish strong central leadership and direction. Others worry it would weaken accountability, with a governance structure that limits elected officials’ influence over policy and spending. It is estimated that more than $120 million in Seattle, King County and federal dollars would be redirected to the PDA.
Some suburban cities welcome the chance to join forces and maximize resources, while other continue to worry about autonomy and wonder where they’re supposed to fit in to the plan.
Some see the proposed governance structure, which calls for an 11-member governing board of experts to oversee day-to-day operations, as keeping a healthy remove from shifting political winds. Others say it wrests control from elected officials who can be held accountable by voters for their decisions, giving it instead to a board of unelected appointees.
These important issues cannot be glossed over in eagerness to launch what could be the region’s most complex public policy shift in recent memory. It is worth the time and effort to continue discussions until a broader agreement is reached.
Doubtless, it will take a lot of work to educate new elected officials and bring them up to speed on discussions, but it will be well worth the effort to be sure the foundation for this next chapter is firmly set.
Well-considered, deliberate consolidation and alignment of services could mark a turning point in this region’s long struggle with homelessness. With millions of dollars and thousands of lives in the balance, it is worth taking the time to get it right.