The eleventh-hour funding for a tiny-shelter development in Rainier Beach is a victory with an asterisk.
In the wake of public pressure, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority has scared up the money to augment a private donation and open the 40 shelter units at the Low Income Housing Institute’s Southend Tiny House Village. As a one-time accommodation in unusual circumstances, RHA’s decision to fund the shelter units was generous.
Leaders and advocates should not take it as a signal to push pet projects to the detriment of the regional strategy. Those old ways of doing business were no match for this humanitarian crisis. That’s exactly why we have the RHA.
It’s possible to see the Southend dust-up as a product of bad timing. LIHI began planning the development during a previous city administration, under the presumption that the city of Seattle would fund operations. But in a recent competitive bid process for noncongregate shelter, LIHI’s proposal didn’t make the cut.
LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee cried foul, saying LIHI’s application had been treated unfairly. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat first wrote about the situation, which he blamed on “bureaucratic dysfunction.”
Lee’s take is much more pointed. She says, “Tiny house villages are feeling very vulnerable under RHA, whereas when we were under the (city’s) Human Service Department we felt we could improve, continue to operate and expand.”
Lee’s stalwart advocacy has been a blessing to the region, bringing more than 2,500 people into tiny shelters since 2015, by LIHI’s count. But tiny shelters are only one part of the solution to homelessness and LIHI is just one provider. Lee may not agree with the outcome, but RHA’s data-driven planning and process of competitive bidding will be a much more effective, equitable way to spend public funds.
For now, RHA will use $500,000 in emergency funding to help get Southend up and running, RHA CEO Marc Dones said at the May 4 meeting of the Seattle City Council Public Assets and Homelessness Committee. That’s on top of the emergency funding the RHA will use to make up for the $2 million in unspent state funds state lawmakers, at the request of former House Speaker Frank Chopp, clawed back from the city of Seattle and handed to LIHI earlier this year.
Though LIHI benefits, it’s $2.5 million less for other projects and priorities.
In return, the longtime housing advocates must adjust to the new reality and learn to work with the Regional Housing Authority and its growing network of partners and priorities.