A regional approach to fight homelessness was delayed by Seattle’s business head tax, said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Share story

When King County Executive Dow Constantine agreed to partner with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on regional discussion of fighting homelessness earlier this year, it was partly to pre-empt the Seattle City Council’s brewing proposal to tax high-grossing businesses.

It didn’t work. The Seattle council moved forward with its initial $75 million-per-year tax proposal. Council members eventually scaled it back to less than $50 million, which was unanimously adopted earlier this month.

The firestorm that erupted over the proposal helped delay the regional efforts to fight homelessness, Constantine said.

About this project

The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless is funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Campion Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Seattle Mariners, and Starbucks. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over Project Homeless content.

Constantine, speaking at an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board this week, said now that the “distraction” has passed, local leaders participating in the One Table initiative can “get back to the business of solving homelessness.”

Formed in January, the 75-member One Table task force — made up of business leaders, social-service providers and elected officials from around King County — was formed by Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in January. It’s intended to find solutions for “root causes” of homelessness, 31 months after both Seattle and King County declared it an emergency.

While the talks at One Table are ongoing, a plan has yet to emerge. In April, the group released a list of mostly familiar preliminary recommendations for fixing the homelessness crisis, including building up to 5,000 new units of affordable housing, providing mental and drug-abuse treatment on demand and providing rent subsidies for struggling renters to prevent them from losing their homes.

The proposed recommendations didn’t come with a plan to pay for them, although Constantine said at the January launch of One Table that there was “still a gap in resources” for the prevention of homelessness.

Approval of the final recommendations was further delayed when a May meeting was canceled amid the Seattle City Council’s deliberations over the head-tax proposal. It hasn’t been rescheduled.

Constantine criticized Seattle’s head tax when it passed this month, and said this week he’s also opposed to a countywide head tax as well. The Seattle tax, imposed on businesses grossing $20 million or more, is estimated to raise $45 million next year and about $50 million five years later, when it expires, with the proceeds paying for more homeless services and affordable housing.

Constantine said that finding new funding sources to address the crisis — along with myriad other challenges related to homelessness — should be approached collaboratively.

“We’ve got to broaden the conversation and responsibility past the municipal limits of Seattle,” he said.

This month, Constantine and Durkan agreed to a joint operating agreement to coordinate city and county services for the homeless. As part of the partnership, both sides will begin developing recommendations for streamlining and consolidating the regional response. Those recommendations are scheduled for delivery in December.