On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed budgets that could result in the new homelessness agency receiving a modest increase in funding in its second full year if the Seattle City Council and Metropolitan King County Council approve them.
Also tucked within the mayor’s budget is a proposal to cap wage increases for service providers that is drawing controversy amongst advocates and some council members.
Harrell’s budget included $87.7 million for the Regional Homelessness Authority which the mayor said represented a 13% increase from the previous year.
“We have seen some incredibly impressive early indicators of success,” Harrell said. “Our continued funding reflects our commitment to that mission.”
Over the past year, the city has touted a higher figure that it provides the authority — $118 million. However, that’s because last year’s budget included $40.6 million in one-time federal coronavirus relief funding, which is not available this year. That doesn’t mean homelessness programs are going away. The authority has not spent all that money, which it can do through 2024.
The additional $10.3 million in funding will go toward expanding shelter beds in the city — 50 tiny homes and more than 100 vehicle safe lots. The mayor said that “ensures we will meet” his promise of adding 2,000 units of emergency housing by the end of 2022.
The Regional Homelessness Authority had requested a budget increase in June of $90 million on top of its funding last year that would pay for projects like vehicle safe lots and to increase wages for service providers, hire more staff, and build additional shelter and emergency housing
CEO Marc Dones had said that request was to address “some pretty significant holes in current system architecture.” In a media briefing, they had also said it was unreasonable to expect the city to fund the entire additional $90 million request in light of limited revenue streams.
While the authority got some funding for those requests, Harrell’s proposal to cap inflation-tied wage increases for service providers has raised some alarm among the nonprofits who do the work, as well as some council members.
A month ago, Harrell told police he was looking at a reduction in funding for the authority due to disagreements he and the agency had over the city’s practice of encampment removals. He immediately walked back those comments.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a member of the authority’s governing committee, said that the mayor’s actions working with the Regional Homelessness Authority and City Council members did not reflect the comments he made to police, and this budget was another positive sign of collaboration.
Despite not receiving what Harrell called a “wish list” request when it was first submitted, authority officials thanked the mayor and county executive for their “substantial investments to respond to the humanitarian crisis of homelessness in our community.”
“In particular, we thank Mayor Harrell for the investment in Safe Lots for vehicle residents, and Executive Constantine for the investments in affordable housing,” the authority said in a statement.
The authority declined to specify what investments in affordable housing it was referring to.
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, and authority governing committee member, said she had supported the agency’s $90 million request because “it was merited by the critical needs.” She said the remainder of the authority’s request should be paid for by other cities in King County “who receive support and services from [King County Regional Homelessness Authority] but don’t yet provide them any funding.”
“Other local governments can’t sit on the sidelines, and I’m not suggesting they are, but they need to be engaged in these solutions with us,” Harrell.
Constantine’s budget proposed $48 million in county funding for the authority this year and $41 million next year. Spokesperson Chase Gallagher said an error had the county reporting a higher figure in earlier reports.
It is unclear whether this is an overall increase, though.
Gallagher said the county’s 27% increase from $38 million the previous year comes mostly from transferring the state-funded Housing and Essential Needs rental assistance program over to the authority.
The Regional Homelessness Authority said the county’s budget proposal showed the Housing and Essential Needs program would transfer $28 million from the county to the authority. An authority spokesperson said she didn’t know if that meant that other programs the county funded last year would be cut as the agency was still analyzing the proposal.
The county did not provide a detailed look at what the money would fund.