Seattle City Council members moved forward a controversial regional homelessness authority deal Thursday, but also demanded changes of their own. A full vote of the council on the deal is expected Monday.
Work on the regional homelessness authority began more than a year ago after consultants faulted the city and county’s fragmented homeless-services system for failing to reduce homelessness. But when the deal reached the Regional Policy Committee, a group of elected officials from across King County, lawmakers amended the structure of the authority to give more power to suburban cities and more control to politicians over budgets and policies.
Critics worried that these changes would stifle the authority’s ability to carry out policies without meddling from the center-right side of the political spectrum. As a result, it looked like the regional homelessness authority might not make it through the Seattle City Council this year after all.
Through a legislative workaround, Seattle City Council members in the Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability did push the legislation to a full council vote, but made sure it came with a list of demands.
In an amended ordinance authorizing Seattle to enter the deal, Seattle council members included “expectations” that would make it more difficult for a governing committee largely made up of elected officials to make changes to policies and budgets.
With those expectations came a fiscal threat: Compliance with them, the ordinance said, “will inform the City’s decision regarding the allocation of annual funds to the Authority.”
Fifty-seven percent of the regional homelessness authority’s $132 million budget would be funded by the city of Seattle.
Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González noted, however, that withholding funding from the authority would be “a nuclear option.”
“I don’t think that’s a realistic scenario and I don’t think it would come to fruition,” she said.
Council members’ proposed changes included increasing the number of governing committee members necessary to change budgets and major plans. They also want the authority’s funds and services to adhere to “evidence-based practices.”
Outside of withholding funding, it’s still unclear how exactly Seattle would ensure that these expectations are met. González said that she wanted written assurance from Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County that these changes would be taken up once the regional homelessness authority started meeting.
The ordinance passed the committee with five votes, and only González abstaining.