Council President Bruce Harrell announced the creation of a new council committee on homelessness and housing affordability Wednesday.
The Seattle City Council is creating its first committee focused solely on homelessness, with all nine council members, just before the city’s 2019 budget discussions.
In creating the new Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing, council president Bruce Harrell can essentially ensure any legislation related to homelessness — including any coming from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office — is funneled through this committee rather than one chaired by another council member.
The committee is designed to understand and track spending on homelessness services, which are now split across as many as 16 city departments and offices, Harrell said in a news release.
He suggested it could include consideration of “creative solutions for additional resources;” exploring “outside-the-box” thinking, particularly strategies that other cities have used; and enhance regional partnerships with King County and the state.
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“This has been one of the most difficult and complicated problems Seattle has ever been asked to solve,” Harrell said.
Although the City Council does not have a committee exclusively on homelessness, the issue is regularly discussed in other standing committees, although those do not include the entire council.
The Human Services committee, for example, is chaired by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who has often squared off with her colleagues on homelessness-related issues. Sawant, along with City Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Teresa Mosqueda, will co-chair the select committee.
“We hear from advocates saying that because we don’t have the affordable housing resources, camping should be tolerated,” Harrell said. “Conversely, we hear from property owners and business owners saying they pay a large portion of the city’s taxes and expect the city to enforce the law. There are clearly different views on how to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis.”
The City Council’s move comes amid a reshuffling and expansion of the Durkan administration’s Navigation Team, the multi-department group that does outreach and cleanup of unsanctioned tent camps, and a continued push to add more tiny house villages.
The upcoming budget deliberations, set to begin in the coming weeks, provide Durkan the first major opportunity to discuss how to pay for homeless-related services since City Council approved — and then quickly repealed — a business head tax.
The new council committee also comes less than three weeks after what appears to have been the final meeting of One Table, a regional task force convened late last year to address the root causes of homelessness.
The Aug. 3 meeting was the first time the group of more than 80 public and private partners had met since April, when One Table’s work became overshadowed by the head-tax debate.
Although Seattle, King County and other area cities say they’re still committed to centralizing a fractured governance structure to tackle homelessness, it’s not yet clear how that process will work.
Recommendations for a new governance structure are due in December.