King County moves ahead with sales tax for homeless housing

The Metropolitan King County Council voted Tuesday to implement a 0.1% sales tax to fund housing for people who have been chronically homeless, even after some cities in the county dropped out of the plan by quickly passing their own versions of the tax.

On Monday evening, Bellevue passed its own 0.1% sales tax, bypassing the county’s collection of the revenue for its homelessness plan, The Seattle Times reported. Bellevue joined North Bend and Maple Valley, which also voted to implement the tax Monday night, following votes in Renton, Kent, Issaquah, Covington and Snoqualmie to pass a solo tax.

As a result, King County is millions of dollars short of the original plan King County Executive Dow Constantine envisioned for housing about 2,000 people who have a disability and have struggled with homelessness. Estimates of people who struggle with homelessness in King County range from 3,355 to 6,500, many living outside.

The council voted to move forward on the sales tax, 8-1, with Councilmember Reagan Dunn voting against.

“What we’re doing is what the public has been clamoring for, which is helping get people off the street, out of doorways and alleyways, and into housing with support,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who represents Renton and Kent. “It will save criminal justice costs. It will save medical costs and will literally save lives.”

The state Legislature this year gave counties the authority to pass a 0.1% sales tax for affordable housing and behavioral health supports by council action. Counties had until Sept. 30 to pass the tax legislation first, after which cities could implement their own version of the tax instead, if they chose to do so.

The decisions by the cities that chose to exempt themselves from the county tax came after months of tension between suburban cities and the county over the creation of the Regional Homeless Authority and the county’s emergency placement of homeless people from overcrowded shelters in local hotels and motels.

“Really it’s to reserve a seat at the table for the conversation, so we as cities have a say,” Kent Mayor Dana Ralph told council members at a meeting Oct. 6, before the vote to levy the tax.