Regional Homeless Authority addresses 'elephant in the room' about who should pay for homelessness crisis

A dramatic budget increase in the region’s homelessness response will be requested from its two largest funders. The Governing Board of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority approved a resolution sending a proposed $227 million budget to the City of Seattle and King County.

The KCRHA was created by the elected leaders of the City of Seattle and King County to be a regional approach to fixing homelessness. Since its inception three years, the KCRHA's two sole funders has been the City of Seattle and King County government.

But the debate during Friday's special meeting included what several board members called "the elephant in the room," which is a frustration by Seattle and King County lawmakers that the county’s 38 other cities are not contributing financially to the KCHRA’s budget.

The Governing Board approved the resolution unanimously, and it included two members of the board, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and Redmond Mayor Angela Birney that represent 38 cities in the County, except Seattle.

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The Board was discussing a $227.4 million budget proposal for 2023 by CEO Marc Dones, which is roughly $90 million more than its 2022 budget. Both the King County Council and the Seattle City Council must approve the additional expenditures unless other cities decided to contribute money to fund the KCHRA.

The county’s 38 other cities have not contributed funds to the Authority’s operation, but are expected to benefit from its programs.

Harrell broke the ice when he discussed the ‘elephant in the room,’ which is when will the cities start contributing.

"You know we can't just have two funding parties - that's just the bottom line – I’m just getting it out there- we are going to need some help," he said.

The Board had just heard a presentation by Dones on what Harrell called a "wish list’ of $90 million in new expenditures.

Included in that list are $15 million for up to 12 days centers for the unsheltered, $20 million for 345 beds of emergency housing, $20 million for a 55-bed of high acuity housing for people who need 24/7 care and $5 million to create 130 parking spaces for people living in RVs.

That is estimated to cost $38,461 per space, or $3,200 a month spread out over a year. By comparison, the King County Housing Authority says the county’s 9,400 mobile home users rent spaces between $500 to $900 per month.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who along with former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan were the primary drivers in creating the Authority, said the current tax system doesn’t provide the equity for everyone to share equally the brunt of paying for fixing homelessness and housing.

"We’ve got 2.3 million people in King County. They have means ranging from less than zero to billions and billions of dollars," he said. "Everybody should be paying their fair share, but the way we have been collecting revenue is not set up to accommodate that."

Two board members representing the 38 cities, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and Redmond Mayor Angela Birney, did not respond to Harrell's statements other than to say both welcome the equity discussion at a later date.

"I don't want to be positioned as the primary funder of this operation and then have to say no," Harrell said. 

The board approved a resolution to send the RCRHA’S proposed $227.4 million budget to the Seattle City Council and King County Council for funding.  Members of both councils have indicated they are preparing for budget shortfalls for 2023 and are anticipating budget cuts.