As homeless contracts leave town, Seattle still wants a say in how its money is spent

Councilor Andrew Lewis

By Erica C. Barnett

At the end of 2021, the city of Seattle will cede direct control of all of its existing homeless service contracts to the King County Regional Homeless Authority. But deliberations on the city’s 2022 budget made one thing clear: The city still expects to have a direct hand over how the money it provides to the authority is spent, down to the post level. budget to allocate funds for specific purposes.

The city could send the new authority up to $ 150 million next year, including funding for existing contracts (which the authority will keep, unchanged, in 2022) and extras requested by city council members. and the KCRHA itself. Of the roughly $ 40 million that city council members have proposed to add to the city’s budget for homeless services next year, about $ 12 million would expand or expand existing programs. or fund new priorities, all along what the budget describes as “contracts” between the social services department and the KCRHA, which is independent from the city.

For example, three budget amendments from homeless committee chair Andrew Lewis would provide a total of $ 1.5 million to YouthCare, which serves youth and young adults, to provide COVID pay and time off for workers and continue or expand programs such as a youth shelter moved to larger location during COVID and a barista training program. Another amendment, by council member Dan Strauss, would increase funding for the city’s RV parking ticket awareness and mitigation program, which Durkan, for the second year in a row, has proposed to eliminate.

KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens said any money the council adds as part of the city’s budget process “will be included in our service agreement with the city,” but referred more detailed questions on how contracts would work at HSD. According to an HSD spokesperson, the contracts will be part of a “framework agreement on services” between the authority for the homeless and the city, similar to an existing agreement between the city and the county for public health services.

Council member Andrew Lewis acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond the enacting a budget restriction called a conditional clause stating that the city will only provide funding if it goes to a specific purpose.

In addition to changes that council members initiated on their own, the authority is asking for $ 27.6 million to fund a new shelter for people with severe physical and behavioral health issues in the city center, Peer Navigators to help homeless people access shelters and services; and funding administrative costs that the KCRHA did not include in its initial budget.

Lewis, who sits on the regional authority’s board of directors, acknowledged that the city had few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA does not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a conditional clause stating that the city will not provide funding unless it is earmarked for a specific purpose. Council member Kshama Sawant proposed such a condition on $ 9 million funding for the authority, which under its amendment could only fund new and existing tiny villages, a type of shelter that the CEO of KCRHA, Marc Dones, has frequently criticized.

In recent years, the council has used restrictive covenants in an attempt to prevent Mayor Jenny Durkan from reallocating funds to his own budget priorities, with mixed success.

Lewis said he wasn’t too worried about authenticationority using city funds for purposes that the city did not intend to do. “I don’t really expect that at this point to be a problem, ”he said. However, if the KCRHA wanted to reallocate the funds the city had earmarked and spend it for another purpose, Lewis added, they would need the approval of the authority’s board, which includes three city officials. herself, as well as the King County executive.

Under the KCRHA charter, a board of implementation experts is responsible for drafting the authority’s annual budget, but a board of directors made up mostly of elected officials, including three from Seattle plus the executive. County of King, can veto or amend the budget. “The board retains the power to veto the budget or send it back to the implementation board to work on certain areas if the board is not happy with the original budget,” Lewis said. . “These are the controls right now.”

Two years ago, when the city was debating the structure of the new authority, some elected officials expressed concern that this two-council structure would give too much power to politicians and not enough to subject matter experts and individuals. who have experienced homelessness. The fact that the authority’s budget is so heavily dependent on Seattle is the consequence of another argument that Seattle essentially lost: in response to concerns about the taxation of suburban cities, the KCRHA is prohibited from raising funds. on its own behalf. KCRHA is fully funded by the City of Seattle and King County; the suburban towns, which occupy several positions on the board of directors, do not contribute anything financially to the agency.