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Dear Neighbor,

As described in my last budget newsletter, I’m breaking the 2022 proposed budget into chunks and spotlighting different sections so we can have an informed, transparent conversation about the City’s budget and our priorities as a community. Our first spotlight is on homelessness and housing services since these continue to be the biggest challenges we face.

In this newsletter I focus on my homelessness budget priorities, the solutions I am working on with my colleagues, and which investments from the Mayor’s proposal I am working to protect. I discuss how these investments align with the 2017 McKinsey report, what investments have occurred since last year, and what is on the table for this year.

To make meaningful interventions and impacts to address homelessness in specific places in District 6, I continue to hold operational coordination meetings with both governmental and non-governmental entities. These meetings will continue multiple times a week until the transfer to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is complete. 

Last week a person tragically died in the Ballard Commons Park. This is the second death at Ballard Commons this month, along with the more than 200 other homeless people who have died in our city this year. I am working with community leaders to bring a JustCARE model approach to addressing the encampment at the Ballard Commons Park in order to move people out of the park and into shelter and housing. We cannot continue to let people suffer and die in our parks -- I want to see everyone currently living at the park brought inside as soon as possible and we are actively working to that end. Here is a link to the KOMO story.

We must treat the homelessness crisis as the emergency it is. I am looking forward to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority taking full control of all City and County contracts – removing politics from proven solutions. We have more work to do, and we must connect the number of people living outside with the number of shelter beds available on any given day or night.

I will continue meeting with District 6 residents to ensure that my budget work reflects your priorities and that we build a budget that works for you. If you would like to meet with me directly, please sign up here.

My 2022 Budget Priorities

The Council must craft a budget that provides two parallel solutions to homelessness: first, a budget that provides shelter, housing, and services to address the immediate crisis and second, empowers the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority to provide long-term solutions on a regional level. I will be focusing on investments that can have an immediate impact.

Housing is a separate topic. I am noting it here because we are not able to graduate people out of shelter without additional Permanent Supportive Housing and affordable housing units. Without throughput out of shelter, our shelters fill to capacity and limit our ability to bring people off the streets. The McKinsey report from 2017 states we as the City of Seattle need to invest $200 million per year to address the housing affordability backlog. This is the first year we have met that mark by investing $198.8 million in housing.

The base budget transmitted by the Mayor includes important investments, listed below. I'm advocating for their inclusion in the final budget:

  • Partnering with the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority to launch 2022 operations.

  • Using $22.3 million to ensure success of new and existing shelter programs.

  • $2 million to restore up to 50 park sites that have been severely damaged after prolonged overuse and misuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Improved RV remediation to connect individuals residing in RVs/vehicles to resources, facilitate trash removal around vehicles, and increase pump-out services for ~90% of Seattle RV dwellers.

Budget amendments I've co-sponsored with my colleagues:

  • $19.4 million to create and operate a high-acuity shelter. People living homeless who are displaying severe mental, behavioral, and substance use issues are a major concern for the community. We need more places for people in crisis to go so they can stabilize.

  • $7.6 million to create a peer navigator program. A person experiencing homelessness would be paired with a peer - someone with lived experience - who can help them navigate the system. Today, people experiencing homelessness are handed off to different caseworkers as they move through the stages of outreach, shelter, and housing.

  • $700,000 to support workforce development for youth experiencing homelessness.

  • $4.1 million to create and operate transitional housing specializing in services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

My amendments:

  • Investing $13.9 million to expand our city’s mental health crisis first response system. My top priority this year is to double the size of the Mobile Crisis Team and pair this effective community-based crisis response with adequate shelter resources they need in order to be successful.

  • I’m also pushing to hire two more outreach workers dedicated to D6 in order to make real impacts in places like Woodland Park, Green Lake, and the Fremont industrial area.

  • Expanding the Vehicle Residency Outreach Team, which is an important piece of the homelessness outreach strategy since 40% of the city’s homeless population live in their cars and RVs.

  • Increasing funding for the Supportive Safe Parking pilot. This program provides a safe place to park for individuals and families living in vehicles, while simultaneously offering services that will transition them into more stable housing. The safe parking locations can be temporary, overnight or 24/7.

  • Extending the Ballard Urban Rest Stop’s operating hours on evenings and weekends. The Urban Rest Stop is a hygiene center providing free restrooms, showers and laundry facilities to unhoused individuals and families. More operating hours will add another 10,000 showers, 1,000 loads of laundry and another 500-600 people able to benefit from the Urban Rest Stop’s services.

This year I am focused on funding high-acuity shelters and services. Last year I secured a $1 million investment for the Mobile Crisis Team, a team of mental health and substance use disorder professionals who respond to people in crisis. With more behavioral health first responders throughout the city, teams will be able to respond faster to individuals in need, reduce repeat crisis episodes, and help other first responders focus their efforts more efficiently.

Finally, I’m championing programs to help people stay on their feet and prevent someone from falling into homelessness in the first place. I’ve sponsored amendments to help Seattleites access rental assistance through the neighborhood helplines and food banks they’re already connected to. I’m also advocating for a number of ways to stabilize Seattle’s emergency food system like the Ballard Food Bank, the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Hot Meal Program, and meal delivery programs for seniors at places like the Ballard NW Senior Center.

Seattle's Homelessness Crisis

While every person experiencing homelessness has an individual reason and back story, at a systems level we know the largest driver of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing in our very expensive region. A report created by the McKinsey company shows that the gap between housing supply and demand has priced thousands of working people out of the rental housing market. This report is backed up by the King County Framework for Regional Action on Homelessness:

“Homelessness in King County is caused by a lack of housing affordable for people who have low and extremely low incomes. While other proximal causes of homelessness may exist in a household (i.e., job loss, health crisis, substance use, mental health crises), the primary solution to homelessness is to ensure that every household has access to a permanent and safe place to live that provides the stability needed to weather crises without losing one’s home.”

A recent study showed that the Seattle metro area had the highest jump in rent prices nationwide between 2009-2019. In correlation, we have seen a marked increase in homelessness in Seattle over the last 11 years. It took 5 years to get to a state of emergency and it has been 6 years since the state of emergency has been declared. In those years, meaningful improvement in homelessness have not been felt because our solutions haven’t kept pace with the growth in homelessness’ foundational causes. Experts estimate that between 15,000-40,000 new units of affordable permanent housing are needed in the Seattle/King County area to solve the crisis of homelessness at its current scale.

In the meantime, if there are roughly 3,800 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Seattle on any given night, then we need 3,800 adequate places for people to go. As the number of people outside fluctuates we need our shelter and housing capacity to adjust to these fluctuations. As the JustCARE model has shown - both at City Hall Park and Downtown - it is possible to successfully remove large encampments without displacing our unsheltered neighbors.

Homelessness throughout District 6 remains untenable. Since the beginning of my term I’ve said our parks, libraries, and metro buses should not be our de-facto homeless shelters. I’ve resolutely lobbied the Mayor’s office to help people living unsheltered in Ballard Commons, Woodland Park/Green Lake, and Fremont Industrial area move into appropriate places inside- without using sweeps we know don’t work. Data show success in moving residents of unsanctioned encampments into shelter is tied most significantly to the availability of suitable shelter spaces, not the threat of encampment removal.

What’s Happened Since Last Year?

Covid-19 required reductions in shelter capacity to allow for social distancing. So rather than expanding shelter options in 2020 as intended, we actually lost capacity. People were pushed outside, dramatically increasing visible homelessness. Last year, the Council appropriated an unprecedented amount of homelessness funding to help our unsheltered neighbors move into safer places and towards a permanent home, including $44 million to stand up new shelter and housing capacity. I fully recognize 906+ beds/units of new housing units isn’t enough. Yet I hope you’ll agree these funds were an important step to address the pressing needs of our city.

Eleven months after the Mayor signed the 2021 budget into law, we are facing frustrating delays getting these dollars out the door to make a real difference on the ground. I worked with colleagues to ensure these resources are made operational and we’re now hearing that most of the remaining units are planned to come online by November. Until these beds become operational, permanent shelter capacity will remain below the City’s shelter levels at the end of 2019.

I’m partnering with the new King County Regional Authority which starting January 1st, will oversee policy, funding, and services for people experiencing homelessness countywide. I look forward to Seattle and King County begin to collaboratively address our region’s homelessness. I hope the model encourages other municipalities to join in and truly work as a region to address homelessness instead of forcing Seattle to bear the brunt of this emergency.

What’s on the Table Today?

The Mayor has introduced the final budget proposal of her administration. As a Crosscut article notes, $1.6 billion of this $7.1 billion proposed budget will draw the lion’s share of the Council’s attention and deliberation because we have more latitude to adjust where these funds are spent.

Homelessness Services

Mayor Durkan has proposed we spend $138.1 million on our homelessness crisis this year. Some might critique this number because it’s less than what we invested last year when we used one-time Covid-19 funding to bring pandemic-resilient emergency shelters online. I support this move to aim our investments towards homelessness’ root causes rather than its symptoms.

City of Seattle Homelessness spending 2017-2022 proposed

Focused investment in Housing

There is one true solution for homelessness, and that is housing. The Office of Housing has steadily invested in new rental housing and homeownership opportunities for people of all income levels to participate in our housing market. Council has continued to authorize additional spending on housing, including $50 million of one-time Covid relief funding to build or purchase affordable housing in Seattle.

In 2020 alone, the City invested over $115 million to create over 1,300 affordable rental and for-sale homes in neighborhoods across Seattle. A new approach to soliciting funding proposals allowed the Office of Housing to run three rental housing funding rounds with three distinct emphases:

  • An early spring round that availed funds to three quick-hitting projects that will produce 400 units affordable to low-wage workers and their families, including one Fremont property that will blend 87 income- and rent-restricted with 66 unsubsidized apartments;

  • A summer Seattle Housing Levy funding round that implemented a new pilot initiative with the goal of delivering permanent supportive housing at record scale while simultaneously controlling costs and accelerating the time-to-completion schedule;

  • A fall round that awarded funds to the housing development affiliates of Seattle’s two oldest Black churches (First AME and Mount Zion) and convert aging single-room occupancy spaces into 114 studio apartments at Seattle’s historic downtown YWCA.

This year the proposed budget would invest $198.8 million into affordable housing, which includes $114.3 million in new investments. There is much more work to be done, and this year's investment is the first time we have met the mark that the McKinsey report recommended.

Hearing from You on Your Budget Priorities

As I have all year, I will continue meeting with District 6 residents and stakeholders to ensure that my budget work reflects your priorities as a district, and that we build a budget that works for you. If you would like to meet with me directly, please sign up here.

Subscribe to My Newsletter

If this email was forwarded to you by a friend, I encourage you to sign-up for my newsletter! I send out a regular newsletter about the happenings in our district, updates from City Hall, and progress reports on the work we are doing to make life better for all of us in Seattle.

To stay up to date, sign up for my newsletter here!

Videos on My Website

Every Monday morning, I update the City Council on issues in District 6 and the work my office is doing that week. These updates are a helpful way to follow along with our work. I also post these videos weekly on my website and social media. You can view the latest updates and past videos on my website here.
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