Washington

Regional Homelessness Authority seeks 75% budget bump

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) is asking funding partners for $209 million dollars in 2023 – roughly a 75% jump from the agency’s current budget. The City of Seattle and King County covered that $119 million dollar budget for the KCRHA’s initial year of funding.

The roughly $90 million increase for 2023 would fund 400 additional available beds and 130 “safe spaces” for RVs.

Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones told reporters Thursday that the steep ask was “not aspirational,” but rather an earnest request for a step on the way to ultimately solve homelessness in the region, according to the Seattle Times.

“It is about addressing, or potentially addressing, I should say, some pretty significant holes in current system architecture,” Dones said, noting that the authority’s five-year plan, with more long-term goals, would be released in September. “It is not an ‘ending homelessness budget.’”

The City of Seattle covered all but $40 million of the KCRHA’s initial $119 million budget. Headed into 2023, the city is facing a $34 million revenue shortfall, so getting additional dollars could prove challenging from Seattle and other partner cities in similar situations, according to Dones.

“We are living inside a reality where there are a number of revenue shortfalls across our funding partners,” Dones said. “And to that end, I think that it is unreasonable to expect that everything that we put forward will be funded.”

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said that the city would continue to fund about 70% of the KCRHA’s budget when announcing his homelessness plan last week.

Seattle mayor plans big spending to ease homelessness

He pushed back on the authority’s “wish list” approach though, calling for the agency to hone in on its priorities.

“I think, because of time, they approached the budgeting process as ‘in a perfect world, this is what I could do. This is what I want.’ And I don’t think they’ve articulated a clear expectation that they were even going to get it,” Harrell said. “And my comments to them were OK, we accept that right now. But at some point I need you to do the hard work, which is tell us exactly what you need.”

In a recent meeting if the KCRHA Implementation Board, Dones already shared a loosely prioritized list of the big-ticket budget requests.

Top tier items included: $15.4 million in pay raises for service providers; $5 million for up to 130 safe parking spaces for RVs; and $1.5 million for organizations prioritizing hiring or focusing on people with the “lived experience” in homelessness.

Tier two included $20 million to build a high acuity shelter for up to 55 people in need of housing who also have more severe behavioral health needs, and $7.2 million for the agency to hire more staff to bring it closer to being in line with the original vision for the authority.

At the bottom of that list, big-ticket items includes $15 million to improve or create additional daytime spaces for people experiencing homelessness and $20 million in emergency housing.

However, Dones has said that the list is not yet finalized.

Should the partner agencies that fund KCRHA trim the budget ask, Dones stressed that he would prefer that they fund all of some programs rather some of all programs.

“The narrative around safe parking ‘failing’ is because it has been incompletely funded in the past,” Dones said of previous RV parking efforts. “So from my perspective, when we partially fund programs that are meant to serve people in this way, they actually just wind up not serving people well at all.”

“So my recommendation … will be to say, we should fully fund things, and not funding the ones that we can’t,” Dones added.

A spokesperson for Harrell said Friday that the mayor would “consider financial support for items in KCRHA’s proposed expansion, where there is both policy alignment and available funding,” when drafting a proposed budget for the City Council to consider this fall, noting that it would be “weighed against the city’s other competing priorities and obligations.” ?

During Tuesday’s news conference, Harrell called on the KCRHA to pare down its priorities.

“This is not a negotiation — you go high, I go low — because I want to be as supportive as possible,” Harrell said. “So they gave us a high number. There is a wish list in there. They fully understand we’re going to examine that number and that we reserve to put another hat on. The hat now goes on to looking at the city’s revenues and our limitations, and then we’ll come out making decisions.”

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