The King County Council on Tuesday, Oct. 13 gave the go-ahead to an unprecedented investment to target help to the people experiencing homelessness who are the hardest to reach.
“I believe that government is people coming together to do collectively what we cannot do individually,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, prime sponsor of the Health through Housing proposal, in a county news release. “And nowhere is that more true than in addressing the challenges that prevent all King County residents from having a safe and stable home. This unprecedented investment will provide a stable and long-term funding stream to house upwards of 2,000 people living chronically homeless, as well as behavioral health care. People experiencing chronic homelessness are bearing the brunt of inequality in our region and need housing and support services to empower their path to health and stability.”
Backed by a 0.1% sales tax increase, the legislation will provide permanent, supportive housing for those deemed “chronically homeless” – people who reside in a place not meant for human habitation for at least a year, and with serious physical or behavioral health issues.
The county will bond against a portion of the money raised ensuring immediate access to up to $400 million.
The Kent City Council voted last week to impose the sales tax to keep about $2.8 million per year in the city rather than the funds going to the county for its program to house the chronically homeless. Several other cities also imposed the tax prior to the county adopting the measure.
About 4,500 people are considered chronically homeless in King County, according to the Homeless Management Information Service. The legislation will create space for up to 2,000 individuals.
The state Legislature in its 2020 session granted authority for local governments to adopt the small sales tax to fund affordable housing. King County plans to bond against future tax revenues and use the funds to buy existing hotels, motels and nursing homes around the county and convert them into affordable, supportive housing for people who have struggled to access and maintain housing.
“By their vote today (Oct. 13), the County Council moves our region one step closer to ending the trauma of homelessness for up to 2,000 individuals and families throughout our region who are living every day without the safety and dignity of a place to call home,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “With this initiative, we have a unique and extraordinary opportunity to make a real, observable difference in the crisis of homelessness, and I look forward to working throughout King County to make that happen.”
The Health Through Housing program is part of the biennial budget proposal, now in front of council, and includes two ordinances; one that establishes the sales tax and another that creates the Health Through Housing Fund.
“Adopting these measures is an important opportunity that we must take to reach our most vulnerable neighbors experiencing chronic homelessness,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, co-sponsor of the ordinance establishing the Health through Housing Fund. “We need a greater inventory of affordable housing that we can target for use by those in our community struggling the most to make ends meet – those with low to no income. This will make a big difference in helping us with that task. It will take all of us, working together on this and other future measures, to end homelessness.”