District 7 Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis chaired the first Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments meeting of the year on Jan. 22. Councilmembers received a status update on the formation of a new King County Regional Homelessness Authority and were briefed about legislation that would allow up to 40 tiny house villages across the city.

Homelessness Authority

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an interlocal agreement in mid-December committing to the formation of a King County Regional Homelessness Authority to establish a coordinated effort in addressing the crisis of people living unsheltered.

While several members of the city council were concerned about the structural changes regarding the governing of the new authority that were made late in the process through the King County Regional Policy Committee, the legislation passed by a 5-1 vote on Dec. 16.

Part of the transition includes the colocation of Seattle’s Human Services Department and the King County Department of Community and Human Services to the county’s Yesler Building. Staff is currently spread across three office locations.

“We are still on time and planning for a March 2020 move to the Yesler Building,” said HSD interim director Jason Johnson.

The authority will have a two-tiered oversight system, with a governing committee of primarily elected officials charged with nominating and seating an implementation board, which will be its first action once formed, said Tess Colby, Durkan’s senior advisor on homelessness.

The 12-member governing committee will have three representatives each from King County, Seattle, the Sound Cities Association and those representing individuals with lived experience as determined by an advisory committee; the mayor and executive will make up one seat each for Seattle and King County, and one King County Council representative will have Seattle within their district. The federally mandated Continuum of Care Board will serve as the advisory committee to the regional homelessness authority.

Representing the governing committee will be Lewis, Councilmember Lorena González and Durkan. Colby said King County will have its representatives appointed soon.

“We are certainly feeling pressure and excitement about moving forward with the governance committee,” Colby said.

Durkan and Constantine will lead the first governing committee meeting, which Colby said she’s hopeful will occur within the 90 days recommended in the interlocal agreement (ILA) once it was approved. Leadership positions, the cadence of following committee meetings and the beginning of the process to identify potential implementation boards will be addressed during this inaugural meeting.

Colby said the Continuum of Care Board is working with various organizations to identify people with lived experience to serve on the governing committee.

“Governance Committee does not have a role in seating those members — folks with lived experience,” she said.

The governing committee will adopt bylaws for the authority and performance metrics, which can be accomplished with a simple majority. The 12-member committee will require a quorum of nine and 3/4 majority vote to establish goals, policies, a budget and to hire a CEO to lead the new government agency. It will take nine votes to remove a CEO.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she wants to return to the issue of voting requirements when bylaws are established, as the city council had wanted to increase the threshold for making major budget or policy changes.

The implementation board will provide recommendations about a CEO, develop a funding allocation report and make budget and major plan recommendations to the governing committee; the CEO will also report directly to the implementation board. With the addition of two SCA-appointed seats, elected officials will make 10 of the 13 appointments, with the other three being made by the advisory committee.

The implementation board will have a first crack at assessing a draft budget, which would then go to the governing committee for approval, at which point the City Budget Office would include Seattle’s costs in the mayor’s budget.

It’s likely the 2021 budget process will look similar to previous years, unless a CEO is hired this year, Colby said. The council begins work on the following year’s budget in the fall.

Absent a CEO — and a fully formed governing committee and implementation board to hire one — a leadership team and four work groups have been formed in the interim to assist with the colocation of city and county employees to the Yesler Building, as well as the departments' respective information systems.

Councilmember Tammy Morales said she has concerns about a prevailing problem with people of color, particularly Native Americans, receiving fewer referrals for service than other homeless populations in the past. Johnson said that is an issue that HSD and DCHS are addressing in a data migration work group. Colby added the county’s Coordinated Entry team is working on improving the system for assessing those most vulnerable and in need of service after it was found to be racially biased.

Herbold was concerned about staff losses with HSD and DCHS employees being brought under the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

Johnson said a “loaned period” will start once a CEO is hired. The CEO will make day-to-day decisions, with lines of authority extending back to the city and county. Under the ILA, the CEO will have 60 days after their hiring to craft a full staffing plan, Johnson said. The longer the hiring of a CEO is delayed, he said, the longer staff will be uneasy about the future. Plans are to soon have a recruitment firm identified that can help identify potential candidates.

Tiny House Villages

The Select Committee on Homelessness will have another meeting to take a deeper dive into legislation proposed by District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant that would allow for more tiny house villages in Seattle.

“As long as we have this [homelessness] crisis, we should have a tiny house for everyone who doesn’t have a place to go,” Sawant said.

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections issued a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) last August for Sawant's ordinance, which would allow transitional encampments for people experiencing homelessness on property owned or controlled by a religious organization without having to first establish an accessory use; allow transitional encampments to be permitted on all public property; increase the number of allowed encampments — not associated with a religious organization — from three to 40; allow unlimited renewals of one-year permits for transitional encampments; authorize encampment on an interim basis in residential zones; remove a requirement that encampments be at least one mile apart from each other, and to make renewal of six-month temporary-use permits for existing encampments a Type 1 (nonappealable) decision.

An existing ordinance on transitional encampments passed in 2015 is slated to sunset in March.

Durkan proposed $4 million in her 2020 budget to fund eight existing transitional encampments — some consisting only of tiny homes and others that include tents — but the council added $2 million to support two more tiny house villages. HSD is expected to propose potential locations by February, which it will determine through coordination with the Low Income Housing Institute, which runs the city’s existing transitional encampments. LIHI executive director Sharon Lee said the hope is to site one tiny house village in Seattle’s north end.

The Port of Seattle Commission unanimously approved a one-year lease extension for the Safe Harbor Tiny House Village to continue operating at the Tsubota site in Interbay last October.

Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck offered his support for the tiny house village shelter model, saying it provides people experiencing homelessness with a sense of pride, dignity and hope. He applauded the work of Safe Harbor’s program manager and two case managers, as well as the residents’ ability to self-manage their community.

“This is a widely recognized — nationally — most successful model that we have today,” Steinbrueck said, pointing to a 46 percent exit rate compared with 4 percent for traditional shelter models.

Former Safe Harbor resident Joseph “Panda” Procella had been with the group since it was Tent City 5 on Dravus Street, and remembered being excited when it transitioned to a tiny house village, because people had houses to live in and a place to keep their belongings, without worrying about them being taken during one of the city’s ongoing sweeps of unsanctioned encampments.

Procella, who has spent the past year in supportive housing, said there had been a number of businesses in Interbay that protested Safe Harbor coming into the community, but a year later many were voicing support for the tiny house village to continue and expand. Remaining tents at Safe Harbor were replaced with 23 more tiny houses in spring 2019.

Lee said 648 people were sheltered in tiny house villages last year, and 10 percent of the residents were children. Every village addresses different populations and needs, she said.

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said he was skeptical of the tiny house village model at the start, but came around when he saw exit rate data in 2018, however, he believes allowing up to 40 villages is too high. Herbold said she wanted to make sure that eliminating the one-mile separation requirement for transitional encampments doesn’t result in a disproportionate number of villages in certain neighborhoods, particularly communities of color.

The next Select Committee on Homelessness is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 26.