Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she's confident the new regional authority will be successful as long as the right people are at the table and every part of the region feels invested.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she's confident the new regional authority will be successful as long as the right people are at the table and every part of the region feels invested.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an interlocal agreement on Wednesday with structural changes to a regional homelessness authority they had proposed in September, but both elected leaders expressed confidence those with lived experience will guide this new coordinated effort to help those living unsheltered.

“The burden for us is to make sure that the voices of those with lived experience continue to be elevated and heard in our governing board, as well as in the implementation of our policies,” Constantine said.

The executive and mayor delivered a proposal to the King County Regional Policy Committee informed by two years of work by the National Innovation Service and a Lived Experience Coalition comprised of people who had or were experiencing homelessness.

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles then introduced an amended plan to the RPC, which passed unanimously on Dec. 5.

“What was transmitted to us was not going to go through, as much as many of us would have liked to have that happen,” she said before the RPC vote.

With a few clarifying amendments tacked on, the King County Council approved the proposal on Dec. 11, followed by the Seattle City Council on Dec. 16.

Constantine acknowledged the legislation was different than what he and Durkan proposed, but said it still addresses the issues that have dogged municipalities across the county.

“Different governments across the region signing contracts with different service providers with different standards for performance, seeking different outcomes — no more,” the county executive said. “The legislation Mayor Durkan and I will sign today differs from what she and I proposed, but it remains a bold, innovative and necessary response to the goal of unifying a fractured homelessness system.”

The amended legislation Kohl-Welles introduced to the RPC in early December provides more representation for the Sound Cities Association — comprised of 38 cities in King County — in both the implementation board and governing committee that will oversee the new regional authority’s development, hiring of a chief executive officer and planning a coordinated response to the homelessness crisis.

The new interlocal agreement (ILA) provides SCA with three seats on the governing committee, up from one seat and the opportunity for another if 20 cities subscribed to the ILA. No SCA appointments were originally recommended for the implementation board, which will be comprised of experts on homelessness and services; the approved ILA gives the association two appointments.

Members of the Lived Experience Coalition spent the past three weeks showing up to meetings, concerned about the new structure of the implementation board and governing committee potentially minimizing their voices and undermining the last two years of collaboration to come up with the original legislation.

The 12-member governing committee will have three representatives each from King County, Seattle, SCA 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.

The governing committee will be in charge of hiring a chief executive officer — the original plan was for an executive director position — and approving and amending major plans and budgets.

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.

King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who attended the ILA signing on Wednesday, argued before the county council’s Dec. 11 vote to approve it that the organizational structure puts the impetus on elected officials to get the authority right, or they would face being voted out by their constituents.

It will take eight (two-thirds) of the 12 governing committee members to approve hiring a CEO, with a quorum of nine members. It would take nine votes to remove a CEO. It would take a majority vote to make changes to bylaws, the budget, the implementation board, or approve a staffing plan, also with a quorum of nine. That means it would take eight votes to make budget or planning changes if all 12 members were present, or six votes if only nine members were present.

King County Council chair Rod Dembowski said a previous proposal for a simple majority, with at least one vote in favor by each caucus, was met with too many objections. He also said it was important to increase accountability for elected officials, considering the $650 million in taxpayer money being invested in the authority over the next five years.

While SCA will have more influence than previously proposed for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, only Seattle and King County will be funding the new agency. Under the signed ILA, the agency wouldn’t seek approval by the Legislature to levy taxes to support it, making it an authority in name only.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold had expressed concerns previously that no governments within the SCA would contribute to the authority despite being in agreement that homelessness is a regional issue.

The City of Seattle will contribute $73 million a year — plus $2 million in 2020 for startup costs — to the authority. King County will pay $55 million annually, plus $1.3 million to start the authority.

Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González expressed concern at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability that guiding principles in the ILA lacked strong enough language to ensure cities receiving funding from the authority would follow evidence-based practices when addressing homelessness in their communities.

“I have ongoing concerns about the three first issues that I’ve highlighted related to evidence-based requirements, both in the subregional plans and in how the regional authority makes determinations about spending that are in alignment with governing principles,” González said, “and I also continue to have concerns about the lower threshold that exists that would, in some instances, if attendance is low, only require up to 50 percent of the full governing committee to make pretty significant decisions to amend the budget, to change policies in the five-year strategy as it relates to the regional approach to addressing the issues of homelessness, and removing the CEO.”

Rather than amend the legislation passed by the Regional Policy Committee and King County Council, which would have required passing it back to the RPC to restart the approval process, Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw added a separate, nonbinding ordinance that outlines the city’s expectations for how the authority will operate in order to ensure Seattle continues to fund it.

“Let’s not play cute with what the impact of this ordinance is,” González said. “This ordinance binds us as the City of Seattle, but it does not bind King County.”

The ordinance states that the city council expects any changes to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s goals, policies, plans or annual budget will require the vote of at least eight governing committee members; that services and funding will be consistent with evidence-based practices, as will the authority’s five-year plan and subregional plans; the authority will provide an annual performance report to the city and county councils; the implementation board will strive to appoint members who reflect the racial and ethnic make-up of King County while maintaining a majority of members representing those disproportionately experiencing homelessness; and a new Office of the Ombuds will provide an annual report to the governing committee.

“I would describe that as a nuclear option of this council suddenly deciding, because these issues aren’t resolved, that we are going to withhold $73 million from the regional authority,” González said. “I don’t think that’s a realistic scenario, and I don’t think it would come to fruition.”

Bagshaw said she agreed with those concerned about the ILA, that details matter when it comes to such major funding, but said she was happy that the implementation board would be comprised of 13 experts on the matter of homelessness, as well as the voting requirements set for the governing committee.

“To me, this strikes a sensible balance between our shared desire to have experts driving the implementation board policy with government officials who are ultimately held accountable for results by the general public and taxpayers,” Bagshaw said during the select committee meeting, “and I believe that people are going to show up to these meetings and there will be 12 people there, so that means eight people would be required to change something.”

The Seattle City Council passed the legislation to the mayor on Dec. 16 by a 5-1 vote, with González opposed. Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda, who is on maternity leave, and Kshama Sawant were absent, meaning the council barely had a quorum.

“I believe strongly that when we come together and get the right people in place that everyone will stay at the table to get things done,” Durkan said on Wednesday. “I believe in a scenario that will not be a worst-case scenario, because if we get to the point where there’s a vote that’s spread by one person on whether we should move forward, we’ve already failed.”

Durkan said she feels people have overstated the impacts of the representation on the governing committee, noting it would still take eight votes to overrule anything coming up from the implementation board if all 12 members are at the table.

“And if we get to that point, it means we have not been doing the very hard work it takes to get to the right place, with the right budget, with the right programs,” Durkan said.

The mayor also expressed support for subregional planning. Under the legislation she and the county executive proposed, the initial five-year plan would include subregional planning, while the amended legislation means subregional planning by suburban cities will influence the next five-year plan.

“This won’t work if every part of the region doesn’t feel invested and doesn’t see themselves in it,” Durkan said, adding the subregional planning will also require taking census of the populations experiencing homelessness and existing resources in the community. “I think it’s going to paint a really different picture than what people think, because then we’re going to be all about solving that problem rather than focused on turf.”

Lived Experience Coalition member Miranda Hunter said she had hoped the ILA would require an 80 percent vote by the governing board to push budgets and policies forward, but she believes there’s still time to work on establishing an authority that empowers the voices of those with experience living unsheltered.

“I’m just ready to move toward the future of change and help people who have experienced homelessness,” she said.

King County Department of Community and Human Services director Leo Flor said the city and county will spend the next three months developing a staff and program transition plan as DCHS and Seattle’s Human Services Department employees aim for a March co-location to the King County Yesler Building. The goal is to ensure continuity of service during the transition, Flor said.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority will focus on outreach, diversion, shelter, rapid rehousing, transitional and permanent supportive housing efforts, according to a news release, but capital funding will not be provided for housing construction or Seattle’s controversial Navigation Team.