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Is King County’s regional homeless authority an actual solution, or a missed opportunity?

Homeless campers in Seattle. (David Lee, Flickr Creative Commons)

A regional homeless authority for King County got its final approval from Seattle City Council Tuesday. That now leaves us with a question: Is this a unique opportunity to solve the region’s homeless crisis, or does it fall short of addressing real solutions?

Can a regional agency actually help Seattle’s homeless problem?

“I think this is a win-win across the board,” said KIRO Nights co-host Aaron Mason. “There’s an opportunity now for all of the agencies, all of the potential folks who are trying to fix this problem, to get together in one place, and now you have one organization that’s responsible and held accountable for all of this stuff.”

Final approval of the Regional Homeless Authority is the culmination of more than a year of work by city, county, and other stakeholders following an initial announcement by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine in December of 2018 about their intent to create the new agency.

The governing body will exist as part of a city-county partnership known as an Interlocal Agreement — that means taxpayers aren’t on the hook. Last minute edits to how the governing body is chosen also give a greater voice to other suburban areas outside of Seattle.

That said, not everyone shares the same optimism.

“I don’t have any confidence in this,” said KIRO Nights co-host Gee Scott. “We’re now learning that there’s an opinion that things still need to be fixed.”

Seattle, County homeless response paralyzed by bureaucracy

That opinion was heard from Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez among others, who voiced concerns that the policies of the regional authority wouldn’t be focused on a “housing first” approach.

“We have to do a better job of trying to eliminate some of the problems,” Gee described. “What are those problems? Cost of living. Living wages.”

At this point, it’s unclear whether those issues will be directly addressed, although Seattle City Council did include an addendum that withholds its funding from the governing body should it fail to meet certain benchmarks and expectations.

“Maybe we can see an improvement,” Mason opined. “And if it doesn’t work, then they pull funding, and they don’t get their $73 million budget — I think that’s a fair way to do things.”

Listen to KIRO Nights with Gee Scott and Aaron Mason weekdays from 7-10 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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