Study: Solving King County homeless crisis could cost up to $11 billion

Jan 27, 2020, 9:14 AM | Updated: 10:56 am
homeless, streets, Seattle,...
Advocates for affordable housing in Seattle. (KIRO Radio)
(KIRO Radio)

A new report alleges that King County would require billions of dollars over the next decade to solve its growing homeless crisis.

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

The report comes courtesy of the McKinsey & Company consulting firm, estimating that it would cost between $450 million to $1.1 billion a year over 10 years to fully house the homeless and low-income population.

“To put it another way, ending homelessness in King County would require spending three to five times the approximately $260 million currently spent locally on homelessness and (extremely low income) housing in the region,” the report reads.

McKinsey points to a sizable discrepancy between the growing cost of housing in the region, and the relatively stagnant growth in housing supply and household income. In King County, market rent has grown 52 percent between 2010 and 2017, while housing supply and household income have increased just 8 percent and 12 percent in that period respectively.

It goes on to note that low income residents paying market rate for housing are being forced to spend over 60 percent of their income on rent, “a truly unsustainable figure.”

“Picture a game of musical chairs, where instead of taking out seats at every round, a person is added to the game,” the report posited. “And instead of having a foot race when the music stops, an auction is held. Clearly, the players with the least ability to pay will be left without a chair. More chairs are needed. Without more chairs, as more players enter the game, the clearing price — or rent — will continue to rise.”

While King County is adding homes at what McKinsey labels “an impressive rate,” it still hasn’t been enough to keep with demand. That’s attributed to a massive population boom that has quickly outpaced housing growth.

Seattle, County homeless response paralyzed by bureaucracy

To solve this issue, the report advocates for an increase in affordable housing stock, estimating the region would need an additional 15,700 affordable homes to house low income residents. That would “enough just to house those that experienced homelessness in 2018 and were not permanently housed.”

To “fully stabilize” King County’s homeless crisis, the report calls for up to 37,000 new homes.

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Study: Solving King County homeless crisis could cost up to $11 billion