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King County plan to house homeless in hotels ‘unprecedented,’ but hit snags

People sleep outside on a sidewalk on April 6, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

King County plans to buy a series of hotels this year to permanently house up to 45% of the homeless population and get them off the streets. The plan seeks to help those who are chronically homeless, though has hit some snags along the way. Seattle Times reporter Scott Greenstone joined the Gee and Ursula Show to discuss why.

“The state Legislature passed a law last year that basically said counties can enact a 0.1% sales tax — yet another sales tax — and use that to fund affordable housing or homeless housing. And so Dow Constantine, the county executive, last year said, ‘OK, let’s use that money and let’s buy some of these hotels that are obviously going to be up for sale,'” Greenstone explained. “It’s not totally unheard of to use hotels to house homeless people. In fact, if you drive up Aurora past the Aloha Inn, that’s one of the oldest hotels that was turned into a homeless shelter and has been for years.”

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“It’s really unprecedented how many they want to buy,” he added. “Basically, this plan was originally $400 million that they would basically bond against the sales tax, and say, ‘OK, we know that this amount of money is going to be coming in at this point, so let’s bond against that and buy these hotels.'”

The goal of the King County homeless project is to focus on those who might be described as chronically homeless, though issues with deadlines and funding may impact the implementation.

“The plan is to get as many of these folks who are chronically homeless, who have been on the street for years, who have serious mental illness, who have substance abuse disorder, you know, let’s get them off of the streets. The plan has hit some snags, though, because they didn’t vote on it quickly enough for the deadline,” Greenstone said.

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“So then basically the law said you had to do it before September 30, or the cities in your county can vote to use the tax for their own purposes,” he continued. “So a couple of cities — because they missed that deadline at the county — a couple of cities said, ‘You know what? We’re not going to use the money for that, or we’re not going to just guarantee you that money. Let’s use it for something else, like other affordable housing, not for specifically homeless folks.'”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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