MYNORTHWEST NEWS

KC Homeless Authority has salaries released after Dones departs

May 18, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: 1:02 pm

homeless authority dones...

Marc Dones, former CEO of King County Regional Homeless Authority (Photo courtesy of King County Regional Homeless Authority)

(Photo courtesy of King County Regional Homeless Authority)

Salaries of the highest-paid employees at King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) were released following the departure of its first CEO, Marc Dones, according to journalist and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Choe.

Thirty employees reportedly earned six-figure salaries, with Dones topping the list as he earned nearly $250,000 annually in his role as CEO. The deputy CEO, Helen Howell — who has taken over as the interim CEO for the immediate future — was the only other employee to top $200,000 as an annual salary.

The roles varied among the highest paid within the Homeless Authority, ranging from communication directors, directors of policy, account managers, program managers, and assistants to chief administrative officers, all making anywhere from $113,000 to $160,000.

The average salary of all King County employees is just under $95,000 in comparison.

After first choice turns down job, King County homeless authority picks new CEO

KCRHA hired approximately 100 new employees during Dones’ tenure for the newly conceived organization, which started up operations in mid-2021 in order to unify and coordinate the many strayed and splintering homeless programs for the entire county. When the Authority was hiring for several positions, including a Deputy Chief Community Impact Officer and a Co-Director of Peer Navigation Workforce, the jobs — both included on the six-figure salary list — had benefits that included “unlimited vacation” and 96 hours of paid sick leave on top of 12 official holidays and two personal holidays.

Dones led the homeless authority for two years before deciding to resign.

“As a queer Black person, I have watched many members of my community burn out trying to hold too much for too many and I have watched them become unable to contribute the full breadth of their talent or vision to the work,” Dones wrote in their resignation letter. “I have watched them become bitter and destructive and what I know is that I don’t want that for myself.”

In their letter, Dones cited the need to revisit the structures of the boards and their capacity to partner with the CEO to effectively get work done, claiming regionalism is the correct path, and that requires the appropriate governing structure to be successful and effective.

“We have to be able to name the underlying causes and focus our energy appropriately,” Dones continued in their letter. “In order to do better, we must all commit to telling the whole truth, not just about the work now, but also how generations of systemic racism and oppression, decisions made by people in positions of power, brought us here.”

KCRHA declined to comment on the change in leadership and the authority’s respective salaries.

Dones’ tenuous relationship with government officials

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine wrote a joint address on Dones’ departure, thanking him for his dedication to serve the communities and those unhoused.

“Marc’s drive to innovate systems, improve housing stability, and help people move off the streets and inside with the support they need is rooted in a staunch commitment to ending homelessness,” the joint statement read. “From leading the design of the KCRHA to taking the reins as its first CEO, Marc has played an indispensable role in transforming ‘regional solutions to homelessness’ from an idea to tangible action.”

But, despite the mayor’s spokesperson denying the claims, The Stranger reported the relationship between Harrell and Dones was tumultuous at best, and that Harrell would be “ecstatic” if Dones stepped down while also surprised the departure did not happen sooner.

The strained relationship may, in part, be tied to Dones’ resistance to Seattle’s tiny home strategy — adopted in 2015. Just months into the job as CEO, Dones told PubliCola the “proliferation” of tiny houses needs to end, and that short-term approaches for housing should be replaced by new investments in housing construction and acquisition, citing King County’s Health Through Housing program.

The Low Income Housing Institute operates or funds 19 tiny house villages scattered across Washington state — in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Skyway, and Bellingham. Each village has hygiene facilities, utility access, and access to volunteers, community groups, non-profits, faith organizations, businesses, rotary clubs, and schools. These 19 villages support approximately 1,600 people annually.

King County struggling to find solutions to keep homeless off the streets permanently

Homeless Authority struggles to keep up

Just two years after the organization was created, contracts and payments between the King County Regional Homeless Authority and organizations hired to directly provide the services the Authority coordinated, fell behind by months.

As of April 25, according to The Seattle Times, the Authority reported nearly half of its contracts remained unsigned, meaning the providers of services for homeless haven’t received payments for the work provided since Jan. 1. Some of the organizations stated they lost confidence in KCRHA’s ability to perform at the size it expanded to. The Seattle Times even reported some of these organizations dropped out of their existing contracts with the authority, citing the above challenges.

These issues hung over the KCRHA since its inception, as the previous year, in 2022, the same issues with on-time payments occurred. The Authority claimed the delays were just a casualty of growing pains as it was busy consolidating hundreds of contracts from both the City of Seattle and King County while trying to hire enough staff. But now, in 2023, with the staff expanded by nearly 100 employees and the same issues still transpiring, contractors have grown weary of KCRHA.

Earlier this year, KCRHA requested nearly $12 billion to address local homelessness over the next five years, a dramatic increase over its initial $253 million budget for 2023. The proposal’s budget is broken down into two parts: $8.4 billion for one-time capital costs over the five-year period and an additional $3.4 billion for operating expenses.

Additionally, the federal government had to get involved with how the Homeless Authority was conducting its housing processes. While Coordinated Entry — a process that ranked the thousands of homeless people on health conditions, age, race, gender identity, pregnancy status, and behavioral health risks and awarded beds or shelters accordingly — was approved by the federal government, the Homeless Authority’s secondary process of filling available beds made the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development send a letter last November to warn the organization to stop bypassing federal rules.

KCRHA would give Coordinated Entry two weeks to fill a shelter or bed before allowing the organization with the open bed the ability to fill its availability as quickly as possible. In 2021, two-thirds of open housing beds were filled through this secondary process rather than Coordinated Entry.

Volunteer group lambasts King County Regional Homeless Authority’s ballooning budget

There were approximately 6,125 beds of permanent or transitional housing available that KCRHA was responsible for filling.

Norm Suchar, director of the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — and author of the letter sent to KCRHA — stated the Authority also bypassed federal housing requirements and potentially incentivized housing providers to pick the people who were easiest to serve, according to The Seattle Times.

On top of sorting out the previously mentioned messes, now the King County Regional Homeless Authority needs to search for its next chief.

“The purpose and function of KCRHA remain the same—to unify and coordinate policy and funding across all of King County for a regional approach to bringing more people inside,” KCRHA wrote in an address following Dones’ resignation. “The agency has the continued and strong support of partners at the City of Seattle and King County, and we will work together to ensure a smooth transition.”

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