King County homelessness surges 23% as state releases plan to tackle housing

May 15, 2024, 10:23 PM | Updated: May 16, 2024, 1:39 pm

Image: Tents are seen at a Seattle homeless encampment....

Tents are seen at a Seattle homeless encampment. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Suarez, We Heart Seattle)

(Photo courtesy of Andrea Suarez, We Heart Seattle)

The King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) released its 2024 Unsheltered Point-in-Time (PIT) Count Wednesday. Also, earlier this week, the Washington State Department of Commerce released its Housing Advisory Plan for 2023 to 2028 to take on the housing crisis in the state.

Homelessness is up 23% in King County

According to the PIT Count, the number of people experiencing homelessness in King County, the most populated county in Washington, has gone up 23% since 2022. There were 7,685 unsheltered people (57%) and 5,683 sheltered people (43%) for a total of 13,368 in 2022. There were 9,810 unsheltered people (60%) and 6,575 sheltered people (40%) for a total of 16,385 in 2024. However, KCRHA said the numbers are a severe undercount.

The Washington State Department of Commerce has yet to release homeless numbers for the entire state of Washington.

Related news: Washington youth homelessness has dropped 40% but gaps remain, report says

The KCRHA stated homelessness in King County continues to disproportionately affect communities of color. Out of the people experiencing homelessness, 19% identify as Black/African American, but 2020 U.S. Census data shows only 6% of King County’s population identifies as Black/African American.

The KCRHA also noted that “similarly, 7% of people experiencing homelessness identify as American Indian, Alaskan Native, or Indigenous, but that group makes up only 1% of King County’s population.”

“As our community continues the dialogue about race and equity, it is important to recognize that homelessness is an outcome of structural racism and racial inequities,” the KCRHA stated.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, African Americans have been systemically denied rights and opportunities. The statement echoes numbers in Washington’s Housing Advisory Plan.

Washington plans half a million affordable homes in 20 years

At the beginning of this week, the state released a plan to tackle the housing crisis. The plan outlines how the state is preparing to add more than a million new homes in Washington in the next 20 years, with half of those being affordable housing. It also provides a roadmap of the housing crisis, along with recommendations.

The state determined those who make less than 50% of the median family income (MFI) qualify for affordable housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created a map showing different levels of income throughout Washington in 2022.

Image: Map of HUD Median Family Income by County in 2022.

Map of HUD Median Family Income by County in 2022. (Image courtesy of Washington State Department of Commerce)

“Gov. Jay Inslee and legislature have taken significant actions in recent years to address this housing shortage. However, housing development is a complex challenge, and additional state and local actions are still needed to ensure that an abundance of new housing options become a reality in Washington’s communities,” the plan stated.

The plan was put together by the Affordable Housing Advisory Board (AHAB) with assistance from Commerce and BERK Consulting.

According to the plan, homelessness got worse in all of Washington’s counties from 2016 to 2022 except for Clark, Cowlitz, King and Klickitat. The AHAB also found that while renting is getting more affordable, homeownership is becoming less affordable. In addition, progress toward reducing racial disparities is slow.

It also found that while Washington housing has dramatically increased, it isn’t creating enough middle and multifamily housing.

Other news: Washington sees decline in new housing permits for second straight year

Recommendations to increase affordable housing are gathering more funding to lower housing costs, reworking zoning laws for building houses, making administrative work more efficient and making construction less expensive. It also recommends increased Housing Trust Fund flexibility, supporting low-income home ownership and fostering more support for relocation assistance.

What led to the Washington housing crisis?

“Much of the problem comes down to a mismatch between the demand for housing and the limited supply available to meet that demand,” the plan explains. “We can trace this most recent period of housing price escalation back to the Great Recession and housing market collapse in 2008-2009.”

AHAB also attributed COVID-19 to the housing crisis, saying housing production was halted and people lost their jobs.

“The housing construction industry was slow to recover and significantly lagged behind the high demand for housing from new workers. In fact, the rate of new home production has yet to reach its earlier peak in 2005-2007,” the plan reads.

But people become homeless for different reasons. Within the plan, people who reside in Washington shared their stories. Juanita had to leave her home because of domestic violence; Abdul experienced a mental health crisis and was hospitalized; Tiarha couldn’t find affordable alternative housing for her and her daughter due to application fees and income requirements.

The path to home security also looks different for each person.

More on housing: Luxury tiny homes creating a stir in Washington home market

Juanita and her family recently found help through a voucher program; Abdul connected with a social worker at a hospital who led him to a counselor; Tiarha and her daughter were able to connect with a resource navigator.

Along with the earlier recommendations, AHAB added that aging, memory care and nursing homes to serve low-income individuals or people moving out of homelessness should be studied.

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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