This year, through the Health Through Housing Initiative, King County has begun collecting a 1/10th of penny in an additional sales tax in order to raise money to purchase hotels, motels and nursing homes to house the “chronically homeless.”
The King County Council passed the initiative in October 2020 and the policy is expected to house roughly 2,000 people by October 2022. According to the Homeless Management Information Service, there are close to 4,500 “chronically homeless” people in King County.
The bonded proceeds brought in by the new sales tax are expected to bring more than $50 million into the Health Through Housing Fund in one year and over $400 million in the next six years, according to King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn.
Dunn described the county’s previous efforts to reduce homelessness as “disorganized” and “disjointed,” as the county has spent hundreds of millions of dollars toward the issue with little results to show.
Dunn said the Seattle metropolitan area has become a “dead-end street” for the nation’s homeless problem as they continue to offer services and benefits to the homeless population that he says only encourages the homeless from other areas to flock to the area.
“We have a moral obligation to create a broad and robust safety net,” Dunn said. “But for the homeless from our own communities.”
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said he likes the Health Through Housing Initiative because of its elegant simplicity. He said he felt like the county’s previously attempted solutions were bogged down in bureaucracy without actually providing enough housing.
“Why don’t we just build some damn housing,” Upthegrove said he used to joke with colleagues.
Upthegove said he feels like this initiative will create housing quickly, affordably and at a scale that is meaningful.
“This gets people off the street,” he said.
The building purchased will first be converted into “emergency housing,” before being made into “permanent supportive housing,” according to Upthegrove.
The executive branch of the county government has until the end of June to submit an implementation plan for the initiative to be approved by the council. Upthegrove said the implementation will be managed by the King County Department of Community and Human Services.