By Erica C. Barnett
King County Regional Homelessness Authority officials say the agency will pay for three contracts at the center of a recent funding controversy using $2 million in unspent COVID relief dollars from the city of Seattle. The city’s social services department, which oversaw the money until KCRHA took over the area’s homelessness system this year, has yet to respond to questions sent Friday morning on the specific source of funding.
One potential source is the remaining funding former mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration planned to spend on rapid relocation to the two shelter hotels the city opened (and closed) last year. The mayor’s office claimed that the hotels would serve as short-term stops for people to move quickly from homeless homelessness to market-priced apartments using short-term rent subsidies; in reality, most people stayed in hotels long-term, leaving most rapid relocation dollars unspent when hotels closed earlier this year.
The city council passed a law allocating the $2 million, which last year’s state budget set aside for “small home villages,” to two LIHI small home villages last year. However, then-mayor Jenny Durkan never spent the money, transferring authority over state funds to the KCRHA earlier this year. The KCRHA, in turn, created a new open bidding process for the money, ultimately rejecting LIHI’s two proposals in favor of three different projects, including one from the Chief Seattle Club that involved (but didn’t was not led by) LIHI.
In response, State Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43) said state dollars were never to be given to KCRHA and earmarked the money for LIHI in the state budget for that year, leaving the agency $2 million in unfunded commitments.
“Neither I nor the agency have an ax to grind with tiny houses as a type of shelter. If I really wanted to get rid of them, I would have just canceled them on day 3. They would be gone. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. The question was, should we quickly open 10 to 15 small home villages, and I said the data didn’t support an expansion on that scale. – Marc Dones, Director of KCRHA
At a meeting of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s Implementation Board on Wednesday, KCRHA Director Marc Dones — an outspoken critic of the city council’s plans to expand small home villages around town — appeared frustrated as they addressed the controversy.
“Neither I nor the agency have an ax to grind with tiny houses as a type of shelter,” Dones said. “If I really wanted to get rid of them, I would have just canceled them on day 3. They would have left. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. What I’ve said many times [is that] radical expansion, which was proposed to me last year – the question was whether we should quickly open 10 to 15 small villages of houses, and I said that the data did not support an expansion of this magnitude.
“There is, and I can’t stress this enough, any credible or factual assertion in any statement made by anyone that this agency, or me in particular, is trying to roll out all the little houses tomorrow, and , frankly, that we haven’t made new investments in tiny types of shelters,” Dones said, pointing to existing contracts with LIHI that were transferred to the Seattle city authority and two of the projects. which the RHA attempted to fund through the competitive bidding process – the Chief Seattle Club/LIHI village and an expansion of Catholic Community Services’ existing Pallet Shelter project.
Dones noted that LIHI had not filed a formal complaint against the authority’s decision not to fund its mini-village projects in South Seattle and South Lake Union (which, thanks to Chopp, have both been ultimately funded by the state). “We’re done,” they said. Lee of LIHI said she chose not to file a lawsuit because she did not believe LIHI would get fair treatment from the same panel that rejected her applications, which included both Dones and his executive assistant.
Implementation board member Dr. Simha Reddy said he and other board members met with Dones last week to figure out what happened with the $2 million and came to the conclusion. that the agency legitimately believed it had the authority to distribute the $2 million in state funding through its own grantmaking process. “Basically an error has occurred. I don’t think there’s a particular villain here,” Reddy said. “Step back, it looks like a situation where good people doing their best might have come to different conclusions.”