Don’t be fooled by homeless spending proposals
April 12, 2023
Seattle is considering a major spending package to combat homelessness. What’s unclear is if this package is in addition to the $12 billion spending proposal made by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority – which does little to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
KCRHA’s proposal would cost $12 billion over the next five years on the same failed programs that funnel money to organizations with no track record of getting people back on their feet. The plan is too expensive, doesn’t address the root causes of homelessness, and needs serious changes before it should even be seriously considered. They need to take a hard look at the root causes of homelessness, the barriers that are keeping people from regaining jobs and homes and the failure of current programs rather than just putting people in housing and leaving them there without any support.
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KCRHA is expected to release a new plan on April 13. While this will likely be scaled back from the $12 billion plan currently on the table, it is still expected to be massively expensive and misguided. To put $12 billion into context, the current general fund expenditure for the entire Seattle School district is $1.14 billion.
However, the KCRHA spending is just the start. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has announced a $970 million housing levy to address affordable housing through increased property taxes. If approved by city council, voters can expect to see this on their ballots in November. $707 million of the funds “would go towards creating and preserving affordable rental housing for seniors, homeless people, and other low-income households,” reports The Center Square. They go on to say that the remaining money would be spent on home ownership initiatives, short-term rent assistance and housing stability services for low-income households and administrative costs.
However, we have no assurance that the money will be spent as intended or even sensibly. Recently, King County spent $11.6 million on a 36-unit housing complex – that comes out to around $322,000 per unit. That is significantly more than the building’s appraised value of $8.9 million. It doesn’t have to be that expensive. Looking at another property only a block away, another building sold for $7.05 million – about $164,000 per unit. That is well below its appraised value of $13.8 million. With this kind of runaway spending, taxpayers should have serious questions before agreeing to additional funding.
And this appears not only to be in addition to the funds already spent, but also $970 million above and beyond the $12 billion requested by the KCRHA. Like the KCRHA, Seattle has spent a great deal of money addressing homelessness and the problem has only gotten worse. Over the last 10 years, the city has spent nearly $1 billion on the issue, but the number of homeless people continues to rise.
If this wasn’t expensive enough, Gov. Jay Inslee has his own $4 billion spending plan to tackle the issue. He claims “There’s no tax in this proposal,” but it is unclear how he means to fund it. There is bipartisan opposition to these expensive plans.
Speaker of the House, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, believes “more fiscally sound” solutions to the homelessness crisis should be considered. “I don’t know that it’s rising as a preferred strategy, but I think people are still trying to figure out what is the preferred strategy,” Jinkins said. “At a certain point, we’re going to have to decide if there’s another idea that we think would be more fiscally sound or it provides more opportunity or whatever the critiques may be. Is there another option? Or is this really the option?”
Washingtonians deserve safe cities, and the homeless population deserves solutions that work. All of us deserve answers. What’s the total cost being proposed – and how will that money be spent in ways that actually address the issues? No amount of money will ever be enough if it isn’t spent wisely.