The King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) in Washington State has confirmed that landlords in Seattle are being turned away from a program aimed at incentivizing them to take in homeless tenants. Advocates for those living on the streets in Seattle including activists, politicians, and officials with the KCRHA continue to push the failed “housing first” model.
The "housing first" model, promoted by the Biden administration, advocates for those on the streets to be given shelter without any requirement to seek services such as drug or mental health treatment. Often times, the facilities take in criminals with multiple felonies and drug addicts who continue their behavior in a taxpayer-funded housing unit.
KCRHA is the primary organization responsible for handling millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to move people from the streets into shelter and housing but has struggled with logistics and transparency.
Last November, the agency launched an “incentive package” for private landlords and housing providers who could “…bring additional housing units to a coordinated effort to end homelessness."
The agency’s so-called Housing Command Center (HCC) was seeking 800 units to support the effort. According to KCRHA, only 16 people have been housed in units with only 11 landlords participating in the program since the program's launch in 2022.
The incentive package was designed to “…reduce or eliminate standard tenancy screening criteria, match ready-to-rent tenants with vacant units, and address concerns that landlords may have about renting to a person who previously experienced homelessness,” funded by the “Partnership for Zero” program.
The package included guaranteed rent and one-time move-in costs, good tenant/good neighbor coaching, human service support, regular home visits, and mediation support in case things did not go as planned.
Landlords were required to “…apply alternative screening criteria to promote maximum acceptance of referrals from the Housing Command Center” and agree that alternative screening criteria will not include credit checks and prior evictions as disqualifying sources, as well as adhere to the requirements of Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing ordinance.
Skeptics of the program pointed out when it was launched that local hotels that had rented to homeless agencies were the sites of arson and other crimes and that the facilities were horribly damaged by the tenants.
Seattle landlord Osho Berman offered the agency multiple apartments across the city, units he described to the Discovery Institute’s Jonathan Choe as “move-in ready.”
However, KCRHA denied his offer in an email stating, “We have a number of incentivized units similar to yours and in the same area that we have not been able to rent to our participants. I don’t think we can move forward with the incentive at this time.”
Yet the agency still touts the need for an increase in affordable housing and as former KCRHA CEO Marc Dones said, ”53,000 people experienced homelessness in the county in 2022.”
Berman told Choe, “Yet the very program that’s running this is telling us that they don’t need any more housing units? Something seems terribly wrong.”
KCRHA interim CEO Helen Howell and the governing committee of KCRHA, are responsible for oversight of KCRHA and budget approval. The governing committee includes Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine was asked for comment. Constantine did not respond, but previously said that “we must make it affordable for everyone here.” Howell, who also declined comment previously, stated her goal of “every person [to] have a roof over their head.”
In an email to The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI, Constantine’s spokesperson Chase Gallagher responded, “If I were you, I’d maybe contact the organization that works on that project to get your facts before starting to dispense your opinions which don’t seem to be rooted in the details.”
He also told Hoffman, a veteran of many non-profit boards, “If you’re unfamiliar with how boards work, they generally are not the best place to go for operational questions. You should ask KCRHA staff.”
KCRHA did not provide answers to all of the provided questions, but said the incentive program is still active and will consider working with Berman in the future. The spokesperson was unable to explain why the incentivized units have not been rented out, how many landlords have been turned away, or how much has been spent on the program.
KCRHA PIO Anne Martens said in a statement to Choe, "It’s a matter of timing and public funding. To move in, a person who has all their documentation and other move-in requirements ready would be matched to that particular unit. By filling units that are currently incentivized first, we make the most of public funds and ensure that landlords retain flexibility.”
“In the meantime, since we have incentivized other similar units in that neighborhood, we are holding off on incentivizing additional units in that neighborhood until the existing ones are filled. Now that we know the offer is still open, we can keep Osho’s information on our list of potential units."
Choe was able to ask Constantine why landlords were being turned away by KCRHA during a press event Thursday. The King County Executive responded, "I'm not familiar with the situation you're talking about."
He added, "I firmly believe that the key to solving homelessness is making sure that the private market works. And that includes making sure that we're working with landlords to get people into housing with vouchers, not relying on only publicly built housing and I think that ultimately we're going to be able to turn the corner on this when the private market is able to make a profit and have incentives to build more housing that's affordable to people at all income levels.
Though many have speculated that due to its ongoing and very public failures, KCRHA might not continue to exist, Constantine confirmed that it would and told Choe, "We had a good meeting yesterday talking about, uh, the ways in which we're going to modify the governance of the agency moving forward, we've convened a committee to do that and Mayor Harrell and I, as well as the other partners, are committed to making it an agency that can deliver on the promise."
Berman told Choe that his units are still available, but he beginning to wonder if KCRHA will ever use them. “This is only increasing my concerns about how we’re handling the homeless problem in Seattle.”
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