The Seattle City Council Monday approved a plan to increase homeless shelter beds by nearly 500, but two council members raised concerns that the plan still fails to address the city's pressing need for permanent affordable housing.
The plan the council approved came from Mayor Jenny Durkan, who last month said it would produce "results in 60 to 90 days." (Durkan also acknowledged it was "no replacement" for housing.)
The new beds will be a combination of shelters and tiny house villages. The city plans to open new beds at City Hall and Haddon Hall, a facility downtown as well as several tiny house villages in Whittier Heights, South Lake Union, and the Central District. The plan will also preserve 163 shelter beds operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center that were set to be closed. In total, the plan includes 475 new beds, down from 500 from when Durkan first announced the plan.
However, the funding will only last through this year.
The money for the new beds will come from the sale of a piece of city-owned land in South Lake Union. That means the funding is one-time, not ongoing. Durkan has not yet said how she would fund the beds beyond 2018.
The most recent point-in-time count found more than 12,000 people experiencing homelessness across King County. For the first time, the count found more people unsheltered than sheltered. A recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated that King County needs 14,000 more units of housing that are affordable for people experiencing homelessness.
Ahead of the council vote Monday, Council Members Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant said they supported the plan but that the city should do more to fund permanent housing. Mosqueda and Sawant were the only two council members to vote against repealing the head tax last week. The tax on large businesses would have funded affordable housing and homeless services.
"We must have longterm funding—progressive funding, like the funding that would have been provided by the employee hours tax—so we don’t have to think about the heartbreaking reality when the money runs out at the end of this year," Mosqueda said.
"The only way to address this problem," Sawant said, "is to build social housing, which is publicly funded permanently affordable housing. And the only way to fund that housing at the scale that we need is to tax big business and the super wealthy.”