Homeless advocates, politicians, and leaders at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) continue to say that “housing saves lives” and affordable housing is the solution to homelessness.
King County Executive Dow Constantine has said that “we must make it affordable for everyone here,” and KCRHA interim CEO Helen Howell wants “every person [to] have a roof over their head.”
This is why KCRHA launched a landlord incentive program in 2022 that promised housing providers an attractive package in “an effort to end homelessness.”
The incentive program offered landlords on-time payment backed by KCRHA and tenant conflict resolution in exchange for rental units for the homeless.
Funding for “Partnership for Zero,” a publicly and privately funded program, would offset the cost of the incentive package.
In response to the program, Seattle landlord Osho Berman offered KCRHA multiple apartments he describes as “move in ready” located across Seattle.
However, his offer was denied by KCRHA in an email saying, “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.”
According to former KCRHA CEO Marc Dones,”53,000 people experienced homelessness in the county in 2022.”
KCRHA has continued to tout the need for an increase in affordable housing.
“Yet the very program that’s running this is telling us that they don’t need anymore housing units?” asks Berman. “Something seems terribly wrong.”
I started to look into these concerns alongside KVI Radio’s Ari Hoffman. KCRHA interim CEO Howell was asked to sit down for an interview.
The governing committee of KCRHA, including Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine, was reached out to for comment as well. The committee is responsible for oversight of KCRHA and budget approval.
Constantine’s spokesperson snidely responded that, “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.”
KCRHA did not provide answers to all of our questions but said the incentive program is still active and will consider working with Berman in the future.
A 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.
Since the program’s start in 2022, 16 homeless people have been moved into incentivized units, with 11 landlords participating in the program. These numbers fall far short of KCRHA’s stated goal to secure 800 rental units.
Mike Mathias is the founder of a homeless outreach group called Anything Helps and says KCRHA was “ready to open up and scale this big project, and then they realized we don’t know how to do this.”
Mathias says he wants KCRHA to succeed but that the current state of the program “can’t be a good sign.”
KCRHA is the primary organization responsible for handling millions of dollars to move people from homelessness into shelter and housing. The agency continues to struggle with logistics and transparency.
“The information that they share publicly doesn’t always reconcile with the reality of what we are seeing,” Mathias tells me. “It’s really difficult to get a handle on what’s really going on.”
In the meantime, Berman says his units are still available, but he is starting to wonder if KCRHA will ever make use of them.
“This is only increasing my concerns about how we’re handling the homeless problem in Seattle,” Berman says.