Effort to create regional governance for homelessness creeps forward

The efforts to create a new governance structure for King County and its cities continues to make slow progress. They still don’t have many answers, but they seem to be focusing in on the key questions in the hopes of finding answers by the end of the summer.

Tess Colby, who is Mayor Durkan’s point person on the regional governance effort, briefed the City Council this morning on the ongoing deliberations. She said that there are three key questions the stakeholders are now wresting with:

  1. The composition of the board that will oversee the organization. Marc Dones of National Innovation Solutions (formerly Future Labs), a consultant working on the project, has been holding workshops in the community and on July 11th will report his findings to the “client group” consisting of Council members Bagshaw, Mosqueda and O’Brien. A key question is whether elected officials from the various jurisdictions should sit on the board. In Los Angeles, the board doesn’t have any elected officials, and according to Colby they have found that model useful to give some distance and perspective to funding recommendations. However, in Multnomah County, Oregon, the board does consist of elected officials. However, the decision is more complicated because it is tied to the underlying funding structure. In Washington State there is the “Doctrine of Incompatible Offices,” which says that a public official may not hold two different offices simultaneously if one is subordinate to the other or if the two offices would divide the loyalties of the official. The net result is that since the cities and county will be providing funding for the regional homeless authority, it would probably be “incompatible offices” for a City Council or County Council member to also sit on the regional authority’s board — or at the least it would require explicit authorization from the state government.
  2. The budget allocations from each jurisdiction that will be directed to fund the regional authority. This is deeply connected to the question of which functions and programs should move from existing governmental agencies to the new regional one. Colby said that there is agreement that emergency homeless services should move over, and stakeholders are moving towards agreement on whether rehousing programs such as “rapid rehousing” and “permanent supportive housing” should stay or move over. Both the HMIS system and Coordinated Entry, which are county programs, are also expected to move over. Once that is done, the “interlocal agreement” establishing the regional authority will establish minimum funding levels, and individual jurisdictions’ budget processes will determine the exact amounts.
  3. Various HR/labor-related questions. The obvious first question is which staff positions should move over to the new organization from the current ones. They are treating that questions separate from whether the individuals currently filling those positions should move over, since the org charts will be different from the existing orgs. In tandem with that, they are deciding whether current staff should apply for positions in the new organization, which would create the opportunity for them to shift to a different job. They also need to work out what happens to accrued pension and other benefits when an employee moves from the city or county government to the regional authority; Colby said that it appears that city employees will be able to carry over their SCERS retirement savings benefits over. Colby said that the HR Staff Transition Plan should be complete in July.

In addition to the above questions, Council members raised a few of their own. Council member Juarez wanted more detail on the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), another consultant involved in the project that is preparing the “regional action plan” that will provide guidance and define strategic objectives for the system.  CSH was funded to do this work by the Gates Foundation, Ballmer Foundation, and Raikes Foundation. It expects to have a draft action plan in August, with the final plan completed in September.

Council member Herbold wanted to understand how the new structure will resolve issues with outcome reporting, particularly given that Seattle and King County currently use different metrics. Colby said that this would likely be hashed out in the regional action plan.

Mosqueda wanted to know whether the new regional governance authority would have independent ability to generate revenues through taxes and levies, and to issue debt.  The current plan is for the new organization to be a Public Development Authority, which as a public corporation would give it the ability to issue debt. Taxing authority, however, must be specifically granted by the state — though the county and cities could levy taxes on its behalf within the limits of their own taxing authority.

Colby also noted that while the King County Council has been slower to engage, it recently set up its own Advisory Team consisting of Council members Kohl-Welles, Dembowski and Upthegrove, and are planning briefings for July.

And finally, Colby’s memo to the City Council, which accompanies today’s briefing, also mentions that McKinsey, which issued a controversial report last year that estimated the cost of solving the regional homelessness crisis without providing any details on how it derived its figures, will be updating its report and as part of that will also address “supply-side solutions” in which the private sector might contribute “either through development or philanthropy.”