How do you get homeless people off the streets?
The short-term answer is to find them a place to live. The long-term answer is to help them get a job and find their own place to live.
Seattle is one of many cities trying to do both, but some of the city’s policies are making it hard to do either.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced an initiative Wednesday to get more than 500 homeless people off the streets over the next 90 days. The city will increase capacity at existing shelters and expand a program to construct additional tiny houses for homeless residents.
— KOMO News (@komonews) May 26, 2018
“We all see some of the worst imaginable conditions — people are living among rats, needles, human waste, and garbage. And every three days, someone without a home dies in this city,” Durkan said. “We must act to move people off the streets and into safer, more stable places where they can more easily access the services they need.”
Seattle has been willing to spend money on the homeless problem. Last year, King County and Seattle spent over $195 million to combat homelessness, which included city, county, state, federal and charity spending. But according to Fox News, the number of homeless people in Seattle actually increased last year.
Data compiled by KING-TV found that the city of Seattle has created more than 5,000 affordable housing units over the last decade. In that span, Seattle has helped fund the creation of 1,482 permanent supportive housing units at a cost of around $90 million or nearly $61,000 per unit.
The city has an additional 187 units considered supported housing at a cost of $32.5 million. These units have fewer services available as the permanent supportive units.
But the homeless population isn’t declining. The 2017 homelessness count estimated nearly 12,000 homeless in the region.
Some cities have purchased older homes and multi-family complexes to house homeless. But Seattle’s rising property values have made acquisiton of older properties cost prohibitive.
Building new multi-family housing would seem to be the easiest way to get the most bang for the public dollar in combating homelessness, but the city’s strict zoning laws have only given multi-family and commercial and mixed-use areas one-third of the land designated for residential use, according to Fox News.
And building new facilities is becoming cost prohibitive as well. A report by Reason magazine found Seattle’s residential building code is 685 pages long. Meeting all of the city’s regulations adds to the cost of new housing.
To raise money to deal with its growing homeless population, Seattle’s City Council proposed a “head tax,” where the city’s largest employers would be taxed $500 for every one of its employees, as a way to fund the construction of affordable housing. The measure passed by a unanimous vote.
But some of the city’s business leaders spoke out, most notably Amazon, which halted construction on a new facility in the city. After negotiations the City Council and Durkan, the head tax was reduced to $275 for every employee.
Critics of the tax have pointed out that it’s ability to raise money for housing the homeless rests on the willingness of businesses not to hire more employees, which throws up another hurdle to getting homeless people back into the workforce.
Note the tax comes as the city is in the process of phasing in a mandatory $15 minimum wage, another stumbling block to companies who want to hire more workers.
Seattle has to help clean up its homeless situation or face the risk of the city’s booming economy as employers and residents look for safer places to live and do business. But the city’s efforts to fix the problem may be hamstrung by its own policies.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.