These actions are informed by four months of primary and secondary research conducted by our team. Our team analyzed national best practices and global innovations as well as the policies, organizational structures, regulatory authorities, and performance reports of local stakeholder agencies to understand the systems-level structures that drive performance. We consulted with more than 100 local and national public officials, system administrators, and technical experts to understand the challenges and opportunities at hand.
Our ability to develop these actions also required an understanding of the current state of services derived from the experiences of frontline staff and people experiencing homelessness. Our research team leveraged a mix of design workshops, interviews, and site visits across King County. Our lines of inquiry identified the most pressing challenges for accessing and delivering services and the dynamics between service providers, customers, and the system.
In workshops and interviews, customers1 often emphasized that their primary goal is to secure stable housing. However, because of the shortage of housing, customers can spend years on waitlists. They described how the act of waiting can further erode their social and economic stability, cause toxic stress,2 and exacerbate physical and behavioral health conditions. Customers’ instability increases as they wait for housing, as does their use of emergency services. These long wait times also correspond to declines in customers’ overall wellbeing.
In response, the Action 9 is to increase access to 0–30% AMI housing.
Communities across King County must significantly and strategically increase the rate of affordable housing acquisition and development for people experiencing homelessness. Based on the shortage of housing for those with the deepest levels of need, the strategies outlined below hinge on the principle that all capital investments should be prioritized for permanent housing across the county.
This action supports the forthcoming housing development recommendations from the Affordable Housing Task Force. There is also a significant need and opportunity to prioritize access to existing affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness, as well as invest in services that help people access and maintain that housing.
It goes without saying the shortage of affordable housing is a core driver of our nation’s homelessness crisis. We see the impact of this shortage in the lives of frontline staff and people experiencing homelessness. In workshops and interviews, customers emphasized again and again that their primary goal is to secure stable housing. However, because of the shortage of housing, customers spend months and years on waitlists. They described how much that waiting period can exacerbate their social and economic instability, toxic stress,1 and physical and behavioral health conditions. The increased instability that people experience while waiting for housing directly undermines their ability to achieve long-term stabilization and leads to an increased utilization of services.
Frontline staff also expressed the shortage of affordable housing makes it hard for them to do their jobs well, strains their relationships with customers, and increases staff burnout. Many staff stated they were ‘betraying’ customers, given their inability to deliver on their customers’ desired housing.
According to estimates by the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force: Five-Year Action Plan, 156,000 households in King County are currently cost-burdened, including 73,000 at 0-30% AMI. Given that extreme shortage, capital investments in the work to end homelessness should be prioritized for permanent housing across the county. In support of this we have included a set of strategies to increase the rate of 0-30% AMI housing acquisition and development across the region. 2
The Task Force, which is made up of King County mayors and city and county council members, developed its draft recommendations with involvement from a group of advisors from community organizations, nonprofit and for-profit housing developers, housing authorities, and tenant advocacy groups. People experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness were not engaged in the development of the initial recommendations. However, the Task Force has committed to authentically engage communities of color and low-income communities in affordable housing development and policy decisions as part of its action plan.
That engagement should be closely coordinated with a consolidated authority’s development of structures to center customer voice. Planning for 0-30% AMI housing development should be done in alignment with the priorities of the new entity (as described in Action 2) and in collaboration with its administrators (as described in Action 10). That will help ensure the pipeline of permanent housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness is strategically sited, sized, and paired with services to meet stated need.
For customers on waitlists, their qualifications for specific types of housing shift as they pursue employment or experience other life events. This shift requires them to re-engage the service system for (re)qualification, which in turn extends their waiting period, leading to further destabilization. Customers also shared a lot about the mismatch between their qualifications for housing and the housing types available. This reflects a systematic lack of attention to customers’ stated needs in defining housing qualification criteria, deciding placement, determining affordability, and understanding what’s required to maintain housing. To respond to this, the second set of strategies expand access to existing affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness and extremely low-income households.
This includes developing and expanding access to supportive housing and housing with economic supports. As part of that, there is a significant need and opportunity to align Public Housing Authority (PHA) priorities with efforts to end homelessness across the county. PHA and Continuum of Care (CoC) partnerships in other regions have shown significant success in decreasing the number of people experiencing homelessness, even when the PHA contribution of housing units is incremental.3 With effective coordination of existing resources, PHAs and homeless service providers have been able to streamline connections to permanent housing and ensure that customers receive the services that they need.4 Therefore, the last set of strategies we have gathered here are designed to prioritize services that enable people to access and maintain permanent housing.
Also called allostatic load or cognitive load. ↩
King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force. (August 2018). Draft Regional Affordable Housing Task Force Five-Year Action Plan. ↩
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. (May 2015). Public Housing Authorities and Continuums of Care: Establishing and Maintaining Powerful Teams. ↩
Increase the rate of 0–30% AMI housing acquisition and development across the region
1. Prioritize capital for permanent housing, including leveraging emergency shelter funding for temporary shelters rather than capital funding for permanent shelters.
In order to rapidly scale both shelter capacity and permanent housing capacity, it is necessary to disaggregate capital investments (those investments that are targeted towards the creation of new physical infrastructure e.g. ‘bricks and mortar’ dollars) from any shelter investments. However, this does not mean the rate of shelter openings should be slowed down, rather, it must be accelerated in order to meet the needs of those experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
This means shifting the strategy for opening shelters towards one of working with service providers to identify vacant buildings or high capacity spaces across the county that are being underutilized and resourcing them with operations and service provision dollars to rapidly transition them into operating shelters. These spaces must be identified as fit for human habitation, with appropriate insulation, water and sewage hookups, and the ability for people living there to maintain privacy and dignity. This strategy is crucial to deploy during wet and cold winter months to ensure people survive.
Focusing on opening shelters under this strategy accelerates shelter openings by eliminating the need for lengthy permitting processes. It also allows for the shift of development dollars towards permanent housing solutions.
2. Work with the Affordable Housing Task Force to ensure the housing needs of people experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness are a focus of the policy planning process.
The Task Force Action Plan calls for public resources to be prioritized for serving households 50% AMI and below. The consolidated agency should work closely with the to-be-established Affordable Housing Committee of the King County Growth Management Planning Council to ensure the committee’s representation of communities impacted by displacement includes communities with experience of homelessness. As the agency develops structures around its customer orientation, it should ensure robust capacity-building with and engagement of those communities in the Committee’s policy work. That engagement should be especially focused on the expansion of legislation and statewide policies related to tenant protection, the expansion of supports for low-income renters and people with disabilities, and the updating of zoning and land use regulations to increase and diversify housing choices.
3. Advocate for broader rezoning efforts than those outlined in the Seattle Planning Commission’s Neighborhoods for All report.
The December 2018 report recommends developing more residential areas across the city and rezoning areas currently zoned for single-family homes to allow for a greater variety of housing types. The report does not make clear how many additional 0-30% AMI units would result from the plan. To meet the need for affordable housing of people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, King County must undertake a more comprehensive rezoning of neighborhoods for multi-unit residential housing.
Expand access to existing affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness and extremely low-income households
1. Redesign the housing waitlist process to improve customer experience and enhance customer dignity.
Customers shared that the process for getting and staying on housing waitlists is complicated and often requires the support of case managers with inside knowledge of how to qualify for different lists. Once they’re on housing lists, they can wait for months and years without knowing if or when housing will become available and be disqualified by life events and have to start the process over again. Customers describe emotional and psychological destabilization from the waiting and lack of control.
To improve this process for customers, it should be redesigned to consolidate housing lists, and make qualifying information transparent and accessible to first-time users. This would build on the success of a fully implemented coordinated entry system that drew on the data integration described in the digital transformation action. Given customers frequently cited their confusion about how they moved (or didn’t) we suggest that any list optimization involves creating a portal through which people could both see a clear explanation of the standards that govern the waitlist as well as their current place in line. A robust system with customer control of data as a central tenant also has the ability to allow people to upload documentation reflecting changes in circumstance so that eligibility determinations remain up to date.
2. Align Public Housing Authority priorities with community-wide efforts to end homelessness.
Aligning the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and King County Housing Authority (KCHA) priorities with the regional homelessness system’s prioritization of permanent housing is especially important for ensuring housing access for people being released from prison. Many returning citizens have little immediate access to sufficient income to afford market-rate housing and are at risk of homelessness.1 This is doubly important from a racial equity perspective, as black people are 6.8% of the overall population in King County, but represent 35.8% of the incarcerated population, and Native people are 1%, but represent 2.4% of the incarcerated population.2
SHA and KCHA strategies for aligning priorities with the new entity should include:
-Expanding on local preferences for Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV)/Section 8 for people experiencing homelessness or at immediate risk of homelessness. Work with the PHAs to focus the HCV program on people at risk of homelessness should align with the King County Department of Corrections (DOC) around a commitment to permanent housing. The DOC currently runs an Earned Release Date Housing Voucher Program, but this only offers rental subsidies for three months and these subsidies are not sufficient in the high-rent market.3
-Establishing a clear policy under their Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policies (ACOP) that lifts most permanent exclusion from public housing of people with criminal backgrounds. SHA and KCHA should follow the lead of the Housing Authority of New Orleans and establish a clear policy in which no applicant will be denied housing because of their criminal record without consideration of individual and present circumstances.4 HUD restricts people convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine or subject to lifetime sex offender registration in federally subsidized housing. But beyond those restrictions, PHAs have discretion when determining who to accept to or reject from their programs. Establishing a clear policy will also lay the groundwork for being able to address admissions/exclusion policies for affordable housing developers, which often have similar admissions policies to PHAs.5
-Employing Family Unification Program (FUP) Vouchers or Project-Based Vouchers (PBV) to assist people to live with family and friends already in public housing.6 Using FUP and PBV to enable people to live with family and friends is hugely important for connecting people both with permanent housing and with the emotional support many customers say is essential to their stability. The NYC Housing Authority has a successful family reentry program, which SHA and KCHA should look to as a model.7 The program allows individuals to contribute to the household income for the first two years without it affecting the household’s rent, which helps host families maintain sufficient income to support the addition of people to the household. It also provides case management services that are referenced below. SHA and KCHA should also expand the PHA definition of family to allow people to live with those with whom they have mutually supportive relationships.8
3. Leverage Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing policy and push for its expansion to King County.
Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing ordinance went into effect in February 2018. It prevents landlords from unfairly denying applicants housing based on criminal history and prohibits the use of advertising language that automatically or categorically excludes people with arrest records, conviction records, or criminal history.9 The new agency should align with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to support enforcement of this law and help connect landlords and tenants to training. It should also recommend the adoption of a law with the same provisions for King County. Given the disproportionate number of black and Native individuals incarcerated in King County, this is an essential component of any racial equity approach to housing.10
Prioritize services that enable people to access and maintain permanent housing.
1. Invest in educational and skills training programs connected to housing.
As described at length in Action 4, customers have repeatedly stressed that access to economic mobility supports is essential to long-term stability in housing.
In alignment with the commitment to skills training and job placement in high-growth occupations (described in Action 4), SHA and KCHA should leverage Moving to Work (MTW) flexibilities to develop strong employment supports for residents in public housing programs. In addition, the new agency should build on the employment navigator model from the King County Rapid Re-Housing for Families pilot to design and implement Rapid Re-Housing programs with longer housing subsidy periods, allowing for completion of skills training in high-growth occupations. Housing programs should partner with service providers that can provide case management for basic well-being, economic, and health supports along the lines of the NYCHA Family Reentry Program. The most successful housing programs with supports allow PHAs to provide housing and rely on other partners to provide services beyond the scope of the PHAs.11
SHA and KCHA should also look to develop an educational partnership along the lines of the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) partnership with Tacoma Community College, which provides rental assistance to students enrolled in the college who are experiencing homelessness.12 Existing funding may not support a strategy this robust and it is important to look at ways to raise the amount of revenue necessary to make the investment in this critical connection. THA is also now pursuing a property-based subsidy strategy where they offer a rental subsidy for whole buildings owned by private landlords,13 to address the increased difficulty of finding housing that can be covered by vouchers.
2. Scale successful Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) models in Seattle and King County.
The Seattle-King County CoC has successful PSH models, including through DESC and Plymouth Housing, which should be expanded to reach more people. In addition, King County should build on KCHA’s Passage Point partnership with the YWCA. That program leverages PBVs and MTW flexibilities14 to reunite recently released single parents15 at risk of homelessness with their children and provides skills training and employment supports over an extended period. Although they don’t participate in the CoC, Pioneer Human Services16 provides comprehensive supportive housing with long-term case management that has demonstrated the effectiveness of flexible supports. Their model should be considered as PSH is scaled in King County, as well as the model of holistic healing communities described in Action 7.
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. (June 2016). It Starts with Housing: Public Housing Agencies are Making Second Chances Real. ↩
From correspondence with Angie Gogerty at the King County Department of Corrections. Also from Transitional Housing Provider Orientation Packet, Earned Release Date Housing Voucher Program. ↩
This follows best practices recommended by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Housing Authority of New Orleans was the first PHA to institute this policy in 2016, but several others have followed. ↩
From correspondence with Margaret di Zerega at The Vera Institute of Justice. ↩
Best practices around these housing programs and reentry are laid out in the Vera Institute of Justice’s September 2017 report Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities. ↩
From correspondence with Margaret di Zerega at The Vera Institute of Justice. ↩
Pablo, E. (April 2018). Seattle: A Fair Chance Housing Ordinance Centering Racial Equity. ↩
Bae, J., Finley, K., di Zerega, M., Kim, S. Vera Institute of Justice. (September 2017). Opening Doors: How to develop reentry programs using examples from public housing authorities. ↩
This started at 25 rental subsidies, and they are now at 150. ↩
THA put out an RFP for this program and currently have two market-rate landlords. ↩
The Gates Foundation and United Way have also provided some funding. ↩
The program serves 46 families annually. ↩
From correspondence with Kevin Osborne at Pioneer Human Services. ↩