The King County Council on Tuesday, Oct. 13 voted to enact a 0.1% sales tax increase to fund permanent housing for the chronically homeless via an emergency ordinance that will allow the county to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the same homeless policies the city of Seattle has already invested millions in.
The measure was approved by a vote of 8-1, with Councilmember Reagan Dunn, whose district includes part of Kent, casting the lone vote against it.
“The lack of adequate public process for this tax increase has created uncertainties for our suburban cities who were left behind by the speed of King County’s action at a time they’re already facing economic uncertainties due to the COVID-19 response,” Dunn said in a news release.
A statewide measure, House Bill 1590, grants local jurisdictions the authority to impose by councilmanic vote a 0.1% sales tax to fund affordable housing without ever giving the voters a chance to weigh in as most tax increases do.
While this funding could be directed toward an array of housing programs, the county’s proposal primarily directs the tax revenue to be used for “permanent housing for the chronically homeless” — a strategy that hasn’t had buy-in from many cities, Dunn said.
Further, late last year, King County and representation from cities created the first county-wide Regional Homeless Governance Authority. Dunn said this group of elected leaders, experts and lived experience representatives have not yet been asked to weigh in on this new tax.
The council has only had this tax before it since Sept. 23, when the 2021-22 King County budget proposal was first transmitted by King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“This lightning speed process and lack of a collaborative approach is a sore spot for cities,” Dunn said. “King County cities and towns continue to advocate for a seat at the table when decisions are being made that affect their residents, but a countywide sales tax would make it very easy for the county to circumvent cities’ priorities while forcing taxpayers to pay for these Seattle-centric approaches to solving homelessness. These are policies that aren’t working. Throwing more money at the problem, without a serious rethinking of our strategies and performance measures, may not make the problem of homelessness in King County much better, I fear.”
The Kent City Council voted to impose the 0.1% sales tax hike to keep about $2.8 million per year in the city for affordable housing rather than going to the county.