King County Tackles the Homelessness Crisis with Housing Solutions

King County Executive Dow Constantine details how King County is tackling the homelessness crisis through housing solutions.

King County Tackles the Homelessness Crisis with Housing Solutions

In an interview with the Hacks & Wonks podcast, King County Executive Dow Constantine outlined the county's approach to addressing the region's homelessness crisis - a crisis he says fundamentally stems from a lack of affordable housing.

"The reason people don't have housing is because they can't afford housing," Constantine said. "It's a tremendously bad, unfortunate side effect of the economic story that we've seen unfold here over the last 20 years."

Constantine stressed that the root cause of homelessness is people not being able to afford a place to live amid soaring housing costs. Other factors, like addiction, have been shown to be made worse by homelessness, but are not the root cause of it. "If you say they're not housed because they're addicted, that is simply saying that we're not providing the appropriate service," he stated.

The county has taken a regional approach by partnering with cities through initiatives like the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to fund services and shelters. A key effort is the Health Through Housing program, which has acquired over 1,200 units by purchasing and converting former hotels and motels.

"We had the University of Washington come in and study [this approach]...what we were anecdotally observing was absolutely true - that this made an enormous difference in people's lives," Constantine said. "About 95% of people who come into this permanent supportive housing are successful, meaning that they don't end up back in homelessness."

However, the county has faced challenges getting some cities like Burien to site shelters and affordable housing projects amid pushback from opposed residents. Constantine urged residents and elected officials to see this as a shared crisis requiring regional cooperation.

"For elected officials: you have to develop a spine...your jurisdiction has to do its part of the solution," he stated. "For residents: everything will work better when we're all participating and accommodating folks in your community."

Looking ahead, Constantine said state legislative action is needed to reform Washington's "woefully inadequate" tax system that leaves cities and counties underfunded for affordable housing and services.

"We have to adopt a mentality that we're all in this together, and that this is a shared challenge, and the solutions have to be shared," he concluded.

About the Guest

King County Executive Dow Constantine

Serving his fourth-term as King County Executive, Dow Constantine leads one of the largest regional governments in the United States. His priority is that every person be able to thrive, be economically secure, and contribute to the life of our community.

He is focused on meeting two of the greatest generational challenges of our time: building equity and opportunity, and confronting climate change. Guiding every initiative is the goal of becoming the most forward looking, best run government in the nation.

Dow is an avid skier and music enthusiast, and can invariably be found on autumn Saturdays with his family at Husky Stadium, where his grandfather first took the field nearly a century ago.

Dow and Shirley are raising their young daughter in the same West Seattle neighborhood where he grew up.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Well, today I'm very thrilled to be welcoming King County Executive Dow Constantine to the program. Welcome.

[00:01:00] Executive Dow Constantine: Thanks for having me.

[00:01:01] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for coming. And thank you for having a conversation that I think is very important - one that is on the forefront of many people's minds, that we see as we go about our daily lives, and unfortunately some of us have to experience - and that is dealing with homelessness, and the role that the county is playing in addressing homelessness in our region. Just starting out, what has been your approach to addressing our homelessness crisis, and why is it so important for the county to be involved?

[00:01:33] Executive Dow Constantine: So a brief but really complex question. It is important to us because the reason our government exists is to seek to make this a welcoming community where every person has the opportunity to thrive. And it is tremendously difficult to thrive if you don't have a safe, secure place to call home. The county has a wildly complex system of governance, including local governance - so, there is one county government, there are 39 city governments, there are myriad special districts. And of course, there's the state and much more. And it is often difficult to figure out who's on first - who is in charge of which aspect of this complicated picture of housing and homelessness. So we have taken on the role of trying to create partnerships to bring together all of these jurisdictions, regardless of their formal responsibilities or authorities to stitch together a complete approach to helping our shared constituency - those folks who are unable to secure housing. The county is Public Health - the county has some considerable region-wide human services programs that we have constructed, notwithstanding the fact that we're only technically responsible for those programs in the unincorporated area of 250,000 people. The county has a lot of capacity that some of the smaller cities don't have. And so in many cases, sort of by default, we've stepped in to try to bring together all of the parties. Seattle has its own capacity - Seattle's a big city with an appropriately sized government that has experts, it has the capacity to go out and seek funding, to go out and hire experts and do the work. So we work in partnership with them, but we also try to help the smaller cities that don't have that capacity be able to step up and do the work for their constituents. And we can't do it alone. And all of that is to say that the county is not the be-all and end-all in this arena, so we sought to create a regional authority where we could unite, bring together all of the contracting that governments were doing for outside entities to provide services to the people. And that was really the motivation for starting the effort on the Regional Homeless Authority.

[00:03:54] Crystal Fincher: And I wanted to talk about that a bit because I think people wonder - we've heard a number of officials from cities around the area, including Seattle, talk about how important this is to address regionally - that it's hard to address within each silo of each jurisdiction, and so a regional solution is needed. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority seemed to be an answer to that. But it's unclear sometimes what is within the scope of the authority, and what the county is doing, what cities are doing. So speaking from the county - where do you overlap, or where do you work with the KCRHA, and where do you operate independently?

[00:04:34] Executive Dow Constantine: So I'm going to oversimplify in order to hopefully make it clear. But we had a lot of places where we're entering into contracts with nonprofits to go out on the streets and provide services. And then the City of Seattle had a lot of contracts, often with the same nonprofits. And those contracts were on different schedules, and had different requirements, and required a lot of paperwork by those nonprofits - things that were not contributing to actually getting people off the street. And so we decided to try to take all of that and put it into a single entity with a single set of processes - and the city and the county contributed staff who had been doing that work in our respective governments. The homeless authority is in charge of helping people who are on the streets - not through homeless authority employees providing direct services, but by contracting with those folks who can help people on the streets - getting people into shelter, getting people into housing, getting people into the services they need to be able to stabilize their lives and exercise the kind of control over their lives they want to have and that they used to have. The authority is not in charge of housing - of building housing, of creating housing stock. And that has been a source of considerable confusion over time - is to come back to the obvious basic issue that people are homeless because they don't have housing, they can't afford housing. And therefore, the authority should be building housing - no, that is not their job. That is our job, the city's, various cities' jobs. It is the housing authorities' jobs, it is the state's job. And keeping clarity about that and keeping the authority focused on the mission of contracting for direct services to folks on the street is important in order for all of us to be more effective.

[00:06:14] Crystal Fincher: Got it. So as we get into talking more about what's happening in specific areas, I want to talk a little bit about what you just brought up - that homelessness is primarily a problem of housing, people not having housing. However, we hear people around the region - some saying, This is really an issue of addiction, this is an issue of criminality. It's not a housing issue. These are people who sometimes want to be out on the streets and don't want to have housing and don't want to have jobs - that kind of narrative. What do you think of that, and what is your approach to the issue of homelessness and what it's comprised of?

[00:06:58] Executive Dow Constantine: So the reason people don't have housing is because they can't afford housing. They may have been evicted from housing for the inability to pay rent or lost their home because they couldn't pay their mortgage. They may have lost their housing because of domestic violence or because they were acting out in some way because they have an untreated or undertreated behavioral health challenge. But fundamentally, it's because people can't afford housing. There is too much money chasing too little housing in our region. And that is a tremendously bad, unfortunate side effect of the economic story that we've seen unfold here over the last 20 years - where there's just so much more money being paid to so many more people and then a bunch of people being left behind. So if you say - Well, they're not housed because they're addicted or they're not housed because they have an untreated mental health problem - that is simply saying that we're not providing the appropriate service in order for them to be able to exercise that authority over their own lives, to be able to earn money, and be able to get the housing they need. It also means that we have an affirmative responsibility to deal with the housing imbalance so that there is housing for people to rent at wages you can afford. It is a dodge simply to try to blame the victim all the time here. People want to say - Well, that would never happen to me because I'm a responsible person. I would never have a drug addiction. I would never get into a bad relationship. I would never lose my job - all those sorts of things. But that can happen to anybody, and we have to view every single person on the streets as though they are our brother or sister, or our daughter or son. And if we do that, then we will see our obligation to help them - not by simply being paternalistic toward them, but rather offering them the help they need to exercise agency - to be able to do what it is they want to do, which is live with the dignity and security. And to reconnect with their families and friends and peers. You go talk with folks who are living in homeless encampments - they are mostly from around here and they mostly really long to be able to simply be accepted in their community again, to be able to see their kids, to be able to be seen in the community as a person who is worthy of respect, and to carry themselves with dignity. And depriving them of that is just utterly unacceptable and inconsistent with who we want to be.

[00:09:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, one of the things that we've learned over the past several years - and that the county has actually helped to operationalize - is the type of shelter, the type of housing that is most helpful. We've seen a move away from congregate housing to individual rooms where people can feel secure, can lock a door, and can really start to stabilize. Why has that been so important and how has the county been able to implement that?

[00:09:58] Executive Dow Constantine: Well, sometimes congregate shelter - just an emergency shelter overnight - is essential. You're out on the street - it's unsafe either because of the weather or some other factor and you need to get inside. But being brought inside, given a mat on the floor, and then being kicked out with all your stuff at 7 in the morning is not a prescription for long-term progress. You just keep cycling through, you can never get your feet under you, you can never get stabilized, you can never get on track to deal with whatever underlying challenges you might have, or the simple act of getting cleaned up and applying for a job and starting to make money again.

So when COVID started, we started moving people from congregate shelters into individual hotel rooms we had rented - it became clear that those people, in addition to avoiding getting COVID, were getting better in a whole lot of other ways. That having a door on the room with a lock on it, the ability to have their stuff be safe, the ability to get a full night's sleep, to have a bathroom to use when you wanted to started to get people calmed down to reduce the trauma and increase their ability to accept the other help that was available. And that help might be behavioral health treatment, that help might be job counseling, that help might be a whole range of things that could offer people a path back to the lives that they lived and that they want to live. And we had the University of Washington come in and study the hotel that we had in Renton, where we had moved many, many people who had been in congregate shelters, cycling in and out every day. And the university quickly identified that what we were anecdotally observing was absolutely true - that this made an enormous difference in people's lives. It was not their permanent home. It was not what they ultimately wanted for themselves. But the step up to a room of your own made a huge difference in their ability to start taking stock of the rest of their lives and being open to accepting the other help that was available. And so we really pursued that, and we've now purchased 1,200+ units through our Health Through Housing Initiative. We just opened a facility in Auburn - it's great, it's an old hotel, not that old - that folks are now moving into with supports on-site. And we're soon opening one in Redmond. And just as we found in the original Renton hotel, about 95% of people who come into this permanent supportive housing are successful, meaning that they don't end up back in homelessness. Some of them spend a lot of time in permanent supportive housing - some of them ultimately move into a place that was purpose-built for that - but a lot of folks move on to a job and subsidized, affordable housing, and ultimately to reclaiming their lives. And that is what we want. We want to prevent people from coming into homelessness, and we want to offer them the supports they need to exit homelessness.

[00:12:55] Crystal Fincher: I want to talk about the Health Through Housing initiative a little bit more because it does seem to be a model that is working. And one of the things that seems to be tough, that a lot of areas are having challenges with, is how to work between jurisdictions - how a county can work with a city, its elected officials and leaders, be responsive to the local needs and residents and their concerns, and the need to house people there locally, and balancing sometimes differing perspectives and needs there. How have you worked through that process with cities, and what advice would you give to other counties in the same position and cities when it comes to working with the county?

[00:13:41] Executive Dow Constantine: Well - how have we worked through it? Usually with great patience. We don't have land use authority inside of cities. We don't have permitting authority inside of cities. Even if we're bringing the resources, we have to work with those cities to get a place sited. What we offer to do is work with them to choose the operator so that the nonprofit operating it is one that the city's comfortable with and to have some percentage of the folks moving in be people who've been homeless in the local community - and I think those are all reasonable accommodations. And some cities have been quite successful - their leaders have stood up and worked with skeptics in their community in order to get sites up and running. Other cities have been less successful where the opponents of doing anything have ultimately kept them from taking action and moving forward. We're getting more and more success as people see that when these facilities open, they are not a blight, but a blessing - that they are able to get people off their streets locally and to help folks from around the region get their lives back.

And I will say that the system we have where every local community essentially gets to approve or veto the housing that we collectively need is an awfully tough environment in which to solve a problem of this scale. The legislature keeps taking measured actions to require more of local jurisdictions, to say - No, you really do need to site these places. You really do need to include more affordable housing. You really need to include more housing generally. And in general, those measures have been successful. But there are still some communities that are being tugged back and forth by folks who just don't want to be part of the solution. We had a big challenge - permanent supportive housing issue in Kenmore, where Plymouth Housing had been working on a project in cooperation with the city for years, and there was an election and then the council majority changed - and suddenly they disapproved the permit. That building now, I'm pleased to say, is going to be sited instead in Redmond. And the city of Redmond stepped up and said - This is not okay. We want to help those who are in need in our region of the county. And they've voted to proceed, and they're moving forward pretty quickly on identifying a site and getting the funding to help Plymouth Housing build that building.

[00:16:04] Crystal Fincher: Now, you did mention the legislature taking some actions to help make it easier to address this housing affordability, housing quantity, homelessness crisis. Is there any legislation that you're tracking right now that you think would be very helpful moving forward?

[00:16:23] Executive Dow Constantine: I can't speak to any specific legislation this year. There was a bill introduced quite late, as I understand it, that would require cities to accommodate facilities like the Plymouth Housing facility we just discussed. But in general, the legislature and the county have multiple approaches - there's subsidy and then there's leverage, where they have essentially regulation that says in order to receive our funding for other things, you have to accommodate a certain amount of housing. And I do think that our cities more and more are getting with the program - that they are each having growing pains - they're each having a struggle between those who don't want anything to change and those who realize that the future is coming, whether you prepare for it or not. And as they see success in their neighboring cities, they realize that maybe a little bit of change is not the end of the world. So I'm encouraged about it.

If I could double back to the Regional Homeless Authority, the idea there was to bring together King County and Seattle - where the big player is issuing contracts locally - and our other 38 cities, and the people with lived experience to inform the work we're doing. And that has been a difficult beginning - trying to get everybody to work in sync. It's getting better - we've got a new interim executive director who I think is going to be able to continue to build those relationships. We do definitely need all of the formerly known as suburban cities, all of the non-Seattle cities - many of them are not very suburban at all anymore - to participate at the appropriate scale for their city and participate in funding, participate in programming, participate in siting buildings - both affordable housing and supportive housing. And as we do that, we have the capacity in a county of 2.3 million people - one of the economic centers of the country - to give everybody a safe place to live and the supports they need to get moving again. But it needs to be an all-hands effort. It can't just be a few governments and our nonprofit partners.

[00:18:28] Crystal Fincher: When you talk about it needing to be an all-hands effort, one thing that I think a number of people noticed - I certainly noticed - was King County playing an active role in saying, The solution in different cities may look different in each individual city. And there are multiple ways to address this, individual ways may be right or not right for each city. But cities have to act affirmatively - you need to do something to be part of the solution. And it seems like you, with the county and different departments in the county, stepped up when it came to the city of Burien, which has been toiling with this for quite a while - in not just how to address this, but even whether to address this. And stepping up and saying - Hey, you are using county resources, whether it be the sheriff, whether it be other things, and you're not going to be able to use these in ways that are consistent with the law and in ways that aren't working towards a solution. What was your approach to Burien and how did you work through that issue?

[00:19:32] Executive Dow Constantine: First off, the Burien saga clearly illustrates a point that I'm always trying to make, which is that homelessness is not a downtown Seattle problem. Homelessness is an everywhere problem. It manifests differently, it's more visible in different places. You see it in Seattle in part because there aren't a lot of woods for people to camp in. And in part because this is where all the TV stations are, so whenever they want to film some salacious story about homelessness, they go out in the streets of Seattle. It's just easier than driving to Kent or Shoreline. I will say that Burien started out, I think, with pretty good expressed intentions around helping people who were showing up, sleeping on their streets. They got a lot of pushback when they started trying to figure out how to site a facility. And it became, as in Kenmore, an election issue where an organized group of naysayers was essentially saying - These people don't belong here. - and blaming the victim and refusing to acknowledge the basic obligation to provide people an alternative if you need them to go somewhere. You don't have to construct the perfect solution. You don't have to construct their forever home. But you can't go to somebody who's sleeping in the park or on the street and say, Leave. - without saying - To go over here, which is a place that's at least as good and safe, right? Because if you're just chasing people back and forth across the street, you're being cruel to them and you're achieving nothing. And Burien could not really get past that. We put a million dollars on the table and a whole bunch of new Pallet shelters - tiny homes that are manufactured here in the Puget Sound region. And just kind of an organized group of citizens kept the city council stymied for a long time and unable to identify a piece of city property to move people to. They had previously approved Downtown Emergency Service Center building with 95 units in Burien - and that is in fact opening this summer - so that preceded this whole controversy. And that's going to be a great thing because again, people are going to be inside and be getting the help they need. They're going to be countering the narrative that all of those folks on NextDoor have about their community. But ultimately, Burien came to terms with the need to do something real to fix this issue, and they are now fixing it. They've applied for some of the funding that King County's put on the table. They are working with others - I think the City of Seattle and Seattle City Light - on a site. And so they went through a lot of agony and I think probably a lot of electoral challenges, but ultimately they're going to get to a solution that's going to work for some of the folks who are homeless there.

[00:22:08] Crystal Fincher: I also want to talk about how things look at this point in time and moving forward. Many cities, including the City of Seattle, including the county are looking forward and dealing with significant budget deficits. The City of Seattle has a $200 million-plus deficit coming up. A lot of cities are saying they're going to need to scale back on efforts in many areas. Some of the market forces, perhaps, that made it particularly advantageous a couple years ago to purchase hotels when costs were more attractive than they are now made it possible to do more. Looking forward, is it going to be harder to purchase these hotel sites or housing sites to build and to work with cities? How do you think this looks moving forward?

[00:22:58] Executive Dow Constantine: The strategies change from time to time with market conditions, right? There was a moment when hotels were depressed because no one was traveling - it was a good time to go buy hotels. There will be opportunities now with, for example, the opening of many, many new light rail stations and light rail lines to paint on a broader canvas - to work to include affordable housing and even supportive housing and other facilities targeted to those who have been homeless in different station areas where everyone can have inexpensive access to all the opportunities the region offers. It's a different situation than we had four years ago, but it is still an opportunity. I will say that the reason that the City of Seattle, King County, and others are facing deficits is not because the economy is in the tank - it's going great. We're, again, one of the economic centers of the country. It's because the state has among the worst tax systems in the nation. And so the tax system is utterly misaligned with the economy and people are not paying based on their ability to pay. Some people pay a much higher percentage of their means - both income and wealth. Those are folks who have very little money who end up paying a lot more in sales tax as a percentage. Those are folks who own homes as their primary or only asset, where they're paying property taxes - if you have 100 times as much money, you don't have a home that's worth 100 times more. So if our measure of wealth is real property, it is a very inadequate and inaccurate measure of your ability to pay. So you probably can afford more than a person who is living on government assistance or living at poverty wages, but you're paying a heck of a lot more than someone who is legitimately wealthy. And there are a lot of folks who are legitimately wealthy in our community. The legislature needs to create a tax system where you're taxed based on what you earn, and what you have, and whatever proxies there are to allow us to understand the right mix of those two things - they need to adopt them. And then we will have adequate money to do what needs to be done so that every person can be successful and can contribute back to the community. Then we will all be better off when we have that kind of a community. In the meantime, we are making do with the woefully inadequate tools we have. And we're asking the legislature for help - they're in part failing and in part keeping hope alive - so we'll see how the session turns out.

[00:25:29] Crystal Fincher: We will see how the session turns out. I completely am aligned with your assessment of why we are in the challenging position that we are financially as a region and hope that in November 2024, when some of these issues are on our ballot, people remember this and pay attention. Also, the biggest city in the county, Seattle, is facing a major budget deficit and does have some progressive funding options that have been recommended. Do you think the City should take action on some of those options?

[00:26:02] Executive Dow Constantine: Yeah. I wouldn't presume to tell the mayor or the City what to do because that's just bad for business, but I - and by business, I mean our business working with the City. But I do think that the City of Seattle has a lot more options than we have. The counties do not have business occupation tax, counties do not have utility tax, counties do not have the authority to levy the kind of head tax or employee tax that the City has - although we did go to Olympia and ask for that with the cooperation of the major employers in the county, remember. And it was killed, not by the Republicans - though none of them were going to vote for it - but by the Democrats. So we would have had a relatively low but countywide employer tax, essentially, to pay for homelessness and housing services - and we did not get that. So cities have that organic authority, the county does not have the ability to do that. So the state of Washington is in charge of all local tax authority, and they have failed - under Republican and Democratic control - to come to terms with the fact that we have this terrible tax system and that it's particularly terrible for cities and counties, and particularly for counties.

[00:27:13] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, I want to talk about another area where the county is unique - and that is public health. The county is responsible for delivering so many healthcare services to communities, and it seems like this is a really important element of addressing our homelessness and housing crisis also. How have you been able to leverage that at the county? And looking forward, why is it so important to make sure that we are adequately funding and supporting healthcare at the county level?

[00:27:48] Executive Dow Constantine: So public health is a county responsibility. We have had the City of Seattle sort of participating - they contribute about $15 million of our many hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But it's basically a county department, a county function. It is many things. It is epidemiology. And it is about, for example, pregnancy care and birth control. It is about so-called lifestyle issues, like trying to reduce diabetes population-wide, trying to reduce smoking population-wide, trying to deal with these population health issues that affect a lot of individuals and very much inequitably. And it's also about direct service to people. So it is about 70,000 people who get their healthcare at King County Public Health clinics. And maybe half of those people would not qualify for Medicaid because they may be here without documentation - they're not eligible for federal assistance, but we as a county provide that assistance because we don't think that a kid ought to not get healthcare because their parents happen not yet to be documented. Right now, our general fund has been subject to this 1% lid on the increase in aggregate property taxes for, I think, like 17 years now. And with inflation at 6%, 7%, whatever percent over the last few years, we have a huge problem in our general fund. And the one thing that is not mandatory - one major thing that is not required by the state - is providing that healthcare directly to residents. So we're looking at potentially having to close all of our public health clinics after this year if the legislature doesn't take action, which is absurd in one of the wealthiest regions in the country. But that is the grim reality. And so I've been in Olympia pushing them to recognize that reality and to provide us the local funding authority to be able to keep our healthcare going. Now, the way in which direct services are provided has evolved over the years - there are many community-based clinics, nonprofits, et cetera, providing healthcare. There are also an awful lot of people who are getting them directly from county-run clinics and that will continue to evolve. But the thing that's not going to change is there are going to be folks who need help from their local government in order to be able to get basic healthcare, and we desperately need to be able to continue to provide it.

[00:30:15] Crystal Fincher: One issue that we've been seeing recently has been that of some refugees, who are fleeing unimaginable conditions elsewhere, arriving here not having housing and landing at one of a couple shelters - those shelters basically operating beyond their capacity now because of the demand - and the need to help house those people in some ways. We saw some of them being moved to hotels, and then questions about the funding for the hotels. Where does that situation stand? And how can help be provided moving forward?

[00:30:55] Executive Dow Constantine: This is a problem that's manifesting in different ways all over the country. But the real focus there right now is a church in South King County that started off with a few people arriving, and then the word started to spread, and they continued to throw their doors open to folks arriving, and soon were overwhelmed. The county stepped in - this is like homelessness - nobody is specifically in charge of this except the federal government, right? So the county stepped in - we pulled some money that we had set aside for other purposes, I think for homelessness. And we got 300 people into a hotel with ongoing permanent funding so they would not become unhoused. And there was a community group that put a whole bunch of people in a different hotel and then didn't have any money to follow up and pay to keep them there, so then that was the precipitating crisis. We have been working with the state of Washington to see what the state can do. We've been talking with our federal partners, but of course they have 50 states and who knows who else talking with them about the crises that are happening in their communities. We as a nation have to come to terms with what is going to be the future reality, which is that a lot of people are going to be migrating to the United States from places that are war-torn, that are famine-ridden, and a lot of it is because of the changes in the global climate. And we're going to have to have an orderly, humane, and funded way to welcome those who are seeking asylum - and not just asylum, but a new life contributing to their new country. It is agonizing. During the Syrian crisis - when people were trying to bar refugees from our country, we went out and welcomed Syrian refugees here and made accommodation for them. During the Ukraine war - when that started, we opened up a hotel to accommodate refugees. Then when Afghanistan suddenly fell, we opened another hotel to accommodate Afghan refugees. And that is who we are as a community, and we do not have the capacity - we don't have the financial capacity - to be able to deal with this on our own. The United States government must act, and the refusal of Congress to step up to anything that is going to deprive them of a campaign issue in November is pretty exasperating.

[00:33:13] Crystal Fincher: That it is. Finally, I'm wondering, from your perspective as someone who has helmed successful initiatives to get people housed, who's working with a lot of different localities - what are your top recommendations for elected officials who are trying to figure out how to navigate through this in a proactive way, and for residents of cities who aren't sure what to do, but know that something needs to happen? What would you recommend to both of those groups?

[00:33:45] Executive Dow Constantine: Well, for all of us, we have to adopt a mentality that we're all in this together, and that this is a shared challenge, and the solutions have to be shared. For elected officials - You have to develop a spine. This is not about you going out and being a hero and solving the whole problem yourself, but your jurisdiction has to do its part of the solution. And that has to do with homelessness and accommodating those who've been on the streets. And it has to do with housing and providing housing for people of all incomes, including folks at the low end of the economic spectrum. And for residents - Everything will work better when we're all participating and accommodating folks in your community is not a negative thing. It's not a burden - it's an opportunity. Your children, the children of this community are the folks who are ending up homeless on the streets. Your children are the ones who are struggling to be able to afford to live in the neighborhood in which they grew up. So you making your community into a place that accommodates people of all economic circumstances is really preserving the ties that bind us together, preserving the social capital that makes us a better community. I would say that we have a lot of really good funded programs right now to be able to build that kind of affordable housing. We have a lot of really good programs to be able to build that supportive housing for those who've been homeless or who may be struggling. But we also have to get to the point where the actual market is working again and that people can make money building housing for other than the top of the market. And as long as it is the case that you can't afford to build workforce housing, then people at the workforce level are going to be pushing out the people who have less money than that, right? And I cannot emphasize enough that government is never going to be able to solve all of this simply by building public housing. It is going to have to be that, and incentives, and the market working, and much more. And then we will be able to get back to some equilibrium where every person is able to afford a safe, decent home - and in doing so, to be able to thrive and give back to their community.

[00:36:06] Crystal Fincher: Okay, one small additional question - talking about that, I was just reminded that social housing has been voted on and passed by the residents of Seattle. There's going to be an initiative collecting signatures to fund that - do you think that's part of the solution when it comes to housing and homelessness?

[00:36:25] Executive Dow Constantine: Yeah, I don't know for a fact. I'm intrigued by it and I want to better understand how that's going to work in the City of Seattle. But I do think that you just got to recognize that housing is - despite aspirations of some folks over the years - housing is mostly about a market like everything else. And the market's not working - the market is broken. And when the market's broken, it is the responsibility of the government to step in and fix it and to make the market work. And that means adding stock that would not be built by the market, that means providing either incentives or requirements for people to build for a broader range of incomes. And this is not rocket science - although rocket science is not actually that complicated - but this is not rocket science. We know how to do all of this and it is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until we get it done.

[00:37:19] Crystal Fincher: Well, thank you so much, King County Executive Dow Constantine, for helping us to understand the lay of the land here in King County and for helping to just blaze the path on getting people housed and on actual solutions here. Thank you so much.

[00:37:36] Executive Dow Constantine: Thank you.

[00:37:37] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes.

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