Biden has big plans for homelessness — but will they help Seattle?

A ‘homelessness authority’ was supposed to get Seattle and its suburbs on the same page; after a slow year, they may be further apart

After years of fighting with former President Donald Trump’s administration, proponents of national homelessness are hopeful for the first time in some time.

Yes, it seems that there are more people on the street than ever before, and The number of homeless shows no sign of decreasing. According to studies, they could even worsen if nothing is done.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden extended the CDC’s eviction moratorium to March, but that will only delay what experts call the wave of evacuation-related homelessness – potentially thousands in Seattle and hundreds of thousands across the country living in their cars for years, on the couch surf or on the street.

The Biden government has an extraordinarily aggressive housing and homelessness plan that is pouring billions into vouchers and construction, attacking restrictive zones, and pledging to make housing a human right.

“We haven’t seen such a comprehensive approach since the dawn of modern homelessness,” said Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who has previously been homeless and consulted President Biden’s transition team about his plans.

The Seattle Times Homeless Project is funded by the BECU, Bernier McCaw Foundation, Campion Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks, and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over the content of Project Homeless.

But Seattle, which recently had the third highest number of homeless people in the US, just behind Los Angeles County and New York City, has a number of problems: lack of cheap housing, a messy system of responding to homelessness, and the disappearance of mental health facilities . Biden’s plan to get the problem under control could miss some of these curveballs, local leaders say.

Housing for everyone (who qualify)

In one of the biggest shifts, Biden wants to make America’s housing benefit a claim for the first time in history, such as food aid. That would mean anyone who qualified for housing allowance would receive it instead of taking part in a lottery as is now in King County. This would potentially quadruple the number of people benefiting from programs like Section 8 nationwide.

It would require a tremendous infusion of resources, but with Democrats running the White House and both houses of Congress, and key allies like Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California running the Housing and Responsible for Housing According to Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, these goals are potentially achievable.

“I think it’s achievable,” said Yentel. “I don’t think we can get fully funded vouchers that will be universally available to anyone who needs them by the end of the year or even by the end of two years, but I think we can build the infrastructure.”

But Seattle already has people with federal coupons in hand who, according to Gregg Colburn, a researcher at the University of Washington, can’t find a place in their price range to rent to them.

“We are just leaving a great number of people who cannot afford to fend for themselves in a private market,” said Colburn. “Vouchers alone may not be enough to solve the homelessness crisis as we have no housing options.”

Colburn supports the expansion of voucher programs, but not without also dramatically expanding the dramatic inventory of cheap housing.

Biden’s plan might help address this issue Proposed $ 640 billion for rental vouchers, evacuation assistance and affordable housing. A plan is also being put in place to use incentives to persuade cities to remove restrictive zoning rules that restrict the construction of cheap housing.

A “hollowed out” living area

To do something about homelessness, Biden needs to rehabilitate the department that would make these profound changes – Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Lawyers and researchers as well as media reports describe HUD after four years under Trump’s secretary Dr. Ben Carson as a “hollowed out” place with many vacancies. Yentel described it as a place where even the budget cuts suggested by Carson were not implemented.

Biden’s choice to replace Carson is Ohio Democratic MP Marcia Fudge, whose background is more food aid and whose first choice was to become Secretary of Agriculture.

The Biden transition team declined an interview request with Fudge for this article. Robert Marbut, President Trump’s head of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, did not respond to an interview request.

Housing advocates largely supported Biden’s choice. Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who helped shape the federal housing program for veteran families, said he was hopeful.

“The speech she gave to accept the nomination – the video she made – was really promising,” said Culhane. “She really seems to appreciate how basic living is.”

Drug treatment, employment minimized

While most experts believe that housing costs are the main driver of the Seattle homelessness crisis – and that housing needs to be secured before people can work on their mental health or substance use – the other side of how much money is making is People deserve.

In Seattle, the low-paid have not been able to afford the cheapest housing for some time. Biden has said he wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15, but that was done in Seattle years ago and housing construction remains inaccessible to thousands.

Employment will be vital if the federal government is to stave off the effects of the pandemic recession that could take more than 600,000 people nationwide to the streets or surf the couch by 2023, according to Daniel Flaming, president of Economic Roundtable, a LA research group.

“We don’t have good employment models,” said Flaming. “The Obama administration was largely a trickle down effect. Most of their jobs went to permanent workers. It was not intended to affect most of the working poor. “

Biden said he wants to expand income tax credits for low-wage workers and create a Public Health Jobs Corp of at least 100,000, but Flaming says he should provide 15% to 25% of those jobs for “vulnerable workers” who are at risk of being homeless because of the pandemic -Recession.

Biden’s plans to respond to the drug epidemic come at a lesser price – $ 125 billion to make treatment available to everyone who needs it. This is a departure from the Trump administration’s recent guidelines on homelessness and housing policies, which focused on drug and alcohol treatment and strategies to combat “hard love”.

Biden’s suggestions for substance use disorders also focus primarily on opioids like heroin.

In King County, methamphetamine is arguably the bigger problem: meth was the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in King County last year, more often than heroin or fentanyl, and there is no government-approved medical treatment for methamphetamine addiction like heroin.

“Until treatment is easier to come by than medication, we will continue to head in the wrong direction with overdose deaths,” said Jon Scholes, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, who sits on the board of directors of Seattle’s largest shelter and mental health provider chronic homeless on the street of the Downtown Emergency Service Center. “It’s a silent pandemic.”

Lauren Davis, a Democrat who represents Shoreline in state law, has been pushing for nationwide drug treatment reform for years and leads the Washington Recovery Alliance. She sees many good ideas in Biden’s plan – expanding the treatment workforce, tackling stigma against drug users, and passing laws that require drug use disorders to be treated similarly to other medical conditions – but wrote in an email, that the criminal has little justice system and recovery assistance.

“Biden’s proposal lacks several important components of recovery support services that are highly correlated with long-term recovery, namely housing recovery (home) and employment and educational pathways (purpose),” said Davis.

However, Scholes and Davis are excited about a plan.

“It will be a good thing to get the government back in the game,” said Scholes.