The City of Burien continues to navigate a complex – and oftentimes confusing –homelessness crisis, with recent conflicting claims and clarifications surrounding an offer of $1 million from King County to establish a temporary housing site.
The situation has recently raised questions about what role the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s (KCRHA) will play in the city’s efforts to resolve encampment site issues in Burien, as well as the city’s sometimes conflicting responses.
As we previously reported, at the July 24, 2023 Burien City Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling asserted that a potential partner agency (REBLX) had 116 units of housing available, including rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing options.
“At the July 24, 2023 Burien City Council meeting, inaccurate statements were made on the record,” KCRHA said in a letter dated July 31, 2023.
“First, Deputy Mayor Schilling claimed that he and City Manager Bailon had identified a partner who had more than 100 units of various types of housing (e.g., rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing) available,” KCRHA said. “Based on what the City Manager reported later in the meeting and subsequent blog reports, it is clear you were referencing a KCHRA partner that owns and operates a hotel in Renton. While they do own and lease hotels that may be used for emergency shelter, it is neither rapid rehousing, nor permanent supportive housing, and does not have a service provider.”
Following the Council meeting, KCRHA staff reached out to REBLX to explore a potential partnership with Burien. However, KCRHA said that the hotel owner expressed that the use of their building would require renting the entire hotel at significant cost, alongside the need to identify and contract with a service provider for day-to-day site management and service connection. The City of Burien then concluded that the Renton site would not be a suitable option.
However, on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, based on additional information from KCRHA, the City reversed its decision, and is back to considering REBLX.
Schilling was also quoted as saying that KCRHA was refusing to apply the funds offered by King County, but KCRHA clarified in a letter to the city (download PDF here or see text below) that King County has not yet released the $1 million to them. The funds’ release is contingent on the City of Burien identifying a location for emergency housing.
KCRHA conveyed to the city through emails on July 24 and July 25 that the $1 million offer from King County is intended to be spent in Burien, but it could be considered for use in another jurisdiction if Burien has the support of that jurisdiction for the emergency housing location.
The sequence of steps required to access the funding was outlined in email communications between Burien and KCRHA staff, which began on June 14. The money will only be released to KCRHA once the City of Burien identifies a suitable location for the emergency housing.
The homelessness crisis in Burien has been ongoing since late February when a condominium association voted to displace people experiencing homelessness around Burien City Hall/Library leading to further removals and displacement. KCRHA has been actively involved in finding solutions, including researching sanctioned encampments and identifying a local organization willing to sponsor one in Burien. They also proposed micro-modular emergency housing in the city with subsidized units set aside for Burien residents.
The City of Burien and KCRHA have been in regular communication with local service providers and King County to address the crisis. KCRHA has convened weekly meetings with outreach providers and City staff to monitor the situation, provide updates, and discuss potential solutions.
As the situation unfolds, KCRHA said it remains committed to working closely with the City of Burien to swiftly provide emergency shelter and necessary services as soon as a suitable location is approved by the city.
Schilling Responds to KCRHA letter
We reached out to Deputy Mayor Schilling about the KCRHA letter, and here’s what he told The B-Town Blog:
“Calling these statements “inaccurate” misses the point. Together with City Manager Bailon, I had productive discussions with Renton officials, and the owner of a hotel site that could provide emergency housing. During a Burien City Council meeting, I pressed regional leaders to make this location work. I understand that KCRHA might not want to try – but I’m glad to press the issue.
“I’m pressing this issue because I believe in housing and social services. Growing up in Burien, I volunteered in low-income communities through St. Francis and other organizations. As an elected official, I’ve worked to deliver both beds and treatment opportunities. We absolutely can save lives.
“However, living in Burien, I’ve grown frustrated with regional leadership. This crisis is “all hands on deck”. It’s difficult to find suitable land for services and housing that isn’t tied up in contract issues. Regional leadership should enable our suburban communities – Burien, Renton, Des Moines, Tukwila, Kent, and beyond – to work together, and with service providers. If cities and housing providers find promising locations, KCRHA’s attitude should be “let’s see what can work”.
“The KCRHA has a noble mission. However, like most people, I feel that regional leadership hasn’t risen to meet this crisis. More accountability will help. That includes communities like Burien pushing the KCRHA to be more flexible, less process-bound, and truly regional. Frankly, a decade into this crisis, it’s disappointing that a location outside of Burien City Limits would require special, conditional approval.
“I value good working relationships. I also value accountability. With fentanyl deaths hitting all-time highs, I’ll keep pushing regional leadership to do better – even if that means bruised feelings.”
Below is full text from the July 31, 2023 letter from KCRHA to the City of Burien:
“City Manager Adolfo Bailon
Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling
City of Burien, WA
400 SW 152nd St, Suite 300
Burien, WA 98166
“Dear City Manager Bailon and Deputy Mayor Schilling,
“I am writing today to clarify the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s (KCRHA) role in the effort to resolve the encampment in Burien, and clearly state the steps necessary to use the offer of funds and Pallet shelters from King County.
“At the July 24, 2023 Burien City Council meeting inaccurate statements were made on the record.
“First, Deputy Mayor Schilling claimed that he and City Manager Bailon had identified a partner who had more than 100 units of various types of housing (e.g., rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing) available. Based on what the City Manager reported later in the meeting and subsequent blog reports, it is clear you were referencing a KCHRA partner that owns and operates a hotel in Renton. While they do own and lease hotels that may be used for emergency shelter, it is neither rapid rehousing, nor permanent supportive housing, and does not have a service provider.
“Following the statements at the Council meeting, KCRHA staff reached out to the hotel owner to gauge their interest in partnering with Burien and the KCRHA. The owner was clear that the use of its building would require rental of the entire hotel at significant cost, as well as identifying and contracting with a service provider for day-to-day site management and service connection. We saw over the weekend that the City has since concluded that the Renton site would not be appropriate. The KCRHA would have been happy to discuss these concerns with you prior to the meeting, but we were not alerted to your interest in the hotel.
“During the Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Schilling claimed Burien was waiting on KCRHA to “get on board” and that “it’s up to KCRHA now to work with us and make sure these people have the services and shelter they need.” In a July 29 post on the Burien-News it was implied that Deputy Mayor Schilling said that KCRHA “refuses to apply the funds offered by King County”. However, release of the $1 million from King County to KCRHA is contingent on identification of a site by the City of Burien.
“To be clear: King County has not released the $1 million to the KCRHA.
“Additionally, as stated by the KCRHA via email on Monday, July 24 and Tuesday, July 25, King County informed KCRHA that the $1 million offered by the County to help resolve this encampment is intended to be spent in Burien. However, as also stated in the same communication, the County is willing to consider use in a different jurisdiction if the City of Burien has the support of the jurisdiction where the emergency housing would be located.
“The sequence of steps required has been provided in email correspondence that began on June 14th between Burien and KCRHA staff and phone calls with staff and Burien councilmembers (of which conversation summaries were sent via email to Council with staff included): the money will be released to KCRHA after a location for services has been identified by the City of Burien.
“Should Burien accept the funding offer and identify land on which to site emergency housing, King County would transfer the $1 million to KCRHA, and KCHRA would release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a service provider. KCRHA will ensure this process is efficient and does not anticipate any issues securing a provider.
“Since late February, when the condominium association voted to displace people experiencing homelessness around Burien City Hall which subsequently led to additional removals and displacement, KCRHA has been in regular communication with City of Burien staff, local service providers, and King County to identify solutions.
KCRHA actions included:
- “At the request of City staff, KCRHA researched sanctioned encampments and identified a local organization willing to sponsor a sanctioned encampment in Burien.
- “KCRHA offered a proposal to the City of Burien which could have resulted in micro-modular emergency housing in Burien, with subsidized units for Burien set-asides.
- “KCRHA convened weekly meetings with outreach providers and City staff to check-in on the residents of the encampment, provide situational updates, and discuss potential solutions.
- “In response to City of Burien staff, KCRHA provided details on the steps necessary to take advantage of the comprehensive solution offered by King County.
“It is our sincere hope that the Burien City Council can reach agreement on a solution that will move people inside in a responsible, timely, and humane manner. Accepting the offer of funds and Pallet shelters from King County and approving a location, such as the City-owned parking lot, Seattle City Light property, or other local option, is a viable solution to ensure the well-being of Burien’s residents.
“KCRHA is committed to working with the City of Burien to quickly provide emergency shelter and needed services as soon as the City of Burien approves a location.
Chief of Staff, KCRHA”
Read our extensive coverage of Burien’s recent homelessness crisis here.