(The Center Square) – Spokane Valley city council members have approved the continued use of an existing regional homeless housing plan into next year while a newly formed local task force prepares its own five-year strategic plan to qualify for future state funding.
Until this summer, Spokane Valley had been in partnership with Spokane County, the city of Spokane, and a “Continuum of Care” board in overseeing regional efforts to provide funding, outreach, services and shelter under the state’s Homeless Housing Assistance Act.
But in July, council members approved a resolution to establish a local homeless housing program. That enables the city to solely receive its share of revenue from a surcharge fee on real estate transactions recorded with the county auditor’s office.
In 2024, it’s estimated Spokane Valley will receive $640,000 from recording fees for HHAA services.
An interim task force chaired by Spokane Valley Mayor Pam Haley initially met in late September. The group included representatives from municipal, social service, street ministry, and other community interests.
To qualify for HHAA monies, local governments must provide a five-year plan to the state Department of Commerce that outlines current conditions, strategies and responsibilities. Such plans must “identify and engage” unhoused persons, including unaccompanied youth, and prioritize housing for those with the highest need. Objectives also call for moving people into permanent housing and addressing racial disparities.
The Commerce department’s current five-year plan cycle continues through the end of next year, when an update will be required for 2025-29. Members of Spokane Valley’s task force were uncertain they could produce a comprehensive document for 2024 plus another plan for the subsequent five-year period in a timely manner.
Instead, the task force recommended the city council approve using the existing regional plan – which meets state and federal requirements – into 2024 while the new plan is developed. It also continues funding to outreach teams operated by Spokane Valley Partners, said city services administrator Gloria Mantz.
“We must adopt a plan to receive (funding),” Mantz told the council Tuesday evening. “It would only be enforced for one year.”
City councilman Arne Woodard said he has been involved in the regional consortium and indicated he did not agree with some of its decisions or priorities. But Woodard supported utilizing the regional homeless plan for next year, citing a “need for expediency” in providing funding while giving the local task force time to organize and develop its plan.
Fellow council member Laura Padden agreed, saying the approach “doesn’t alter where we’re at.”
A motion was unanimously approved by the council.
Spokane Valley officials have said they will coordinate with the county during the transition period and that existing contracts between the parties for this year would not be affected.
“We don’t want to disrupt the county process,” said Mantz.
When the city gets its share of state funding, at least 75% must be used for developing strategies and objectives of the local housing plan, 10% can go toward administrative costs, and 15% can be used for activities that serve extremely and very low-income households. Activities can include acquisition, construction, operation or maintenance of housing projects, rental assistance vouchers, and operating costs for emergency and youth shelters.
In related action Tuesday, the council approved establishing a reserve fund with $100,000 earmarked for continuing outreach services and $65,000 to fund four beds at two shelters, Hope House and Truth Ministries, in 2024.
By federal definition, it’s estimated between 100 and 120 individuals in the community are considered “literally homeless” at any given time. The number goes higher when considering children without primary night-time residences. Spokane Valley schools estimate approximately 700 students could be considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act.