When it comes to legislative maneuvering, former Speaker of the House Frank Chopp may have few equals. But the veteran state lawmaker took a serious misstep in trying to redirect $2 million in state capital funding to a low-income housing organization he co-founded 30 years ago.
Gov. Jay Inslee should veto the request.
Elected representatives, even those like Chopp who have long track records helping the unhoused, should leave funding decisions to the newly minted King County Regional Homelessness Authority. The authority, helmed by CEO Marc Dones, has started a much needed reset on homelessness spending with a goal of improved outcomes.
At best, Chopp’s tug of war with state dollars and local spending decisions is muddying the waters as the authority launches a coordinated, data-driven campaign to tackle homelessness. At worst, his actions threaten to undermine the fledgling authority’s success and raise questions about his allegiance to the Low Income Housing Institute, which he co-founded in 1991.
As Seattle Times Project Homeless reporter Scott Greenstone reported, Chopp’s 2022 supplemental capital budget request would redirect $2 million in unspent funds lawmakers gave the city of Seattle last year to build new tiny homes in Seattle, giving the money instead to the housing institute.
Chopp has defended his request, saying he made it because the city didn’t follow through with the project, spearheaded by Seattle City Council member Andrew Lewis, to dramatically increase the number of tiny-house villages.
Instead the city intended to transmit the $2 million to the Regional Homelessness Authority, which planned to issue contracts for site acquisition and development of new tiny homes through a competitive bid process. Bids were evaluated using a rubric designed with input from stakeholders like the Lived Experience Coalition, the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness and service providers. It gave preference to proposals that would serve the most marginalized people, would include amenities like indoor plumbing and be sited in targeted areas, among other considerations. Neither of the two proposals submitted by the Low Income Housing Institute in the competitive process made the cut.
Chopp says he made the request to redirect funds before the regional authority made the funding recommendation, and he’s concerned that the money be spent as intended. “The Regional Homelessness Authority can spend their money however they want,” Chopp said, “but this $2 million isn’t theirs.”
If the governor vetoes the new request, the money would stay with the city of Seattle for the rest of the biennium, giving city staff ample time to ensure it’s spent in alignment both with its legislative purpose and the homelessness authority’s priorities. That’s the proper course of action. Chopp’s end-run to try to redirect the funds is the legislative equivalent of taking the ball and going home when a play doesn’t go your way.
The RHA was created to bring order and accountability to the region’s efforts to end homelessness by removing politics, aligning fragmented efforts, identifying unmet needs and filling in the gaps. All stakeholders, including elected officials, should share their ideas and expertise with regional leaders, but leave it to the authority to create and carry out the plan.