WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission is considering setting aside homeless funds for low-income housing.
The commission has its eye on an increase of close to $200,000 a year in homeless funding approved by state lawmakers in 2018. During a Tuesday meeting, the county commission considered breaking with tradition and separating its homelessness funds rather than give that funding to the city of Wenatchee to manage.
The homelessness dollars currently go toward programs run by organizations like the Women’s Resource Center, the YWCA and SAGE. The county wants to instead fund large low-income housing projects.
“I think we need a discretionary reserve to be able to utilize for capital facilities when right now the city of Wenatchee is focused on programmatic pieces, not necessarily capital pieces,” Commissioner Kevin Overbay said.
In 2018, the state Legislature passed a bill that increased Auditor’s Office filing fees that fund homelessness dollars for counties, Overbay said. Instead of giving those funds to the Chelan-Douglas Homelessness Steering Committee, Chelan County decided to use them to fund low-income apartments built by Catholic Charities. Those funds — nearly $200,000 a year — are tied up in the Catholic Charities’ apartments until 2022.
The funding the commission is considering setting aside is funding that the homelessness steering committee has never received.
The Chelan-Douglas Homelessness Steering Committee does receive the rest of the county’s homelessness funds and the city of Wenatchee has been in charge of managing those funds for about 10 years, according to a previous Wenatchee World article.
The Chelan County Commission agreed Tuesday to look into keeping those post-2018 funds separate to invest in future low-income housing projects. It also is considering applying for additional funding granted through House Bill 1406 passed this last legislative cycle and keeping that funding separate as well. Both funding sources combined would be close to $350,000 to $450,000 a year.
Commissioner Doug England expressed some concern that the county would be creating a competing homelessness agency to the Chelan-Douglas Homelessness Steering Committee.
“Are we just setting up another parallel homeless funding source?” England asked.
It wouldn’t be a separate funding source, Overbay said. It would be a backup or emergency pot of money that could also be used for large capital projects.
The steering committee is focused on funding programs right now like its landlord liaison program through the Women’s Resource Center to help people find apartments, Overbay said. It isn’t interested in saving money for building new low-income housing.
“If you have a 12 percent vacancy rate (a landlord liaison program) is great,” he said. “With a half-a-percent vacancy rate it doesn’t work.”
Commissioner Bob Bugert asked whether the commission could change the mindset of the taskforce about large capital projects. He also did not want to see any programs lose funding.
Overbay said he isn’t trying to take away from the programs and this way the homelessness steering committee’s entire budget could fully go toward existing programs.
“It is not about one thing or another; it is about both,” Overbay said. “I’m not saying that the programmatic pieces are bad. They’re good, but what I’m saying is you have to have both to really move the needle.”