Federal Way City Hall. File photo

Federal Way City Hall. File photo

Federal Way to use $100K grant on hotel vouchers, emergency shelter

$60K will go towards hotel/motel vouchers, $40K on pre-development costs for shelter in city.

After Mary’s Place pulled their application for the $100,000 state allocation for sheltering homeless families with children in Federal Way, the City Council was left to decide what to do with the money.

And after weeks of lengthy debate and discussions about how to use the money before the June 30 deadline, the council voted on Tuesday to use $60,000 for hotel and motel vouchers, and $40,000 for pre-development costs to establish an emergency shelter in the city.

The news that Mary’s Place would pull back its application came during a Parks, Recreation, Human Services and Public Safety committee meeting Jan. 7, with committee discussion following about other potential recommendations the council could pursue.

During that meeting, no motions to put forth a recommendation were made. However, committee chair, council member Jesse Johnson called an emergency meeting for Monday, and after over an hour of discussion, committee member and council member Martin Moore put forth a motion to recommend using 40 percent of the funds for pre-development costs and 60 percent for hotel/ motel vouchers and support for homeless families with children.

Those recommendations, presented by Community Services department staff members Jeff Watson and Sarah Bridgeford, detailed how to split the money to be most effective by using a portion for constructing a shelter inside city limits and a portion for hiring a staff member dedicated to working on the homeless issue in Federal Way.

Council member Hoang Tran opposed using the $100,000 to hire a staff person, citing the growing homelessness issue in Seattle as reason why.

“They have a whole team of people working on the homeless issue,” Tran said, noting that this did not seem to be reducing the homeless population in the metropolitan area.

During the council meeting on Tuesday, Watson said because Mary’s Place pulled their application, the city will have to renegotiate a contract with the state Department of Commerce.

Part of the staff recommendations Watson brought up included the hotel/motel vouchers, and up to $1,500 additionally for families to help remove potential housing barriers. The city staff recommendation also included using $40,000-$60,000 of the $100,000 state allocation for pre-development costs to construct a shelter inside city limits.

The last recommendation community services put forth was to use $30,000-$40,000 to hire a staff person to help develop a community-coordinated response to the issue.

Bridgeford spoke about the process, and said they are recommending a funding process with an aggressive timeline.

“Any interested party that would qualify would submit a letter of interest,” she said.

While the competitive process will take some time, it will most likely be under two months, Bridgeford said.

As the Mirror previously reported, the timeline for the funds to be spent ends on June 30, so Bridgeford said they would need to be spent by late May to avoid moving past the hard deadline. Watson said any agencies that would be interested in utilizing the funds to meet the recommendations would need to show they could do so before the June deadline.

“We can only get reimbursed from the state what we are able to reimburse agencies for,” he said. “We’re not gonna reimburse agencies for expenditures that haven’t happened.”

Before a final vote to utilize the $100,000, council members engaged in a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of the current recommendation.

Moore asked if the 40 percent being recommended for pre-development costs could be used toward purchasing an already-established building such as the Econo Lodge. Watson said the funds could be used for projects that included acquiring property and costs associated with that, such as “an appraisal, and environmental site assessment, a property inspection, legal fees associated with a real estate transaction.”

But that would all be done with the assumption the city could invoice the state before June 30.

Deputy Mayor Susan Honda asked if the vouchers would be exclusive to sites in Federal Way or King County as a whole. Watson said the council could put that requirement on the vouchers, but he would not recommend it.

“In conversations with the agencies that we work with that do provide hotel and motel vouchers … they have told us that they are putting families into hotels and motels that are outside the city of Federal Way.”

This is because spaces in hotels and motels vary greatly from any point in time, Watson said.

Honda also asked about families who could be in jeopardy of job loss due to the government shutdown.

“We have folks in Federal Way who are federal employees who are working and not getting paid,” she said. “Is there any way we could use any of this funding to assist those families to stay in their homes so they do not lose their homes.”

Bridgeford responded to the deputy mayor’s question, saying that after discussions with the Department of Commerce that would not fall under eligible expenses because the language for the appropriation is specific to homeless families. Because of this, people at risk of losing their homes in this manner would not qualify as being a homeless family, Bridgeford said.

“The answer is, unfortunately we would not be able to do that.”

Council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson asked if Community Services staff thought the city could spend this kind of money by the deadline, and Watson said he did not believe so given that the city now would have to go through a competitive application process to use the funds, leaving limited time to actually spend the money.

“I hope I’m wrong, but think it’s unlikely we will expend all of these funds before we have to invoice the state at the end of June,” he said.

Council member Mark Koppang said he recognizes how important bringing an emergency shelter into the city is, and he wants to ensure the city does what it can with the money it was given.

“We got put in a box here that I think nobody intended for us to be in, but here we are, and we’re just trying to move forward as best we can,” he said.

Watson agreed that their main goal was to use the funds as quickly and effectively as possible.

“We put together what we think is a doable and appropriate process to move forward,” he said.

However, he did maintain his concern that it would be difficult to spend all of the funds before the deadline with the now-limited amount of time available.

Honda said she was concerned the committee recommendation didn’t fit what 30th District Rep. Kristine Reeves was looking for. She also cited a meeting Reeves had last week, where several community members were asking for a staff member to be hired on to oversee the homeless issue.

“I’m concerned if we don’t have some funding from this $100,000 go to a staff member, then we may not get the $80,000,” she said.

The $80,000 Honda was referring to came from the 2019 legislative priorities the city provided to its 30th District representatives, which asked for the funding to hire a staff person who would be dedicated to overseeing the homeless issue.

“I would like to offer $10,00 of the $100,000 go for a staff member, however, not a city staff member,” Honda said. “I think it should be a contracted position.”

Johnson said he found Honda’s idea interesting and worth looking into more, but right now the main goal was to house as many families with children in Federal Way as possible.

Bridgeford also agreed with having a temporary staff person to actively work on the issue.

“We do feel that there is potential having a staff position on a temporary basis in this case, just something to think about,” she said.

Watson said he appreciated Honda’s suggestion of $10,000 for a staff person on a contract basis, but he didn’t think the city would “get much” for that amount of money.

The deputy mayor cited her concerns about the hotel and motel voucher system, using New Hope as an example. The city had tentatively entered into a contract with New Hope, and the organization was unable to shelter as many families as Honda had hoped.

“I don’t know how many people would be using this service, for one thing,” she said. “I’m concerned that we will have money for vouchers that won’t be spent.”

Koppang said he was also concerned about the time constraints, and he warned against throwing money at certain recommendations just to say the city spent the state allocation.

“I don’t want to leave something on the table when there’s a strategic opportunity for us to move forward,” he said.

After the discussions about potentially bringing a staff person on with 10 percent of the state allocated funds, the final motion put forth by Johnson called for 60 percent to be utilized for vouchers and 40 percent for pre-development costs.

Honda voted against this motion, citing using the money this way as missing an opportunity to set the groundwork for future assistance for homeless families in the city.

“We have an opportunity to hire someone with much more knowledge than we have on this issue who can help set the groundwork on how we can proceed as a city to help out homeless families and … children,” she said.

The motion passed six to one, with the deputy mayor being the only holdout on the vote.

The full council meeting discussing the process and final recommendation can be found here.

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