Constantine said his goals for the next year include “turning the tide” on homelessness and appointing a new sheriff.
KING COUNTY, Wash. — KING 5 spoke with King County Executive Dow Constantine about the milestones of 2021 and plans for 2022.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
KING 5: What do you consider milestones from 2021, and how will the work on those initiatives continue in 2022?
CONSTANTINE: 2021 started with a lot of optimism. Yes, we had an attempted coup in Washington, DC, but we successfully swore in a new democratically elected president and the president and Congress set to work doing things to get the nation back on track and things that are very helpful to us here in King County so we were able to help a lot of folks put out of work by the pandemic, a lot of folks who were really struggling, [after] a year at that point of the world being turned on its head.
We’ve been able to see a lot of people get their feet back under them but there are more that still need our help and we are here to provide that help. One of the groups that of course has struggled the most is those who are unhoused.
This is a really important year in the battle to turn the tide on homelessness. With our Health through Housing initiative, we’ve purchased now eight hotels and are getting ready to purchase another in the next few weeks.
A lot of the work we did this year was on rethinking public safety in King County. The voters approved a measure to have the sheriff become appointed, and at the first of the year, I become the person responsible for appointing that Sheriff. Right now, we have Patti Cole-Tindall serving as interim sheriff.
The climate crisis is perhaps the single most important thing facing us and this year, we implemented new green building codes, we’re moving to help existing commercial buildings retrofit and we are even going to begin a pilot program to help people convert their oil or gas furnaces to heat pumps. We are also building affordable green housing to help people get into homes that are healthy for them and for the planet.
And of course, we passed an initiative declaring racism as a public health crisis. We are really working to bring this front and center in all the work we do. I believe we can lead the country in finding a way out of the racist past that has slowed down America’s progress.
We also opened new light rail stations, including at Roosevelt and in the University District, and we’re electrifying the Metro Transit Fleet with an expedited deadline by 2035. We also broke ground on new Rapid Ride lines. That is maybe the most important and immediate thing this community can do- not just for economic development or to help individuals but also for the planet, for us to reduce our carbon footprint in this county, for us to electrify transportation.
KING 5: You mentioned Health through Housing- and one property has been moved into- when can we expect the others to be filled, and what other work is ahead there?
CONSTANTINE: We’ve acquired 850, soon over 1000 units. We’re getting those staffed up- we contract with community-based organizations to staff these places and then they have to hire and train people and we’re able to move people in 100, 150 at a time off the streets, out of the tents, out from under the overpasses, into a place where they have 24-hour services and they’re able to get rested and begin taking stock of their lives and moving forward.
We can also fund some of the sites the city of Seattle is standing up, so by the end of this year, we should have up to 1600 new units open, housing that did not exist a year ago- and in addition to that, 500 units of 24-hour enhanced shelter we’re able to help pay for from federal assistance for COVID.
I think we’re beginning to get to critical mass here, where we can realistically say that we think we can turn the tide on homelessness- particularly chronic homelessness- and get people off the streets and to establish a standard for ourselves and everyone that folks are not going to sleep outside. Folks are going to be housed and they are going to be able to get the services to deal with the challenges in their life and move forward with self-sufficiency again.
Listen to the full interview here:
KING 5: You opened several new light rail stations- what can we expect next year in terms of work to continue expanding service, especially to outlying areas?
CONSTANTINE: We are busy at Sound Transit building out light rail to the east side; that will open in 2023, all the way to Microsoft and then soon after that to downtown Redmond, to Lynnwood, and to Federal Way and then we’ll continue on to Everett, Tacoma and ultimately Issaquah as well. The challenge is really funding. Transit has revenue sources the state created that are not terribly reliable but they are keeping the project moving forward. The board is working on every angle it can to make sure we get the rail built and built on time.
One of my main projects for the year is to continue to work with the legislature, with the county council, with the Sound Transit board, including our partners from Snohomish and Pierce, to really focus on making the funding as robust and the financing as smart as possible so we can get everything we need built as soon as possible so we get the benefit of that, benefit for the commuters, benefit for the climate. The sooner we build this capital infrastructure, the sooner we’ll be able to benefit from it.
KING 5: In terms of hiring a sheriff next year, what is the expected timeline for that, and how might the community be involved?
CONSTANTINE: We launched a national search for a new sheriff in the middle of November. That process will continue on here through January and February. I expect to make a nomination, an appointment to the county council by the end of March and then the council will take several months to review the candidate and to make the appointment and then we have a transition period and I expect the new sheriff to be sworn in by the end of the second quarter of next year.
We are looking for someone who’s going to be able to lead the sheriff’s office to make sure we are able to immediately respond when someone has an emergency and to make sure we can do it where it is safe, in a way that is consistent with our values, and someone who will be able to participate with other criminal legal system leaders in a way that is creating the transformation we want.
We want to be able to get to the underlying challenges people, particularly young people are having. We want to get people back on track and not just have them cycle through the criminal legal system over and over again. That is the smartest thing for us if we want to create more public safety and that’s the humane thing to do- so we’re going to focus on that.
Nobody is going to tolerate the kind of disorder that we’ve been seeing around our region recently and we’ve been seeing it in a lot of our cities. I think we can, by really applying a system-wide approach, reduce the petty crime, the property crime, and increase opportunities for people to reclaim their lives, to get back on track, and I think that’s what all people in King County really want- is to make sure everyone has a shot at living a full and productive life.
KING 5: Any other major objectives for 2022?
CONSTANTINE: I’m excited about this. The voters entrusted us to keep going and we’re kind of the quiet, confident, steady government behind the scenes- providing a lot of the infrastructure, a lot of the systems that make everything else work. What we’ve been able to do is put some really strong leaders in place in all of our departments so we’re not having to do what a lot of folks do when they get elected and rebuild from scratch, we’re ready to go.
My hope is that we’re going to be able to partner even more closely with other governments, with the private sector, and to advance some of these broad public priorities. And I mean, getting folks off the street and getting our region cleaned up again. I mean dramatically accelerating our response to climate change, reducing our carbon footprint and increasing our resiliency. I mean transforming the way in which our community and society works so that your opportunity is not based on your race or your gender or any other accident of birth but that you as an individual are valued and you have a free, and fair and full opportunity to succeed and that means taking a really hard look at our systems- our government systems, our private sector systems, and the way they’ve been designed to hold people back based on race. We can fix that. Just because we remove those barriers doesn’t mean that some people win and some people lose. We can all do better and I think that we as a community, we as a government, are committed to that vision as we say in our true north, a community where all are welcome and every person can thrive.