Thurston County officials has scrambled to issue August rent and utility checks for low-income residents after its contracted provider refused to continue the program.
Community Action Council of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties chose not to renew its housing contracts with Thurston County on June 30, the same day the previous contracts expired.
That decision immediately affected 380 Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) and Rapid Re-housing clients, according to a county update. The county paid August rent for nearly all recipients except for six HEN clients, said Homeless and Affordable Housing Coordinator Keylee Marineau.
“We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties with perhaps some addresses that were incorrect or individuals that have moved on from the program that we were not alerted to,” Marineau said.
Marineau shared an update on the HEN program during an Aug. 10 Regional Housing Council meeting. She said staff are working closely with the Auditor’s Office to resolve those “bumps” and continue the program.
“All hands are still on deck to keep this program afloat,” Marineau said. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent any kind of 14-day pay or vacate notices.”
The Housing and Essential Needs program helps prevent homelessness, rehousing unemployable adults and providing them with basic needs. The program is funded by the Washington state Department of Commerce and operated in partnership with the state Department of Social and Health Services, according to county documents.
The county recently contracted outside help for case management. On July 19, the Board of County Commissioners approved a $50,000 contract with Partners in Prevention Education for up to three months of case management support.
PiPE was the only agency that responded to an interest survey, indicating they could pivot immediately to provide the services. Marineau said PiPE has taken on current and new clients while quickly creating an intake process.
“We continue to meet with them three times a week to provide case consultation and just support as they take on an incredibly heavy lift,” Marineau said.
On July 26, the board also approved a $1 million contract with LiveStories, a Seattle-based company, to issue rent, deposit and utility checks for HEN clients.
Marineau said she expects LiveStories to start sending September checks soon. This contract also lasts up to three months.
Both contracts cover a short time period because the county still plans to find a long-term provider or providers for the HEN program. Marineau said the request for proposals should go out soon.
“It’s a safety net for our community,” Marineau said. “It’s a huge undertaking and we are looking forward to ensuring that whoever is able to take this program, if they are chosen through the review process, will be well supported in that transition.”
The RFP will include applications for providers to take on two other programs as well. The first is the Rapid Re-housing program, which provides short-term rental assistance and services.
To qualify for this program, people must go through coordinated entry, the county’s emergency housing system that prioritizes people based on vulnerability.
However, CAC stopped adding single adults into the coordinated entry system when it refused to renew its Thurston County contracts.
CAC provided this service through a subcontract with Family Support Center of South Sound, but that organization does not have staff capacity to add new people to the system on its own.
“We recognize there’s a big gap in our community and Coordinated Entry system right now, but we’re committed to slowing down, being really intentional about the work and ensuring we’re seeing what is working well in the system and what we need/want the system to be, and then determine next best steps to identify a single provider,” the Family Support Center stated in a county update.
The second application in the RFP is for a new permanent rent assistance program expected to start later this year, Marineau said.
This program will be funded by document recording fees collected by the state when people purchase or refinance a home. The state legislature set up the means for the program last year with House Bill 1277.
This program will replace the pandemic-related rent assistance program that started winding down in June due to dwindling funds.