(Screenshot from Dec. 4, 2023, Renton City Council meeting.)

(Screenshot from Dec. 4, 2023, Renton City Council meeting.)

Renton dissolves Equity, Housing and Human Services Dept.

City spokesperson maintains that no services will be defunded or impacted during reorganization.

During its Dec. 4 meeting, the Renton City Council voted 5-2 in favor of dissolving and reorganizing the Equity, Housing, and Human Services (EHHS) Department, an office that was originally tasked with developing and providing a variety of services related to housing access, equity in city hiring and essential human services.

The motion to dissolve EHHS was brought in front of the council by the mayor’s office, after the “pandemic highlighted gaps in human services,” according to city communications director Laura Pettitt.

Pettitt said that EHHS was put together with several different services and city efforts in mind that may have been unrelated to each other. She called the decision to reorganize the department and the services it provided a “structural improvement” that will provide a chance to focus and refine the services and efforts that EHHS was previously tasked with.

According to the city, the services and efforts that were previously contained within EHHS will be reorganized as follows:

• Equity: This portion will move under the purview of the mayor’s office by placing an equity-focused position in human resources as well as the community outreach role in the communications and engagement division, within the Executive Services Department. The city’s Equity Commission will now be backed by the Executive Services Department, establishing a direct link to the mayor and council. Pettitt said that this reorganization of equity efforts makes more sense “operationally.”

• Housing: Services and efforts related to the city’s housing action plan and renter protections, among others, will move into the Community and Economic Development Department.

“This move will integrate the city’s affordable housing efforts into the full planning division of the Community and Economic Development Department, effectively expanding this from a single-employee program to the collective work and expectation of a much larger team,” the city staff wrote in a FAQ-page about the reorganization.

• Human Services: This will be placed within Parks and Recreation, where it previously was before EHHS was established. According to the city, this will increase effectiveness as it will be supported by the larger department’s infrastructure, enhancing coordination for grants and services.

Pettitt said the reorganization is cost neutral to city and is by no means a defunding of any services. She said the reorganization will even add another employee.

“Citizens don’t care about what department work is being done in, or the name of that department,” Pettitt said in an interview with the Renton Reporter. “As long as the services are being provided and the work is being done.”

Renton City Councilmember Ed Prince, who voted in favor of the reorganization, said that he does not believe any of the services previously provided by EHHS will be affected by the decision. He said he believes certain efforts like the housing action plan have existed since before EHHS was even established, and that it makes more sense to have housing services and efforts to be contained within the city’s Community and Economic Development Department.

When asked about community concerns that the reorganization may affect services even if just for the short-term, Prince said he understands the concern, but knows the services will not be going away.

“As long as the work continues,” Prince told the Renton Reporter. “That’s what matters to me.”

Councilmember Carmen Rivera, who was one of two members who voted against the reorganization, said her decision was largely made because she believed the city had not followed through on what it promised EHHS could be.

Rivera told the Renton Reporter that she felt EHHS was never given enough time to develop, nor did it receive enough resources or investment to be effective. The department was established two years ago.

Rivera said that while she understands the reorganization is intended to increase effectiveness of the services, she is concerned about the ambiguity of the reorganization in wake of the dissolution of a whole department.

“My fear is the priorities when it comes to equity and housing,” Rivera said. “There are no clear roles or definitions of when or who takes on housing in the city.”

She also said she is concerned that renters’ protection efforts and studies will be delayed during the reorganization, and that the “excellent” work and efforts supported by certain individual employees in the city will not have the organizational structure to support the community in the same way if they are no longer working for the city.

Rivera said the city will have to continue to invest in this work and the budget needs to reflect that investment in the future.

“I hope we see people ‘walk their talk’,” Rivera said about a reorganization she hopes is transformative and not performative.

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