April 12, 2024

Pacifica Represents King County in Appellate Win for “Health Through Housing” Initiative

An appellate court victory for Pacifica client King County means a permanent supportive housing development will continue to move forward in Kirkland, benefitting people experiencing chronic homelessness. On Monday, April 1, Division I of the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the County in Keep Kids Safe v. King County, affirming a trial court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought by parents of a nearby school who sought to block the housing project.

The project is one of 11 permanent supportive housing sites in operation or development around King County as part of its Health Through Housing program. An innovative approach to accelerate our region’s response to the homelessness crisis, the program allowed the County to purchase and repurpose former hotels to create permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing pairs subsidized housing with case management and wrap-around services to foster housing stability. The County partnered with the City of Kirkland to develop a permanent supporting housing site at a former La Quinta Inn. A group of parents of students at a nearby private school formed a nonprofit called Keep Kids Safe (“KKS”), which sued the County and the City twice in an attempt to block the project, losing both lawsuits.

In its second lawsuit, filed more than a year after the La Quinta was purchased, KKS alleged that the County violated the County Ordinance establishing and funding the Health Through Housing Program and the Implementation Plan developed by the County Executive to guide it. Specifically, KKS alleged that the County and Kirkland did not hold a public meeting about the La Quinta development—even though, as the Court of Appeals wrote, “the County and City took part in two separate meetings to answer questions about the property.” The trial court denied KKS’s motion for preliminary injunction and dismissed its lawsuit.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court agreed with the County that the Ordinance created no implied private right of action allowing KKS to sue to block the project. Applying the three-factor test to determine whether a statute contains an implied private right of action, the Court concluded that (1) KKS is not within the class protected by the Ordinance, which “specifically defines the protected class as those experiencing or at risk of experiencing chronic homelessness”; (2) “legislative intent does not support creating a private remedy;” and (3) granting “private parties the right to block or delay the process of building [permanent supportive] housing is inconsistent with” the very “purpose of the Ordinance,” which is “to create stable affordable housing that helps integrate people into the community.” The Court also rejected KKS’s argument that the Implementation Plan itself, which “was drafted by the county executive,” could create a private right of action: “Here, the Ordinance is the legislative act. . . . Accordingly, we cannot impute legislative intent to a document that the legislature did not craft.”

Pacifica partner Zach Pekelis and associate Shweta Jayawardhan represented King County throughout the trial court and appellate proceedings.

The Court of Appeals’ decision is linked here.

For more information on the Health Through Housing initiative, please visit the County’s Health Through Housing Dashboard.