A regional nonprofit has refused to renew its housing contracts with Thurston County, extending a conflict that started with allegations of awarding rental assistance to fraudulent applications.
Community Action Council of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties announced its decision not to renew other housing contracts in a Thursday news release. In effect, this means CAC will stop providing its remaining housing-related services in Thurston County as of Friday.
In June, the Board of County Commissioners approved renewing some 2022 housing contracts with CAC for a combined amount of $3.6 million. The board did so despite the county identifying fraud in a rental assistance program CAC managed during the pandemic.
However, CAC has concluded county officials hurt its ability to serve clients throughout the region when they abruptly canceled its rent assistance contracts in February, accused them of issuing fraudulent payments, and alleged they did not comply with an audit.
The canceled contracts disrupted rent assistance payments to the public and left many in limbo for months. Since then, the county has contracted with a new provider to issue rent assistance payments, but the program has now stopped accepting applications because of dwindling funds and a large backlog.
In Thursday's news release, CAC Chief Executive Officer Kristen York said the organization has concerns about the county's management of its agreements. She also accused the county of failing to prioritize clients.
"This decision by our board and organization was not made lightly, especially with our desire to carry out our mission in every county where we have a presence," York said.
"However, the actions of Thurston County officials in recent months have demonstrated a misalignment of values — CAC puts the safety, security and wellness of our clients first, providing services to our community with integrity, honesty and ethics."
Following an inquiry from The Olympian, Thurston County issued a short news release responding to the CAC decision. The county says the board renewed the housing contracts on June 14 after CAC representatives voiced their support for the action to the Regional Housing Council on April 27.
"The county is committed to providing these services to the most vulnerable individuals in the community and is working diligently to find solutions for distributing the funding with minimal disruptions," the release says.
The CAC decision affects the Housing and Essential Needs and Rapid Rehousing contracts which expired on Thursday. The county says CAC notified them of their decision at 5 p.m. that day.
The Housing and Essential Needs program is aimed at preventing homelessness and rehousing unemployable adults as well as providing them with basic needs.
The Rapid Rehousing program provides short-term rental assistance and services. Those who had qualified for this program had to go through coordinated entry, the county's emergency housing system that prioritizes people based on vulnerability.
When asked, Thurston County refused to comment further on the allegations in the CAC release.
CAC continues to allege Thurston County officials have been misinforming the public about its organization and the fraud it alleges it found. CAC also says it has been undergoing an independent audit that has found no evidence of any fraudulent payments to clients.
Last month, county officials indicated they chose to renew housing contracts with CAC because the non-profit had started to cooperate with the county Auditor's Office. But the CAC news release says the county has been resistant to reasonable negotiations to move forward.
The conflict over contract management and auditing has caused some other non-profit leaders to question and criticize the county's actions.
In the release, CAC Board Chair T. Walton accused Thurston County officials of repeatedly changing contracts without negotiations or consultation with CAC during a "disputed monitoring process."
He said this made it "impossible" to continue working with them in good faith.
"Thurston County has made it clear that being collaborative partners with organizations that serve vulnerable clients is not their priority," Walton said.
The release says CAC has successfully provided housing services to thousands of clients throughout Thurston County for more than an decade. In the past two years, CAC says it had helped over 13,000 Thurston County clients with about $31 million in rental assistance.
For now, York told The Olympian that CAC will focus on serving the community without the county's housing contracts, which she said are no longer productive or collaborative.
"We are hopeful that in the future we can repair our relationship to a place where funding collaboration in Housing programs is possible," York said.
"However, our organization is experiencing negative impacts of this on all our services, and our priority must be to continue provisions of services to the communities we serve into the future."