Evening Fizz: Another Call for Durkan’s Resignation, More Questions About Homelessness Reorganization

Two city commissions have called on Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign, and at least one more is considering it.

1. On Wednesday, the Seattle LGBTQ Commission—one of five volunteer city commissions that deal with the rights of marginalized groups—voted narrowly to demand Mayor Jenny Durkan’s resignation, joining the Human Rights Commission, which made a similar demand earlier this month.

In a letter outlining the reasons for their decision, the commission said the mayor had failed to take meaningful action on police violence and accountability; had continued to remove encampments without providing unsheltered people with adequate places to go; and had “repeatedly undermined the budget proposals supported by Black communities,” by, among other things, using JumpStart payroll tax revenues that were already allocated to COVID relief and housing for vulnerable communities to pay for a new $100 million “equitable investment” fund to be spent based on recommendations from a mayor-appointed task force.

The letter notes that deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan was dispatched to speak to the commission to make the case for Durkan, as she did earlier this week at the Women’s Commission when it considered a similar move. According to the letter, Ranganathan told the commission that the mayor does not have direct authority over police actions (such as the use of tear gas against protesters) and that she supports a regional payroll tax, just not the local payroll tax the council already passed. (She made similar arguments at the Women’s Commission meeting Monday night).

“Mayor Durkan’s role is to serve as the executive for Seattle and not as a lobbyist in Olympia,” the letter says. “Ultimately, Mayor Durkan’s opposition to the Jumpstart legislation disempowered the process taken to get there, which included months of work from Black communities, Indigenous communities, other communities of color, labor, and many more to find a way to fund affordable housing.”

The mayor appoints nine members of the Human Rights, LGBTQ, and Women’s Commissions. All three commissions have numerous vacancies and expired seats, but there is currently no major imbalance between council-appointed and mayor-appointed board members on any of the three commissions.

Durkan is up for reelection next year.

2. As we’ve reported, the city council, mayor, and homeless advocates have been working toward a tentative agreement on a new approach to unsheltered homelessness—one that could include dismantling the Navigation Team and creating a new process where unsheltered people move quickly through hotel-based shelters and into new permanent supportive housing or market-rate units through rapid rehousing, a kind of short-term rental subsidy.

The mayor’s budget allocates nearly $16 million to lease 300 hotel rooms for 10 months, which works out to about $5,300 per room, per month, and about $9 million for rapid rehousing dollars to serve up to 230 households (which works out to an average per-household cost of about $3,300 a month).

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“I’m guardedly optimistic,”  Alison Eisinger, the head of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, told PubliCola. “I have some hope that there are folks [at the city] who recognize that requiring people to move, without addressing the state of homelessness, was never effective before COVID and is completely deficient now.” 

One element of the plan that has gotten little attention so far is that it would be extremely short-term. Funding for the hotel would run out after about 10 months—right around the 2021 election, if the city started leasing the hotel rooms at the beginning of next year. The extra funding for rapid rehousing would also come from temporary COVID relief dollars that expire next year. The upshot is that if the city wanted to rent the 300 hotel rooms and continue the rapid rehousing expansion after the one-time runs out, they would have to find a new source of funding for both.

As council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda noted pointedly on Wednesday, the council actually did direct revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to pay for investments in housing and homelessness beginning in 2022, but Mayor Durkan’s budget captures those revenues to fill the overall budget gap and to fund $100 million in ongoing, but unspecified, “investments in BIPOC communities.”

3. The mayor’s new plan also assumes a total revamping of the currently-moribund Navigation Team. The slimmed-down group (eight people, compared to 14 positions, some of them vacant, on the current team) would include a full-time communications director, two system navigators (relatively new outreach positions that would apparently now be deskbound), and a single data analyst to oversee the transition to a new reporting and referral system for all outreach providers. (Council member Lisa Herbold has suggested giving providers access to NavApp, the software the Navigation Team uses to make referrals and enter client data.)

In addition to directing and overseeing all shelter referrals for the city’s nonprofit outreach providers, this newly deskbound team would “coordinate the City’s response to encampments, respond to complaints about encampments, assess conditions in encampments, manage the storage of items identified as belongings, [and] centrally manage vacancies that occur in emergency shelter programs,” according to a memo from council staff.

Although the council didn’t dig deeply into the details this week, here are a few questions they might want to ask:

• How much power will the new city team have to direct nonprofit outreach providers to respond to certain encampments and not others?

• Will providers have to enter detailed information about where their clients end up after leaving an encampment (information that some groups have historically been reluctant or slow to provide to the city)?

• Is the city ready, technologically and politically, to get all the nonprofits that do outreach and engagement working within a single system overseen by a department that hasn’t always had the best relationship with providers?

• And what happens when those groups inevitably bicker over resources and access to shelter within a new, ostensibly shared system?

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