Renton City Council to Homeless: No Room at the Inn

The Renton City Council, plus Mayor Armondo Pavone (upper left), City Clerk Jason Seth (third row, middle) and Sr. Assistant City Attorney Leslie Clark (bottom)

By Erica C. Barnett

Tonight, the Renton City Council voted 5-2, with council members Kim-Khanh Van and Ryan McIrvin casting the dissenting votes, to adopt a sweeping new law that will evict about 235 homeless people from the city’s Red Lion hotel, where they have been staying since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in two stages. The first will come at the end of May, when the shelter provider, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, will have to reduce the total population in the hotel to 125. The second will come next New Year’s Eve, when the remaining residents must also vacate the premises.

The new law, which was passed as “emergency” legislation, also creates a special zoning designation for homeless services, and imposes restrictions on service providers that will, advocates and providers say, have the effect of banning all homeless services from the city. Among other new regulations—imposed, supporters on the council said, because the city needs to have some way to restrict land uses with negative impacts—the law bars any homeless service provider from helping more than 100 people, imposes a half-mile buffer between any two homeless service providers, and requires service providers to monitor and regulate the behavior of their guests.

I described the impacts of the legislation last week, along with some of the changes the council made to the bill since its first introduction in November and; those included a number of new “whereas” clauses that emphasized the supposed violent nature of some of the Red Lion’s residents and the negative impact they have supposedly had on the surrounding community, which consists—in the Red Lion’s immediate vicinity—of a Walmart Supercenter, several car lots, and the South Renton Park and Ride.

I also covered the blow this vote represents to the hope for a “regional approach to homelessness,” on which many King County leaders, including County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, have placed all their bets.

And I live-tweeted the public comment, both hateful and heartfelt, on both sides of the debate—from homeowners furious that “the activist class” has a right to speak in public meetings to formerly homeless people who spoke movingly about how access to a private room and shower could have changed their lives and gotten them on the path to housing and stability years before they found a way out.

This week, I’ll just note what happens next, now that Renton has said emphatically: We don’t want those people here. Currently, King County, DESC, and the Red Lion owners are locked in litigation over a separate zoning case, in which Renton says they are violating the city’s zoning laws by giving homeless people literal room at the inn. (That inn, they say, is a hotel, which is supposed to charge people for rooms, not shelter people displaced by a pandemic.) That litigation is ongoing, and more could follow soon now that the council has taken its vote.

In the meantime, the 235 men and women living at the Red Lion, including many for whom access to a private room and shower made health, stability, and recovery possible, are on a six-month timeline. Come June 1, about half of them will be selected to leave. Some of them, perhaps most, will have nowhere to go. Six months later, in the middle of winter, the rest will be forced to leave as well. Some at tonight’s council meeting, including Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone, seemed unwilling to acknowledge that their action constituted an eviction. The council, Pavone insisted, had “no intent” of “kicking anyone out” of the Red Lion. Moments later, he watched as the council voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that does just that.

8 thoughts on “Renton City Council to Homeless: No Room at the Inn”

  1. HEARTLESS RENTON… they probably have family and/or friends struggling and hurting who are homeless.

    Comment by STEVE WILLIE is sheer ignorance.

    1. The evidence suggests that we can help approximately half the people in the long term by giving them more free stuff, while harming the other half in the long term. Thus there is no net gain for the exact people you are trying to help. A free hotel room is more fun than sleeping on the sidewalk. However, it is a waste of resources which the productive class now must pay ever-increasing amount for….with no net gain.

      At what point of ripping off the taxpayers will the progressives be satisfied? The fundamentals of economics guarantee that the problem cannot be solved by all the money on the planet. Please pay attention in class next time. What is the limit? Correct answer: there is none. If you disagree with that, then please educate me by answering the question. What is the limit? So we just continue to pay more and more every year until….when?

      I wonder how many of our unhoused neighbors would have been able to provide for themselves if not for Gov. Jay “lock-down” Insley. They call the pandemic “unprecedented” when in fact historical records document hundreds of pandemics all throughout history which were much more deadly. Lock-down governors need to brush up on their history.

      I have hopped dozens of freight trains between Southern CA and Minneapolis over the years and I would guess that I lived with more homeless people than you have. Who is ignorant now?

      1. Steve, your current preferred approach, the one involving hundreds of thousands of cumulative hours of staff and contract attorney time, hundreds of thousands of hours of police work, hundreds of thousands of hours of paramedic, ER, and nursing interventions, is already over the limit. Renton is volunteering to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars here on litigation they will lose. That’s on top of what they’ve already spent drafting and considering this doomed legislation. And the only measurable outcome will be 235 additional people sleeping in bus shelters and taking round trips to Harborview at taxpayer expense.

        Your preferred approach has been in practice for decades and has only worsened the problem. Housing, not jailing, is the solution to people with nowhere to live. And it turns out its a lot cheaper. So our limit is apparently a lot lower than yours. We propose housing because however much it may delight you, we are tired of paying police, and jailers to beat people up for being poor. And we’re tired of paying ER docs to patch them up after. Your amusement is too damned expensive.

      2. Distant Replay below is literally suggesting that bribing criminals by giving them free hotel rooms is going to reduce the cost of crime. It simply does not work that way folks. Anyone with confidence in their own opinions would at least use their real name, and also allow for a response from those they are attacking.

  2. The second-fastest way to enslave a person is to hand them more free stuff until they no longer have any motivation to provide for themselves. Then you own them. When you reward laziness or stupidity you get more of it. Kicking them out in June is the best time of year around here. If they know they are going to get kicked out in winter, then maybe they should leave before it gets too cold. They can hop a freight train to Southern CA. I did it myself years ago. Its quite an adventure, and free. Apparently, these are people who have no incentive to plan for their own future, which is exactly the problem now isn’t it? Steve willie.

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