Category: City Council

Seattle’s Big Push to Reduce Homelessness After COVID Relies on Self-Reliance

Source: King County rapid rehousing dashboard

By Erica C. Barnett

Sometime in the next few months, the city of Seattle plans to open up to three new hotel-based shelters in the city, with a total of about 300 rooms, for clients of three homeless service providers—Catholic Community Services, Chief Seattle Club, and the Public Defender Association.

The goal of this streets-to-housing program, announced last year, is to move people quickly from unsheltered homelessness into permanent housing, using diversion (programs that keep people out of the homeless system, such as bus passes to reconnect with family out of state), permanent supportive housing (service-rich housing for people who can’t live independently) and rapid rehousing, a form of short-term rental subsidy that has become the solution of first resort for people who don’t need the highest level of care but who have run through all their housing options. The rapid rehousing portion of the program is supposed to move more than 230 people from unsheltered homelessness to market-rate housing.

Originally, the city said the hotels would open at the beginning of January and operate for 10 months, but that deadline has been pushed back and the exact date each of the hotels will open is now unknown. The federal Emergency Services Grant that will fund the hotels expires at the end of this year.

City officials, pointing to statistics that show low rates of returns to homelessness among people who use rapid rehousing funds, call rapid rehousing a phenomenal success. Others, including many advocates and service providers, caution that rapid rehousing only works for people who are already resourceful, and fails to address the underlying conditions that cause many people to fall into homelessness and get stuck.

Rapid rehousing is a relatively new approach to homelessness, one that’s based on the notion that most people experiencing homelessness just need a temporary financial boost to achieve self-sufficiency.

Under rapid rehousing, nonprofit homeless service agencies connect clients to available market-rate housing units and pay a portion of their rent for several months. During that time, the agency provides case management to help clients increase their income. Once a client is paying 60 percent of their income on rent, or after a maximum of 12 months, the subsidy runs out and the client is responsible for paying full rent their own. Because the rent subsidies are temporary and decrease over time, rapid rehousing is much less expensive than other options cities like Seattle favored in the past, like transitional housing.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

City officials praise rapid rehousing programs for their apparent high success rates. For example, Kamaria Hightower, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, cited King County statistics showing that just 16 percent of households in rapid rehousing program returned to homelessness within two years. “This figure demonstrates that the program is successful in keeping people housed for long-periods of time,” Hightower said. “This is a promising trend we expect to see in this new [hotel-to-housing] program.”

But critics say the statistics supporting rapid rehousing are flawed, because they only include program participants who actually found housing; because they don’t track people longer than two years (about one year after the maximum length of a subsidy); and because the “return to homelessness” numbers only include people who re-entered the formal homeless service system in their community within a year, a number that excludes every person who returned to homelessness but didn’t seek out services within the same community.

These numbers are significant. According to King County’s rapid rehousing dashboard, only half of all people (52 percent) who entered rapid rehousing accessed housing through the program; the “success” rate erases all of those people because they never found housing to begin with. (For single adults, the move-in rate was only 45 percent). And although it’s hard to say how many rapid rehousing enrollees became homeless without re-entering the formal homeless system, the most recent “point in time” count of people experiencing homeless found that about 10 percent of homeless people surveyed said they don’t use any homeless services.

People who are not “literally homeless,” including those who couch surf or crash at friends’ and relatives’ houses, wouldn’t show up in the official numbers either. Nor would people who avail themselves of what Seattle and King County’s new rapid rehousing guidelines, adopted in February 2020, refer to as “innovative housing options including roommates, or shared housing with family or friends”—as if sharing an apartment with other families or crashing at a friend’s house is a new and unique opportunity, not an option people choose when they have no other options.

Sharon Lee, director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) says LIHI’s tiny house villages “always have people who say they refused to even consider [rapid rehousing] because of bad experiences or they’ve heard about friends who tried it and had a bad experience. “Every year we have people end up in tiny house villages who ‘flunk’ out of rapid rehousing, so they end up homeless again,” Lee said.

People who “flunk” out of rapid rehousing do so mostly because they can’t pay their rent, a predictable outcome in a city where a two-bedroom apartment costs $1,700 a month (and that’s after rents dropped dramatically nationwide). Rapid rehousing supporters, including Barb Poppe, the consultant whose 2016 report arguably contributed to Seattle’s embrace of the short-term subsidies, have pointed to cities like Houston and Phoenix as models for success. However, they often fail to acknowledge that it’s much easier to house people in cities where that same two-bedroom costs just $1,100 a month.

Only half of all people who entered rapid rehousing accessed housing through the program; the “success” rate erases all of those people because they never found housing to begin with.

“Given our housing market here, I’m not sure that [rapid rehousing] is a smart solution,” City Council member Tammy Morales said late last year, when the council was still debating Durkan’s hotel-to-housing proposal. “To provide housing for a month, or three months, without providing the additional support they need to stay in that housing seems counterproductive and potentially harmful.”

Derrick Belgarde, deputy director of the Chief Seattle Club, says CSC’s rapid rehousing success has resulted from choosing people who are most likely to do well in the program, which doesn’t mean the most vulnerable clients. “The average people we serve usually have a lot of problems,” Belgrade said. “A better candidate is somebody who’s probably more functional, who may have a part-time job—all they’re lacking is the resources to pay $2,500 or $3,000 to get into a place.”

Salina Whitfield is, in many ways, a quintessential rapid rehousing success story. After fleeing an abusive relationship in 2017, she moved back to Seattle with her two kids in 2019, living in shelters and temporary housing until she found an apartment through InterIm Community Development’s rehousing program last year. At the time, Whitfield was working as a temp for a radiology company in Seattle making enough to start paying her rent, at a subsidized unit owned by LIHI, without assistance.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the bottom fell out. Whitfield lost her job, and faced a long wait for unemployment. Fortunately, she was still eligible for rapid rehousing, which paid the rent she owed for November and December. “I just linked back up with them [around] Christmas Eve,” she said. “They helped me pay catch-up until I could get my unemployment for February. … I’m ecstatic because I’m good until February.”

Whitfield is happy with the program, but added that she couldn’t make it work without a subsidized unit. When she was living with her two kids at a family shelter in Auburn, she said, the agency wanted her to move into an apartment that would have cost her $1,500 a month—far more than she could afford on her $18-an-hour income. “I was like, ‘You guys are setting me up for failure,’ because I had friends who went to rapid rehousing” who had to move out once their subsidies expired, she said. “Now my rent is $1,185 a month, which is unheard-of in Seattle for a two-bedroom, and it doesn’t change,” she said. “I just feel lucky all around.”

Homeless service providers, including those who help clients with rapid rehousing vouchers, say that rapid rehousing works for a specific subset of people—those, like Whitfield, who are between jobs or have only recently fallen into homelessness.

“It’s great for those it’s great for, and that’s not a huge subset of those DESC works to serve,” said Noah Fay, director of housing programs at the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which provides low-barrier shelter and housing to people experiencing homelessness. “For people who are just down on their luck or need some short-term support, I think [rapid rehousing] makes total sense.”

But for DESC’s clients, who range from very low-income workers to people with complex mental health and addiction issues, a short-term subsidy often makes little sense. In many cases, Fay said, clients who qualify for rapid rehousing turn it down. “What we’ve seen is that high-needs people who aren’t able to find sufficient income have ended up returning to homelessness. Having housing and losing housing is inherently quite traumatic, and I think people are aware of that and conscious of that fact.”

The process of getting enrolled in rapid rehousing begins when a person enters the homeless system, through a process known as Coordinated Entry for All. Every person looking for housing must take a survey designed to gauge their overall “vulnerability,” based on factors such as domestic violence, drug use, and whether they owe money to anyone, among other intensely personal topics.

The vulnerability ranking tool, called the Vulnerability Index—Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), is used to rank clients for housing and other services. Clients who score high enough to qualify for housing get matched to apartments through a separate process called case conferencing, in which case managers make the case that their client, rather than someone else’s, is the best fit for a particular housing unit.

This process, which puts those hardest hit by homelessness first in line for short-term subsidy, can result in a mismatch between households that qualify for rapid rehousing and those that can actually make it work long-term. Often, providers say, people who initially express an interest in rapid rehousing back out when they see what a unit would cost or how long the subsidy is supposed to last.

“I appreciate the sentiment that we should be prioritizing our region’s most vulnerable,” Fay, from DESC, said. “However, we need to match the needs to the housing, and in my experience, rapid rehousing doesn’t meet the needs” of the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. Continue reading “Seattle’s Big Push to Reduce Homelessness After COVID Relies on Self-Reliance”

Unclear if Cops in D.C. During Riot Will Face Discipline; Council Weighs in on Cuba; Mosqueda Aide to Run for Mayor

1. Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz held a brief press conference on Wednesday afternoon to address both his announcement last Friday night that two SPD officers were present in Washington, D.C. on the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol and a spike in homicides in Seattle in 2020. As PubliCola reported on Friday, the department learned that two of its officers were in D.C. through a photo posted on social media; Diaz placed both officers on administrative leave while the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigates whether they were involved in the attack on the Capitol.

According to Diaz’s statement Monday, another officer reported the pair to their superiors, and the photos reached Assistant Chief of Patrol Operations Tom Mahaffey and Diaz by last Thursday. Diaz said he didn’t immediately terminate the two officers because “participating in a political event on their own time, out of uniform, violates no policy or law.”

In response to questions Monday, Diaz said that he will immediately fire the officers if the OPA investigation finds that they “participat[ed] in altercations with Capitol Police” or violated federal law.

The OPA also opened an investigation into Solan’s tweets last Friday. SPD has disciplined officers for social media posts in the recent past; last January, then-police chief Carmen Best fired Officer Duane Goodman for Instagram posts attacking Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and “illegal immigrants.”

Diaz said he didn’t immediately terminate the two officers because “participating in a political event on their own time, out of uniform, violates no policy or law.”

Halfway through his prepared remarks, Diaz pivoted to the subject of the surge in homicides in Seattle in 2020. According to year-end statistics, homicides rose by 61 percent from from 2019—from 31 to 50, the highest number in 26 years. Of those, 60 percent involved a gun, compared to 66 percent in the previous year. Half of all victims were Black, and most were men between the ages of 18 and 49. According to Diaz, last year saw an increase in domestic violence homicides in the city and a decrease in homicides in which the victims were unsheltered.

2. During Monday’s city council briefing, several council members added their voices to calls for Seattle Police Officers’ Guild president Mike Solan to resign after he took to Twitter last week to assert that members of the “far left” and Black Lives Matter activists were involved in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday. Mayor Jenny Durkan, former Seattle police chief Carmen Best and frequent department ally Scott Lindsay publicly called for Solan to apologize or resign on Friday evening.

In her comments at the start of the council briefing, Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointed to Solan’s lengthy record of inflammatory public statements and suggested that SPOG members should consider recalling or censuring Solan. “This is not the person I believe should be leading the guild during challenging times,” Herbold said, “and I hope members of SPOG agree.”

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Council President Lorena González and Councilmember Andrew Lewis made more direct calls for SPOG to remove Solan from its leadership, with Lewis arguing that Solan “has done nothing to advance the cause or the issues of that union or the quality of support of workers in that union.” And Councilmember Alex Pedersen connected Solan’s comments to the upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG, which will begin sometime in 2021. 

We will all agree that Officer Solan’s remarks and their implications are reprehensible and untrue, but also that there is a need to revamp an inflexible, expensive and unjust police union contract,” Pedersen said. “The current president of the police union has, in my view, disqualified himself to a fair partner to negotiate that contract.”

3. Also at today’s council meeting, council members Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant introduced a resolution calling for collaboration between US and Cuban scientists and urging Congress and the incoming Administration to end the United States’ economic blockade against its southern neighbor. Citing reports from Cuban authorities, the resolution reads, “Cuba’s free community-based healthcare system, unified government approach, and robust biopharmaceutical industry have enabled the country to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.” Continue reading “Unclear if Cops in D.C. During Riot Will Face Discipline; Council Weighs in on Cuba; Mosqueda Aide to Run for Mayor”

Anti-Development Group Dissolves, Green Lake Grinches Call for Sweeps, Impact of SPD Transfers Still Unknown, and More

No, I didn’t sign. Screenshot via change.org petition.

1. When Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced in September that he would transfer 100 officers from the department’s specialized units to positions on patrol, Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland told PubliCola that SPD would be “closely monitoring [case closure and workload] data for any potential negative impacts” of the transfers. At the time, the department didn’t specify when it would begin monitoring the effects of the staff transfers, which were completed on October 1.

According to SPD public affairs officer Valerie Carson, the department still hasn’t started tracking those effects. Instead, she told PubliCola, the department will start evaluating changes in specialized units’ workloads and case clearance rates in the new year. Carson said that the department chose not to start the assessments immediately after the transfers took effect to “ensure we are looking at true trends instead of spurious results from a few weeks of data.”

As PubliCola reported in September, the transfers did not shift officers away from the specialized units identified by the City Council for downsizing or elimination, which included the harbor patrol and the mounted unit. Instead, Diaz transferred officers from the department’s Community Policing Team, domestic violence unit, and intelligence unit. The transfers from the domestic violence unit—which effectively eliminated the team assigned to investigate elder abuse—sparked concerns within the King County Prosecutor’s Office and local domestic violence and elder abuse nonprofits, who argued that reducing the number of detectives investigating domestic and elder abuse could overwhelm the already-overworked specialized units and undermine the trust of survivors.

A random online petition demanding that the city uproot homeless people from a wealthy North End neighborhood might not be cause for concern, except that the last major sweep of a North End homeless encampment was preceded by a similar petition.

2. Happy new year—now get the hell out of “our” park.

That’s what a group of Green Lake grinches are saying to dozens of unsheltered people trying to survive the winter in tents around the popular park, via a petition demanding that the city “act now to protect people, parks, and our shared environment” by sweeping the area. The petition is sponsored by “We Heart Seattle” and several “save our parks”-type groups, as well as the Green Lake Community Council.

The petition language is a familiar combination of faux-environmentalist concern about feces contaminating the lake (described as one of “our most environmentally sensitive waterways”) and performative hand-wringing about the health and safety of the people sleeping in wretched conditions on its shores.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

/

Like previous petitions demanding sweeps, this one presents a clear moral choice: Allow people to live in (and ruin) a public park, or offer them access to the “thousands of clean, warm, and hygienic indoor spaces [that] are available in King County.” This is not actually an option. There are, certainly, more than a thousand shelter beds in Seattle, but all but a handful are currently occupied; they aren’t just sitting vacant, waiting for recalcitrant homeless people to agree to occupy them.

The document also asserts, fancifully, that there are “thousands” of properties in King County where it would be simple to set up new “tiny home villages, Pallet shelters, and sanctioned tent communities.” In reality, these options are expensive and can take months to site and open, thanks largely to neighborhood opposition from groups like the ones sponsoring the petition.

A random online petition demanding that the city uproot homeless people from a wealthy North End neighborhood might not be cause for concern, except that the last major sweep of a North End homeless encampment was preceded by a similar petition. (The more recent removal of tents from Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill was sui generis and hard to untangle from the park’s status as a long-term protest zone). In May, the city’s Navigation Team removed a large encampment from the Ballard Commons after neighborhood residents circulated a petition that allowing people to live in the park was inhumane and created an environmental hazard. Since then, the tents have returned, and nearby encampments have continued to grow.

The Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity (SCALE), a group of single-family housing advocates that spent years fighting against modest density increases in and around Seattle’s densest neighborhoods, has disbanded.

3. One thing the “plenty of shelter” crowd may not realize, in addition to the negligible nightly vacancy rate, is that there are currently no low-barrier shelters in Seattle where adults can walk up, wait in line, and get a bed for the night. The last such shelter, a Salvation Army-run coed basic shelter at City Hall, closed late last year after being partly redistributed to Fisher Pavilion, at Seattle Center. Both the City Hall and Fisher shelters were replaced by a 24/7 enhanced shelter in SoDo, which requires pre-registration and is not currently taking referrals.

The city has no plans to reopen either location on a long-term basis—partly because shelter providers are stretched thin already, and partly because they want to keep both sites available in case they need to open emergency winter shelters. Except in unusually cold or snowy years (like the winter of 2017-2018, it’s rare for the city to provide people a place to go specifically to escape winter weather, by design: The city’s winter-shelter protocols, which haven’t been updated in nearly 20 years, call for opening emergency shelters only if the weather dips below 25 degrees for multiple nights, or if there is snow accumulation of more than an inch. Continue reading “Anti-Development Group Dissolves, Green Lake Grinches Call for Sweeps, Impact of SPD Transfers Still Unknown, and More”

King County Equity Now Presents Preliminary Research Findings to City Council

By Paul Kiefer

Monday morning’s Seattle City Council briefing began with an hour-long presentation by researchers affiliated with King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) about the preliminary findings from their research on the public safety and community health priorities of Seattle residents. The presentation was KCEN’s first council appearance since the execution of a $3 million research contract between the council and Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor, in late November.

The contract itself provides only a broad description of its purpose: to fund “research processes that will promote public safety informed by community needs.” Nevertheless, the research project looms large in the council’s discussions about developing public safety alternatives because it will lay the groundwork for a public safety-focused participatory budgeting process in 2021 that will allocate $30 million to public safety investments chosen by Seattle residents; that process will play a significant role in shaping Seattle’s path away from police-centered public safety.

But the BBRP is largely separate from the project-development element of participatory budgeting. The research itself—which includes online surveys and focus groups—is delegated to “research teams” hired and managed by nonprofits that subcontract with Freedom Project Washington, including a team fielded by Freedom Project Washington itself. Each of these research teams has a distinct focus; PubliCola reviewed one survey, created by East African Community Services, that specifically targeted East African youth between 11-24.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The core of the BBRP’s preliminary findings are five high-level priorities that KCEN hopes will inform the project proposals put to a vote during the participatory budgeting process: Expanding housing and small-business options (specifically “more Black-led residential and Black-led commercial spaces”); “culturally responsive and caring” mental health services; “childcare and out-of-school time supports… particularly for children facing systemic violence and trauma”; economic relief; and an alternative crisis response system.

These five priorities have remained consistent since KCEN first announced the launch of the BBRP in September. However, according to KCEN, the qualitative data gathered by researchers during this phase of the project will help sharpen more concrete budget and programming proposals at some point in the future.

Research teams have also been conducting “community needs surveys” as part of a parallel effort to address accessibility problems (like language barriers, cost of childcare or lack of internet) that could exclude marginalized residents from taking part in the participatory budgeting process. During Monday’s briefing, Glaze said that KCEN and their partners are distributing the community needs surveys through social media and the social and professional networks of researchers themselves, most of whom are Black and between 20-35 years old.

This could help explain why more than half of the participants in the survey have been Black, and why nearly 55% are younger than 35. KCEN’s efforts to reach older residents through community meetings and in-person interviews have been hindered by COVID-related restrictions on gatherings.

Because the contract between Freedom Project Washington and the council did not outline a budget for the project, the only guide to how contract dollars are spent is the Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-investment released by KCEN and the Decriminalize Seattle Coalition last summer. Though that initial budget is not set in stone, it included nearly $300,000 in spending on “internet connectivity supports” and computers to ensure widespread access to online surveys, focus groups and educational materials. KCEN was not immediately able to say how many internet hotspots and computers it has distributed or how much it has spent on that infrastructure.

Though the work plan KCEN submitted in November included a timeline for the current research project, it’s unclear exactly how this project will lead to a citywide participatory budgeting process in 2021. During Monday’s presentation, Glaze said KCEN doesn’t intend to control the participatory budgeting process. Instead, Glaze spoke about a still-to-be-formed “steering committee” that will work with multiple city departments to set the ground rules for the process, review community-generated proposals and shape them into a list of viable projects. KCEN has not said who will select the committee’s members or when the committee will begin its work.

When asked by Council President Lorena González about city departments that could partner with the steering committee to launch the participatory budgeting process, Glaze pointed to the Equitable Development Initiative, housed in the Office of Planning and Community Development, as a prime candidate, as well as the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Glaze said those offices could offer technical support to the process and award grants to the winning projects, though the steering committee would remain responsible for gathering project proposals from community members.

KCEN is scheduled to submit a full report, including preliminary recommendations for the structure of the participatory budgeting process, on December 21.

Council Plans Police Budget Cuts, Parks Board Debates Encampment Sweeps

This post was updated with additional details about the SPD budget provisos on Friday, December 11.

1. City council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold have introduced legislation that makes good on Mosqueda’s earlier proposal to cut $5.4 million from the Seattle Police Department’s 2021 budget in response to the police department’s fourth-quarter budget request for that amount this year. The council decided to grant the request but expressed its “intent” to come back with legislation to cut the department’s budget by the same amount next year.

SPD said it needed the extra funding to essentially backfill the cost of protest-related overtime, unanticipated family leave, and higher-than-expected separation pay for officers who are leaving. Mosqueda and other council members countered this week that the police knew perfectly well that the budget explicitly did not fund any additional overtime, and that they were supposed to stay within their budget.

After some behind-the-scenes discussion about whether Acting Police Chief Adrian Diaz would be personally liable for unpaid wages if the council didn’t come up with the money, budget committee members decided last week to express the council’s “intent” to cut $5.4 million from SPD’s budget in 2021, most likely using the savings from higher-than-expected attrition.

Herbold said on Wednesday that she wasn’t “a person who is rigid in saying that I would not support more overtime,” but “there needs to be a consequence for a continued large expenditure of overtime resources.”

The council adopted the 2021 budget in November; Mosqueda’s proposal would cut that budget. “I am not interested in giving the department one more penny,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “The reality is, we are in this situation because the department made managerial decisions to spend money on overtime instead of on other purposes.”

2. The budget committee also rejected a separate proposal to lift 13 provisos (spending restrictions) that the council imposed on SPD’s budget in August. The provisos withhold a total of $2.9 million until the department makes an array of cuts, including laying off officers who work on specialized units like the Harbor Patrol, SWAT and the (theoretically disbanded) Navigation Team.

The mayor’s office told PubliCola that SPD hasn’t been able to make most of the cuts the council requested, because they require “out of order layoffs” that would violate provisions in the city’s police-union contracts that require the least-senior officers to be laid off first. The city’s labor negotiation team will need to bargain with both unions before those layoffs can take place; in the meantime, SPD hasn’t laid off any officers, so the department still needs to pay their salaries.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

As a result, city budget director Ben Noble told the council, SPD needed the council to lift all 13 provisos so that the department can use the $2.9 million to fill holes in its budget. Mosqueda told PubliCola on Friday that “it’s premature to lift the proviso” before the council knows by how much SPD will underspend its budget in November and December. SPD, Mosqueda said, was only “in that spot because they failed to stay within [the] spending authorized” by the council in August. Noble maintained Wednesday that there won’t be enough of an underspend to fund the $2.9 million shortfall.

3. The Seattle Board of Parks Commissioners and the Park District Oversight Committee were scheduled to discuss the issue of encampments in parks during a joint meeting Thursday night, but a lengthy discussion about whether to permanently limit car traffic on Lake Washington Boulevard (in which historic-preservation advocates tossed around buzzwords like “redlining” and “equity” to justify turning the recently calmed roadway into Lake Shore Drive) pushed the discussion to the board’s next meeting in January. 

Still, the commission gave parks department staff, including a beleaguered-looking Parks Director Jesús Aguirre, a preview of next month’s discussion, when they’ll consider weighing in formally on the city’s decision to put a pause on sweeps during the COVID pandemic. Commissioner Tom Byers, a mayoral staffer during the Charley Royer administration (1978-1990) expressed frustration that neither Aguirre nor anyone else at the city would commit to removing encampments and telling people to move along. When Royer was mayor, Byers said, the city and businesses would work together to ensure that unsheltered people couldn’t “take over parks,” and the city should show a similar commitment to keeping parks “clean” now. Continue reading “Council Plans Police Budget Cuts, Parks Board Debates Encampment Sweeps”

Basic Needs Defense Prompts Wild Claims, Top Staff Blindsided by Durkan Departure, Another Hiring Delay at Homelessness Authority

1. After listening to public comment from both sides of the debate (one woman, who rattled off the first names of several homeless people she claimed to know, said a guy named “Josh” told her, “The only way you can help me is to arrest me and have me sweat it out”), the council’s public safety committee discussed a proposal from council member Lisa Herbold that would create a new affirmative defense for people who commit crimes of poverty.

The proposal, a version of which Herbold originally proposed as part of the 2021 budget, would enable people who admitted to committing misdemeanor crimes, such as shoplifting or trespassing, to meet a basic human need to use this fact as a defense in court. A judge or jury would then determine whether the defendant actually committed the crime to meet a basic need or not.

The concept has been widely mischaracterized as a plan to “legalize all crime” by conservative interest groups Change Washington and business leaders who claim it would allow people to vandalize small businesses, walk out of stores with armloads of cell phones, and squat on people’s property with impunity. In reality, creating a “basic need” defense would  merely add one more affirmative defense to the list that already exists in city law. Defendants already have the ability to argue, for example, that they committed a crime because they were under duress. Judges and juries then have the ability to agree or disagree with this defense.

These facts didn’t stop public commenters from claiming that creating a new defense would effectively unleash “addicts” and “criminals” on the streets of Seattle. And it didn’t stop council member Alex Pedersen from rattling off a list of extremely implausible scenarios if the bill passed.

The Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) zone made Seattle a “national embarrassment,” he said—and a basic need defense might do the same, impacting everything from the US Senate races in Georgia to the future makeup of the Supreme Court. Renters, he said, might see their renters’ insurance premiums go up as insurance companies decide en masse to “classify all of Seattle as a high-risk zone.” And how, he wondered, would the proposal prevent criminals “from just coming to Seattle to shoplift because they know they can claim poverty as a defense?” (Never mind that the scenario he’s describing would involve going to jail, getting out, getting an attorney, going to court, and convincing a judge or jury that the defense was valid).

And how, city council member Alex Pedersen wondered, would the proposal prevent criminals “from just coming to Seattle to shoplift because they know they can claim poverty as a defense?”

In any case, Pedersen continued, it makes no sense to address the judicial system’s response to crimes of poverty before the city knows the impact of cuts to police, the outcome of the participatory budgeting process that just got underway, and the details of the next Seattle Police Officers Guild contract. “Let’s first see how these other changes work before this council is immersed in a time-consuming and distracting debate over whether we would be the first city in the US to weaken our laws that protect each other,” he said.

Finally, Pedersen argued that City Attorney Pete Holmes has already said that he doesn’t prosecute crimes of poverty, which means that there’s no reason to even discuss the issue for “one to five years,” the length of Holmes’ current and (likely) upcoming terms.

Herbold is still working on draft legislation. Outstanding questions (outlined in this memo) include whether to narrow the defense to a specific list of misdemeanors, whether to put the burden of proof on defendants to show that they had no choice but to commit a crime, and whether people who shoplift merchandise for resale should be allowed to use the defense.

2. Documents just posted on the website of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority indicate that the timeline for hiring a director for the agency has slipped again, from mid-January to mid-February of next year. Originally, the new homelessness agency—which is supposed to come up with a unified, regional approach to homelessness for the entire county, including Seattle and dozens of suburban cities—was supposed to approve the CEO in September. Continue reading “Basic Needs Defense Prompts Wild Claims, Top Staff Blindsided by Durkan Departure, Another Hiring Delay at Homelessness Authority”

City Will Require More Transparency from Public Influence Campaigns

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council’s governance committee moved forward legislation drafted by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission that would require “grassroots lobbyists”—defined as people or organizations that spend at least $750 a month trying to influence the public to lobby public officials on legislation—to register with the city and disclose their contributions and expenditures.

According to council president Lorena González, who spoke with PubliCola about the proposal last week, “if you’re a small operation that isn’t spending any money to present a public influence campaign, then nothing’s going to change for you. It is going to change the regulations and the environment for people who are well-organized, well-funded, and are spending the required mat of money on presenting public-facing campaigns that are designed to influence legislation.”

Importantly, the new requirements wouldn’t impact regular people contacting the city directly, even if that contact is prompted by a grassroots lobbying effort—like a social media campaign that urges you to contact your council members. If a socialist organization holds a rally to drum up support for a new tax proposal, for example, that group would have to register as a lobbying organization and report the cost of the rally to the city, but a person who shows up at the rally and decides to testify in favor of the proposal would not. The lobbying rules wouldn’t apply to elected officials, who are allowed under the city’s ethics rules to lobby the public to their heart’s content.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The legislation, which González is sponsoring, would also expand the definition of direct lobbying to include communications with department directors and staff for elected officials, and require public disclosure when a lobbyist also works on campaigns for politicians or ballot measures—henceforth known as the Sandeep Kaushik rule.

As PubliCola reported last month, one group that would be impacted by the legislation is Change Washington, which has attempted to influence the public using email campaigns, op/eds, and a series of misleading “reports” by former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay that have argued against police funding cuts and legislation creating a new defense to misdemeanor charges for people with severe mental health or drug dependency issues. Currently, the public has little insight into who’s behind Change Washington or how much Lindsay and its staff are being paid to indirectly lobby the council. The grassroots lobbying legislation would ensure that groups like this are subject to the same transparency requirements as other lobbyists. Continue reading “City Will Require More Transparency from Public Influence Campaigns”

Mayor Asks for Year-End SPD Budget Boost, Budget Chair Responds: “I Don’t Believe This Is the Time”

Image via Seattle City Council Flickr page.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked the city council to lift more than a dozen restrictions on Seattle Police Department spending in 2020 so that SPD can pay for overtime expenses accrued this year, including—as the fiscal note prepared by the executive City Budget Office describes it—”exceptional budget pressures due to the utilization of overtime in response to on-going protests and demonstrations and increased separation pay-outs as officers have left the force late in the year.”

As part of the city’s 2020 rebalancing package, the city council passed a resolution that said the council “will not support any budget amendments to increase the SPD’s budget to offset overtime expenditures above the funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.”

This year’s fourth-quarter supplemental budget includes additional police expenditures in 2020 that would add more than $5 million in SPD spending to the rebalanced budget the city adopted in August—a budget Durkan unsuccessfully vetoed over the issue of police funding. The legislation indicates that the mayor’s office believes some of that money will be reimbursed by FEMA as part of a COVID relief package.

The legislation would also lift a number of provisos relating to out-of-order layoffs, in recognition of the fact that layoffs will be subject to bargaining and can’t happen this year, so the officers who would be subject to layoffs must keep getting paid through the rest of 2020. The council acknowledged earlier this year that this was a possibility.

The legislation has to go through the budget committee, and ordinarily would be sponsored by the budget committee chair. But there’s a problem: The budget chair, Teresa Mosqueda, tells PubliCola that she does not “believe this is the time to lift the provisos or allow for additional spending authority” for SPD. During Monday morning’s council briefing, Mosqueda elaborated: “As this council has [made] very clear, we… want to make sure that we’re interrupting the process and the practice of SPD specifically coming back to ask for overtime dollars.”

SPD, Mosqueda said, made it clear earlier this year that they would fund overtime, as well as jobs the council has directed SPD to cut through “out of order” layoffs, through its existing budget; the resolution and provisos were a way of making sure that they did so. To come back now and ask for money—more than $3 million—violates both the letter and the spirit of the 2020 budget (which Durkan attempted, unsuccessfully, to veto), Mosqueda says.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

“It’s no secret to the mayor or to the police department that council passed a resolution during our summer budget process that said the council will not support any budget increase … above the funds budgeted for 2020 or 2021,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Sunday. “No other department is coming back to council and asking for additional spending authority or to [tell us] that they’ve already spent all their money and need reimbursement.”

The mayor’s office countered on Monday that the city council should have expected the additional spending request, given the magnitude of the cuts included in the mid-year budget revision. “In 2020, the Mayor and Council cut roughly $23 million from the SPD’s budget mid-year,” mayoral spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said. “I don’t think it’s a huge leap to imagine the SPD – or any department – would have trouble making its budget under those circumstances.”

Nyland noted that in addition to excess overtime (which, she said, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz has partially addressed by transferring detectives from specialty units to patrol), the department had to pay unanticipated extra separation pay and vacation payouts as more officers than anticipated have left the department. “One thing that’s important to remember is that attrition actually costs a lot more than people realize,” Nyland said. “When an officer leaves, it doesn’t translate exclusively to salary savings for the SPD.”

Continue reading “Mayor Asks for Year-End SPD Budget Boost, Budget Chair Responds: “I Don’t Believe This Is the Time””

Prospect of “Musical Chairs” in 2021 Elections for Mayor, Council Prompts Debate Over Democracy Vouchers

By Erica C. Barnett

The 2021 election in Seattle could be the first in recent history where one or more city council candidates who are up for reelection decide to switch positions and run for mayor. The prospect of council members Lorena González or Teresa Mosqueda running against Mayor Jenny Durkan—or, if Durkan decides not to run, seeking an open mayoral seat—is interesting for election watchers, but a potential headache for the election watchdogs at the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

That’s because it’s unclear what the commission, which oversees the democracy voucher public campaign funding program, is supposed to do if a candidate raises money and collects signatures to qualify for the program while running for one race, then switches to another. For example, if a council member collected all or most of the 400 signatures and $10 contributions required to qualify for public funding (democracy vouchers) while running for her council seat, could she transfer that support and funding over to a mayoral run, or would she need to start all over? Or should there be some kind of middle ground, allowing a candidate to keep the money and signatures if she got written permission from each supporter?

This stuff is catnip to process wonks (guilty). But decisions over whether and how to let candidates move between races is the kind of thing that can change who runs and who doesn’t, which impacts the outcome of elections.

These are some of the hypotheticals the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission discussed at its meeting this week, in a preview of recommendations and new election rules that will take shape over the next two months. Commission director Wayne Barnett issued a memo, titled “Musical Chairs,” that described the voucher qualification conundrum along with two other hypothetical seat-switching scenarios.

In one, a candidate has already raised and spent $50,000 to run in one race before she switches to another; the question is whether that $50,000 should count against her total campaign fundraising limit, or if she gets to start running for the new position with “a clean slate.”

In the other, a candidate has already qualified for vouchers and raised $100,000 in public funding; the question, as in the first hypothetical, is whether she gets to transfer that money, whether she can transfer it with donor permission, or whether she has to start from scratch.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Within all these hypotheticals, there are also sub-debates about whether the requirements should be different if a candidate switches within the same “class” of positions—from one citywide council seat to another, for example—rather than from one “class” to another, like a city council candidate who decides to run for city attorney or mayor. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a donor supports a candidate for city council, but not for mayor, or where a donor supports a candidate for one position but supports a different candidate already running for another. In those cases, the donor might want to withdraw their funding.

In short: It’s complicated! And election officials feel a sense of urgency to come up with rules before the hypotheticals become very concrete. “With the three positions on the ballot this year”—mayor and city council Positions 8 and 9—”we feel like we would be remiss if we didn’t have a plan in place if and when it happens,” Barnett said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We don’t want to be making this up on the fly.” Continue reading “Prospect of “Musical Chairs” in 2021 Elections for Mayor, Council Prompts Debate Over Democracy Vouchers”

Proposal Would Grant Full Subpoena Power to Seattle Police Accountability Bodies

By Paul Kiefer

On Thursday morning, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and city council member Lisa Herbold announced a new proposal to explicitly grant subpoena power to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Subpoena power would allow the two police accountability bodies to compel testimony from people who were involved in, or who witnessed, police misconduct but refused to testify. It would also allow the two offices to compel witnesses to hand over records and other evidence in police misconduct cases. If witnesses refused to testify or provide evidence, the proposed law would allow the OPA and OIG to turn to the City Attorney’s Office to obtain a court order enforcing the subpoena.

If passed, the legislation would fulfill a three-year-old promise to expand the powers of the OPA and OIG. The city’s 2017 police accountability ordinance explicitly granted the OIG and the OPA the authority to issue subpoenas during investigations if a witness refused to cooperate, but those powers were placed on the bargaining table during the 2018 contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG).

During that process, which largely neutralized the 2017 ordinance, the city’s negotiating team agreed not to implement those elements of the accountability ordinance. Although the contract allowed the city to unilaterally bring SPOG back to the bargaining table to negotiate the OPA and OIG’s right to issue subpoenas, the negotiating team has not revisited the issue.

As a result, although SPD officers have been required to comply with OPA and OIG investigations for the past three years, the two offices have had no legal recourse if a witness decided not to testify. Neither office has needed to issue a subpoena to obtain testimony or evidence from an SPD officer, so the ordinance would be a proactive measure.

In a press release accompanying the announcement, Durkan said the proposal would “set the City on better footing to pursue stronger accountability measures in our collective bargaining agenda for the next round of negotiations with SPOG,” which expires at the end of the month.

Herbold’s public safety council committee will take up the legislation on December 8.