Category: homelessness

Council Budget Eliminates 80 Vacant Police Positions, Preserves Human Service Pay, Moves Parking Officers Back to SPD

City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council’s budget committee, which includes all nine council members, moved forward on a 2023-2024 budget yesterday that will move the city’s parking enforcement division back to the police department, preserve inflationary wage increases for human service workers, and increase the city’s funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority—all while closing a late-breaking budget hole of almost $80 million over the next two years.

Every fall, the mayor proposes a budget and the council “rebalances” it, adding spending for their own priorities and removing items to keep the budget balanced. In November, after many council members had already proposed substantial changes to Mayor Bruces Harrell’s initial budget proposal, the city received news that tax revenues would be even lower than previously anticipated. The biggest unanticipated shortfall came from a decline in real-estate taxes, which pay for long-term capital projects, but other revenues, including parking taxes and money from the sweetened beverage tax, also declined.

Last week, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda proposed a balancing package that saved money by declining to fund most of the new programs and program expansions Harrell proposed in his budget, while making several substantive policy changes. Among the most controversial: A proposal to eliminate 80 vacant positions in the police department, and a related plan to to keep the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), rather than moving them back to SPD, while the city decides on a permanent home for the unit.

“Our mayor’s budget did not delete these 80 [vacant police] positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here.”—Councilmember Alex Pedersen

The budget the committee adopted Monday night, nearly 12 hours into a meeting that began at 9:30 that morning, will eliminate the 80 vacant positions, while preserving another 160 vacant positions in future years. Vacant positions continue to be funded year after year unless the mayor or council takes action to defund them temporarily and use the money for other purposes, as Harrell’s budget does this year. Both the proposed budget and the one adopted by the committee on Monday use money  that would have gone to the 80 vacant positions to augment the city’s general fund, while using the savings from another 120 positions to pay for new spending within the police department. This week, the council got word that SPD had identified another 40 vacant positions, for a total of 240.

Council member Alex Pedersen opposed eliminating the 80 unfilled police positions, arguing that it would be wrong for the council to go against the “wisdom” of the City Budget Office, the mayor, and police chief Adrian Diaz, who want to keep as many positions vacant but funded as possible.

“Our mayor’s budget … did not delete these 80 positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here by abrogating or deleting these 80 positions,” Pedersen said.

Council member Sara Nelson added that eliminating vacant positions as a recurring budget line item could discourage people from applying for jobs at SPD and send a message to existing officers that the city did not support police hiring.

In response, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold pointed out that the budget fully funds the mayor and SPD’s hiring plan, which would increase the department by a net total of 30 officers in the next two years. (This hiring plan assumes a complete reversal, and then some, of current SPD hiring trends). It also keeps the remaining 160 vacant positions on the books, where they will be funded again automatically in 2025. For the city to need the 80 positions the council eliminated Monday, it would have to hire at least 190 net new officers, not counting new recruits who replace officers who leave the department. If that very unlikely scenario came to pass, the council could add funding for more officers—as it has many times in the past.

“It’s really disappointing that … some people seem unwilling to say that the hiring budget is fully funded for the next biennium for the council to act on,” Herbold said. “That would send a positive factual message, rather than … distort what an abrogation of positions would do for the budget.”

Nelson and Pedersen also cast the only votes against a Herbold-sponsored proviso, or spending restriction, requiring the police department to get council approval if they want to use their staffing budget for anything other than salaries and benefits, arguing it was important to give SPD special flexibility to spend their budget how they want to.

“I believe we should stop micromanaging the use of salary savings and exercise some humility going forward because we simply don’t know what needs will need to be met,” Nelson said. “[Extra] overtime, for example, if there’s an earthquake or a mass shooting or something.”

In a last-minute compromise with Harrell’s office, the council agreed to move parking enforcement from SDOT to SPD, as PubliCola reported Monday. The compromise amendment uses administrative savings from the move (almost $9 million a year) to pay for several council spending priorities, including $1 million in one-time funds to support the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which Harrell’s budget partially defunded; $1 million to “activate” City Hall Park in Pioneer Square, which has been fenced off since the summer of 2021; and $1 million for RV parking and storage “associated with non-congregate shelter,” among other new spending.

In a separate amendment, the council provided an additional $2 million a year for LEAD and Co-LEAD, which the PDA says still leaves them $5.3 million a year short of what it needs to fully fund both programs. The two programs provide case management and (in the case of Co-LEAD) hotel-based shelter for people involved in the criminal legal system, including many with behavioral health conditions that make it harder to find housing.

Morales had more success with another amendment that would place a budget proviso, or restriction, on $1 million in 2023 spending from the city’s transportation levy, requiring SDOT to spend it replacing plastic bollards that do not actually “protect” bike lanes with concrete barriers that do.

Here are some more highlights from Monday’s meeting, which was the last chance for council members to make substantive changes to the budget; for budget changes the council agreed on prior to Monday’s meeting, check out our coverage of those changes from last week.

• The council turned down proposals to place extra scrutiny on two programs that the council’s more conservative faction, led by Pedersen and Nelson, generally oppose. For example, they voted to remove $1.2 million in funding (all numbers are two-year figures) that Nelson wanted to spend on two full-time city staffers who would evaluate the JumpStart tax, which was just implemented last year.

The council also rejected two proposals by Nelson to apply extra scrutiny to LEAD and Co-LEAD, which take a harm reduction approach to addiction and low-level criminal activity rather than the abstinence-only approach Nelson favors (more on that in a moment). Specifically, Nelson wanted detailed information about the PDA’s subcontracts with REACH, the homeless outreach provider, and the basic details of both programs.

“What services are provided to the clients of LEAD?” Nelson asked Monday. “Which contractors do what for which program?”  because they do receive so much funding?” Additionally, Nelson proposed an amendment that would require quarterly reports on LEAD and Co-LEAD clients’ shelter and housing “acceptance” rates. Continue reading “Council Budget Eliminates 80 Vacant Police Positions, Preserves Human Service Pay, Moves Parking Officers Back to SPD”

Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises

The city council’s budget “balancing package” still leaves a large gap the city will have to address in the future, possibly through new progressive taxes that have not yet been identified.

By Erica C. Barnett

Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for  JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.

Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.

Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.

At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.

Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.

Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.” 

Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.

And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.

Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.

The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.

Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.

“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how  way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.

Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:

• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.

Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”

• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.

• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.

However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.

The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?

• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.

• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”

“Housing Command Center” Has Housed 4 So Far; Council’s Budget Could Shake Up Homeless Funding

Photo by Joe Mabel; CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Update: On Monday morning, a spokeswoman for the KCRHA said the Housing Command Center will have housed 11 people by the end of the day.

A consultant working with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), David Canavan, updated the King County Regional Homelessness Authority last week about the work being done by the “Housing Command Center,” which aims to house homeless people living downtown by moving them directly from the street into privately owned units, with full rent subsidies for the first year. The Command Center opened began its work in late August.

Of the 748 people on the regional authority’s “by-name list” of people living unsheltered downtown, Canavan said, three households, including a total of four individuals, have signed leases and are getting ready to move in to apartments. “We’re really at the beginning of moving folks, and there’s a tremendous amount of work goes into aligning these systems, executing contracts, developing the workforce, [and] building assessment tools” for people on the list, Canavan said. So far, he said, the command center has identified 310 housing units.

According to KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens, two-thirds of those 310 units are studio apartments; the rest are one-bedrooms. “The amount of time it takes to get a person housed is dropping,” Martens said, from 36 days to “18 or 19 days” after “a site is prioritized for [removal]” by the city. (During last week’s meeting, Canavan said the first housing placement took 34 days and the second took 17.)

Implementation board member and Lived Experience Coalition representative Lamont Green asked Canavan whether the command center was doing anything to add temporary shelters or transitional housing “so we can more quickly get people off the streets across King County,” since “the majority of our unhoused neighbors do not want to be living outside.”

“I don’t see shelter as part of that solution. I don’t think we have to have shelter designed into our process. But I’m also not a decision maker.” —David Canvan, HUD

No, Canavan said; HUD’s focus is entirely on permanent housing. “I don’t see shelter as part of that solution. I don’t think we have to have shelter designed into our process. But I’m also not a decision maker. I don’t get to make decisions for other people. So I’m trying to add choices to your portfolio, which means putting permanent housing solutions in front of folks experiencing homelessness. That doesn’t eliminate any of the choices that are available and my understanding is your jurisdiction has shelter options with many vacancies.”

In reality, according to outreach providers and city officials who have attempted to take a more deliberate approach to encampment removals, there are general only a handful of shelter beds available across the city on any given day. Moreover, the shelters that have more frequent openings are congregate or semi-congregate shelters like the Navigation Center in Chinatown, rather than more desirable forms of shelter, such as hotels and tiny houses.

As we noted when we reported exclusively on the command center in September, the “command center”—a room at the city of Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center in Pioneer Square—did not come with any additional funding.

At the time, the KCRHA was hoping for future funding from, among other places, the city of Seattle, from which the authority requested tens of millions of dollars in new funding for a new high-acuity medical shelter, new temporary bridge housing, and new safe lots for people living in their vehicles. Mayor Bruce Harrell’s initial budget proposal funded none of these items, but did include $10 million in new funding for temporary shelter, which wasn’t among the authority’s requests.

Since then, the KCRHA has come back to the council to ask for money to pay for programs and services that were originally funded with about $45 million in one-time federal COVID emergency dollars that will no longer be available after this year. (Once city budget adds are factored in, the KCRHA stands to lose about $30 million in COVID-era funding).

An amendment sponsored by Councilmember Tammy Morales would add $9.4 million a year to partially backfill this funding, which paid for “program modifications, shelter deintensification, and service changes that were instituted during the pandemic and have now been incorporated into the expected service models,” according to a council staff description of the amendment. However, Morales proposed that amendment before the latest dire revenue forecast, which blew new holes in both the general fund ($4.5 million next year) and revenues from the real-estate excise tax, which funds capital projects ($26.7 million next year.)

Update Monday: A city council balancing package released today includes $3.9 million in one-time funds for 2023 to partially pay for the KCRHA’s request.

A separate  proposal, which council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda is expected to release as part of an overall council budget proposal on Monday, would move some funding Harrell proposed spending on the new Unified Care Team, which oversees the city’s encampment cleanup and removal efforts, to the KCRHA.

As we reported, the city has proposed moving encampment outreach (currently performed by a small group called the HOPE Team, which has been subsumed into the UCT) to the regional authority instead of keeping them at the city. The Harrell administration, like the Durkan administration before it, has maintained that the HOPE Team has to stay at the city to avoid exposing the city to legal liability over its encampment removal practices.

Mosqueda will release her budget “balancing package” on Monday morning;  PubliCola will have full coverage after the council meets to discuss the proposal Monday afternoon.

Winter Shelters Must Be Accessible, Not Just Open

By Erica C. Barnett

The first major cold snap of the winter offered a preview of how the King County Regional Homelessness Authority will respond when the temperature dips to dangerous levels, and an illustration of how a fractured homelessness response system still leaves unsheltered people out in the cold.

First, some very good news: KCRHA is using a completely new set of standards for deciding when to open emergency shelters in cold weather, abandoning the city of Seattle’s old standard for one that more accurately reflects the kind of weather conditions that put homeless people’s lives at risk. (This is the first full winter in which KCRHA will be in charge of emergency shelter; last year’s winter response was a chaotic combination of city and KCRHA oversight).

Under the previous standard, the city was only required to open at least one emergency shelter (a “Tier 2” response) when forecasted temperatures were 25 degrees or lower for multiple days, or when more than an inch of snow accumulated on the ground. Under the new standards, KCRHA will open at least one shelter, and provide emergency funding to homeless service providers for survival gear, any time the forecasted high temperature is 40 degrees or less for three consecutive days, the daily low temperature is 35 or less for three consecutive days, or there is more than two inches of snow or rain on the ground.

Fixing the region’s cold-weather shelter response will require an acknowledgement from KCRHA and the city that one of the primary reasons people don’t go to shelter is that shelter is unavailable and inaccessible to people living unsheltered in most areas of the city.

KCRHA has similarly adjusted the next activation level, Tier 3, to reflect the less-harsh but still dangerous weather conditions typical to longer periods of cold and snow in Seattle. In a Tier 3 activation, the county and city coordinate to open more shelters and daytime warming centers, and work to coordinate storage of belongings and transportation to shelter for people who can’t get there by bus. The city’s old standard required a snow accumulation of 6 inches or more, in addition to multiple days of 25-degree temperatures, to trigger a Tier 3 response; the new rules lower that standard to 30 degrees or less for a single day, or snow or rain accumulation of more than four inches.

According to KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens, between 20 and 40 people have used the city’s cold-weather shelter, at Compass Center in Pioneer Square, every night since Compass opened up extra capacity. That’s more people than typically show up in a Tier 2 (lower-level) winter emergency —an indication that “outreach is working,” Martens said—but it still represents a tiny fraction of the thousands of people sleeping outside in King County.

And therein lies some less-great news: Because the region’s official emergency winter response consists primarily of opening shelters in the downtown Seattle area, a majority of the city’s homeless population will inevitably be unable to access those shelters. This is still true with a more extensive Tier 3 response, which last year included more shelters downtown, two shelters in Lake City, and a tiny West Seattle shelter whose operator did not agree to be included on the city’s map and was overwhelmed by the influx of people seeking shelter.

A spokesman for the Human Services Department said that the city’s HOPE Team, which does outreach at encampments, is providing information about the Compass shelter along with cold-weather supplies such as gloves and hand warmers, but said HSD has not gotten any requests for help with transportation. Last year, the city handed out bus tickets that were largely useless because many routes had shut down due to icy conditions, and offered vouchers for Lyft rides, which were similarly underutilized. The city also provided a handful of vans to pick people up and take them to shelters, but that effort was stymied by a lack of commercially licensed drivers and icy conditions.

Fixing the region’s cold-weather shelter response will require better coordination between agencies (looking at you, Seattle Public Library) but it will also require an acknowledgement from KCRHA and the city that one of the primary reasons people don’t go to shelter is that shelter is unavailable and inaccessible to people living unsheltered in most areas of the city. Telling homeless people to get on the bus and go downtown has never been an effective way to provide access to emergency shelter, and the worse conditions are, the less viable this approach becomes. An effective emergency shelter response requires shelters people can access, not just shelters that are open.

Jail Water Still “Cloudy” After Three Weeks; Advocates Want to Move City’s Homeless Outreach Team to Regional Authority

1. More than three weeks after inmates at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle first reported brown water coming out of their taps, jail residents are still relying on bottled water, as the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention awaits more test results on water the DADJ describes as “cloudy,” but safe to drink. The cloudiness comes from unidentified particles suspended in the water.

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DADJ, said jail residents get bottled water at every meal, during medication rounds, and on request. “Out of an abundance of caution, jail staff have continued to distribute bottled water several times a day since the first reports of cloudiness were received about three weeks ago,” DADJ spokesman Noah Haglund said.

But defense attorneys and people currently incarcerated at the jail dispute this, saying people are not getting enough water to drink.

“They’re saying they’re giving it to us at our request, but it’s not like that—we get [a 16-ounce bottle of] water once every six to eight hours,” one jail resident said. Another said he had received even less. At least one incarcerated person has filed a grievance with the department, saying the brown water that was coming out of the tap in late September made him sick.

Jail inmates purchase food from the commissary, such as ramen and rice, to supplement the meager jail diet, using hot tap water to cook it. According to Haglund, the county’s Facilities Maintenance Division is still waiting on test results from water samples taken this week at the jail.

2. Some advocates for people experiencing homelessness are pushing to move the city’s HOPE Team, which does outreach and offers shelter beds to unsheltered people in encampments the city is about to sweep, out of the city and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, PubliCola has learned. Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, who did not respond to a request for comment, is reportedly leading the internal discussion about this potential change to the way the city responds to encampments.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going

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Harrell’s budget would expand the HOPE Team from four to 10 “system navigators” at a cost of about $1 million; moving these workers to the KCRHA, along with funds that help HOPE Team members locate available shelter beds and coordinate their work with other agencies, would shift about $2.7 million out of the city’s budget and into KCRHA’s.

That $2.7 million represents a fraction of the $38 million Harrell wants to spend on a new, consolidated encampment cleanup team called the Unified Care Team, which already includes dozens of employees in the parks, transportation, and public utilities departments. (That $38 million also includes a related effort called the Clean City Initiative). Harrell’s budget includes $15 million in new spending to increase the team to 61 members, far more than the controversial, disbanded Navigation Team had at its peak.

The KCRHA does not oversee the city’s routine encampment removals, which include both pre-scheduled and short-notice sweeps. It’s unclear how the transfer of these employees would impact their work at encampments and their ability to coordinate with the city and homeless service providers. The request is not coming from the KCRHA, which currently has its hands full fighting against another Harrell proposal that would effectively cut homeless provider pay by permanently capping mandatory contract increases at 4 percent, far less than the rate of inflation.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going. Co-LEAD provides hotel-based lodging and intensive case management to people experiencing homelessness; LEAD is a case management program for people involved in the criminal legal system, including those who are housed. In addition to underfunding these programs, Harrell’s budget assumes Co-LEAD will begin moving people into new tiny house villages, rather than the hotel rooms the program currently uses.

Building a new tiny house village to shelter Co-LEAD clients wouldn’t just represent a downgrade in terms of facilities (hotels, unlike tiny houses, have individual showers, restrooms, and running water); it would also require the PDA to plan and win approval for a new, mostly outdoor shelter complex somewhere in Seattle, where protesters just killed a 90-bed expansion of an existing homeless shelter in the industrial neighborhood of SoDo.

Chamber Poll On Homelessness, Public Safety Shows That It Matters How You Frame the Questions

Graph showing high support among Seattle voters for removing encampments

By Erica C. Barnett

A new poll from the Greater Metro Chamber of Commerce, produced by EMC Research, reveals that many Seattle voters’ “top concern” has shifted from homelessness to crime, but fails to shed any light on the reasons behind the shift. whether this shift represents declining empathy toward people living on Seattle streets.

Overall, according to the poll of 700 registered Seattle voters, 57 percent of people named homelessness as one of the issues they were most “frustrated or concerned about,” followed by “crime/drugs/public safety” at 46 percent. Both categories declined slightly from last year, while “racial issues/policing/police brutality” and “taxes” ranked slightly higher as matters of public concern. Asked what changes would improve the “quality of life” in Seattle, “closing encampments in parks, on sidewalks,” and in public rights-of-way ranked number one on the list, with 79 percent of voters saying their lives would be improved by encampment removals.

“I think our voters are pretty sophisticated. This is a community that does not assume that all people experiencing homelessness are also committing crimes and does not conflate homelessness and criminal activity.”—Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Rachel Smith

During a media presentation on the poll results, Seattle Chamber CEO Rachel Smith said she believed voters are somewhat less concerned about homelessness because of “an all-hands-on-deck regional approach that has made a visible difference” in the number of tents on the street. As we’ve reported, Mayor Bruce Harrell has dramatically accelerated homeless encampment removals since taking office, and has proposed expanding the city’s homeless outreach and encampment removal team and making many temporary “cleanup” positions permanent.

“I think our voters are pretty sophisticated,” Smith continued. “This is a community that does not assume that all people experiencing homelessness are also committing crimes and does not conflate homelessness and criminal activity.” Andrew Thibault, an EMC partner, added that most of the voters in the survey identify as Democrats and progressives.

Breakdown by demographic category of support for encampment removals among Seattle voters

Like all the previous versions of this annual survey, the poll framed a question about homeless encampments in a misleading way that does not represent what the city actually offers unsheltered people during sweeps, nor the reasons people “refuse” shelter or services that may be unsuitable for their needs. The survey asked voters whether they would support the city “continu[ing] to close homeless encampments once people have been offered shelter and services, even if it means those who refuse help will be displaced.” Only 18 percent of respondents said they would oppose such a policy.

The problem is that this policy does not exist, nor can it be “continued.” In reality, the city has only “closed” two encampments—one at Woodland Park and another at the Ballard Commons, which remains fenced-off and inaccessible—by making individualized offers of shelter and services to encampment residents. Other than these exceptions, the city removes encampments the same way it always has—typically, by posting a notice two or three days in advance so people know they have to leave, giving encampment residents the option to take one of the handful of shelter beds typically available citywide on any night, and sweeping anyone who remains on site on the appointed day. That’s a far cry from “offering shelter and services” to people who, for whatever (presumably irrational) reason, “refuse” to take them.

As long as the question describes a far more ideal scenario than the one that actually exists, people who might oppose removals will likely continue supporting them—after all, who can blame the city for sweeping people who simply don’t want any help?

Voters, particularly Republicans and people living in North Seattle, said they felt less safe than they did last year and supported hiring more police; more than half also said they were “actively” thinking about leaving Seattle, largely because of crime. These question routinely get high positive responses, to the point that you might think bullets were routinely whizzing through the empty streets of Phinney Ridge and Laurelhurst, past empty houses abandoned by people fleeing the city.

Graphs showing support among all demographic categories, except Republicans, for "more housing in your neighborhood"

Poll respondents also said they didn’t trust the Seattle City Council to reform the police department—an oddly worded question, given that the mayor, not the council, oversees SPD and is responsible for setting policy for department. There was no corresponding question about the mayor. Blaming the council for problems at the police department and other departments that are controlled by the mayor is a longstanding Seattle pastime—one that reflects a general misunderstanding about how city government works that is exacerbated by polls suggesting the council has more power than it does.

Voters continue to support the general idea of “more housing in my neighborhood”; however, as in previous years, the Chamber’s poll doesn’t push that question beyond “duplexes and triplexes” to include denser housing types that might also include affordable housing. As the Urbanist noted in its coverage, the Chamber has supported legislation to increase density further in single-family areas and Smith said the framing of the question wasn’t meant to indicate that triplexes should be the upper limit.

The poll includes a demographic breakdown of respondents that lumps all BIPOC people into a single “POC” category—a grouping necessitated, according to Thibault, by the fact that breaking the categories down further would lead to an excessive margin of error. According to the crosstabs provided by EMC, the “POC” group included 26 Black voters in all, an average of fewer than nine Black respondents for each of three broad geographic areas sampled in the poll.

Under Pressure, County Executive Constantine Cancels Plans to Expand SoDo Shelter

King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Leo Flor with one of the Pallet shelters that would have been part of a shelter expansion in the SoDo neighborhood.

By Erica C. Barnett

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced on Friday that in response to “community feedback,” the county will abandon plans to provide new shelter beds and a sobering center on vacant land next to the existing 270-bed Salvation Army shelter in SoDo. In a statement, Constantine said, “It is clear that building trust and resolving underlying concerns about the conditions in the community today will take considerable time before we can move forward with any added service capacity.”

Residents of the Chinatown International District have held protests outside the shelter and during King County Council meetings objecting to the shelter expansion, which many described during county and city public comment sessions as another example of “dumping” services for homeless people in a neighborhood that was hard-hit by the pandemic and has seen an increase in both crime and gentrification over the past few years.

Tanya Woo, a Chinatown-International District business owner who has helped organize opposition to the shelter expansion, told PublICola before today’s announcement that she wanted the county to put its plans on “pause” and have more conversations with neighborhood residents, including discussions about potential shelter locations in other parts of the city.

It doesn’t matter what side the community is on this shelter issue, the most important thing is having our voices heard,” Woo said. “My one wish is that the county and city can come to a conclusion that may include looking at other sites and looking at a more equitable distribution of shelter resources so that it’s not all concentrated in one area.”

In addition to community members, paid outside advocates have involved themselves in the debate, including the King County Republican Party (which paid for and handed out “Down With Dow” signs to tweak the county executive, who has a history of being rattled by vocal criticism) and the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank that launched the career of far-right activist Chris Rufo.

Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, DCHS director Leo Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.

Reporters received tours of the existing shelter, and the areas where the shelter would have been expanded, earlier this month. In total, the expansion would have added 90 new shelter beds: 40 beds at a new high-acuity shelter, focused on bringing people with the greatest health needs (and visible impact on the surrounding neighborhood) off the street, plus 50 new tiny house-style Pallet shelters. In addition, the county would have moved the existing sobering center, currently housed in the Yesler Building in Pioneer Square, to the complex, adding up to 60 non-shelter beds.

The high-acuity shelter has been a longtime priority for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is an independent entity funded jointly by the city of Seattle and King County. A spokeswoman for the KCRHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this latest setback for the shelter.

The director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Leo Flor, said last month that the new shelter would help get many people off the street who are unable to access traditional shelter like the Salvation Army’s SoDo shelter because of serious physical and behavioral health needs—the kind of needs that often lead to disruptive behavior and neighborhood complaints.

Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.

Constantine’s office did not provide any information about whether the county is planning to revisit any of the new services and shelter that were canceled today. The decision will save the county some money, though it’s unclear how much; a planned lease with the property owner, developer Greg Smith of Urban Visions,  would have rolled the existing lease for the Salvation Army shelter up in a new six-year contract that would have cost King County $10 million a year.

Nor is it clear when the onsite encampment will be resolved. A spokesman for Constantine directed questions about the encampment to the KCRHA; a spokeswoman for the authority told PubliCola that the site is “within the Partnership for Zero focus area” and will be addressed as part of that work and, presumably, closed down once the homelessness authority moves the people living there into housing or shelter.

Harrell Budget Would Permanently Expand Encampment Cleanup and Removal Team

Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington and Mayor Bruce Harrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Previewing a budget proposal the council will discuss Friday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell said on Thursday that unless the city council renews and expands funding for encampment removal and response, the “significant decrease in tents in parks and on sidewalks” since he took office might go away.

“If that funding is not renewed … this level of service that we’re demonstrating will lapse. The progress we’re making in the city, building our ‘One Seattle,’ will lapse,” Harrell said.

Harrell has proposed spending just over $38 million on the Unified Care Team and the Clean City Initiative, two initiatives that encompass a wide variety of spending and staff across several city departments, including Parks, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities. The two programs include all of the city’s spending related to encampment removals, outreach, and trash pickup, including the city’s “purple bag” encampment trash abatement program.

A majority of that money, about $23 million, would continue existing programs. The rest would be new funding—$10 million to replace temporary federal dollars added during COVID, and $5 million in brand-new programming. 

According to council presentation, the new funding “could significantly increase the Unified Care Team’s capacity to conduct encampment removals” across the city.

Overall, Harrell’s budget would 61 new permanent positions to the city’s encampment removal, outreach, and cleanup efforts. Among other new positions, the money would pay for two new customer service representatives to respond to encampment complaints, six new “system navigators” to do outreach and make offers of shelter in advance of encampment removals, and 48 new permanent positions in SDOT and the parks department to coordinate and conduct encampment removals.

In addition to making a number of positions funded with one-time federal emergency dollars permanent, Harrell has proposed changing the way UCT staff are deployed. Instead of working as a citywide team, staffers would be assigned to one of six geographic areas, a change Harrell said would enable encampment response workers to become more familiar with the communities and organizations where they work.

Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington said that since Harrell took office, the city has eliminated a backlog of “1,500 complaints related to unauthorized encampments” and continues to develop more tools to respond to and resolve encampment complaints.

“What that means,” Washington said, “is that… we send someone from the Unified Care Team to do an inspection and then we resolve the issue if we can. ‘Resolve’ could be RV remediation. It could be hauling away a burnt RV that had been sitting there for weeks. It could mean making a referral to shelter and then resolving the site. And so when we say we cleared [a request], it means that for all of those [1,500] requests, someone went to the site to do an inspection, put the data in the database, and then we either addressed it, or it self-resolved.”

Harrell’s proposal would also eliminate funding for street sinks that would have provided unsheltered people places to wash their hands, and would reduce spending on public “hygiene stations” (temporary restrooms) and mobile shower trailers for people experiencing homelessness, saving a total of $1.3 million.

The request for millions in additional funding for encampment cleanups comes at a time when the city is trying to close a $141 million shortfall that is projected to grow larger every year until at least 2025. According to an issue-identification presentation prepared for the city council’s budget committee, which will discuss Harrell’s proposal tomorrow morning, the new funding “could significantly increase [the UCT’s] capacity to conduct encampment removals” across the city.  A memo accompanying that presentation adds that, legally speaking, there’s no guarantee that the new funding won’t be used to “accelerate encampment removals.”

Harrell’s proposal would also eliminate funding for street sinks that would have provided unsheltered people places to wash their hands, and would reduce spending on public “hygiene stations” (temporary restrooms) and mobile shower trailers for people experiencing homelessness, saving a total of $1.3 million.

Harrell’s predecessor, Jenny Durkan, repeatedly refused to fund or implement the street-sink program, which could have helped prevent repeated outbreaks of diseases like shigella and hepatitis A among Seattle’s homeless population.

“We have to simultaneously improve service response to rapidly house people living in shelter, and coordinate strategies to ensure public spaces are open, safe, and can be used for their intended purpose,” Washington said. As we’ve reported, there are far more people living unsheltered in Seattle than there are available shelter beds, which means it is not even theoretically possible to shelter everyone who is living outdoors.

On Wednesday in downtown Seattle, officials formally announced an effort we reported on last month to create a unified “command center” to connect people living unsheltered downtown to housing and shelter.

On a practical level, what this means is that when the city sweeps an encampment, most of the people living there do not end up in shelter, but simply “self-resolve” by moving to another location. Outreach workers, including those employed by the city, may have only one or two shelter beds to offer to the people who remain on site, which may or may not be appropriate for the people who happen to remain in that encampment. Even when people do “accept” an offer of shelter, half or more don’t end up enrolling for even one night, a damning indictment of the shelter referral system the city uses in the overwhelming majority of encampment “resolutions.”

During his presentation Thursday, Harrell name-checked the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which will receive around $90 million from the city next year—a $10 million bump. On Wednesday, Harrell, KCRHA director Marc Dones, and representatives from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office officially announced an effort we reported on last month to create a unified “command center” to connect people living unsheltered downtown to housing and shelter.

The center—technically a conference room at the city’s Emergency Operations Center downtown—is part of a public-private effort to reduce the number of unsheltered people downtown to “functional zero” by next year. The goal, KCRHA and HUD officials said, is to break down the “silos” that keep various parts of the homelessness system from working well with each other; for example, cities often require people to go through the shelter system before they “graduate” to housing, an extra step that can act as a barrier for people stuck in the homelessness system.

So far, according to data KCRHA provided this week, the agency’s outreach staff have connected with 665 people living unsheltered downtown and identified about 300 units of existing housing for them; the goal, Dones said Wednesday, is to offer people at least three housing options to choose from, instead of the typical one, and to reduce the barriers to housing faced by people who are homeless or poor.

“What we have built into our housing system for folks experiencing homelessness is this incredibly aggressive set of mechanisms that are all based on the idea that people who are poor are out to commit fraud at every turn,” Dones said. “This morning, we were talking about,  how do we not need any of the things [like ID cards and income checks] that we’re used to needing? And if we just had this piece of paper, with someone’s housing preferences on it, how can we have them housed in 12 hours?”

That concept, however, remains speculative; so far, the effort has not moved anyone into housing, and there is no funding for additional housing or shelter attached to the project.

Early Council Budget Concerns Include Plans to Raid JumpStart Tax, Cut Pay for Human Service Providers


Chart showing growing gap between city of Seattle revenues and planned expenditures through 2026By Erica C. Barnett

In a preview of the next several weeks of budget deliberations, the city council’s budget committee (which includes all nine council members) discussed their initial questions and concerns about Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposed budget this week.

The budget would require the city council to overturn a 2019 law Harrell himself supported when he was on the council. That law requires the city to increase human service provider contracts by the rate of inflation, with the intent of providing raises to service providers that at least keep up with inflation; during the meeting when the council unanimously approved the law, Harrell said it was important to provide raises to human service providers “in both periods of economic growth and in periods of economic hardship,” and sponsored an amendment codifying this intent.

The contracts that would be impacted include all the homeless contracts the city funds but that are now administered by the King County Homelessness Authority. Harrell’s proposal would amend this law to cap mandatory pay increases at 4 percent a year, or about half the current rate of inflation, meaning that as long as inflation is higher than 4 percent, human services workers would see declines in real wages year after year. Harrell’s budget cites economic hardship as the reason he is proposing the cut.

Three years ago, Harrell took the exact opposite position. In 2019, as council chair, he proposed and passed an amendment emphasizing not only that the money needed to go directly to “underpaid” workers but that the city intended to provide full inflationary increases “in both periods of economic growth and in periods of economic hardship.”

Harrell’s proposed $10 million budget increase for the KCRHA would be earmarked mostly for shelters and tiny house villages, rather than the items the homelessness agency proposed funding in its request for $90 million in additional city and county funding; that unfilled request would have funded a 13 percent wage increase for homeless service providers.

“In the entire spectrum of building this budget, this decision was particularly difficult,” city budget director Julie Dingley told the committee. “We know that human service provider workers do some of the most difficult and meaningful work in the city and that employers do not necessarily enjoy the funding needed, but unfortunately, during forty-year high inflation, the ongoing liability that the current law would require, does not match our ongoing general fund resources.”

Three years ago, Harrell took the exact opposite position. In 2019, as council chair, he proposed and passed an amendment emphasizing not only that the money needed to go directly to “underpaid” workers but that the city intended to provide full inflationary increases “in both periods of economic growth and in periods of economic hardship.”

Introducing his amendment at a full council meeting that year, Harrell said, “Some of us have been around where we’ve had real tough times, [during] a recession. While we’ve had to make tough cuts, the work [human services providers] do is so critically important that we recognize we have to preserve if not even enhance the funding” during economic downturns.

On Wednesday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold, echoing comments by budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, said she was “disappointed” that the mayor’s budget would permanently cap increases for human service providers regardless of the actual inflation rate. ”

“We heard from folks this morning, nonprofit leaders, who have already passed budgets that provide a modest but essential wage increase for staff on the strength of their trust that the city was going to to follow the law and fully fund the required increase,” Herbold said. “Our intent is to advance nonprofit worker wages, not force them further behind, which I feel that this proposal does.” 

Listen to this week’s Seattle Nice podcast, where Sandeep and Erica find rare common ground in condemning pay cuts for human service providers 

As of earlier this year, the KCRHA reported that the five largest homeless service providers had more than 300 vacancies for jobs that average between $20 and $25 an hour, or between $41,000 and $52,000 a year. Increasing all human services contracts (which include more than just homeless providers) by 7.6 percent, as existing law requires, would cost about $6.5 million. As a point of contrast, Harrell’s budget includes more than $4 million for police recruitment and retention strategies, an effort to increase the number of Seattle Police Department officers that includes hiring bonuses of up to $30,000, on top of an $83,000 starting salary that rapidly increases to six figures, plus overtime, according to SPD’s recruitment page.

Bar graph contrasting low human service provider wages with the Seattle median
Image via King County Regional Homelessness Authority

Harrell’s budget proposes a second change to law that takes the opposite approach to high inflation as his proposal to cap human service contract increases below inflationary levels. This change would allow the city to use the JumpStart payroll tax fund, which is earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses, to provide about $86 million toward filling the $140 million budget gap.

Last year, the council passed a law setting a clear limit on the use of JumpStart funds to backfill general fund shortfalls: If the general fund falls below $1.5 billion, the city can use JumpStart money for other purposes. Harrell’s budget would change that law to pin the general fund baseline to inflation, setting the floor for JumpStart transfers at a variable rate based on the current rate of inflation and allowing the city to use more of the earmarked money for non-JumpStart purposes whenever high inflation leads to economic hardship.

That money includes a presumption of $44 million in unspent JumpStart funds from this year, most of which would go toward a new revenue stabilization (“rainy day”) fund equal to 10 percent of JumpStart revenues every year; another $9 million would pay for administering the JumpStart tax itself through the general fund.

Mosqueda, the architect of the JumpStart tax, said she had questions about how the mayor is proposing to spend the repurposed tax and whether his plan aligns with the four priorities in the original JumpStart legislation.

“We have to continue, as a council, to make sure any of the higher-than-anticipated revenue that is being suggested to be used for investments into the general fund does still align with our city’s core progressive values” as well as “with the priorities this council has articulated in the past,” Mosqueda said.

“Part of the demand we all heard was, you have to tell us where you’re going to spend this [JumpStart] money. I totally agree that we need more revenue in the general fund so we can do the basic things that we need to do as a city, [but] these are commitments we have made to the people of Seattle.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

For example, Mosqueda questioned the mayor’s proposal to use $3 million a year in JumpStart funds to pay for 14 new positions at the city to support Sound Transit’s construction of light rail from West Seattle to Ballard, which Dingley said fits into the “Green New Deal” spending category because it involves shifting people from single-occupancy vehicles to trains.

When the council first considered the JumpStart tax, Councilmember Tammy Morales notes, “Part of the demand we all heard was, you have to tell us where you’re going to spend this money. … I totally agree that we need more revenue in the general fund so we can do the basic things that we need to do as a city … [but] these are commitments we have made to the people of Seattle” in the JumpStart spending plan itself and subsequent legislation codifying the spending categories the tax can be used for.

Chart outlining Mayor Harrell's proposed changes to the uses of the JumpStart payroll tax

Harrell’s budget proposal would also broaden the use of the JumpStart tax to allow it to fund housing for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income; currently, the tax primarily funds housing for very low-income people making up to 30 percent of AMI, a group that is not served at all by the market-rate housing market. The JumpStart tax can already pay for mixed-income housing that includes people making up to 60 percent of median, but the change would likely change the balance in favor of people making more money.

Harrell’s budget uses $20 million in unspent funds from 2022 and assumes an ongoing $10 million annual “underspend” in both 2023 and 2024; City Budget Office director Julie Dingley told council members Wednesday that she “would prefer not to have to use this kind of strategy,” but that “we feel comfortable at this point that there will be about this amount left at the end of the year” to balance the next year’s budget.

The budget also proposes using general fund dollars to continue and expand the Clean City Initiative and the new Unified Care Team, which together clean up trash, displace and relocate encampments and RVs, provide information about services and shelter beds to people being displaced by sweeps, and take residents’ complaints about encampments. The proposed budget would allocate more than $13 million to these programs, not counting the many individual line items related to graffiti cleanup, a particular pet peeve for Harrell. The budget would spend more than $800,000 on graffiti abatement, plus another $250,000 on Harrell’s One Seattle Day of Service, which includes graffiti abatement by volunteers.

Harrell’s Budget Would Move Parking Enforcement Back to SPD, Add $10 Million to Homelessness Authority, and Use JumpStart to Backfill Budget

Mayor Bruce Harrell delivers his first budget speech.
Mayor Bruce Harrell delivers his first budget speech.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s first budget proposal would use JumpStart payroll tax revenues to shore up spending for non-JumpStart programs, move the city’s parking enforcement officers back into the Seattle Police Department from the Department of Transportation, and provide pay increases to homeless service providers well below the rate of inflation.

The proposal includes an add of just over $1 million to the current $6 million budgeted for projects designed to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries in the Rainier Valley, plus “other transit-related projects that will be identified in the coming months,” according to the budget book.

In addition, the budget increases funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority by just over $10 million, or 13 percent—a fraction of the $90 million the KCRHA requested from the city and King County. The budget earmarks that funding for new shelter, such as tiny house villages. In its budget proposal, the KCRHA asked for funding for, among other things, a new high-acuity shelter for people with severe physical and behavioral health care needs, new spaces for unsheltered people to go during the day, and wage increases for homeless service providers.

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s budget proposal, also announced today, includes $89 million for the KCRHA over the next two years—a number that represents a reduction, on average, from the $49 million the county provided the authority as part of its startup budget this year. (Note: This number has been updated; because of a miscommunication with the county executive’s office, we originally reported that the additional money was for one year, not two.)

Harrell’s proposal to use $95 million in JumpStart tax revenues to balance his budget will likely come up against council opposition. The tax is earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development, but was used during the pandemic to shore up the general-fund budget, with the understanding that the practice would be temporary.

It also adds $13.7 million across three departments—Human Services, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities—to maintain the Unified Care Team, which “addresses the impacts of unsheltered homelessness in the city,” and the Clean Cities Initiative, which provides trash pickup in parks and around encampments, along with graffiti cleanup and enforcement. That total includes $1 million to add six new “system navigators” to the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team, which does outreach at homeless encampments before they are swept.

The proposal includes a number of cuts a budget shortfall of around $140 million. The Human Services Department will lose about $50 million in funding from one-time federal COVID grants and general fund dollars from 2022 that funded shelters, violence prevention, and food assistance, among other programs, only some of which Harrell’s budget would continue to fully fund.

The Seattle Police Department budget eliminates 80 vacant positions, for a savings on paper of $11 million, and moves spending from another 120 vacant positions to other SPD programs, including hiring bonuses and other recruitment efforts, wellness programs, and equipment, including new Tasers and $1 million for an automated gunshot surveillance system in Rainier Beach.

The primary acoustic gunshot detection system in use in the US is Shotspotter, a system that involves installing discreet surveillance microphones all over neighborhoods with high levels of gun violence. The system has a checkered history. A study of its use in Chicago concluded that it rarely resulted in the detection of actual gun violence, and could lead to preemptive police stops and searches in communities of color; last year, that city was forced to withdraw evidence based on ShotSpotter data from a murder case because the information was deemed unreliable.

A representative from Shotspotter disputes this, calling the system “highly accurate” based on an independent analysis by the firm Edgeworth Analytics.” That report, however, only determined whether the system—aided and sometimes recategorized in real time by ShotSpotter employees—accurately identified a sound as a gunshot. The Shotspotter spokesman added that the system “provides unique, reliable, and valuable evidence and expert witness testimony that has been successfully admitted in 200 court cases, in 20 states, and has survived scrutiny in dozens of [expert witness] challenges.

According to the ACLU, acoustic gunfire detection systems often send police into communities of color based on false alarms, increasing the likelihood of conflicts between cops keyed up for a dangerous confrontation and innocent people in those communities.

The Shotspotter spokesman said there is no data “supporting the claim that ShotSpotter puts police on high alert or creates dangerous situations,” and added that it simply gives police more information and better “situational awareness.”

Tim Burgess, the mayor’s chief public safety advisor, pushed unsuccessfully to set up ShotSpotter technology in the Rainier Valley back in 2014, when he was on the city council.

Although Harrell’s office has said they plan to stand up a new “third” public safety department starting in 2024, the budget does not include any specific line items for work to develop this department next year.

Transferring the parking enforcement officers from SDOT back into SPD will save an estimated $5 million in administrative costs that the city was paying SDOT as part of the transfer. It also reverses a shift in funding that advocates against “defunding” the police department have used to claim that Seattle made cuts to SPD in response to the 2020 protests against police violence.

“This may not be the PEOs’ final home,” Harrell said during his budget speech on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the parking enforcement officers could move to the future new public safety department.

Parking enforcement officers have complained that the move to SDOT deprived them of access to a real-time criminal database that allowed them to look up the criminal history of a vehicle’s owner before stopping to issue a ticket. The move, according to Harrell’s budget, will “eliminate the basis for PEOs’ unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints” while also restoring the city’s Office of Police Accountability’s authority to investigate misconduct complaints against parking officers.

“This may not be the PEOs’ final home,” Harrell said during his budget speech on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the officers could move to the future new public safety department.

Harrell’s proposal to use $95 million in JumpStart tax revenues to balance his budget will likely come up against council opposition. The tax is earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development, but was used during the pandemic to shore up the general-fund budget, with the understanding that the practice would be temporary.

In 2021, the city adopted an ordinance creating a special fund for JumpStart revenues and establishing formal restrictions on the use of the tax to backfill the city’s general fund. Currently, the city can’t raid the JumpStart fund for non-general fund purposes unless general fund revenues fall below about $1.5 billion; this year, general fund revenues are about $100 million over that threshold. Harrell’s budget includes legislation, which would have to be approved by the City Council, that would lift the floor by the rate of inflation, making it easier to use JumpStart revenues for any purpose.

In a statement, City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda alluded to the kind of changes the council might consider to Harrell’s budget proposal.

“Without investments in working families and core city services, the inequities we saw prior to COVID-19 will only continue to deepen,” Mosqueda said. “With a rocky economic forecast locally and nationally, inflation rates continuing to rise, and no new federal COVID-related funding, I will be focused on strong fiscal stewardship while maintaining investments in the people and services for our City.”

The budget proposes a sub-inflationary wage increase of 4 percent for homeless service providers. Lowering wage increases for human service providers below the currently mandated rate of inflation will require a change in city law.

Although the mayor’s office is requesting an inflationary increase in the floor to use JumpStart spending for non-JumpStart purposes, the budget proposes a sub-inflationary increase of just 4 percent for homeless service providers—a total of just over $600,000 next year. Currently, the city is required by law to increase wages for all human service providers by the rate of inflation, which, this year, is around 8.7 percent. Wage increases that are lower than the rate of inflation constitute an effective pay cut. Lowering wage increases for human service providers will require a change in the law; Harrell’s budget proposes a new law setting a 4 percent ceiling on wage increases for the nonprofit human services providers that receive funding from the city.

On Monday, Harrell, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine, touted a proposal that would increase behavioral health provider wages by 13 percent. Harrell’s budget also includes recruitment bonuses for child care workers, another field that, like human and behavioral health services, has a very high rate of turnover because of low wages, tough working conditions, and a lack of real pay increases relative to inflation.

The budget now goes to the city council, whose budget committee—made up of all nine council members—will take it up starting this week. The council adopts the city’s budget annually in late November, just before Thanksgiving.

This is a developing story.