Category: housing

Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Racing Against Deadline to Close at the End of the Month

King's Inn
King’s Inn in Belltown

By Erica C. Barnett

With less than three weeks remaining before their contracts expire, the organizations that run two hotel-based shelters the city funded last year are scrambling to find housing for more than 100 homeless clients. One, the Chief Seattle Club, needs to relocate about 60 people from the King’s Inn shelter in Belltown; the other, the Low Income Housing Institute, must find shelter or housing for about 90 people still staying at the Executive Pacific hotel downtown.

Under their current contracts, which the King County Regional Homelessness Authority took over and declined to extend late last year, both hotels must empty out on January 31. (The actual contracts last another month, to give the agencies time to clean and repair any damage to the properties.) Both agencies stopped accepting new clients last year, and LIHI started moving hotel guests into other properties it operates, including tiny house villages, shelters, and permanent housing. Chief Seattle Club, meanwhile, made plans to move people from King’s Inn into two housing projects it had under development, including one, ?al?al, that was supposed to open in October.

Since then, however, the upsurge in COVID cases have combined with a longstanding shortage of construction industry workers to delay ?al?al and other housing projects and put the agencies’ timelines in question. Anne Xuan Clark, a development consultant for Chief Seattle Club, described a cascade of delays that have pushed back the opening date for ?al?al again and again: Rescheduled fire inspections, the discovery of an underground conduit that upended the schedule to pour a sidewalk outside the building, interminable waits for utility hookups. “Every construction project in the city is facing delays,” Clark said.

Not every person at King’s Inn will move into Chief Seattle Club’s own housing; some will use federal emergency housing vouchers, and some will use short-term rapid rehousing subsidies; the same is true for those currently staying at the Executive Pacific, and those have stayed at both hotels in the past and moved into other shelter or housing.

Since last year, the upsurge in COVID cases have combined with a longstanding shortage of construction industry workers to delay ?al?al and other housing projects and put the agencies’ timelines in question.

LIHI is facing similar challenges, its director, Sharon Lee, said; if several new projects where LIHI had hoped to move hotel guests aren’t finished by the end of January, “we may have to put some people in another temporary [shelter],” such as a hotel. “We don’t think that’s the best solution either—to move them from one hotel to another hotel.”

The problems LIHI and Chief Seattle Club are facing as they wind down their hotel-based shelters are only partly the result of housing construction delays. In fact, the biggest challenges were baked into the contracts from the very beginning. Former mayor Jenny Durkan, who initially resisted accepting federal COVID relief dollars to move people from the streets to hotels, agreed to a very limited hotel-based shelter program last year on the condition that the hotels would serve as way stations for people moving swiftly into housing, rather than long-term shelter. The idea was to move people from encampments to hotels to market-rate apartments, using “rapid rehousing” subsidies as a bridge between unsheltered, often chronic, homelessness to self-sufficiency.

Rapid rehousing is generally a poor fit for people who have been living outdoors for a long time or those with conditions that make it hard to work. Yet those are precisely the people the city prioritized for the new hotel-based shelter beds.

As we’ve reported, rapid rehousing is most effective for people with minimal barriers to housing and employment—those who can get jobs quickly and earn enough to afford an apartment in Seattle. It is generally a poor fit for people who have been living outdoors for a long time or those with conditions that make it hard to work. Yet those are precisely the people the city prioritized for the new hotel-based shelter beds. As a result, people did not tend to move from hotel rooms to apartments; instead, they ended up back on the streets, moved into other forms of shelter like tiny house villages, or stayed put. Continue reading “Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Racing Against Deadline to Close at the End of the Month”

New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins

1. Incoming city Attorney Ann Davison painted a dire portrait of Seattle in her official swearing-in speech on Tuesday morning, framing her plans to crack down on misdemeanor offenses as a fight to “stand up for victims” who have been unrepresented at City Hall.

“Communities are afraid to use their parks, people are afraid to walk down 3rd Avenue, and parents are afraid to send their kids to wait for the bus,” Davison said, pointing to the Seven Stars Pepper restaurant at the intersection of S. Jackson Street and 12th Little Saigon as a case study in the consequences of rising petty crime. The owner, Yong Hong Wang, warned last fall that her restaurant is on the brink of failure because customers are afraid of the ad hoc street market — a group of vendors selling everything from shampoo to narcotics — at an adjacent bus stop.

“She will lose her life savings because criminal activity has gone unchecked,” Davison said of Yong. “She should not have to pay the price.”  

Davison also raised the specter of gun violence, citing the May 2020 shooting of 18-year-old Connor Dassa-Holland in Rainier Beach. “It is the duty of the city attorney’s office to prosecute weapons charges and take guns off the streets so that misdemeanor gun offenses don’t lead to felony homicides,” Davison said.

Only a handful of gun-related crimes are misdemeanors under Washington law, including “unlawfully displaying” (or brandishing) a firearm as an intimidation tactic and carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. Davison’s office can only prosecute misdemeanors; the King County Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for filing felony gun possession charges.

Davison did not mention her office’s civil division, which defends the City of Seattle in lawsuits and advises the city council and mayor’s office as they develop new legislation.

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Davison’s tough-on-crime rhetoric prompted the city council to consider adding diversion to the city attorney’s charter duties in 2021. The council demurred in December, opting instead to require the city attorney to notify the council within 90 days of making any changes to, or eliminating, the office’s diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion programs. Davison was critical of the reporting requirement, accusing the council (six women, three men) of holding her to an unfair standard because of her gender. Davison is the first woman to hold the city attorney’s office—a detail she underscored in her remarks on Tuesday. Her general-election opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is also a woman.

2. Shortly after Davison wrapped up her speech, new mayor Bruce Harrell held his own ceremonial swearing-in at City Hall. In an optimistic, mostly lighthearted speech that offered few policy details, Harrell pledged to work with people who opposed his election,  and make quick progress on major issues including homelessness, health care, and the selection of a permanent police chief.

Harrell previewed a handful of upcoming executive orders and decisions, including one order that will direct the city’s public utilities “to proactively provide us information on utility shutoffs, which is often an indicator of homelessness vulnerability or human service needs.” No utility customer has lost power or water since mid-2019, thanks to a combination of legislation and a moratorium on utility shutoffs during COVID.

Asked about the practical impact of the order, a Harrell spokesman said it would identify “people most at risk of homelessness or housing instability, as those facing arrearages or utility shutoffs—enforced or not—are often those most in danger of losing their housing. So the order is focused on driving greater coordination between SPU, City Light, and Offices of Housing and Human Services to prevent homelessness.”

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.”

In his speech, Harrell also vowed to review barriers to affordable housing construction, such as reducing permitting delays—a common obstacle that can add thousands to the cost of housing construction. During his campaign, Harrell made it clear that believes dense housing should be confined to specific areas (the longstanding “urban village” strategy), but reducing barriers to development is a pro-housing step—as is Harrell’s appointment of Marco Lowe, a City Hall veteran who worked for mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn before taking a position at the Master Builders Association, where he advocated for pro-housing policies.

Harrell, responding to a reporter’s question, said he would not immediately launch a national search for a permanent police chief, instead giving interim Chief Adrian Diaz “real measurement criteria by which I can see what he’s doing” before deciding whether to “lift the ‘interim’ or do a national search” at some point before the end of March.

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.” Deputy mayor Monisha Harrell, who served as the interim police monitor overseeing the federal consent decree, will oversee policing policy for Harrell’s office and will play a key role in determining what the administration believes “the right number” is.

3. After weeks of behind-the-scenes drama, the city council elected District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez the first Indigenous council president on Monday. (Backstory here). The council also approved a new list of committees and committee chairs that reflects the relative power (and individual interests) of the eight other councilmembers. (Council presidents, who oversee the business of the legislative branch, generally don’t take on high-profile committees). Continue reading “New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins”

New County Data Reframes the Scale of the Homelessness Crisis

By Erica C. Barnett

A new report from King County’s Department of Community and Human Services that uses new methodology for counting the region’s homeless population estimates that about 40,300 people were homeless in King County in 2020, a decline from around 45,000 the previous year. The estimate comes from several data sources and includes people whose interactions with the homelessness “system” are not captured in the widely used Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a tracking system used by most homeless service providers in the region.

Overall, the “new” data includes information about every person who reported being homeless to an agency participating in HMIS, such as a homeless shelter or day center, in a given year, plus every person who reported they were homeless through King County’s behavioral health system, the Health Care for the Homeless Network, and other service providers that do not participate in HMIS. Including information about people who are outside the traditional homelessness system, such as those who report being homeless to a behavioral health care provider but don’t participate in other homeless services, added about 7,300 people to the data. This group, according to the report, includes people with high behavioral health needs who are more likely to experience barriers to accessing services or who access health care through mobile clinics or in areas where fewer homeless services are available.

The figure reported Thursday is more than three times greater than the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people counted during the most recent Point In Time count—a labor-intensive physical count that the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority has opted not to perform this year. As we reported last month, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a count of the sheltered population every year, and an unsheltered count every two years; by opting out, the authority risks losing points on its federal funding application next year.

The figure reported Thursday is more than three times greater than the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people counted during the most recent Point In Time count—a labor-intensive physical count that the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority has opted not to perform this year.

Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, which coordinated the One Night Count for 37 years before the county took it over in 2016, said the Coalition has always known the count represented a dramatic undercount of the region’s homeless population.

“I think roughly knowing the number of people [experiencing homelessness] is important, but we already have a pretty solid sense of how much more deeply affordable housing we need across King County, and we know that what people without homes need is homes,” Eisinger said. “For some people, maybe this data is illuminating, and that’s not bad. I just don’t quite see this as a game changer.”

Marc Dones, CEO of the new regional homelessness authority, said they believe the actual number of people experiencing homelessness may be 10,000 higher than the numbers released Thursday, once people who become homeless when they’re discharged from jails, hospitals, foster care, and other systems that provide tenuous temporary housing are factored in. Continue reading “New County Data Reframes the Scale of the Homelessness Crisis”

Inslee Proposes $800 Million Housing, Homelessness Plan

Gov. Inslee’s supplemental budget proposal includes funding for new tiny-house village shelters.

By John Stang

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced $815 million supplemental budget proposal to respond to homelessness across the state. His announcement came one day before King County planned to release a new count of the region’s homeless population, based on data obtained from homeless service providers through a database called the Homeless Management Information System, that is expected to be significantly higher than previous “point in time” counts.

Inslee’s proposal did not include detailed information about how much funding Seattle and King County stood to receive.

While it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, the Washington Department of Commerce typically divides capital projects in thirds, with one third going to Seattle and King County, one third going to other cities and one third going to rural areas, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee told PubliCola. The commerce department would handle more than $700 million of the $815 million package in its capital and operations budgets.

If approved, the package would help build tiny-house villages, provide help for people to pay their utility bills, expand behavioral health facilities for the homeless, and speed up efforts to find places for the homeless living in tents on public right-of-ways.

Inslee announced the package Wednesday at the Copper Pines Habitat For Humanity complex in Ballard, which will include seven three-bedroom units for families making 80 percent or less of Seattle’s median income.

Inslee also announced legislation that would allow what low-rise apartments, split lots, duplexes, and other types of low-impact density on all residential lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop in cities with populations greater than 25,000 people. The legislation would effectively override laws dictating suburban-style single-family development in cities.

“We cannot wait years and decades to get people out of the rain,” Inslee said, adding that the state’s population growth has created a shortage of roughly 250,000 homes. “It is unacceptable to us to have people living under bridges and not have solutions.”

He said the state’s population growth has created a shortage of roughly 250,000 homes in Washington. His proposals addresses a range from the extremely poor to renting families in danger of losing their homes because of rising bills. Inslee said his proposals would build 1,500 new permanent housing units and fund acquisition of existing properties to add another 2,400 shelter beds, tiny house village units, and permanent housing units, including short-term shelter for people living in encampments across the state.

A document outlining Inslee’s proposal estimated that about 30 of every 10,000 state residents were homeless before the pandemic, a number the state believes has increased by about 2 percent. Statewide, 80,000 families said they could soon face eviction or foreclosure, according to the US Census Bureau. Continue reading “Inslee Proposes $800 Million Housing, Homelessness Plan”

City, County Officials Want to Keep Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Open Next Year. Providers Aren’t So Sure.

King's Inn
King’s Inn

By Erica C. Barnett

Both the city of Seattle and the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) have said they hope to extend the contracts for two hotel-based shelters until the middle of 2022—months longer than the existing contracts, which end on January 31. But it’s unclear where the money will come from, or whether the shelter providers themselves are on board with

Earlier this year, after a lengthy debate, the city approved contracts with three service providers—Chief Seattle Club, the Low-Income Housing Institute, and Catholic Community Services—to operate two hotels in downtown Seattle on a short-term (10-month) basis. The new program, which launched in April, was supposed to move people swiftly from the street into private-market apartments using “rapid rehousing” rent subsidies, which assume that a person will be able to earn enough money to pay full market rent within several months to a year.

“We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing.”—LIHI Director Sharon lee

In theory, this constant churn would make it possible for fewer than 200 hotel rooms to move many hundreds of people in to permanent housing during the 10 months the city planned to keep them open, as people moved indoors, stabilized, and quickly found apartments they could pay for with their rapid-rehousing subsidies. Chief Seattle Club was chosen to run the rapid rehousing program at King’s Inn in Belltown, and Catholic Community Services operates the rapid rehousing program at the Low Income Housing Institute-run Executive Pacific Hotel downtown.

In reality, this never happened at anything close to the scale the mayor’s office predicted when they were talking up the program last year. Instead, the city designated the hotels as receiving sites for people swept from large encampments, including high-profile sweeps at Miller Park, Denny Park, Cal Anderson Park, and Pioneer Square.

LIHI director Sharon Lee told PubliCola she is “very concerned about what to do, as the end of January 2022 is fast approaching and we have over 140 people living in the hotel. … We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing. We would also have to use attrition and stop taking in new people at EHP to meet the January deadline.”

Anne Martens, a spokeswoman for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, says extending both of the hotel contracts is “a priority for the RHA”—a priority that could be funded using “underspend” (money left over) from HSD’s 2021 budget.

Derrick Belgarde, director of the Chief Seattle Club, said CSC isn’t “keen on extending” their contract at King’s Inn, due to issues at the site (the elevator doesn’t work) and the mismatch between the people living at the hotel, a third of whom are elderly or disabled, and rapid rehousing.

In July, PubliCola reported that CSC plans to move many of the people currently living at King’s Inn into CSC’s own permanent supportive housing, including some units that haven’t been finished yet. However, that plan assumed people would have access to rapid rehousing subsidies for at least a year, which isn’t happening; according to Belgarde, funding for CSC’s rapid rehousing program is set to expire in September, before all the new housing is available.

“We have consistently been telling members they have a 12-month subsidy,” Belgarde said. “The [rapid rehousing] contract is moving to KCRHA so we plan to negotiate an extension with them directly.” Continue reading “City, County Officials Want to Keep Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Open Next Year. Providers Aren’t So Sure.”

Mayoral Debates Highlight Key Differences in How Candidates Would Approach Homelessness

 

By Erica C. Barnett

On Wednesday, two debates on homelessness highlighted stark differences between how each of the mayoral candidates—current Seattle City Council president Lorena González and former council member Bruce Harrell—would address the homelessness crisis. The first was sponsored by the Resolution to End Homelessness; the second, by We Are In and the Seattle Times.

As the Times noted in its own coverage of its debate, Harrell frequently responded to direct questions by changing the subject—answering a question about access to public restrooms, for example, by repeating a talking point about how people don’t care who’s to blame for the homelessness crisis—and claimed several times to have run into people he knew growing up in the Central District when visiting encampments and tiny house villages.

“”Mr. Harrell’s homelessness plan is a verbatim facsimile of a corporate and Republican-funded plan, commonly referred to as Compassion Seattle.”—Lorena González

González, meanwhile, focused on more long-term solutions to homelessness, like changing the city’s zoning code and building 37,000 new housing units in King County—the number a 2020 report said would be necessary to solve the county’s affordable-housing crisis—even in response to questions about how to address the problem of unsheltered homelessness in the short term.

Here are some of the key points on which Harrell and González offered starkly different approaches on homelessness.

Funding for Homelessness Response

Harrell, who has proposed a homeless strategy that is basically identical to the erstwhile “Compassion Seattle” charter initiative, said the city has more than enough resources already, between existing city funds and potential corporate philanthropy, to solve unsheltered homelessness and “get our parks and our open spaces, and our sidewalks clean.”

Asked whether the city needs additional resources to fund housing, shelters, or services for people experiencing homelessness, Harrell responded than in 12 years on the council, he had never reached a point where “you have enough money to solve all of your problems. You have to take some principles of business into play and make sure that you do an inventory of what assets you have, you use them efficiently and effectively, you start solving the problem.”

“Seattle should not look at this as though we have a scarcity of resources,” Harrell said.

Harrell added that while the city worked to get new progressive revenue options from the state legislature (options that the state legislature has so far declined to provide), the city should also ask “wealthy corporations” with “corporate social responsibility goals” to contribute funding, which could produce “hundreds of millions of dollars” to address homelessness.

“Seattle should not look at [homelessness] as though we have a scarcity of resources.” — Bruce Harrell

González, in contrast, pointed to her co-sponsorship of the JumpStart payroll tax as an example of the kind of progressive revenue she’d work to expand as mayor, and criticized Harrell’s proposal to build 2,000 shelter “units” in one year using existing revenues (i.e. the Compassion Seattle plan) as inadequate to address the need. “Mr. Harrell’s homelessness plan is a verbatim facsimile of a corporate and Republican funded plan, commonly referred to as Compassion Seattle,” González said, calling it a plan “to legitimize sweeps… with the fig leaf of only an additional 1 percent of funding to address this crisis.”

Sweeps

During both debates, Harrell dodged direct questions about whether he supports “sweeps”—the forcible removal of unsheltered people from public spaces—rejecting the word itself as “radioactive.” Instead, he pointed to his support from faith leaders and his support for the United Way of King County, where his wife, Joanne, was CEO for several years.

“You allow people to donate not just money, but their time, their expertise,” he said. “I believe that the city can do that. And so we shouldn’t have to look at the human suffering of other people, and that’s my attitude going in, that I will bring into the mayor’s office: We don’t have to see it, and we’re going to lead with love, and we will make sure that people can enjoy their parks and have a quality of life that they deserve.”

González, noting Harrell’s frequent references to “cleaning” parks so that housed people can use them, said she wouldn’t shut down encampments until “the city does its job and provides provides the shelter and the housing that’s necessary to actually transition poor people out of poverty. … As mayor, I’m going to leverage every available resource. And I’m committed to rapidly rehousing people into meeting the needs of shelter housing and mental health needs of all of those we are currently failing.”

Solutions

González said that one of her first steps as mayor would be to work “with city staff, with community service providers, and with housing providers to immediately create individual service plans, and to immediately identify who is ready to come inside, based on an adequate offer of housing and shelter.” Beyond that, she said she would identify new resources to fund shelter and housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness—about 37,000 units countywide.

“The reality is that right now, on any given night, we do not have enough shelter for the nearly 4,000 people who are sleeping outside,” González said. “It is critically important for us to remain committed to … approaches that are going to reduce trauma, and also increase our success in actually ending homelessness, not just hiding it.”

“We shouldn’t have to look at the human suffering of other people, and that’s my attitude going in, that I will bring into the mayor’s office: We don’t have to see it, and we’re going to lead with love, and we will make sure that people can enjoy their parks and have a quality of life that they deserve.”—Bruce Harrell

Harrell said he would adopt a mix of upstream and downstream approaches, including early childhood education, health care for people who can’t get funding through other government programs, mentoring and life skills classes, and a jobs center where people can “tap into their gifts, whether it’s working with their hands, whether they draft code, or they’re artists.” These programs, Harrell said, would be places where “people who may not be chronically homeless, may not have the extent of mental illness that some do, can find employment, can retool themselves, and we’ll bring in mentors and counselors to make sure that they are on a better path.”

Harrell also said he would send “culturally competent” people to do outreach at encampments and suggested that the current outreach system does not provide unsheltered people with outreach workers who “look like them” or have “cultural commonality” with the people they’re attempting to help.

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We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different: We’re funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

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Tiny Houses

Harold Odom, a member of the Lived Experience Coalition and a longtime resident of a tiny house village in Georgetown, asked both candidates what they would do to avoid the proliferation of tiny-house villages, which he called “Hoovervilles,” around the city. Tiny house villages are a type of enhanced shelter where people live in a community of small shed-like structures and access services through a provider such as the Low-Income Housing Institute, which runs all of the city’s sanctioned tiny house villages.

The issue of tiny house villages is a live one, as the new regional homelessness authority takes over nearly every aspect of Seattle’s homelessness response; the authority’s CEO, Marc Dones, is a tiny house village skeptic.

González said she would work to lower the amount of time people stay in tiny house villages and create a “meaningful transition away from tiny sheds and towards a path of sustainable, safe, appropriate … housing for those who are currently living in those spaces. While we all acknowledged at one point in time that these structures provide a safer option than living in our parks or in doorways or in greenways, I agree that five years in, it now appears that we are baking this in to our intervention strategies.”

Harrell said that he, too, would like to create a goal of moving people from tiny houses into permanent housing more quickly, and pivoted to talking about his health care plan, his plan for a job center, and his Empowerment and Opportunity Program, a mentorship program for Black kids to learn networking, wealth building, and career skills. “I want people out of those tiny homes as much as possible as well…  just to make sure that we can get our parks and our open spaces and our sidewalks clean,” he said. “And I said publicly, it’s inhumane just to ignore people’s conditions. So… we’re going to get them services that they currently do not have.”

People who “don’t want help”

At both debates, the candidates were asked some version of the question, “What do you do with people who refuse services because they just want to live outside?” Continue reading “Mayoral Debates Highlight Key Differences in How Candidates Would Approach Homelessness”

Council Raises Income Level for “Affordable” Housing on Church-Owned Property

Photo by Daniel Tseng on Unsplash

By Erica C. Barnett

On Monday, the city council rejected a proposal by Councilmember Lisa Herbold that would have required churches to build more deeply affordable housing in exchange for density bonuses (upzones) that could double the value of property they own. The legislation the council adopted will provide a financial incentive for religious institutions to build apartments for people and households earning up to 80 percent of the Seattle area median income—for a one-person household, about $65,000 a year.

The legislation has its roots in anti-displacement efforts. Back in 2019, the state legislature adopted legislation requiring cities to give religious institutions density bonuses—essentially, the right to build more housing—on property they own, if they agree to use it for affordable housing. Three months ago, the city council adopted, and Mayor Jenny Durkan signed, legislation stipulating that starting in July 2022, the housing that churches build on upzoned land must be, on average, affordable to people making 60 percent or less of the Seattle median income—about $49,000 for one person, or $70,000 for a family of four. 

After the legislation passed, several local churches asked Durkan and council members to change the law to increase the affordable threshold to 80 percent. At that affordability level, apartments are essentially market-rate—around $1,620 for a studio apartment, or $1,850 for a one-bedroom unit, no matter where they are located in the city. In contrast, the legislation the council and mayor approved in June required average rents of around $1,200 for a studio and $1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Herbold’s amendment would have continued to allow religious institutions in neighborhoods the city has identified as having a high displacement risk, such as the Central District, Rainier Beach, North Beacon Hill, and Lake City, to build housing affordable at the higher-income threshold, while retaining the 60 percent affordability requirement in other areas.

Nearly seven in ten Black households make less than half of the Seattle median income, and only 10 percent fall between the 50 percent and 80 percent income levels. In other words, fewer than 10 percent of all Black renter households in the city will even theoretically qualify for new church-based housing at the higher income levels the council adopted.

Representatives from local churches argued that requiring deeper affordability anywhere in the city would make it difficult for them to build housing, resulting in the displacement of churches and their congregants, because housing affordable to people making lower incomes simply doesn’t “pencil out” on church property. 

“The [new] legislation, as originally developed, created a win-win scenario where these institutions—almost all of whom make significant contributions to service and justice in the city—can continue to thrive where they are in our neighborhoods and contribute to the crying lack of affordable housing,” Michael Ramos, head of the Greater Seattle Church Council, wrote in an email to Herbold’s office opposing her amendment.

“The ideal is that we have affordable housing at 60 percent area median income across the city, and we have so many policy mechanisms and funding mechanisms to do so,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss, who sponsored both bills.  “Churches need the flexibility to be able to have people [earning] up to 80 percent AMI in their buildings, so that they can either choose to have people move back into the community that have been displaced or to use that revenue to create the services that other residents are receiving to meet the needs of their community.” Continue reading “Council Raises Income Level for “Affordable” Housing on Church-Owned Property”

Durkan Budget Would Gut JumpStart Spending Plan, Increase Funding for Encampment Response

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan released the final budget of her term yesterday, outlining the proposal at a very high level in a six-minute speech from North Seattle College. In the coming weeks, the proposal will be debated, analyzed, and rewritten by the Seattle City Council (the addition of 35 net new police officers is an obvious target for their red pens), and PubliCola will be covering every aspect of those upcoming discussions. For now, though, here are a few initial notes on the plan, which reflects better-than-expected revenues and incorporates a lot of ongoing federal funding for COVID relief.

• The budget proposes taking $148 million from the city’s payroll tax fund, a repository for revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, and moving it into the general fund to pay for Durkan’s other priorities. Legislation the mayor will transmit to the council would also empower future mayors to use JumpStart revenues for virtually any purpose, including the “[m]aintenance of existing essential City services.” The mayor’s proposal would remove language from existing law stipulating that the tax can’t be used to “supplant existing funding from any City fund or revenue source.”

The council adopted the payroll tax specifically to fund programs addressing housing, homelessness, and equity, and created a separate fund for JumpStart revenues with the intention that they couldn’t be used for other purposes—which is precisely what Durkan is proposing to do.

“The proposed changes are necessary in order to reconcile the priorities identified in [the JumpStart bill] with Council actions in support of other critical funding needs, including homelessness, community safety, BIPOC investments, domestic violence prevention and victim services, appropriate compensation for City employees, and the ongoing shortfall in some City revenues,” the mayor’s budget proposal says.

The city estimates that JumpStart will bring in about $235 million next year, so Durkan’s plan would use up the majority of JumpStart funding for non-JumpStart purposes.

Durkan attempted to reallocate JumpStart revenues last year as well.

A summary of the bill by the City Budget Office notes that Durkan didn’t sign the JumpStart bill, “expressing many of the same concerns about earmarking certain revenue streams at a time when the City was making significant investments using one-time funding received from the federal government as a response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.” She also vetoed legislation last year that used JumpStart revenues to fund COVID relief, a veto the council narrowly overturned.

The city estimates that JumpStart will bring in about $235 million next year, so Durkan’s plan would use up the majority of JumpStart funding for non-JumpStart purposes. The budget would use one-time federal emergency dollars to backfill the gap in the JumpStart fund, but because those funds only last one year, the budget creates a future funding cliff for the next mayor and council. If the council adopts this plan, it will have to either cut the programs Durkan funded using a tax meant for other purposes, or continue to dip into JumpStart revenues while cutting back on programs funded this year with one-time funds. It seems unlikely that the council will allow this part of the budget proposal to stand as is.

This is hardly the first time Durkan has proposed dipping into funds earmarked by legislation for a specific purpose in order to fund her own unrelated priorities. In 2018, she started using funds from the sweetened beverage tax—a tax that was supposed to fund healthy food programs in areas most impacted by the tax—to pay for programs that had historically been funded through the city’s general fund, creating “extra” money for her office to allocate elsewhere.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said the higher-than-expected contribution to the regional homelessness authority “represents increased spending on homelessness projected 2022. The [agreement] was written in 2019 and did not contemplate the pandemic or the massive infusion of funds to help our most vulnerable neighbors stay safe.”

When the council attempted to reverse this sleight-of-hand and use the tax revenues for their designated purpose, Durkan accused them of “cutting” programs that she was using the tax to fund, setting off a nasty battle that resulted in the council creating a designated fund for soda tax revenues—much like the designated JumpStart fund.

• Durkan wants to add another 35 (net) new police officers to the force—a fairly modest goal, but one directly in conflict with many council members’ stated commitment to reduce the size of the police department and invest the savings into community-based public safety alternatives. Last year, Durkan vetoed the entire city budget because the council amended it to reduce the size of the police force, a veto the council subsequently overturned.

Although the budget proposal includes funding for new and continued alternatives to policing and police response, such as Health One and Triage One, and funding for the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, a gun-violence prevention program, it also commits to “restoring SPD staffing to previous levels” by hiring new officers. To that end, Durkan’s budget also includes $1.1 million to pay for hiring incentives for new recruits and officers who make lateral transfers from other departments.

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The city council just rejected a series of proposals from Councilmember Alex Pedersen that would have set aside as much as $3 million to retain existing officers and recruit new ones to the department.

• The budget proposes sending more money than the city originally agreed to provide—$104.2 million, compared to $75 million the city agreed to provide in the interlocal agreement adopted in 2019—to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to take over (almost) all the homelessness programs previously managed by the city at the end of this year. The homelessness authority is funded by the city and King County; suburban cities, which hold three seats on the authority’s governing board, don’t contribute financially to the authority.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said the higher-than-expected contribution “represents increased spending on homelessness projected 2022. The [agreement] was written in 2019 and did not contemplate the pandemic or the massive infusion of funds to help our most vulnerable neighbors stay safe.”

The new funds include $2.4 million in state and local funds for “tiny home villages,” coincidentally the same amount of state and local dollars the council has been trying to get the mayor to release to pay for three new tiny house villages this year. The mayor’s proposed $2.4 million would pay for ongoing “operations, maintenance, and services s for three tiny home villages (estimated 120 units) or other noncongregate emergency shelter or temporary housing options,” leaving open the possibility that the regional authority might fund a different shelter option.

However, because the money is supposed to “operationalize” funding in the state capital budget that was explicitly for “tiny homes,” it’s likely that advocates for tiny house villages would object strongly to using the money for some other kind of shelter. Authority CEO Marc Dones has expressed skepticism about tiny houses as a form of temporary shelter, noting that people tend to stay in villages far longer than the city’s own goals for the program.

There’s also funding in the proposal for a new men’s shelter run by Africatown at a former nursing home in the Central District; ongoing support for the Salvation Army’s mass shelter in SoDo; and about $190 million for new housing, paid for through the voter-adopted housing levy, federal dollars, and other funding sources.

Durkan’s proposed budget increases funding for Parks’ encampment work by almost a million dollars, adding 6.5 full-time equivalent employees to respond to “the increased demand on [Seattle Parks and Recreation] to address impacts of unmanaged encampments, such as litter removal, storage of personal belongings, and data collection & reporting in compliance with Multi-Department Rules (MDAR).”

The budget also proposes $6 million for services to help people who receive federal emergency housing vouchers maintain their housing when the vouchers run out. Some of this money, according to the budget summary, could come from rapid rehousing funds. As we’ve reported, the city’s plan to move people quickly from two shelter-based hotels into apartments using rapid rehousing subsidies has failed to place many people in housing, largely because the people moving into the hotels tend to be poor candidates for rapid rehousing programs, which generally require tenants to pay full market rent within a few months to a year.

• Although Durkan’s budget plan relinquishes control of most homelessness work, it still assumes that the city, not the regional authority, will maintain its role removing encampments and, to some extent, doing outreach to unsheltered people, although the form that role will take is unclear. Budget director Ben Noble told PubliCola yesterday that although “the shelter contracts and related pieces are all going to the regional authority… the feeling was that folks who are on the street and not in a sanctioned encampment but living outside are sill the primary responsibility of the city.” Continue reading “Durkan Budget Would Gut JumpStart Spending Plan, Increase Funding for Encampment Response”

Advocates Propose “Solidarity Budget,” LEAD Seeks Funding, Posters Protest Candidate’s Anti-RV Action

1. On Saturday,  a coalition of Seattle-area police abolitionist groups and community nonprofits debuted the city’s second “solidarity budget,” a set of spending proposals for Seattle’s 2022 budget that would shift dollars away from police, prosecutors and the municipal court to pay for mental health services, education and housing programs. The coalition released their plan two days before Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed her own 2022 budget—the fourth and final budget of her term.

The coalition, which includes Decriminalize Seattle, the Transit Riders Union, and Columbia Legal Services, among other advocates, released the first solidarity budget last year, lobbying the council to decrease the Seattle Police Department’s budget by half and to launch a city-wide participatory budgeting program to re-distribute public safety dollars. Ultimately, the council chose to reduce SPD’s 2021 budget by 11 percent and set aside a participatory budgeting program; that project was subsequently delayed  until at least next year.

This year’s solidarity budget also calls for a 50 percent cut to the criminal legal system, largely by cutting the total number of SPD officers to 750—roughly 300 fewer officers than the department currently employs. The proposal calls for eliminating SPD’s narcotics unit, cutting the special victims unit budget by half, eliminating the department’s public affairs unit, and moving the civilian Community Safety Officer program out of the department and into the new Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC).

The coalition also recommended cutting the budgets of the Municipal Court and the criminal division of the City Attorney’s Office by 50 percent. “While the Municipal Court and City Attorneys have begun to embrace non-incarceration and conviction approaches to misdemeanors,” the coalition wrote in their budget outline, “court and prosecutors are not social service agencies, and should not be the gateway to housing and treatment.”

The solidarity budget would shift the money saved through all these cuts to nonprofits that can run civilian crisis response teams, mental health and harm reduction programs, and domestic violence victim support. It also calls for setting aside $60 million for participatory budgeting (the mayor’s budget sets aside $30 million for this purpose), as well as roughly $3 million to support members of the Duwamish tribe in the absence of federal recognition—including free transit passes, funding for inpatient drug rehabilitation, and rental assistance.

2. Earlier this month, PubliCola reported that Fremont Brewing, owned by Seattle City Council candidate Sara Nelson, had apparently placed “ecology blocks” in the public street around its Ballard production facility to prevent people living in RVs from parking there.

The story appears to have sparked outrage: Over the weekend, someone put posters saying “Sara Nelson Hates Poor People” on the blocks. As of Sunday, both the eco blocks and the posters remained in place, although at least some of the posters now say simply, and enigmatically, “Sara Nelson,” after someone (presumably a supporter) came by and removed the bottom half of the message.

Eco blocks, which are enormous, heavy, and hard to move, have popped up in industrial areas around the city as business owners have sought new ways to keep people living in vehicles from parking on public streets near their properties. Obstructing public rights-of-way in this manner is illegal, but the Seattle Department of Transportation has, so far, thrown up its hands, pointing to the difficulty and expense of removing hundreds or thousands of multi-ton blocks from streets around the city.

3. Throughout the Durkan administration, the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) has frequently struggled to convince the mayor’s office to release funding for the program, a diversion program for people whose criminal legal system involvement stems from behavioral health issues or extreme poverty. This year has been no different: In June, the council appropriated $3 million to expand LEAD’s budget by third, but the Human Services Department hasn’t gotten the dollars out the door.

During a presentation at the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee outlining the costs and logistics of expanding LEAD program into a citywide service, council member Andrew Lewis asked HSD staff for a “status update” on the funding. Instead, HSD deputy director Tess Colby said that her department is “actively working” to get the dollars out the door. If HSD doesn’t get the $3 million into LEAD’s hands before the end of the year, the money will go back into the city’s general fund. Continue reading “Advocates Propose “Solidarity Budget,” LEAD Seeks Funding, Posters Protest Candidate’s Anti-RV Action”

With Future of Tiny Houses Up In the Air, Advocates Push for Action This Year

Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee
Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates and city council members are putting pressure on Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s Human Services Department to move forward with three new tiny house villages—groups of small, shed-like shelters for people experiencing homelessness—this year, before the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) takes over the city’s homelessness-related contracts in 2022.

The short-term (and at this point, probably quixotic) goal is to convince Durkan and HSD’s short-staffed homelessness division to commit to moving forward with all three villages before the city’s homelessness contracts move to the KCRHA the end of the year. The long-term goal, which may be equally quixotic, is to demonstrate strong community support for tiny house villages in the face of strong opposition at the new authority, whose leader, Marc Dones, has no allegiance to what has become conventional wisdom at the city.

Earlier this year, the Seattle City Council adopted (and the mayor signed) legislation accepting $2 million in state COVID relief funding to stand up three new tiny house villages and setting aside an additional $400,000 to operate the villages once they open—the Seattle Rescue Plan. Since then, HSD has declined to issue a request for proposals to build the villages, arguing that the council doesn’t have a long-term plan to operate the villages after this year. The longer HSD waits, the more likely it is that the job of deciding whether to stand up additional tiny house villages will fall to the regional authority.

“I sure wouldn’t want to be the mayor who … wouldn’t stand up the housing that I had signed into law. I don’t think that’s a good legacy for this mayor, and I don’t think that’s what business owners and residents and services providers want to hear right now.”—City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda

On Wednesday, village supporters arranged themselves next to a mock land-use sign for project “SLU-145” to make their case for a new village on a long-vacant parcel of City Light-owned land a block away. On hand: LIHI director Sharon Lee, City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Teresa Mosqueda, and several dozen residents of the nearby Mirabella retirement community, who have raised $143,000 for the effort.

What we need is for those checks to be written now. That is in law. We cannot grind to a halt in the very moment that community needs us to be standing up shelters and services,” Mosqueda said. “By supporting the deployment, now, of the additional three tiny house villages funded and signed into law by the mayor through the Seattle Rescue Plan, we can support these immediate solutions and remain committed to building affordable housing and creating additional services.”

Lewis, who rolled out a plan to build 12 new tiny house villages called “It Takes A Village” earlier this year, told PubliCola he was frustrated that the city hasn’t added a single tiny house village all year during “the worst homelessness crisis that we’ve ever faced.”

“Tiny home villages may become our de-facto community response—warehousing and dehumanizing people into our own entrenched version of shanty towns, favelas, and slums.”—King County Lived Experience Coalition statement

“We have 295 tiny homes right now,” Lewis said. “And maybe we don’t need 2,000 tiny homes, but we certainly need more than 295. We’ve got over 4,000 people in the city who are experiencing homelessness right now. It’s just frustrating.”

Contacted after the press conference, Mosqueda added, “I sure wouldn’t want to be the mayor who saw growing homelessness during a deadly pandemic, and have my legacy be that I rejected funding, that I wouldn’t stand up the housing that I had signed into law. I don’t think that’s a good legacy for this mayor, and I don’t think that’s what business owners and residents and services providers want to hear right now.”

Tiny houses evolved out of ordinary tent encampments, as residents of both authorized and unauthorized tent cities set up semi-permanent structures, many of them no bigger than small garden sheds, to provide additional shelter from the elements. Over time, the encampments—now city-funded, standardized, and rebranded as “villages”—proliferated, spurred on by LIHI and supportive elected officials, including both council members and, at one point, Durkan herself.

Although tiny house villages are commonplace, they have detractors—including KCHRA director Dones, who has made no secret of their skepticism about the village model of shelter. Dones, a former consultant to King County who developed the model for the regional authority, has argued that people tend to stay in tiny house villages for too long compared to other shelter options, and has suggested that group homes and transitional housing may be more effective at moving people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. Continue reading “With Future of Tiny Houses Up In the Air, Advocates Push for Action This Year”