Tag: Nicole Macri

Durkan Says School District Should “Step Up” and Sweep Encampment, State Makes FEMA Funding for Hotel Shelters Easier

1. At a press conference on federal recovery funding last Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan was asked what she plans to do about the encampment on school district property near Broadview Thomson K-8, which PubliCola covered earlier this month.

Durkan spun the question on its head: Since the tents are on school district property, she said, it’s up to the school district to not only remove the encampment and store people’s tents and property but to “stand up their own process” similar to the city’s for doing outreach and connecting people to services, housing, and shelter.

“We’re working with them so that they can stand up their own process, and I hope that they are able to take that approach,” Durkan said. “I think that if they follow what we’ve been able to do in many places using city properties and city resources, that you can do very compassionate-based outreach and you can also move any encampment that has a particular public health or safety risk.

Staying on the other side of this invisible line has protected encampment residents from city-led sweeps, but it has also meant that the city has refused to help the people living there.

Durkan has refused to provide city assistance, outreach, trash cleanup, or other resources to the encampment on the grounds that it is on school district property, not the city’s.

The school district property is directly next to a Seattle Parks property where other people also live in tents. Staying on the other side of this invisible line has protected encampment residents from city-led sweeps, but it has also meant that the city has refused to help the people living there. The city’s HOPE team (formerly the Navigation Team) has exclusive access to a large percentage of the city’s limited number of enhanced shelter beds and hotel rooms, which they offer to residents of encampments the city is about to sweep.

The mayor noted, without using his name, that former Seattle Finance and Administrative Services director Fred Podesta—who helped establish the city’s rules for removing encampments—is now head of operations at the school district, and suggested that the district, as a “a billion-dollar organization with funds and resources,” ought to be able provide the same kind of services as the city and remove the encampment.

“The school district needs to step up, and we are there to help and assist them, but they cannot shirk their obligations and duties for school properties,” Durkan said. 

Of course, the purpose of the school district’s billion-dollar budget is to educate the city’s 54,000 public school students, not to pay for human services or encampment sweeps.

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2. In response to concerns from cities that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might fail to reimburse them for some of the costs of non-congregate shelters, such as hotels, that President Biden committed to fully fund as part of the federal response to COVID, state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) added $10 million to the state’s supplemental budget to provide jurisdictions with an extra layer of assurance.

As we’ve reported, FEMA has committed to pay 100 percent of eligible costs for non-congregate shelters, including both facility costs and services involved in running the shelter itself. The city of Seattle has resisted seeking FEMA funding to stand up or pay for hotel-based shelters, arguing that no services are covered and suggesting that this form of federal funding is a risky proposition. Continue reading “Durkan Says School District Should “Step Up” and Sweep Encampment, State Makes FEMA Funding for Hotel Shelters Easier”

Pandemic Renter Protections on the Line in State Senate

Image via Nicole Macri’s campaign page.

By Leo Brine

UPDATE: House Bill 1236 passed the House Thursday on a mostly party-line vote of 28-21, without the three Republican amendments. The version that passed was a substitute, or striker, by moderate Democratic Senator Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah).

Senator Patty Kuderer (D-48, Bellevue) told PubliCola that Sen. Mullet’s striker amendment was necessary to get the bill passed and did not damage the overall integrity of the bill. The amendment didn’t alter the list of 16 reasons a landlord could give for evicting a tenant.

The bill, Kuderer said, “will ensure we transition away from the eviction moratorium using an off-ramp and not a cliff.”

ORIGINAL POST:

A bill that would bring an end to no-cause evictions in Washington (HB 1236) had a confusing day on the Senate floor on Monday. Republicans managed to get three amendments added to the bill, stripping away its protections for tenants facing no-cause evictions and exempting small rental properties from the bill entirely, before it was eventually taken off the floor.

An updated version of the bill is heading to a senate floor vote today.

The legislation lists 16 possible causes for a landlord to evict a tenant. “They’re very expansive,” Representative Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle), the bill’s primary sponsor, said. “You just need to give a tenant a reason when you ask them to move out.” The causes range from tenants not paying rent, to tenants registering as sex offenders during their tenancy, to the landlord having a “legitimate economic or business reason” for the eviction.

Macri said the bill was informed by various just cause eviction laws and ordinances including the city of Seattle’s, as well as newer ordinances such as Federal Way’s and Auburn’s.

When the bill was introduced on the Senate floor, Republicans introduced three amendments, which all passed the majority-Democratic chamber. Because of the large number of bills the legislature debates at the end of the session, committee chairs and bill sponsors generally caucus with their party members on each amendment, enabling legislators to vote without keeping track of every single amendment. Senator Patty Kuderer (D-48, Bellevue) is the chair of the Senate Housing and Local Government committee and was in charge of informing her colleagues how to vote on the amendments.

“Without just cause [protections], there’s a huge loophole in how pandemic related rent assistance would work. You would just assist landlords in protecting their financial investments”—by paying them back rent—”but it would do nothing to protect housing stability.”—State Rep. Nicole Macri

Senator Marko Liias (D-21, Everett) told PubliCola in a text message that senators discussed all the amendments in caucus, “but with the volume of bills we are debating and the volume of amendments, things can get mixed up.” He said his colleagues would not have voted for the amendments they passed on Monday had they known what they were.

Liias asked for the bill to be taken off the floor, but not before Republicans managed to pass three amendments, including two that were substantive. Senator Chris Gildon (R-25, Puyallup) added an amendment giving landlords the right to evict tenants with “fixed-term leases”—those that do not renew or convert to month-to-month leases after the lease ends— without cause at the end of their lease. Senator Judy Warnick (R-13, Moses Lake) added an amendment that allows landlords to issue no-cause evictions to tenants living in properties with four dwelling units or fewer.

Democrats are trying to forestall a wave of evictions after the state’s eviction moratorium ends on June 30. The House Democrats’ budget proposal includes more than $1 billion for rental assistance to pay back landlords for rent debt that tenants have accrued during the moratorium.

Macri said she has been fighting with Republicans in order to get tenant protection bills passed, but they continue to propose amendments to limit and narrow those protections. She said one reason some lawmakers are not interested in passing comprehensive tenant protection bills is “because many lawmakers have personal experience as small-time landlords.” Lawmakers tend to personalize the policies in the bills because of their landlord experiences, using personal anecdotes to substantiate their opinions that tenant protection bills are harmful,  Macri said.

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Warnick’s amendment to exempt small rental properties from the bill would be devastating to renters outside cities, Macri said, because “basically nobody in rural Washington would have protection.” Outside of major metropolitan areas along the I-5 corridor, she said, rental properties tend to be smaller—more like houses that have been converted to apartments. Even in Seattle, there are more than 26,000 properties with four dwelling units or fewer, according to Edmund Witter at the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, while there are fewer than 5,000 properties with five units or more.

Gildon’s amendment eliminating protections for people on six-month fixed-term leases is a more far-reaching than moderate Democratic Senator Mark Mullet’s (D-5, Issaquah) striker amendment, which would preserve protections for people on fixed-term leases shorter than 12 months. Mullet worked groups representing housing providers and landlords to negotiate a striker amendment (which incorporates multiple amendments into a single proposal) that waters down the effects of the bill in some of the same ways the Republicans’ amendments passed on Monday did. Continue reading “Pandemic Renter Protections on the Line in State Senate”

Morning Fizz: An Unprecedented Amendment, A Senate Shelter Compromise, and Surprise! Shelter Costs Money

King’s Inn in Belltown

1. A proposed amendment to the Seattle City Charter that would (in theory) force the city to fund thousands of shelter beds or housing units and reinstate encampment removals is unusual in more ways than one.

First, the obvious: Instead of declaring a state of emergency or using some other rhetorical mechanism to sound the alarm on homelessness, the charter amendment—which will be on the ballot in November if supporters gather 33,000 valid signatures to put it before voters—establishes a specific goal: 1,000 new “units” of “emergency or permanent housing with services” in 2022.  (Emergency housing is shelter, which is obviously much cheaper and easier to stand up quickly than permanent housing units.)

Second, and perhaps more impactful in the long term: The amendment attempts to use the city’s charter—Seattle’s constitution—to dictate specific budget and policy priorities, which are usually the subject of legislation, in perpetuity. In addition to the 2,000-bed mandate, the amendment would require that, in all future years, the city will spend at least 12 percent of its general fund revenues on human services, and that the city pay for “full restoration of general fund support for the Department of Parks and Recreation to facilitate repair and restoration of parks.”

Supporters of the amendment have argued that these permanent mandates establish ongoing priorities for the city: Homelessness, human services generally, and parks “repair and restoration” are important priorities that need to be enshrined in city law. But a look at past charter amendments illustrates just how unusual, if not unprecedented, this proposal is.

The majority of charter amendments over the years have been put on the ballot by the city council itself; most of them involve governance changes or tweaks to the language of the charter itself. For example, in 1977, a successful amendment changed the name of the city’s “Governance Counsel” to “City Attorney”; in 2006, voters approved an amendment that eliminated 1946 language requiring the city to physically “post” ballot proposals (in addition to publishing them in the newspaper.)

A look at past charter amendments illustrates just how unusual, if not unprecedented, this proposal is.

Other city-generated charter amendments have been more substantive, but still limited to the realm of governance, not policy: In 2007, the city council was so annoyed by then-mayor Greg Nickels’ decision to hold his State of the City address at a Rotary Club luncheon, they put an amendment on the ballot requiring the mayor to “deliver” the address at City Hall. (Subsequent mayors got around this requirement by holding the speech elsewhere, then physically or virtually “delivering” the text of the address to the council at its regular meeting the same day.)

Amendments that originate with citizens have followed a similar pattern: Even those that have proposed substantive changes, such as three different proposals to institute district elections, have dealt with the way the city is governed, not legislative priorities. In addition to districts (which finally passed in 2013), Seattle residents have proposed amendments that would institute ranked-choice voting and elections through proportional representation. There appears to be no precedent for the council or citizens imposing preemptive budget requirements or mandating legislative policy through the city charter.

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2. Earlier this year, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office rejected a proposal by the Public Defender Association to operate a hotel-based shelter at the Executive Pacific Hotel on the grounds that it was far too expensive. The program, which would have cost about $28,000 per room, would have been modeled on the successful JustCare program, which moved more than 100 people from encampments in Pioneer Square and the International District into hotels around Seattle. At the time, the mayor’s office set a hard spending cap of $17,175 a room.

Fast forward to last Monday, when the city held a press tour at the new, Chief Seattle Club-operated King’s Inn shelter in Belltown. The total price for room? Around $23,000, according to CSC staff. The $5,000 difference per room between the King’s Inn shelter and the one the PDA proposed would have amounted to about $750,000 total at the Executive Pacific—a fraction of the overall $8.3 million contract for that hotel, which eventually went to the Low-Income Housing Institute.

The two hotels will be funded largely from federal Emergency Services Grant funding. As PubliCola has reported, Durkan’s office has consistently declined to use federal FEMA dollars to pay for hotel-based shelters, as other cities have done.

3. The senate Ways and Means Committee passed HB 1220—a bill that updates the Growth Management Act (GMA) to require cities to plan for and accommodate low-income housing and shelter as part of their comprehensive plans.

As amended by Sen. Marko Liias (D-21, Lynnwood), the bill also prohibits cities from using zoning rules to block transitional and permanent supportive housing in residential areas or areas where hotels are allowed, while simultaneously limiting the areas where cities are required to allow emergency shelter to “zones”—a term that is not clearly defined—within one mile of transit stops. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: An Unprecedented Amendment, A Senate Shelter Compromise, and Surprise! Shelter Costs Money”

Participatory Budgeting Plan Is Heavy on Overhead, Seattle Rep. Macri Schools Suburban Cities, and Emails Confirm Durkan Audit Directive

[REDACTED]: Emails confirm Durkan directive.
1. In what may be a final act before the wheels of the citywide participatory budgeting process begin to turn, the Black Brilliance Research Project’s (BBRP) team—specifically, longtime research leads Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe—are working with the Seattle City Council to develop a spending plan for the participatory budgeting rollout. The city plans to use participatory budgeting to select programs that will replace some functions of the Seattle Police Department.

Any money the city spends on staffing and infrastructure for participatory budgeting will come out of the $30 million set aside in the city’s 2021 budget for PB; that means it will reduce the dollar amount available to finance the projects for which Seattle residents will eventually be able to vote.

A draft spending plan written by the BBRP team outlines $8.3 million in overhead costs—roughly 28 percent of the project’s total budget, and 40 percent more than the entire budget of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights. The BBRP’s final report to council also suggested setting aside another 20 percent of the budget to cover any unexpected future costs, which would leave just under $16 million to pay for project proposals.

The largest portion of that spending would go to 35 staff members, all identified as “Strategic Advisor 2″-level employees (a city employment tier that comes with a six-figure salary), including a seven-person steering committee to set the rules and procedures for participatory budgeting as well as 25 full-time members of five “work groups” who will provide administrative support to the steering committee.

The draft spending plan also outlines plans to address inequitable access to the internet that might hinder efforts to give BIPOC and low-income residents a voice in the participatory budgeting process. Some digital access-related budget items fit within the current $8.3 million spending plan, but others don’t, including a $2.75 million program called the “Digital Navigator Program” that would involve hiring 50 people to provide one-on-one “assistance in getting to and using online resources, low-income internet [and] device programs, and developing digital skills” to BIPOC residents.

The BBRP and its supporters are still advocating for the city to spend additional dollars to the participatory budgeting process. At the moment, their focus is on a proposal before the council’s Public Safety Committee to cut $5.4 million from the Seattle Police Department’s budget to account for an equivalent amount that the department overspent in 2020. In an email sent on Monday, supporters of the participatory budgeting process suggested that the dollars taken from SPD’s budget could enable the city to hire the team of digital navigators, among other expenses. 

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2. Representative Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) is working to pass legislation (HB 1220) that updates the Growth Management Act with rules that would require more affordable housing stock. The bill says Washington cities should plan for upcoming growth by requiring cities to incorporate affordable housing into their comprehensive plans.

However, representatives from several suburban cities, including Renton and Auburn, testified against sections of the bill that would prohibit jurisdictions from banning homeless shelters and transitional housing, as the city of Renton effectively did earlier this year. The bill would prohibit such bans in any area where other types of short-term housing, such as motels, is allowed. Critics argue that the bill is an overreach of state authority, and cities should be able to deal with homelessness as they see fit.

Macri doesn’t buy it. “It seems like local control hasn’t led to inclusive zoning in the last 50 years, so why would I think that it would [now]?” she said, adding that while planning for more housing to accommodate growth is “good policy,” the proposed affordable housing mandates make the policy “real.”

Even though the bill passed the House on March 3 with unanimous Democratic support, Rep. Macri says she’s still worried about how the bill will fare in the Senate. Rep. Macri is currently trying to have conversations with cities, trying to find out what resources they need to “be inclusive to all people in all the zones where [cities] currently allow some people.” She says those conversations are not going great.

On March 11, the Sound Cities Association, which represents suburban cities, sent a letter opposing the bill signed by the mayors of Vancouver, Renton, Sammamish and 21 other mid-sized cities. The Sound Cities Association is a major player in the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to devise a region-wide approach to homelessness.

Conversations with the mid-size cities started out fine, Macri said, but as the legislation continued to move, cities kept coming up with new objections to the bill, before finally acknowledging their real beef, which Macri paraphrases as: “We don’t want certain kinds of people in certain kinds of neighborhoods because they can’t meet those people’s needs.”

Seattle’s City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan both sent letters to Seattle’s legislative delegation last week expressing their support for the bill. “All cities play a part in establishing affordable housing and remedying the homelessness crisis that is gripping our county, our region, and our state, and appreciate your support for HB 1220,” the council wrote.

3. Records obtained through a public disclosure request, though heavily redacted, appear to confirm that it was Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, not Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings or finance director Glen Lee, who decided to pressure the state auditor’s office to expand the scope of its performance audit of the city council’s contract with the Freedom Project, which served as the “fiscal agent” for the initial $3 million participatory budgeting research project. Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting Plan Is Heavy on Overhead, Seattle Rep. Macri Schools Suburban Cities, and Emails Confirm Durkan Audit Directive”

County Plans All-Gender “Potty Pilot,” Socialist Denounces Progressive, and Tiny House Villages Expand

Photo via LIHI.

1. The city council adopted legislation allowing up to 40 new “transitional encampments,” including so-called tiny house villages as well as tent encampments and safe parking lots for people living in their cars, but not without fireworks. The bill, sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant, also loosens several land-use restrictions that limit where encampments can be located and how long they can remain in place. Council freshman Alex Pedersen proposed several amendments that Sawant said would destroy the bill, including one that would reduce the number of permitted encampments from 40 to 15, one that would have limited permits to “tiny house villages,” rather than tent encampments, and one that would have reinstated a sunset date.

Pedersen’s amendments prompted a strong rebuke from Sawant, who called his proposal to reduce the number of permitted encampments “a no vote in disguise.”

“Since council member Pedersen obviously opposes expansion of tiny house villages, I would prefer that the was honest about it and voted no on the bill,” Sawant said. “It’s a sleight of hand that he’s engaging in. … I would urge the public to be aware of what is really going on.”

Sawant’s supporters, who had filled council chambers in response to one of her regular “PACK CITY HALL!” action alerts, applauded. After their cheers died down, council member Lisa Herbold implored Sawant to stop “impugning the motives of [her] colleagues” and noted that Sawant did not similarly denounce council member Andrew Lewis, who proposed a similar amendment limiting the number of encampments to 20 last week. “I would just like us to show a little grace for each other up on this dais,” Herbold said, to boos.

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Sawant responded that she answered only to “ordinary people,” not politicians, and reiterated that Pedersen did not have “good intentions,” to more applause. Council member Debora Juarez, who was running the meeting, reminded the audience, “this is not a rally,” and said that the council agrees with each other “95 percent of the time.” When that comment was met with derisive laughter, Juarez gave up, muttering “Jesus” into the hot mic and moving on with the vote. The bill ultimately passed, without Pedersen’s amendments or support, 6-1.

2. Sawant also had harsh words for state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), the sponsor of legislation that would enable King County to pass a business payroll tax to pay for homeless services. Sawant’s beef with Macri is that, according to Sawant, she hasn’t done enough to ensure that the bill won’t contain language preempting the city from passing its own “big business” tax, which would derail Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” campaign.

Sawant proposed a resolution “oppos[ing] opposes the passage of any legislation which preempts the city from taxing big business” and denouncing Macri’s proposal for capping the county’s taxing authority at 0.2 percent of a business’s total payroll.

Macri, Sawant said, should not be viewed as a “progressive hero,” because “you only get to be called a progressive if you are absolutely fighting for a progressive agenda.” She then recounted a conversation with Macri, in which Macri supposedly told her that “‘as a fellow progressive, our lives are hard.'”

“I don’t think progressive politicians can complain that their lives are hard, because the lives of ordinary people are a thousand times harder,” Sawant said.

In her day job, Macri is deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which provides direct services, low-barrier shelter, and housing to some of the “hardest to house” people in Seattle. As a legislator, she passed a major eviction reform bill last year, and has championed funding for housing, health care, and services for people experiencing homelessness. By denouncing Macri as a tool of the ruling elite, Sawant is walking out on a very thin limb. There are Democrats in the legislature who are actually arguing for preemption. Macri isn’t one of them. Trashing her as a sellout may win applause (it certainly did at Monday’s meeting) but rallies don’t always pass legislation. That’s something Sawant learned again on Monday, when her resolution failed 5-2.

3. After an internal survey, numerous meetings, and the creation of an alliterative shorthand—#PottyPilotProject—King County and the city have abandoned plans to replace single-gender restrooms with gender-inclusive ones at the new Regional Homelessness Authority headquarters at the county-owned Yesler Building downtown. According to a July 27 memo obtained through a records request, the plan to retrofit existing restrooms as all-gender facilities “is not moving forward.” However, the “potty pilot” is still on track for other county departments.

Continue reading “County Plans All-Gender “Potty Pilot,” Socialist Denounces Progressive, and Tiny House Villages Expand”

Afternoon Crank: Eviction Law More Sweeping Than Previously Reported; Sound Transit Says No Signature Gathering in Federal Way

1. The new state law that creates new protections for tenants at risk of losing their homes to eviction, sponsored by Seattle Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), goes even further than has been previously reported, including by me. That’s thanks to a little-noticed provision that expands a tenant’s ability to stop an eviction proceeding against her at any point up until five days after a court has issued a judgment in a landlord’s favor—a point that far fewer tenants should ever have to reach, thanks to provisions that give tenants ample opportunities to pay their back rent before a landlord takes an eviction case to court, before the case goes to trial, and even after a judge rules against the tenant.

Here’s what makes the legislation so sweeping. As I reported earlier this week, it extends the period in which tenants can pay overdue rent without facing eviction—and without having to pay any late fees, notice fees, or other one-time charges— from three days to 14. It also extends a tenant’s right to pay their rent along a fee of up to $75 until any point after that 14-day period, up to the point when their landlord files a case against them in King County Superior Court. After a landlord files a case, the tenant still has the opportunity to avoid eviction by paying the landlord back rent, the $75 fee, and any court costs incurred up until that point (which are often elevated by lawyers’ fees for preparing files, showing up in court, and other services that can be avoided if a landlord and tenant reach a settlement). Finally, if the landlord wins the case, the tenant still has up to five days to pay them back, including court costs, before being evicted.

It’s hard to overstate how dramatic the impact of this change could be. Under the current system, none of that happens. Instead, tenants can be kicked out of their homes for failing to pay rent on the fourth day it is late, and there is usually no recourse for a tenant once their landlord has filed an eviction case against them. In fact, as I’ve reported, the judges who hear eviction cases currently have virtually no discretion to set up payment plans or consider mitigating circumstances, such as a tenant who was in the hospital and unable to pay, or who suffered a one-time financial setback but has the money in hand. The new law gives judges more discretion. It also ensures that tenants who need more time to scrape their rent together—by, for example, accessing funds provided through programs like Solid Ground rental assistance program or Home Base, which provides flexible funds for people who need help with back rent—have ample opportunities to do so. For the first time in many years, the scales have tipped back—dramatically—in favor of tenants.

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2. Washington Community Action Network—one of the organizations behind a Seattle Women’s Commission report on evictions in King County, “Losing Home,” that helped lead to the statewide reforms—is trying to gather 10,000 signatures to get an initiative that would provide new protections for tenants on the ballot in Federal Way. If Sound Transit has its way, none of those signatures will be collected at the Federal Way Transit Center, where security guards have told volunteers with the group that they can’t petition near station platforms—that is, in the area where people congregate as they get on and off the bus.

“Obviously, one of the best places to [gather signatures] is going to be the Federal Way Transit Center,” says Xochitl Maykovich, Washington CAN’s political director. “I get that they have concerns around safety and not harassing people, but, I’m sorry, two organizers asking, ‘Hey, do you want to help keep people housed?’—how is that preventing people from getting on the bus?”

On May1, Washington CAN wrote a letter to Sound Transit director Peter Rogoff objecting to the policy, and noting that the “free speech areas” to which their organizers were directed are far away from pedestrian traffic. “The security officer continued to vigilantly watch the two women as if though their presence engaging transit riders with a smile was a potential threat to the station.,” the letter says. “The women found his behavior unnecessarily intimidating and decided it was best to leave the station.”

Sound Transit’s security director, Ken Cummins, responded by sending Maykovich a copy of Sound Transit’s free-speech policy, which says that the agency “may designate appropriate areas at each facility for public communication activities” and can limit the number of people it allows to engage in such activities. “Signature gathering is not authorized on bus or train platforms or within 15 feet of entrances, stairwells, elevators, escalators, ticket vending machines or within 15 feet of the trackway,” Cummins wrote. “Signature gathers may not use any tables or chairs in their activity and signature gathers may not block a person’s access to transit in any manner.” (Washington CAN’s two signature gatherers did not have tables or chairs).

After several followup letters to Sound Transit received no response, Maykovich wrote, “I take the lack of any response as meaning that I need to involve our attorney,” Maykovich wrote. “I will also note that I am incredibly disappointed in the lack of dialogue on this issue, especially given that this is a publicly run institution that is definitely getting a good chunk of my tax dollars.”

Sound Transit spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham confirmed that the agency “did receive the letter from Washington Community Action Network, and our legal counsel is currently reviewing it, as well as the policy.”
Maykovich says her organization has not faced similar pushback when collecting signatures at RapidRide bus station platforms in the past, despite Metro’s similar free-speech policy.
The Federal Way initiative would institute a Good Cause Eviction Ordinance, similar to Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction law, in the city, prohibiting arbitrary evictions and limiting the reasons for which a landlord can terminate a tenant’s lease. In Federal Way, about 29 percent of the households that sought eviction prevention assistance from the Housing Justice Project were single women with children, compared to just 10 percent in Seattle.

What Eviction Reform Means for You

This piece originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

Last month, the Washington state legislature passed a sweeping eviction reform bill that gives tenants more time to pay rent before they can be evicted; gives judges new discretion when deciding whether to give tenants more time to pay or how much to penalize evicted tenants financially; and creates new financial incentives for landlords to rent to tenants using financial subsidies.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri, was a response to the problems outlined in a report by the Seattle Women’s Commission, “Losing Home,” earlier this year. That report revealed that tenants in Seattle are frequently evicted for failing to pay extremely small amounts of rent (as little as a few dollars), and that the county superior court judges—who determine whether tenants will be evicted—have little discretion to consider mitigating factors (like a one-time medical emergency) that cause people to fall temporarily behind on their rent. In a story about King County’s eviction court for the February 2019 print edition of Seattle magazine, one woman described receiving an eviction notice while in the hospital for late-stage kidney disease. Another case, described by Housing Justice Project attorney Edmund Witter, involved a man who was hospitalized for a degenerative spinal disease; the landlord refused to allow HJP to pay his rent because HJP was not the tenant.

The legislation makes several statewide reforms:

  • It increases the number of days a tenant has to pay his or her rent once a landlord puts a “pay or vacate” notice on their door from 3 days to 14.
  • It gives judges the ability to consider mitigating circumstances when a tenant falls behind on their rent, such as unanticipated one-time expenses, a history of timely payments, and hardship to the tenant if they’re evicted. This provision also allows tenants to negotiate payment plans with landlords.
  • It requires landlords to put any payments a tenant does make toward rent first, rather than toward fees the landlord has charged the tenant for paying late. The “Losing Home” report found that late fees often added hundreds of dollars to tenants’ arrears, often outstripping the original amount they owed.
  • It limits the amount of attorneys’ fees judges can award to landlords, which were previously unlimited.
  • It expands an existing program that reimburses landlords for damages caused by tenants using rent subsidies. If a judge uses his or her new discretion to forgive rent or give a tenant more time to pay, and the reason is that the tenant is low-income or experiencing hardship, a landlord can now petition the Department of Commerce for reimbursement for that loss.
  • And it requires that 14-day eviction notices be written in simple language (and offered online in 10 different languages) so that tenants understand what is happening and how to respond.

The legislation is now on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk, and will become law (if Inslee doesn’t get around to signing it) on May 22.

In Seattle’s Eviction Court, Where the Deck Is Stacked Against Tenants, Eviction Reform Could Change the Game

This story originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Seattle magazine.

The most surprising thing about Seattle’s eviction court is that most of the action doesn’t take place in a courtroom at all—it takes place in a hallway. Along the length of this dim, busy corridor that spans the west wing of the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle, attorneys broker deals and break bad news to tenants for whom one extra paycheck, or a few hundred dollars, represents the difference between housing and homelessness. The harried suit-clad tenants’ attorneys strike a stark contrast to their clients, who pace or slump on well-worn benches, while the landlords and their attorneys cluster impatiently nearby, waiting to find out if tenants plan to settle or take their cases to court.

This hallway links two poles of the justice system. At one end: the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project (HJP), which represents low-income tenants and whose courthouse office is a cluttered, 300-square-foot room. At the other: Courtroom W-325, where tenants who decide not to accept a settlement deal can have their day in court.

About half of the landlords in Seattle—both nonprofit agencies, such as the Low-Income Housing Institute and the YWCA of Seattle, and private companies, such as Epic Asset Management, which collectively own hundreds of apartments around the city—are represented by a single law firm, Seattle-based Puckett & Redford. The firm’s pugnacious litigator Ryan Weatherstone paces back and forth in the hallway, occasionally poking his head in the door of the HJP office to yell at the organization’s managing attorney, Edmund Witter. “Stop [expletive] sandbagging me, Ed!” Weatherstone shouts late one morning, when it’s clear that the day’s cases will drag on into the afternoon. Witter rolls his eyes. It’s unclear how much of this is performance, how much genuine frustration.

The stakes are high. What happens here often means the difference between housing and homelessness to the hundreds of tenants who show up to respond to an eviction notice. In King County, where the most recent one-night count found more than 12,000 people living in shelters or on the streets, hundreds of people become newly homeless through eviction every year, contributing to a crisis that local political leaders have been trying, and mostly failing, to address for years.

To become a HJP client, a family must must make no more than two times the federal poverty level, which is $32,480 for a family of two, and be in the eviction process or at risk of imminent eviction. In Seattle, and throughout Washington, a landlord can begin the eviction process as soon as a tenant’s rent is more than three days late, and judges have little authority to force landlords to accept rent after that point.

Landlords can also serve a 10-day notice for lease violations, such as unauthorized guests, a three-day notice to vacate for nuisance activity, or—outside Seattle, whose Just Cause Eviction Ordinance prohibits this—a 20-day notice ending a tenancy for any reason, or no reason at all. These are several of the ways in which Washington differs from other states, many of which offer tenants more time to catch up on rent and give judges discretion to set up payment plans while a tenant remains in his or her home. Another challenge for tenants undergoing eviction: Fees for landlords’ attorneys, which vary widely and are usually paid by tenants, can run to thousands of dollars; court costs, plus late fees and other charges, can add hundreds more. A recent report by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the HJP found that the median court judgment against tenants evicted in Seattle in 2017 was $3,129.73.

“Say you underpay your rent by $20,” says state Representative Nicole Macri (D-43rd), who is also the deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center. “The [state] statute allows a three-day notice to go up on your door at the moment the late day comes up on your lease. You can be in court the very next week after the three days expire, and within a week and a half or two weeks a sheriff could come to remove your possessions.” According to the Women’s Commission/HJP report, 86.5 percent of evictions were for nonpayment of rent, and more than a quarter of all eviction proceedings in Seattle began on or before the sixth of the month, or five days after rent is typically due.

It’s common for people to be evicted for small amounts of overdue rent. In 2017, of the 2,072 formal evictions filed in Seattle, more than 76 percent were for less than $2,500, and 21 were for less than $100. The Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI), a large Seattle housing nonprofit, frequently files eviction notices over small amounts of money, including one, in 2018, for just $4. (LIHI executive director Sharon Lee says court records don’t reflect prior warnings or other reasons for evictions, such as violence or damage by the tenant.) The number of people evicted through informal means—those who received a notice to vacate and simply left, or who left after a dispute over rent or other issue that did not make it into the formal court record—is likely much higher, the report notes.

Many, if not most, HJP clients end up losing their homes—if not by eviction, then through court settlements that only allow an extra week or two before they need to vacate. Even those who strike a deal with their landlords—getting an order of limited dissemination, for example, which keeps an eviction from showing up on standard credit reports—end up being evicted, and most of those become homeless. According to the Women’s Commission/HJP report, 87.5 percent of all people evicted in Seattle in 2017 became homeless immediately after their evictions. A big reason for that, according to the report, is that most landlords won’t take tenants with evictions on their record.

If a client takes her case to court, the outcome can be much worse. According to Witter, most cases that go to a hearing end up in eviction, with bigger judgments and harsher legal penalties than cases in which a tenant agrees to pay his back rent and leave.

On a recent Tuesday morning, two HJP clients, Peter and Danielle, wait in the hallway for news from an attorney who volunteers with HJP. While they wait, they explain how they ended up at the courthouse—a story of cascading misfortunes that includes struggles with addiction, homelessness and serious medical conditions. Peter, a former machinist, is awaiting surgery for a hernia; Danielle has late-stage liver disease. They say that a local charity paid part of their rent in an apartment building on Capitol Hill, but they’re still behind by about $3,000—a daunting amount for two people who haven’t worked in months. “I don’t want to sound like a victim, because we’re not,” Danielle says. “We just got caught in a real bad situation.” Peter adds: “I’m hoping that some more time will be allotted to us.”

Down the hallway, another drama is playing out: A tiny, frail woman named Rose (not her real name) is being turned out of an apartment run by a different social service agency over $430 in unpaid rent. Although she slipped a money order for half the rent under her property manager’s door several weeks ago, the landlord declined to deposit the money and taped an eviction notice on Rose’s door while she was in the hospital undergoing treatment for late-stage kidney disease. Rose’s apartment is in a building designated specifically for women, like her, who are battling addiction; before landing an apartment there a year ago, she was on the streets for more than a decade.

Unlike many tenants who come through eviction court, Rose is accompanied by two caseworkers, who both say that putting her back out on the street is tantamount to a death sentence. “There are already thousands of people living on the streets,” one of the caseworkers, a former case manager at Rose’s building, says. “What good is it going to do to put one more out there?” African-American tenants like Rose are evicted far out of proportion to their presence in the Seattle population; according to the Women’s Commission/HJP report, 31.2 percent of tenants evicted in Seattle last year were black in a city where, according to the federal government, African Americans make up only 7 percent of the population.

A DAY IN COURT: Housing Justice Project attorney Edmund Witter spends much of his time in this hallway in the King County Courthouse, often with clients. At one end is the HJP office; at the other, the courtroom where eviction cases are decided. Photo by Hayley Young

Witter comes back with Weatherstone’s offer: If Rose pays all the back rent, plus court costs and attorneys’ fees, she will have a few weeks before she will have to move out. The eviction will still go on her record and she will probably go back to being homeless. “This isn’t a great deal,” Witter tells her candidly. Rose wants to take her case to court and Witter thinks she stands a chance: She tried to pay rent repeatedly, and can prove that she was in the hospital when her landlord left the eviction notice on her door. But in the small courtroom—from which a judge or appointed court commissioner presides—Weatherstone and Rose’s landlord introduce new information.

Rose, they say, has threatened staff members and other tenants, sending one staffer a text message that her landlord describes in excruciating detail. This kind of testimony isn’t admissible: In one of many made-for-TV courtroom moments, Rose’s HJP attorney, Ben Dickson, shouts “Hearsay!” every time Weatherstone brings up Rose’s behavior—but the damage is done. Judges and commissioners aren’t supposed to consider evidence that isn’t included in the eviction claim when deciding how to rule, but they’re human, and they sometimes do. Commissioner Henry Judson says the best he can do is to give Rose an order of limited dissemination if she pays the $860 she owes in rent and $911 in court costs, which one of Rose’s caseworker thinks he can pull together by the following day. But Rose must vacate her apartment in two weeks.

Tenants aren’t allowed to say much, if anything, in court—something that Witter says surprises many clients—and the process is brisk and formal, with testimony and arguments limited to the bare facts of the case. Personal grievances are generally not allowed. “We go into the hearing, and they find out how bad the process is and that they weren’t even allowed to talk, and then they get mad at us for that,” Witter says. “I’m not blaming the tenants; I’m just saying the system is not conducive for us to be able to provide adequate assistance of counsel or for the tenant to really even be able to make an informed decision. It’s basically a gun being held to someone’s head.”

He adds, “This isn’t the best way to do these proceedings, period. We’re going in and doing daytime Court TV and basically having this pissing contest between a landlord and a tenant in front of a person who doesn’t know this area of the law,” he says, referring to the commissioners and judges who hear the cases. Because Seattle has no dedicated housing court, eviction cases are heard by judges whose dockets are also crammed with probate cases, divorces and restraining orders, and who may not have a background in housing law, Witter says.

Witter says he often sees clients with mental health or addiction problems so severe that HJP can’t represent them (with stakes so high, tenants have to know what they’re signing and be able to understand what’s happening), and there are gray cases, like one I witnessed in court on another occasion, in which a man with a diagnosed mental disorder went back and forth for hours about whether he wanted to take his shaky case to a hearing, then backed out and agreed to the eviction while standing on the literal threshold of the courthouse door.

In New York City, where Witter was a supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, tenants have a right to legal counsel, and cases are heard in a specialized housing court, with judges who are experts in landlord-tenant law. Witter says tenants “don’t get evicted just for simple nonpayment of rent—you have to be not trying at all.” Tenants can request assistance paying their arrears from multiple human services agencies right in the courthouse.

Contrast that with Seattle’s system, which requires tenants to go to one (or many) of more than two dozen decentralized private and nonprofit charities, such as churches, the West Seattle Helpline or Solid Ground. Solid Ground can provide as much as $2,000 in back rent for low-income clients. But the clients must agree to participate in case management, write a budget and set financial goals—a lengthy process that several renter advocates described as paternalistic and patronizing. Even so, Solid Ground interim homelessness prevention manager Theresa Curry Almuti says the group gets between 1,200 and 1,600 calls a month for about 80 slots in its assistance program, of which several hundred are eligible. “We could get three times as much funding and still have people eligible,” Curry Almuti says.

Weatherstone, the landlords’ attorney, spent years working as a tenant advocate, including as a volunteer at the HJP, and he sees problems with housing laws that lead to so many evictions, too. “Ultimately, we care about the people who come through here,” he says, referring to the tenants. “Not every single case is a case that we want to go ahead and evict, but sometimes—a lot of times—it’s required. Management has given them a lot of opportunities to comply with the [rental] agreement, and they don’t comply with it.” Weatherstone adds that landlords, especially small-business landlords, can’t always afford to let rent go unpaid while they wait for a tenant to come through with what they owe. “Our clients have their obligations to meet as well,” he says.

Still, it’s hard to deny that in a county where more than 12,000 people were homeless in 2017, evicting thousands of tenants a year only exacerbates the homelessness crisis. Legislators at the city and state levels are working to mitigate Seattle’s high eviction rate, using the Women’s Commission/HJP report as a guide. Macri, the 43rd District state representative, is proposing legislation in the current legislative session that would take protections that already exist in Seattle and extend them statewide—preventing landlords from evicting tenants without cause, for example. Macri’s bills would also give tenants more time to pay back rent they owe and provide discretion to judges to broker deals between landlords and tenants.

At the municipal level, City Council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien have directed city departments to look at ways of centralizing the rent assistance system and to make it easier for tenants to address habitability issues, which are often at the center of rent disputes, on a funding timeline. Longer-term solutions include allocating more of the city’s homelessness prevention system toward eviction prevention. Pathways Home, the overarching approach to homelessness adopted under former Mayor Ed Murray, directs the lion’s share of city homelessness funding to agencies that help people who are already homeless. Referring to the eviction report, O’Brien noted, “When you look at this data, around 550 households were $1,000 or less behind on their rent, and 87 percent of the people that went through an eviction ended up homeless.” Doing the math, for about $500,000, 500 fewer people could have wound up homeless, he says. “That is probably one of the most cost-effective things we could do.”

Weeks after their court dates, I followed up with several of the tenants whose cases I followed. Danielle and Peter were ultimately evicted, and had broken up under the stress; Danielle was living on the streets. Mike, the tenant who had wanted to go to court, agreed to leave the apartment where he had lived for a decade by the end of the month; in exchange, he got an order of limited dissemination. And Rose, whose caseworker said she paid her back rent and attorneys’ fees, was ultimately evicted anyway due to extenuating circumstances. At press time, her whereabouts were unknown.

Seattle Rep. Macri Has a Plan to Ease Eviction Fears

This post originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

Image result for nicole macriSeattle state representative Nicole Macri (D-43) is drafting legislation that could address some of the issues raised in last month’s report on evictions by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the Housing Justice Project. That report revealed that many renters who get evicted owe very small amounts of money, and that the vast majority of people who get evicted in Seattle end up homeless.

In Washington state, landlords have no obligation to accept rent that is more than three days late. And aside from Seattle—where landlords are barred from terminating a lease without cause—landlords can terminate a renter’s tenancy with just 20 days’ notice, giving the renter almost no time to find a new place to live and to come up with the money to pay for first and last month’s rent, and deposit.

Macri says her office is meeting with stakeholders to figure out the exact parameters of the bill (or bills) that she will propose in the upcoming state legislative session. The options include things like extending the current three-day limit to somewhere between 14 and 30 days—meaning that tenants who fall behind on their rent would get a bit more breathing room to come up with the rent, instead of immediately getting an eviction notice on their door.

“What we’re hearing is that folks are being put out of their homes for relatively minor infractions, including small underpayments of rent,” Macri says. “Say you underpay your rent by $20. The [state] statute allows a three-day notice to go up on your door at the moment the late day comes up on your lease. You can be in court the very next week after the three days expire, and within a week and a half or two weeks a sheriff could come to remove your possessions.”

Another problem the eviction report found is that judges in Washington have no discretion to order landlords to accept late rent or work out payment plans; if a landlord wants to evict a tenant for late payment, for example, a judge can’t order the landlord to accept partial payment or set up a payment plan. In jurisdictions with judicial discretion, like New York City, the eviction rate is much lower than in Washington.

Another proposal Macri is drafting would create a just cause eviction ordinance—similar to what Seattle already has in place—for the whole state. Like Seattle’s, it would specify the circumstances under which a tenant could be evicted, and bar evictions for reasons that fall outside the ordinance. The current situation, Macri says, “creates fear [among tenants] about bringing up any concerns with their unit. People are afraid to say, like, ‘I need a new refrigerator, because it isn’t working,’ because they’re worried that they’ll get a 20-day notice.”

Macri says she hopes to have legislation ready to pre-file by next month, in time for next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.