Morning Crank: How Many of You Guys Are Catholics?

1. Earlier this week, I talked to state Sen. Mark Miloscia about a heated conversation he had with a group of student lobbyists from OneAmerica. (A source in Olympia had told me Miloscia grilled the students about their religious affiliations and belittled their views). In Miloscia’s version, he asked the students whether they were “Catholic or Christian” to illustrate a point: Representatives don’t have to have the same skin color or background as constituents in order to represent them. ” I said, ‘You can be represented based on religion, not just skin color,'” Miloscia said. Awkwardly, the group included multiple young women wearing headscarves who were obviously Muslim.

Monica Roman, one of the students who confronted Miloscia about his views on voting rights outside the senate chamber, tells a different story. She says this was actually the second time her student club, Fuerte (“strong” in Spanish) had met with Miloscia. Both times, Roman says, the students argued with Miloscia about the Voting Rights Act, a long-delayed bill that would give citizens a path to challenge voting systems that result in unequal representation. (In Yakima, citizens challenged the city’s at-large city council system, which resulted in an all-white city council in a city with a large Latino population, forcing the city to switch to more representative district elections). Both the Democratic and Republican versions of the bill would make it easier for citizens to challenge local election systems in court, but the Republican bill, sponsored by Miloscia, includes fewer protections and gives cities more time to address unrepresentative systems.

“Last year, we asked if he could represent us, and we said ‘No.’ He asked us again this year,” Roman says. The students told him that “as a white, straight male, he views things from a place of privilege, and he can’t really comprehend our experience. I think that really triggered him. He said, ‘I feel like  you guys are attacking me.'” That’s when Miloscia brought religion into the conversation, Roman says.

“He was like, ‘How many of you guys are Catholics?’ when he could clearly see that we had multiple girls wearing hijabs. We were like, ‘You’re completely disregarding these Muslim girls right in front of you.'” When the group pointed out that some members of the group were Muslim, Roman says Miloscia “pointed out one of our hijabi girls and was like, ‘Can you not represent me?'”

Roman says that unlike last year, when she felt too “awkward” in the private conference room where they met with Miloscia to stand up for herself, this year, she “just laughed in his face. … I just didn’t back down. I was kind of proud of myself. I just didn’t let him yell at me.”

2. Operation Nightwatch, the overnight shelter for men that is being displaced from its current location, the Pearl Warren Building in the International District, has found a temporary home in the Next 50 Pavilion at Seattle Center, Crank has learned. Operation Nightwatch had been renting the space in the Pearl Warren which provides beds for about 75 men a night, from Compass Housing Alliance for $3,100 a month. The city previously told Operation Nightwatch it would help the group find a new space; according to Nightwatch director Rick Reynolds, the city initially handed the group a list of commercial spaces in places like Georgetown and the Rainier Valley, which rented for more than twice as much as their current space.

Meg Olberding, spokeswoman for the city’s Human Services Department, says Operation Nightwatch will not have to pay rent for the space, and can stay at Seattle Center until April 17. ”  The City continues to provide resources through FAS, HSD and OEM to locate a new permanent site for this shelter program,” Olberding said in an email. “Compass is also using its relationships to find a new site, and is considering using the dining hall and lobby of its own administrative facilities as a backup in the case a location cannot be identified.”

 3. At this week’s presentation about paid family leave (council member Lorena Gonzalez is proposing up to 26 weeks of paid leave for all employees in Seattle), consultant Maggie Simich presented some data that starkly illustrates the need for paid time off. Based on a survey of 400 Seattle residents who work in Seattle and 400 Seattle companies of all sizes, the survey found:

  • 41 percent of Seattle residents did not have access to paid parental leave;
  • The smaller the company, the less likely it is to offer paid parental leave; 70 percent of those who worked for a company with fewer than 50 employees said they had access to paid parental leave;
  • Zero percent of employees said they had access to 12 weeks or more of paid leave, not counting vacation and sick time;
  • Half of all companies surveyed do not offer any form of paid family leave at all;
  • Companies in the health care, education, restaurant, and hotel industries were the least likely to offer any kind of paid leave;
  • And, somewhat surprisingly, six out of ten employers who offered paid leave said fewer than 10 percent of their workers had taken any kind of paid family leave within the previous year, belying the common assumption that employees (particularly women, who are most likely to take parental leave) will take advantage of paid leave if it’s offered.

So What Happened at Midtown Center?

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

The fate of a proposed deal between the nonprofit group Africatown and the environmental preservation group Forterra to buy and develop the Midtown Center property at 23rd Ave. and Union Street hit a wall last week, when the owners of the property, the Bangasser family partnership, changed the locks at the office occupied by Black Dot, an incubator for African-American-owned businesses. According to a police report obtained by Capitol Hill Seattle, the lease for the space Black Dot was occupying ended in February. Black Dot was never the leaseholder on the space.

The Bangassers, who are white, also moved to evict Omari Tahir Garrett, the father of Africatown leader K. Wyking Garrett, from the house adjacent to the Midtown Center property, where Garrett lives and runs the UMOJA Peace Center. (The family partnership paid residents of an encampment on the property to vacate the premises last year, CHS reported). The moves come at a time when housing prices in the Central Area are rising rapidly, displacing many longtime residents and driving a demographic shift in the area from mostly black to largely white.

Protests erupted on several occasions over the past two weeks about the eviction of Tahir-Garrett, who had been living in the space rent-free since at least 2012, when Tom Bangasser—a dissenting family member who has argued that any redevelopment of Midtown Center must benefit and be led by the African American community—signed a lease with the UMOJA Peace Center, which puts on an annual parade in the neighborhood. That lease expired in 2014.

Although many demonstrators said they were protesting the eviction of the UMOJA Peace Center from the property, Wyking Garrett himself said in a sworn deposition  that the organization “is not now nor has it since 2015 been a tenant or occupant” of the house where the elder Garrett has been living. “Umoja has no keys or other access to the Subject Properties. Umoja has no intent to reoccupy the subject properties as a tenant or otherwise,” Garrett said.

The other Bangassers, led by brother Hugh and sister Margaret Delaney, have been trying to evict Tahir-Garrett from the property for about a year, arguing that he has “created an unsanitary, unsightly, and dangerous site.” They also say he had no authority to allow a large, unauthorized encampment in the side yard of the property; last year, two cars parked next to that encampment caught fire after their occupants hooked up a power cord to the house in order to heat and cook inside the cars, according to a police report.

In a deposition at the time, Tahir-Garrett said that a “Native American woman”  told him it was okay for him to let people camp on the property, and that it was “an effective utilization of space” that would otherwise go unused. After police searching the house found it empty, protesters surrounding Uncle Ike’s pot shop in a separate demonstration a block away announced that Garrett had been admitted to Harborview for an unspecified illness.

The increasingly heated dispute makes it appear highly unlikely that Africatown will be successful in its efforts to partner in the redevelopment of Midtown Center, which requires cooperation from the Bangasser family members who control Midtown Center. (Tom Bangasser was removed as controlling partner on the family partnership last year). The latest clash between the Garretts and the Bangassers comes just two weeks after Africatown and Forterra announced plans to buy the Midtown Center property, and just a month after a deal to redevelop the property involving Africatown, Miami-based multifamily housing developer Lennar Communities, and Regency Centers, which was planning to purchase the property from the Bangassers, fell through.

“This situation just highlights the crisis and the vulnerability of many in our city, and it just happens to be [happening] right here at 23rdand Union,” Wyking Garrett said last week. “The technology companies are growing and bringing in people that are paying higher rents and we have property owners and developers that are trying to take advantage of [that influx] at the expense of many others in our community that … are vulnerable to being displaced.” Indeed, just down the street at 23rd and Jackson, Promenade 23, which includes the Red Apple community grocery store, will soon make way for a new mixed-use development, with 570 apartments, from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate.

Garrett said he had heard “negative comments by the property managers about having images of black people in windows, about attendees at our events, and [about] African-American entrepreneurs and business owners, even to the point of making the statement that it needs to be ‘more vanilla around here.’”

Hugh Bangasser, the general partner of the family ownership group and a partner at the K&L Gates law firm, did not return calls seeking comment.

The larger portion of the proposed development would have included a large grocery store and a chain drug store, small retail storefronts, and 355 apartments, 30 percent of which would have been affordable. A smaller portion of the block would have been developed and run by Africatown, and featured 120 apartments, some of them also affordable. The development would have required a small upzone to 70 feet, less than an upzone for the area under the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda planned for later this year. The HALA upzone would only require that 10 percent of the units in the new development be affordable, so the plan would have represented a significant affordability upgrade from the HALA minimum.

Clashes with the Garretts and Africatown weren’t the only reason the Midtown Center deal may have fallen apart.

One theory I heard as I called a trying to get to the bottom of why the Midtown Center project, so many months in the works, fell apart, is that the city dragged its heels on the upzone, delaying the project for too long and making the Bangassers skittish about the deal. Brad Reisenger, president of Lennar’s Northwest Division, told me, “Ultimately it came down to the time we needed vs the time the seller was willing to give us to close on the land.” Reisinger says the plan “sacrificed certain design elements to meet other city and community goals, with various stakeholders. It was a complex process that just took too much time in the end.”

Another person with knowledge of the discussions between the developers and the city said that because the city was dragging its feet on the contract rezone, the developers (who had already sunk half a million dollars into the project and given up about 100 units’ worth of potential development by agreeing to sell part of the property to Africatown), needed another extension on their contract with the Bangassers. The Bangassers decided to walk away, perhaps believing they could get a better deal somewhere else.

Neither Hugh nor Tom Bangasser returned multiple calls seeking comment on why the deal fell through, and no one at the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections would comment on the rezone or say whether delay contributed to the demise of the deal.

Jeff Floor, chair of the Central Area Land Use Review Committee, says he doubts that the long review process is what killed the deal. “Everybody knew that there was going to be additional design review,” he says.

Another theory is that the community simply balked at the prospect of two more big chain stores in the neighborhood, which already has a Walgreen’s, a Safeway, a Red Apple (soon to be redeveloped by Vulcan and replaced by a different grocery store), and a Grocery Outlet. At the January design review meeting, several members of the design review board expressed concerns about the size and location of the drugstore and grocery store.

According to another person involved in the discussions, the developers did themselves a disservice by failing to name the retail anchors and assuaging neighborhood concerns. When developer Velmeir announced it was redeveloping the City Peoples garden store in Madison Valley, the project was (and continues to be) controversial, but Velmeir did one thing right by announcing that the anchor tenant would be a PCC (and not, say, an Albertson’s), this person theorizes.

Another neighborhood resident and business owner familiar with the project believes that the two out-of-town developers may have simply gotten fed up with all the Seattle-style pushback against major retailers in neighborhoods.

The final theory, one I heard from several (though by no means all) the people I spoke to for this story, is that Midtown and Regency decided they didn’t want to take a risk on Africatown, even before the most recent round of protests and demonstrations.  “They’re evolving and there’s a lot of curiosity about what they can handle as a pretty new organization,” Floor says. “They’re certainly not a developer.” Africatown has never run even a small retail business, much less a large commercial leasing operation—a prospect that can be daunting even for much larger nonprofits with extensive real estate experience.

However, Lennar’s Reisinger says that the demise of the development “had nothing to do with the framework we were working with Africatown and Forterra on.” And Forterra spokesman Michael Beneke said only, “We continue to work closely with all the parties and are optimistic about a good outcome.”

Two blocks adjacent to the Midtown Center have already been redeveloped as six-story mixed-use buildings with luxury apartments above, coffee shops and high-end retail spaces below. If Africatown and Forterra are unable to work out a deal to develop the property, which appears increasingly likely, the most likely scenario is that the Midtown Center will follow suit.

Morning Crank: A Political Statement That Capitalism Has Failed

poppe-semple

Homelessness consultant Barb Poppe and Mandy Chapman Semple of Houston’s Corporation for Supportive Housing

1. Homelessness experts from Los Angeles County, San Francisco, and Houston rounded out a panel that also included consultant Barb Poppe Tuesday morning, the second in a three-part series of discussions on homelessness sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association, the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, Visit Seattle and the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross moderated the discussion, which focused on what solutions other jurisdictions have come up with to address the homelessness emergency in their communities. Perhaps fittingly for a station that has made a hero out of a woman who built an illegal wall to keep homeless people away from her business, KIRO’s Ross asked many questions that could be charitably described as leading. For example, one of the first questions he asked Poppe was how it could be that in a recent survey, 30 percent of homeless people could afford to pay $500 or more in rent—implying, it seemed, that homeless folks really have enough money to live in housing, they just don’t want to. At another point, Ross commented that “there are some folks who want to keep those tents out there as a political statement that capitalism has failed”—implying that homeless people are living in tents not because they have no other option, but because they want to make a political statement. At still another point, Ross put words in Poppe’s mouth, which she immediately disavowed.

“So you have seen no movement towards setting a policy and politely urging the existing [housing and homeless service provider] groups who are not seeing results to adapt to that new policy,” Ross said. “No, I am not saying that,” Poppe said, looking exasperated.

If you’d like to read my live-tweets of yesterday morning’s meeting, you’re in luck—I’ve Storified them here.

2. Yesterday, I reported that the proposed homelessness levy would increase wages for case managers, social service workers, and mental and public health-care providers substantially, by funding higher minimum wages for several positions that will be;  funded by the levy. The city says they don’t have a specific breakdown of how much the levy-funded raises will cost or precisely how many contractor positions will be affected, though it may be in the hundreds; however, a look at the wages currently offered by one of the city’s main homelessness service contractors, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, shows that the new minimums will represent a significant upgrade. For example, the annual salary for a behavioral health case manager at DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center starts at $30,128 a year, or about $14.48 an hour; a chemical dependency specialist starts slightly higher, at $33,033, or about $15.88 an hour; and a registered nurse starts at $52,884, or about $25 an hour. If the levy passes, pay for those positions will go up, to $22, $25, and $45 an hour, respectively.

3. Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported last month, after meeting with about 100 employers of all sizes from across the city, city council member Lorena Gonzalez has rolled out a proposal to require employers in the city to provide paid family leave. The proposal would require all employers in the city to provide up to 26 weeks of leave for new parents or employees taking care of a sick family member, and up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for employees with a serious illness. The benefits would only kick in after an employee has worked 340 hours (about two and a half months for full-time employees and longer for part-time) for a business, and would be capped at $1,000 a week.

“I heard a strong desire from my conversations with business owners [for] a pathway to provide this benefit to their employees that is fair and equitable,” Gonzalez said Wednesday. “While I sincerely hope that the state legislature passes a law that is available for all Washington workers, Seattle, as always, is ready to stand on our own two feet to come up with a solution, which is a universal paid family and medical leave program.”

Currently, the state legislature is working on a compromise between two very different paid family leave laws. One, by Republican Sen. Joe Fain, would start out providing just eight weeks of leave paid at just half an employee’s original salary, eventually rising to twelve weeks at two-thirds pay, and would require employees to pay the full cost of the program. That bill would also preempt Seattle from adopting a more generous paid leave law of its own. The other, by Democratic Rep. June Robinson, would provide much more generous benefits and supported by the progressive Economic Opportunity Institute, provides far more generous benefits and would not prevent Seattle from adopting its own policies.

Given that the Trump administration has “very little respect for boundaries between the federal government and state government and local government,” Gonzalez said, “I think it’s important to continue to protect and to empower local government to have all the tools we need at our disposal to be able to protect and serve our residents in a way that is tailored to our specific community needs. That is why I believe a local preemption in this ordinance, or in any other ordinance is a very dangerous step to take.” Other Republican preemption bills that were floated this year would have prohibited Seattle from allowing encampments or opening supervised drug-consumption sites.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Pedestrian Safety and Equity in the Rainier Valley

This post, a more detailed account of the pedestrian-safety announcement I reported on in yesterday’s Morning Crank, originally ran in the South Seattle Emerald.

Less than an hour after Mayor Ed Murray wrapped up a press conference to announce new pedestrian-safety improvements along Rainier Avenue South, a collision between a car and a semi shut down the intersection of Rainier and South Alaska St. — an in-your-face reminder that whatever the city has done to calm what is frequently referred to as “the most dangerous street in Seattle”, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. 

Last year, council transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien noted, there were about 10,000 crashes in the city. Of those, fewer than 7 percent involved cyclists or pedestrians, but that 7 percent accounted for about 62 percent of the fatalities from crashes in the city. Although Seattle remains one of the safest cities in the country for pedestrians, progress toward actually achieving “Vision Zero” — the city’s goal of zero serious injuries or deaths from crashes by 2030 — has stagnated.

Murray chose Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Brighton to announce new investments in pedestrian safety not only because the school won a $300,000 grant from the city to improve sidewalks in the area, but to highlight the city’s new emphasis on creating safe routes between schools and transit stops. In the next year, Murray said, the city will build 50 new blocks of sidewalks at a cost of $22 million; by 2024, the city plans to add an additional 200 blocks.

The plan announced yesterday would also accelerate by one year the extension of new pavement markings and crosswalks that have been added along Rainier from Hillman City to Alaska Street — improvements Murray credited with limiting “off-roading” by speeding cars like the one that plowed through the Carol Cobb Salon in 2014 — further south, at a cost of $2.25 million. Over the next two years, seven more streets across the city will get the Rainier Avenue treatment. The funding for all the new projects will come from the $930 million Move Seattle levy voters passed in 2015.

Less flashy and expensive, but potentially more impactful, were some of the small changes Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Director Scott Kubly said the city was making to improve pedestrian safety at individual intersections — and the process the city will use to determine which intersections get upgrades. Instead of reacting to incidents after they happen — say, by reducing the speed limit and width of a road where cars have a habit of jumping through windows — the city will use modeling to figure out intersections that are likely to be problems before accidents occur.

SDOT-Director-Scott-Kubly-Speaking-About-Planned-Rainier-Ave-S-Improvements-at-March-2017-Conference-at-Brighton-School
SDOT Director Scott Kubly speaks about planned improvements to Rainier Avenue South in front of Brighton Elementary School (Photo: Erica C. Barnett)

For example, Kubly said, “we have seen a fair number of crashes with left turning vehicles where they have permissive left turns” — a regular green light without a left-turn arrow — “particularly in places like Northeast 65th Street,” where several serious crashes have resulted when a driver speeding down the hill has turned left into an oncoming cyclist or pedestrian. At intersections where the city knows accidents are likely, SDOT will preemptively add what Murray called “pedestrian-friendly signals” — walk signs that allow pedestrians into an intersection before drivers’ light turns green, giving walkers greater visibility — and traffic lights with left turn signals, which reduces conflicts between left-turning cars and pedestrians (or trucks) heading straight through an intersection. By adding leading pedestrian signals at 40 intersections citywide, Kubly said, the city expected to reduce crashes by 50 percent at those intersections.

Pedestrian safety, Murray said, “is an equity issue,” and that’s certainly been true in the Valley, where, neighbors have been requesting pedestrian safety improvements along Rainier for the past 40 years. Historically, Rainier has had more crashes per mile than arterial streets that carry more than twice as much traffic. Further east, surface-running light rail trains pose a particular challenge to pedestrians, who must traverse unprotected light rail tracks to cross Martin Luther King, Jr. Way; earlier this year, a pedestrian was struck and killed while crossing the tracks in a crosswalk.

Asked whether SDOT planned to follow danger “indicators” wherever its traffic engineers found them, even at the risk of abandoning its commitment to geographic equity, Kubly responded, “the mayor has made it abundantly clear to me and the department that we need to be equitable in our work… One of the things that is true in Seattle and a lot of other cities is that the incidents of serious and fatal crashes, and just collisions in general, tend to be in areas that also present more need for equitable investment” — that is, poorer and historically neglected areas like Southeast Seattle — “so I would anticipate that by following the data we’ll be investing more in neighborhoods like the Rainier Valley.”

Morning Crank: That Really Interferes With Making Progress

1. One element of Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $275 million homelessness levy that didn’t get mentioned at his press conference earlier this month—perhaps because it involves a significant concession to labor—is that it helps pay for higher wages for the caseworkers and counselors who will be integral to the success of the outreach and treatment elements of the proposal. (The Service Employees International Union 1199 advocated for the inclusion of higher wages in the levy.) Those workers include public health nurses and mental health and substance abuse counselors who will evaluate and treat formerly homeless people who seek services through the city’s navigation teams and at the proposed new 24-hour shelters; outreach workers who talk to people living in encampments during encampment sweeps; case managers who get people connected with rental assistance in the form of new temporary housing vouchers funded through the levy; and the people who staff the new 24-hour shelters and permanent supportive housing. Turnover in those positions is notoriously high, in large part because many people who take those jobs burn out or leave Seattle because they can’t afford to live here, and because high-quality clinical workers and case managers tend to leave for better-paying jobs in the private sector.

The exact cost of raising wages for these positions is unclear, since the increase would also apply to existing contracts.  The initiative itself alludes to the wage increases just once, in this blink-and-you-missed-it line: “The Director of Finance and Administrative Services shall make appropriate allowances for (1) the higher costs of high-quality programs staffed with clinical or social service professionals and paraprofessionals and (2) a reasonable wage differential in organizations where employee wages have increased or will increase as a result of the City’s minimum wage.”  A more detailed program-by-program breakdown for the initiative indicates that public health nurses and mental health counselors will be paid $45 an hour; therapists in the pilot “Journey of Hope” residential treatment program will be paid $35 an hour; substance abuse counselors and caseworkers will be paid $25 an hour; and outreach workers will be paid $22 an hour. Previously, according to SEIU, some of those workers were making as little as the $15-an-hour minimum.

Downtown Emergency Service Center director Daniel Malone argues that agencies like his need to be able to pay higher wages to attract and retain high-skilled workers. “Some of the client services that we’re able to deliver are highly dependent on establishing a trusting relationship with a person who has had, quite often, bad experiences with treatment or social services, and when somebody’s case manager is changing all the time, that really interferes with making progress with them. You needs staff who are skilled at working with and providing help to people who sometimes have challenging behaviors, and you can’t have a workforce that is always principally comprised of people who are basically brand new and just learning.”

2. State Senator Mark Miloscia—perhaps best known to readers of this blog as the Republican who proposed two bills that would ban Seattle from allowing homeless encampments and safe injection sites, respectively—met with teenagers from the immigrant rights group OneAmerica outside the Senate chamber in Olympia the other day, and things did not go smoothly.

According to the version of events I heard from a source in Olympia, Miloscia “grilled” the students (including one young woman wearing a headscarf) about whether they were “Catholic or Christian,” then engaged them in an animated argument over race and religion.

I talked to Miloscia this week, and here’s his version of the story. He says he was approached by a group of kids who “peppered” him with questions, and that one of them, a person of color,  “said ‘I can only be represented by somebody who looks like me.” Miloscia (who is white) claims he used religion merely as another example of how a person could feel represented by someone who doesn’t share their race—then asked whether the teenagers were “Christian, or Catholics. I said, ‘You can be represented based on religion, not just skin color.'”

Miloscia says he noticed the young woman who looked Muslim, and thought about using her religion as an example, but didn’t want to “put her on the spot. I was going to say she could be represented by a white Muslim or an Asian Muslim, not just a black Muslim.” He said the group then discussed two versions of a statewide voting rights act—one that would give citizens the right to sue if their city’s voting system disenfranchises minority voters, and another, proposed by Miloscia, that would not. “They impressed me with their knowledge of what’s in both bills,” Miloscia says. OneAmerica didn’t want to comment on the record about the exchange, but it’s probably safe to say the admiration wasn’t mutual.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Indicators, Not Incidents

1. As the Trump Administration prepares to cut billions from the federal transportation budget, starving transit and road-safety projects across the city, Mayor Ed Murray announced at a press conference in Southeast Seattle yesterday that Seattle is taking a different path, funding new sidewalks and pedestrian-safety improvements through the $930 million Move Seattle levy that passed in 2015. Over the next two years, Murray said, the city will accelerate Phase 2 of the Rainier corridor safety project (restriping Rainier Ave. S. to calm traffic and provide space for bikes and a left-turn lane, for $2.25 million) and build 50 new blocks of sidewalks (at a cost of $22 million), with a goal of completing 250 new blocks of sidewalk by 2024. The city will also add more “pedestrian-friendly signals,” Murray said.

Then, looking like he’d reached his capacity for transpo-jargon, Murray turned the press conference over to Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly, who fielded reporters’ (okay, my) wonky questions about stop bars, leading pedestrian intervals, and protected left turn phases. (For the record, those are: The lines on the street telling drivers where to stop; signals that let pedestrians start walking into an intersection before the light turns green for drivers; and signalized left turns, where drivers turn left on a green arrow while pedestrians wait.)

Those are all pretty standard (though necessary and important) pedestrian safety improvements. More interesting was the new safety “tool kit” Kubly said the city would use to inform its safety investments in the future, a tool kit he said might be “the first of its kind in the entire country.” According to Kubly, instead of looking at “incidents”—data about accidents that have already happened—the city will focus on “indicators”—signs that an intersection is inherently dangerous, even in the absence of accident data. For example, “we have seen a fair number of crashes with left turning vehicles where they have permissive left turns”—a regular green light without a left-turn arrow—”and what we’ve found is that with those permissive left turns, we’re seeing crashes, particularly in places like Northeast 65th Street,” where several serious crashes have resulted when a driver speeding down the hill has turned left into an oncoming cyclist or pedestrian.

Last year, council transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien noted, there were about 10,000 crashes in the city. Of those, fewer than 7 percent involved cyclists or pedestrians. But that 7 percent accounted for about 62 percent of the fatalities from crashes in the city. Although Seattle remains one of the safest cities in the country for pedestrians, progress toward actually achieving “Vision Zero”—zero serious injuries or deaths from crashes by 2030—has stagnated. Right after the mayor’s press conference, a truck and a car collided dramatically on Rainier and South Alaska Street— right at the northern edge of the Rainier Avenue S improvement area.

2. Back in 2004, after then-mayor Greg Nickels made a gross attempt to buy the support of newly elected city council members Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen by hosting a chichi fundraiser to pay down their campaign debts, my Stranger colleagues and I started a new political action committee and learned that, like filing ethics reports and counting envelopes full of cash, coming up with a clever campaign acronym was harder than we imagined.

Fast forward 13 years and say hello to “Homeless Evidence, Transparency, and Accountability in Seattle,” or HEATS. It’s one of two new campaigns to stop the new levy, I-126, which will help move some of the 10,000 or so homeless people in Seattle into apartments, treatment, and supportive housing. The person behind it is a blogger who wrote a 1,600-word post mocking a homeless woman for having a criminal record, filed a frivolous ethics complaint against a council member for providing public information to a reporter, and took surreptitious photos of me and posted them with comments mocking my appearance. So far, HEATS has raised $0.

3. Speaking of the Stranger, Crank has learned that the paper has hired a news editor, after posting job ads and interviewing candidates for more than a year. Steven Hsieh, who has  worked as a staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and has written for The Nation, will join the paper officially in the next few weeks.

Here’s What You Get for Your Contributions

TL;DR? That’s okay—here’s how to give!

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve ramped up coverage here at the Crank.

I’ve brought you new features like Morning Crank, a regular early-morning roundup of exclusive news and gossip from City Hall and beyond.

I’ve published exclusive interviews like this week’s conversation with homelessness consultant Barb Poppe, whose eponymous report is the basis for the city’s homelessness plan, Pathways Home, and the mayor’s proposed $275 million levy for homeless services..

I’ve spent countless nights reporting from far-flung neighborhood meetings on neighborhood, city, and national issues, live-tweeting and providing stories and analysis on issues from homelessness in Greenwood to light rail opposition on Mercer Island to hate speech at the University of Washington.

I’ve done deep, analytical dives into complicated issues that few reporters explore at more than surface level, including the homelessness levy, which I’ve dissected in detail in recent posts and will continue to follow closely until the election in August.

And I’ve broken big stories, including the news this week that the city has reached a settlement in a dispute about the surface street on the waterfront, agreeing to narrow the 102-foot-wide surface highway to 79 feet by eliminating transit lanes once light rail opens in West Seattle in 2033.

In the coming months, I’ll be doing even more in this space. But I need your help to make that happen. This blog is run entirely on donations. What that means, in very practical terms, is that in addition to expenses like the Car2Go I use to get to last-minute meetings and the five bucks here and ten bucks there I spend on coffee interviews and public records, my paycheck—my ability to keep doing the work I do here at The C Is for Crank—depends on contributions from readers like you. So if you enjoy reading this website, and can afford to pay a little each month to keep it going, please become a sustaining supporter. Thanks for reading, and for your ongoing support.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Homelessness Consultant Barb Poppe

Last week, Mayor Ed Murray announced a $275 million levy to address the city’s homelessness crisis that emphasizes temporary housing vouchers on the private market, rather than more-intensive strategies like service-rich transitional housing, to get people off the streets and on their feet. The levy also funds some mental-health and drug treatment services, which Murray noted are “new lines of business” for the city.

The proposal is based largely on recommendations from a Columbus, Ohio-based consultant named Barb Poppe, whose  2016 report on Seattle’s homelessness crisis became the basis for the set of recommendations known as Pathways Home. Poppe’s report and Pathways Home are based on a larger federal shift toward the concept of “housing first”—the idea that housing homeless people should be cities’ top priority, above sobriety, employment, and other metrics that have historically served as barriers to housing—and away from the concept of “housing readiness,” which assumed, paternalistically, that homeless people need to jump through multiple hoops before being “ready” to move indoors.

Rapid rehousing has been somewhat controversial because it assumes that most homeless people will be able to afford market rents within months of moving indoors, which, in Seattle, works out to just under $2,000 a month for the average one-bedroom. Rapid rehousing also represents a shift away from transitional housing, programs that are more expensive and come with more services than a housing voucher, but are less service-intense than permanent supportive housing programs.

Poppe has also been a harsh critic of the city’s policy of creating sanctioned encampments and allowing children to live unsheltered, whether in vans, or encampments, or “tiny houses,” and has spoken out against allowing any additional encampments in city limits—statements that have put her in conflict with the city, in particular homelessness director George Scarola, who has said he has a “professional disagreement” with Poppe about the need for encampments as an interim solution.

I talked with Poppe by phone on Friday.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Have you had a chance to look at the homelessness levy the mayor proposed this week? Any initial thoughts on the mix of projects the levy would and wouldn’t fund?

Barb Poppe [BP]: I did. I know the mental health and behavioral health stuff is a really Washington-specific issue, because I think you have one of the worst mental health systems in the nation. If  you were another community, I’d say that doesn’t seem like it really fits with addressing homelessness, but I know that’s a current issue [for Seattle]. It looked like the all the other things they were going to invest in were similar to the recommendations that Focus Strategies and I made. It didn’t seem like it was going to be putting up more encampments or RV parks and other things like that. It looked very much like housing plus services.

In my recommendations, I recommended conversion of all the existing shelters to 24/7, low-barrier, housing-focused programs. When I visited Seattle and understood the number of places that you had that were just nighttime-only shelters, what that does is, one, it’s very difficult for people who are staying in them to get back on their feet, because they’re always in transit. And it increases the number of folks who are visibly homeless on your streets because they have nowhere to go. They have all the same problems of someone who has no shelter at all, whether it’s access to phones or meals or sanitation. They have to navigate those all in the course of the day.

ECB: Is it realistic for all the shelters in Seattle to convert to low-barrier, 24-hour shelters?

BP: In a lot of places in the country, that is the model. In Columbus, when I first came here in 1990, we had some nighttime-only shelters, but we moved to all of them being 24/7. I had mistakenly assumed that most places in the country had also done that, but in fact as I traveled the country as head of [the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness] I found that it was a fairly common model that was used with single adults. Families were mostly in 24/7 shelters, but there were places that required families to leave during the day, which I found even more distressing. A lot of the big mass shelters that are run by mission-based groups are going to be nighttime-only, and it’s just not good. What I understood as I talked to the city and All Home [the agency that administers homeless programs in the county] is that there were some unique challenges in that some of the 12-hour shelters were in buildings that were not available during the day, so they expected that in order to do some of those programs, they would have to move locations.

I just can’t say enough that part of the reason I’ve stayed engaged with your community is that alarm that in a place that has the great abundance that you have in your community, you have infants in cars. I don’t get it. 

ECB: The city seems on board with moving in that direction, but they’ve also said that in the meantime, it’s better to have people sleeping in staffed, sanctioned encampments rather than in ad hoc illegal camps throughout the city. You’ve been opposed to that policy. Why?

BP:  I don’t find that an acceptable response to homelessness and would not encourage that, because you don’t get folks in out of the weather. Sanctioned encampments don’t solve anything. They’re not solution-focused. They’re often not good places to be. And they’re a burden on the neighborhoods as well.

Your public dollars should not be used to provide places where people live that don’t even meet the basic UN convention on human rights standards. The fact is that these are places that don’t have sanitation, that don’t have water, that don’t have electricity, that don’t have heat, and that don’t meet basic building codes. And in particular, I was alarmed by the number of children I saw in those places, including quite a few newborn babies. It’s a policy choice. All of those families could be brought inside if that was the choice that was made to do that. The data was showing that you weren’t fully utilizing the family shelters and that you weren’t exiting people to stable housing. It’s just a really ineffective approach.

Family homelessness is a problem in many states and many communities. The concern I had in Seattle was it was the only place where I saw so many children and felt that there wasn’t a lot of community alarm about the notion that infants were in encampments or that children were in tents. It was abnormal compared to other cities I had worked in, like Los Angeles, which has lots and lots of struggles and large numbers of people, but they are very focused on offering and making sure there is same-day shelter for families. What I believe is that the more acceptable this is to your community, the more that your community believes that these sanctioned encampments are a solution to homelessness, and the more you’re going to have to build them. It’s not the responsibility of the homeless assistance system to overcome the greater economic and housing issues your community faces. 

In other communities I’ve gone to,  if you have a room that would accommodate two moms and two kids, they would take two moms and two kids, rather than say we’re going to turn that other mom away. Their priority is that no child be outside, whereas in your community, it just seems like you make the choice that families will be on the street. The flow out of the shelters to housing is not good. It’s really, really low results, which indicates that they aren’t housing-focused shelters. It’s not just that the shelters aren’t accommodating families, it’s that they aren’t working to get people into housing. I just can’t say enough that part of the reason I’ve stayed engaged with your community is that alarm that in a place that has the great abundance that you have in your community, you have infants in cars. I don’t get it. 

ECB: Another one of the recommendations that came out of your report was that we may have to accept the fact that some people will have to spend more than a third of their income on rent. But that flies in the face of how HUD and every city and state agency in the country sets affordability rates. What’s the reasoning behind saying we may have to stretch our concept of affordability in that manner?

BP: The definition of affordability isn’t that they have a voucher and they get it for life and they only pay 30 percent of income. [Formerly homeless people served by rapid rehousing] are still going to have a housing cost burden. All poor people in your community live with a housing burden unless they have a voucher. You have lots of low-income workers who have a housing cost burden. They make it, and they don’t fall into homelessness. Rapid rehousing gets them back on their feet, and in an ideal world, their income goes up and their housing is affordable at 30 percent, but the reality that we’re living in right now is that low-income workers are cost-burdened, but they’re housed. They’re not on the streets. They’re not in shelters. Their kids can go to the same schools. All of those things are much more possible if you’re not homeless. In Seattle, the goal of the homeless programs was to get people to the point that they aren’t cost-burdened, which is an unrealistic expectation in your market. It’s really hard to live [cost-burdened], and I’m not saying that it’s not, but because we don’t have a national policy that says everyone who has a housing need gets a housing voucher and never has to pay more than 30 percent, our goal in the homelessness system has to be to get everyone housed, and hopefully they’re going to be on an income path that provides them some stability.

ECB: The city has said it wants to make it possible for people who are homeless to find housing here, rather than having to move to far-flung suburban parts of the county or nearby counties. But your report and the Focus Strategies report say explicitly that for rapid rehousing to work, a lot of people may have to leave Seattle. How do you respond to the charge that this is furthering the suburbanization of poverty? Don’t people do better when they’re able to stay in their communities, where they’re near job centers, family, and frequent, reliable transit?

BP: The core of the rapid rehousing model is family choice, and that you should never say to a family, ‘You have to move here.’ In the same way that you wouldn’t say, ‘You have to stay in Seattle,’  the city shouldn’t say, ‘We’re not going to move you to Tacoma,’ or wherever. In these other high-cost cities, they do have families who say, ‘I don’t see that our family is going to do well in San Francisco; we’ll be better if we move to an East Bay community where the housing is more affordable.’ So in designing the city’s rapid rehousing program, I think they have to allow that families have choices about where they want to live, and families will have to weigh the pluses and minuses. It’s not our job to be paternalistic. Old-school transitional housing programs are very paternalistic. They say, ‘You will live in this neighborhood, you will go to this program for three days a week, your kids will be in this preschool program.’ Rapid rehousing lets families determine the choices they want to make. It’s not the responsibility of the homeless assistance system to overcome the greater economic and housing issues your community faces. 

ECB: Right now, HUD is largely dictating the current move toward rapid rehousing. Do you anticipate that federal guidelines for homeless investments will remain the same with Ben Carson at HUD?

BP: I have no crystal ball on what Carson’s going to do. It’s not even clear to what extent Secretary Carson gets to call the shots. We have made significant progress across the country. We have almost reduced veterans’ homelessness by half, chronic homelessness by large percentage, and family homelessness by 10 percent. My hope is because the homeless assistance programs have been well-managed and produced good results, that they won’t tinker and roll back to the old housing-readiness model, which largely excluded folks who had had any barriers or challenges in their life before they experienced homelessness. And the larger budget issues are really alarming to think about. If we preserve all the homeless programs but lose all the other [housing] programs, that’s terrible as well, because if the Carson-Trump administration cuts the [Section 8 housing] voucher program and the families who are stably housed with housing choice vouchers lose their housing, that’s devastating.

 

 

 

 

Morning Crank: A New Line of Business

1. When Mayor Ed Murray announced his $275 million homelessness ballot measure last week, he noted several times that the measure included “5,000 new treatment slots” for homeless people struggling with addiction, accounting for about $20 million over the five-year life of the levy. If the image that pops into your mind is beds in a residential treatment facility like the Betty Ford Center, think again: The treatment in the levy proposal consists primarily of programs that expand access to buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone—a prescription opioid that reduces cravings in people who are addicted to heroin and other opioids—and “housing with intensive outpatient substance use disorder treatment,” also focused on expanding buprenorphine distribution.

Suboxone is a drug that allows people who are severely addicted to heroin or other opiates to stabilize on a less-harmful opioid drug under the supervision of a medical professional, without having to go to a clinic to receive medication every day, as methadone patients do. Increasingly, health departments and addiction experts are recommending long-term buprenorphine use for people with severe addictions, because it reduces cravings for street drugs like heroin that can lead to overdoses and dangerous lifestyle choices. (Suboxone itself has been shown to be addictive). However, no prescription alone can address the many factors that lead a person to start abusing drugs in the first place, such as trauma, abuse, depression, mental illness, and despair. And buprenorphine doesn’t address addictions to non-opiate substances at all, including alcohol addiction, which kills about 88,000 people each year (compared to about 33,000 deaths from opioid abuse) and is endemic among people experiencing homelessness.

Curious about the precise breakdown of those 5,000 “treatment slots,” I asked the levy campaign for more detailed information. Here’s the breakdown they provided. Of the 5,000 slots over five years, 3,600 would consist of expanded access to buprenorphine, through new clinics, transportation to and from buprenorphine providers, and a new access point for people seeking treatment to find a provider in their area. That accounts for about $1.6 million of the approximately $4 million in new annual spending.

Another $540,000 a year would subsidize rent for about 300 formerly homeless people in “Oxford-style” sober housing—self-managed houses where people with substance use disorders live together in a sober, supportive environment. It’s unclear at this point what measures the city would take to monitor the quality of the sober housing it subsidizes, but Kaushik says the city will take steps to ensure the providers are legitimate.

The remainder—about $2 million—would pay for two programs: A low-barrier, residential inpatient treatment center serving 16 people a year, and an intensive outpatient program, with case management, serving about 300 formerly homeless people who would receive housing subsidies from the city. (The treatment would not be located in or tied to the housing itself).

When I asked about the relatively small amount of money for treatment in his levy proposal last week, Murray pointed out that treatment was “a new line of business” for the city and is typically funded by King County. Given that millions of people seeking treatment are likely to lose health care coverage under Trump’s health care “reform,” the city might need to get used to being in the treatment business.

2. Another question that nagged me about the mayor’s levy proposal had to do with the “landlord liaison” program that will be funded through the levy. I wondered if the city still needed a program to match landlords with tenants just coming out of homelessness, given that the city now has a law banning housing discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income.  (A tenant paying with one of the short-term rent vouchers funded by the levy, for example, could not be turned away because he had a voucher). City council member Sally Bagshaw, perhaps the most vocal elected proponent of the program, told me the landlord liaison program would go much further than helping renters get access to housing; it would also provide landlords with a financial “backstop” by promising to pay for any damages tenants cause, to provide case management, and to respond quickly to emergencies or landlord concerns.

“Let’s say we put Bob in [a unit], and we know Bob has some bipolar issues. If he’s stabilized, he’s fine’ if he goes off his meds, he’s not,” Bagshaw says. “Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that Bob does trash the place. We will have an insurance pool and we will say to the landlord, when Bob leaves, if he has trashed the place, if he puts his hand through a wall or puts a stick of dynamite down the toilet, we will come in and pay to fix the place back up.” Bagshaw says the goal of the program would be to identify 1,000 units around the city whose landlords would agree to participate in the program.

 

Morning Crank: What the City Calls a Homeless Crisis

1. On Friday, after significant pushback on social media (including dozens of folks who retweeted my coverage on Twitter), KIRO 7 news took down a map identifying the precise location of unsanctioned homeless encampments around the city, submitted by viewers and verified by the station. The map page also encouraged viewers to approach encampments and take photos and videos.

The map was posted on Wednesday and identified as a tool to help KIRO “track” homeless encampments, which can be as few as three tents, “amid what the City of Seattle calls a homeless crisis.” The explanation went on to say that “Seattle leaders do not keep a public map of homeless camps, so we are working with the community to make one.”

The mayor’s office told me there’s a very good reason the  city doesn’t publish its list of homeless encampment locations: To do so could put homeless people in even more danger than they already are. Fifty-eight percent of homeless women experienced domestic violence, according to the city’s recent survey of more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness; mapping the precise locations where homeless people are camped out, with photos that may show identifying possessions is an invitation to abusers to go looking for their victims. (Originally, the page said nothing to discourage viewers from photographing people’s faces, but the station later added a disclaimer to that effect ).

On KIRO TV Wednesday night, a reporter promoted the encampment map while standing in front of several tents directly across from KIRO headquarters.

On Thursday, under pressure from the public to stop doxxing the homeless (doxxing, here, refers to the practice of finding out where people live and identifying that location publicly in order to encourage others to target and harass them), KIRO changed the justification for the map. The map was a bit more specific (and less skeptical) about the “homeless crisis, included information about how to submit a “service request” for the city to clean up an encampment, and noted that the city also had information about shelter on its website:

Meanwhile, KIRO continued to promote the tracking map on its nightly news broadcast and on Reddit.

Finally, on Friday—two days after the “tracking” map went up—KIRO replaced the map with a generic-looking new one, with shaded areas designating giant blocks of the city where viewers had reported camps to the station. The new map is useless for tracking, and it’s unclear why KIRO left it up; what it does reveal is that the KIRO viewers who felt motivated to report and, in some cases, approach and photograph encampments are all on the western half of the city. To look at the map, you’d think Southeast Seattle—where encampments certainly exist, just as they do all over the city—is encampment-free, whereas Queen Anne and parts of Ballard and Magnolia are overrun by tents.

KIRO’s explanation for this latest version of the map was that they had talked to experts and received new information from the mayor’s office that the city does, in fact, have a map of encampment locations, “an important detail they would not previously disclose.” They also changed their justification for the map yet again, saying it was intended to “[show] just how widespread the homeless encampment problem is across the city.”

KIRO’s claim that they thought the mayor’s office doesn’t know where encampments are is highly implausible, as is the notion that self-reporting by “the community” (which, as the new map shows, is a highly self-selected group) will produce an accurate or helpful picture of encampments in Seattle. I simply don’t buy the explanation that KIRO just thought the city wasn’t tracking encampments and decided to help by asking their readers to send in locations as a public service to the city, especially given that this wasn’t their justification until they got pushback from viewers concerned about the wellbeing of the people’s whose locations KIRO had identified.

KIRO didn’t respond to my messages seeking comment. But one thing struck me as I watched this map evolve, and read KIRO’s ever-changing justifications for its existence: To think a map like this serves any useful purpose, you have to see homeless people and their tents as messes to clean up or problems to be solved. Then the map becomes a kind of “Find It, Fix It” app, but for people.

But people aren’t potholes, and identifying their precise locations—especially in Seattle, a city where anti-homeless sentiment is at a fever pitch right now—can put them in danger.  In the same way that it would be considered inappropriate to create a map identifying where KIRO employees live, it’s inappropriate to create a map of where homeless people are sleeping and trying to survive. I’m glad, for the sake of the people who could have been targeted because KIRO identified where they lived, that KIRO took the original map down. I’m disheartened that the only lesson KIRO appears to have learned is “when you fuck up, double down.”

2. In case you missed it: Yesterday, I broke the news that the city, county, and state have settled with the Alliance for Pioneer Square, which sued over the width of the proposed new Alaskan Way surface street. Under the agreement, the city will build the street as originally planned—102 feet wide, similar to the new Mercer Street in South Lake Union—and narrow it to 79 feet, by eliminating two transit lanes, around 2033, when light rail opens in West Seattle.

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