Popular Jail Diversion Program Still Underfunded in Latest City, County Budgets

Last Wednesday, in a meeting about the mayor’s proposed budget for the Human Services Department, city council members raised alarms about what looked like a $150,000 cut to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion–a successful pre-arrest diversion program aimed at reducing recidivism among low-level drug and nuisance crime offenders. LEAD started in Belltown, but has been so successful that it has been extended throughout downtown and the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, which includes Capitol Hill; the $150,000 was one-time funding for that expansion. Neighborhoods across the city, from Ballard to far Southwest Seattle, are now clamoring for LEAD expansion into their neighborhoods.

Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget this year included $830,000 for LEAD funding, but did not renew the $150,000 expenditure for the East Precinct. The question council members raised, essentially, was whether that cut would be compensated by new funding from the county’s sales tax for mental health and addiction services, known as the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency II (MIDD II) tax, or whether the reduction would threaten the East Precinct expansion in 2017 and beyond. Previously, LEAD was funded through a combination of various county funding sources, private funds, and city dollars–now, its funding from the county will all come from MIDD sales tax revenues*.

Council member Lisa Herbold, a longtime ally of the Public Defender Association, which runs LEAD, said last week, “I believe the idea was that the MIDD II would fund that expansion, but apparently that’s not really how it’s working out. What I’m hearing is that moving the $150,000 will impact LEAD’s ability to even do their current work, much less expand to the East Precinct, and I understand there’s also interest in other areas of the city for LEAD expansion,” such as the Highland Park neighborhood in Herbold’s district. Other council members, including Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, and Lorena Gonzalez, piled on. “I’m really uncomfortable with betting on MIDD II funding to keep it going,” Johnson said. “I believe we should be propping up this existing program and expanding.”

The $150,000 reduction received some press coverage characterizing the reduction as a “cut,” which isn’t technically true: The mayor’s office points out that the plan was always to fund the East Precinct expansion of LEAD, and additional expansions in other Seattle neighborhoods, through the MIDD tax, starting in 2017. Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s public-safety advisor, says that “the city advocated for the significant MIDD II funding  for LEAD, and as a voting member of the MIDD II oversight body, we are not cutting this program.”

However, that isn’t entirely up to the city: The city may provide 42 percent of MIDD II’s tax base, but the city of Seattle holds just one of 28 positions on MIDD’s oversight board. Other cities in South and East King County are interested in LEAD, and they are also represented on the oversight body.

And LEAD has bigger challenges on its hands than backfilling the $150,000. Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard says that much of the county’s MIDD funding for LEAD–which totals $1.5 million in 2017 and $2 million in 2018–has already been allocated to pay for things that have historically been paid for out of the county’s general fund, including a King County prosecutor, clerical support staff,  and a new staffer in the county’s behavioral health and recovery division. Currently, LEAD’s total budget is about $2.3 million, which would just be covered by the total funding from the city ($830,000) and county ($1.5 million) in 2017. That funding does increase in 2018, but the extra half-million will be needed to fund items LEAD has identified as necessities to continue even existing operations, such as a dedicated city attorney, which could leave little or nothing to pay for expansion to other Seattle neighborhoods.

“By the time you allocate all these essential functions out of MIDD II, there’s very little room for growth,” Daugaard says. “The spirit is willing, but the capacity is not presently there. The city and the central budget office, in good faith, had every expectation that substantial expansion would be funded by MIDD II investments, but then a series of events took place” and the money became spoken for. (This past year, LEAD also lost about $800,000 in funding that had been provided by a private foundation, Daugaard says.)

Tim Burgess, chair of the city council’s budget committee, says it’s still unclear “how much of the MIDD money is going to supplant other county funding sources and how much will truly be new revenue. And we don’t know that, and we won’t know that, until the county makes their final decisions on their budget” in November, around the time when the city council will adopt its own budget. With that uncertainty in mind, Burgess says, many council members are telling him they want to make sure LEAD is fully funded regardless of what the county council decides, by continuing to fund the $150,000.

That’s certainly Herbold’s position. She says that “if we want LEAD to expand in Seattle, we cannot cut the funding intended for expansion. The theory from [the mayor’s office] was that the $150,000 was unnecessary because LEAD would have expansion funding in MIDD II–but that’s not actually how it’s working out.”

Herbold also says she expects that the county will want to spend any “extra” funding available for LEAD on expansion outside Seattle; indeed, the MIDD’s service improvement plan, released earlier this year, calls for gradual expansion “to other communities throughout King County” between 2017 and 2022.


“The expansion that the county is contemplating is explicitly for non-Seattle King County cities,” Herbold says. That means that if the city wants to expand to areas like Highland Park (last year, the members of the Highland Park Action Committee wrote a letter to the mayor requesting LEAD expansion into their neighborhood), it may have to come up with the money itself. Daugaard says the PDA’s original expansion plan for LEAD, which would have extended the program into “all the communities that had expressed willingness to use LEAD,” would cost about $5 million a year.

Daugaard says she thinks the PDA could expand LEAD citywide by the end of 2018, but that would require funding beyond what’s in the current city budget and what the county is likely to allocate to Seattle in its MIDD II budget.

County budget officials did not respond to requests for additional details about MIDD funding.

* As a side note, it’s important to remember that sales tax revenues decline during economic downturns, so we can expect that MIDD revenues will be less robust than they are when the economy goes through its next down cycle.

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 it 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.

Safe Injection Opponent Miloscia: “My Opinion Didn’t Change At All” on Safe-Consumption Sites


Insite founder Liz Evans and Portland Hotel Society manager Coco Culbertson at the Rainier Hotel in Vancouver

Yesterday, I gave a brief account of my recent trip with state Sen. Mark Miloscia and city council member Lisa Herbold to Vancouver, B.C., where we visited Insite, North America’s only supervised injection site for illegal drugs, a zero-eviction women’s housing project eviscerated by government budget cuts, and a prescription heroin clinic. After the trip, I sat down with Miloscia, who is running for state auditor, to talk about his impressions of the trip and his own views about the role of government in responding to addiction.

Miloscia, a Republican, has said publicly that he plans to introduce legislation preempting King County from moving forward with two supervised drug-consumption sites recommended by a county task force on opiate addiction. A former B-52 pilot with, as he puts it, “18 nukes on my wing,” Miloscia says he had a religious awakening during his time in the service and became a pacifist; his political views also did a 180, and he became a vocal opponent not only of abortion rights and the death penalty, but of drug decriminalization, which he previously supported.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Did anything you saw in Vancouver surprise you?

MM: A few things surprised me. One is the passion and compassion of Liz [Evans, the founder of Insite] and the people there. Two, I think in the big scheme of things, we’re not that far apart. She gets the failures of the system absolutely, and I’m the same way. She said she’s a disrupter, and so am I, because we both recognize the evils and the shortfalls of the current system. It’s not working. That’s why I got into government, why I ran for office–because the human services and criminal justice side is a complete failure, and we don’t want to fix it, and people die. It’s mind-boggling to me.

The first question out of the first reporter [at KING 5, which did a brief story about the visit] was, ‘What struck you there?’ And I said, ‘That street.’ [East Hastings Street, where Insite is located, has long been Ground Zero for the drug trade in Vancouver]. I never saw that many drug addicts on one street. I grew up in New York City, but that was horrible. I saw that need, our brothers and sisters dying on the street. And then you have that clean, very well-maintained facility, government-run, and it’s like, we’re contributing to that. We’re not helping them. They’re already on death’s doorstep. They’re dying right there, and we should be helping them five years before they get to that point.

ECB: But Insite does save lives. The data, which Liz and the other Insite staff cited to you, prove that it saves lives that would have been lost to overdoses, HIV, or wound infections.

MM: You’re absolutely right. Maybe they are. But I talked to Liz about this and Liz admitted that it’s just a little patchwork process in the entire homeless heroin addiction system, which is completely broken. It’s like, stupid government! What are they doing? Do something! They have all the money, all the authority, and they’re blowing it.

“The entire way our planet operates is about telling people what to do. Criminal justice, societal pressure—everything is about telling people what to do. Now, when they have an addiction, when the drug takes over their life, that’s when they need that more than ever before.”

And she said that she hated the government getting involved, because it’s gold-plated and ineffective and the compassion goes away when bureaucrats are running it. And ultimately it doesn’t work. I believe there’s got to be accountability and prevention, because once they get into that… What’d she say, it’s going to cost $30,000, $24,000 a year? I can’t remember what figure she gave but it was an insane act of money. We’ve got, what, 50,000, 40,000 addicts in King County? Do the math.

ECB: But they’re already costing us money. The highest number I heard for any service while we were in Vancouver was around $25,000 for someone to use the prescription heroin program, and the director pointed out that that was still much cheaper than jail, which can cost as much as $150,000 a year.

MM: And that’s why I’m a big believer in any sort of diversion program at all. You need to be able to identify people as being a danger to self or a danger to others, and once you do that, you can force people into treatment.

ECB: Liz told you that there’s no evidence to suggest that forcing people into treatment works—it just gets them off the street for a few days or weeks, at huge expense, just like jail. What do you say to that?

MM: That is a crock. The entire way our planet operates is about telling people what to do. Criminal justice, societal pressure—everything is about telling people what to do. Now, when they have an addiction, when the drug takes over their life, that’s when they need that more than ever before, and the question is getting them into a treatment that works. And to be honest, it’s almost a lifetime of treatment they need, because 30 days is the worst type of treatment. You might as well not even try. You might as well get them into detox and then kick them out onto the street. And that’s what we’re not fixing.

ECB: If 30 days of treatment isn’t enough, and that costs tens of thousands of dollars already, how are you going to pay for more intensive treatment for more people?

MM: You’ve got to focus on prevention. That’s the only way you rightsize the problem. Do an analysis of why people are turning to drugs. If you want to solve the problem rather than just maintain it, slow the growth. To solve any problem, it’s all about preventing the causes. That’s where it’s cheaper. That’s where you get results. And that’s, to be honest, where the bulk of the money needs to be spent. We’re triaging now. If we do everything in a system-wide manner, yes, there’s a way I see her program working–if it’s just a temporary stair-step program to get people into treatment. I try not to get visibly angry over the destigmatization of drugs and ‘It’s all about choice’–but that’s the wrong approach. It’s hard for people to choose to get out of their addiction. It’s carrots and sticks, for all of history–that’s how you motivate people. If you have no stick, you’ll never get a person to the point [of entering treatment] unless they hit literally rock bottom and are at death’s doorstep.

ECB: But if every addict decided they wanted to get into treatment tomorrow, we’d be thousands of beds short. And we don’t currently have the capacity to put every heroin addict on Suboxone or methadone. Are you in favor of funding treatment on demand?

MM: What I believe is when people want treatment now, you get them treatment now. So yes, that’s where you probably get your most success. If I was going to put money into triage, absolutely, get that right now. But do the math. We’re going to need $5 billion. And that’s why we’ve got to do prevention and stop it.

“I try not to get visibly angry over the destigmatization of drugs and ‘It’s all about choice’–but that’s the wrong approach. It’s hard for people to choose to get out of their addiction.”

ECB: Will you concede that you’re never going to stop from using drugs and doing dumb stuff through prevention, though? You can conceivably reduce it, but it’s going to be above zero, because people are going to continue to use drugs. What do you do with the people who are going to still use drugs and end up getting addicted?

MM: I’m going to slightly disagree with your assumption, because at the end of the day, this whole discussion we’re having is a distraction from, what is our plan to cut heroin drug use down from 50,000 down to a manageable 1,000? [It needs to be] done right, with a huge cultural stigmatization–this is controversial when I say it–and going after the root causes.

“I firmly believe that just like with homelessness, literally half the money we’re spending is spent on ineffective programs, wasteful programs, and we don’t get results because we don’t measure that.”

I started having that conversation with Liz, I said, ‘Why do people start using drugs?’ And she said, ‘Pain, broken relationships.’ That’s just another name for religion, family, community: Those networks that keep people sane and that stabilize people before it reaches the state of, you’re living in the Jungle with your heroin buddies and part of a gang. When you‘re part of a strong community like that, it’s really hard to move there. The societal, community, family, pressure prevents you from going there. The bottom line is that’s what it takes for people to get out of their addiction. You’ve got to develop that support structure around them.


A nurse at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver, where addicts come several times daily to inject prescription heroin.

ECB: You’ve said you don’t want a safe injection or consumption site in King County. Why do you want to interfere with local control by passing legislation making Seattle’s desire to experiment with that model impossible?

MM: Part of the reason is, if you look at where Canada’s going, with medicinal heroin, they’re still not getting rid of the root causes. They’ve still got a heroin epidemic going on, so they’re not solving the root problem. So while in the short term, I believe it slowed the deaths–instead of it taking you five years to die on the streets, it’s now taking you ten years–at the same time, it’s not solving the underlying root causes that ultimately lead to addiction.

ECB: Have you read the heroin task force report?

MM: Yeah, ten times already.

ECB: It seems to me that they’re trying to do exactly what you’re saying you want.

MM: There’s a lot of good things in there. But we know how task forces are done, and there’s really nothing in there that I haven’t seen before. It’s all the same stuff. And anybody who’s been involved in this knows that the problems haven’t changed from the 80s. It’s the same problems. The solution is the same thing. But government never does it. Government screws up the implementation every single time. But they get to spin that report and say, ‘Oh, we’re doing something.’ But does the system, the boots on the ground, really change?

ECB: The task force is only recommending safe consumption sites for two years, as a pilot project. Why not let them try and see what happens?

MM: OK, so let’s think. We’re going to take this radical change. If we scale it up, we’re going to need to do 80 sites in King County alone. Then we’ll do medicinal heroin and we’re going to continue down that path.

ECB: But nobody’s talking about doing that here.

MM: They’re doing it in Canada! It’s the next step. It doesn’t work unless you go to the next step. That’s why everybody wants to put it in that little silo: ‘Oh, this is all we’re doing.’ But no, no–if we want to change the system, we have to have real reform. How does this scale up and look systemwide? And then when you look at that you go, ‘All our resources are going into this, it doesn’t work, per se, and we’re ignoring the key factor of prevention.’

ECB: What do you think does work?

MM: Show me the numbers. No one talks about efficiencies or effectiveness. I firmly believe that just like with homelessness, literally half the money we’re spending is spent on ineffective programs, wasteful programs, and we don’t get results because we don’t measure that. But that’s the data I want. I want to know that, ‘Okay, Mark, if you do this program systemwide, it’ll save “X” lives.’

ECB: But the only way to get data on harm reduction is to do harm reduction.

MM: Oh, true, right. But what I’d like to see is, let’s fix the $1 billion we’re spending right now, which we know at least half a billion of it are wasteful, are ineffective, are not getting results. Let’s design a plan to focus on prevention, versus, let’s get distracted and put us on the path to, frankly, legalization and decriminalization.

ECB: What do you think of the LEAD program, which diverts people committing drug crimes out of the jail system?

MM: Oh, it’s fantastic.

ECB: But that involves not arresting people.

MM: As long as they get them in a treatment plan, I’m fine. Do harm reduction and treatment, I’m fine. But there’s got to be no choice. It can’t be, ‘Well, I’m going to do this for ten years.’ It’s like Housing First. I’m for Housing First, but after 30 days, pick a time, you’ve got to get with the program. Come up to me with programs that get them from Point A to Point B. Show me the data. I know behavior modification and I know this: Human behavior has been the same for as long as we’ve been on this planet. Carrots and sticks.

ECB: Do you have an opinion on long-term buprenorphine treatment?

MM: I want to see an efficient, effective, ethical program that works, that gets results. So I’m not opposed to it, but it’s a different focus from just giving you free government help and, we’re just waiting for a light bulb to magically turn on, versus being in a program where you’re monitored with ankle [bracelets], diversion programs, all that stuff. I want to be part of that solution. I think that’s the way to go, with that public stigma. And people don’t like doing this, but you have to scare the kids and scare the adults.

ECB: I grew up in the age of Just Say No and it didn’t work. Neither did DARE. Both of those programs were geared toward trying to scare kids.

MM: Of course it didn’t work. Those are government-run programs. When the program doesn’t work, you know that within 45 days of the program starting and you change the program. But that doesn’t stop you from trying to find a program that scares people and stigmatizes them. Look at Korea. Look at Japan. There’s all kinds of cultures where it does work. But it takes thought. It’s all about culture and attitudes, so people don’t turn to drugs. There’s a whole science about why people turn to drugs or do self-destructive behaviors, and it brings us back to the family and religion discussion, or the values discussion, or the culture discussion. That’s the heart and soul of how people decide to avoid listening to the little devil on their shoulder versus the angel on their shoulder. That’s just human nature. We all struggle. All of us deal with the choices that we make.

ECB: Was your mind changed by anything that you saw or heard in Vancouver?

MM: Like I said, Liz completely shocked me. She gets the problem and the gets the solution and she admits that her thing isn’t solving the problem. She’s trying to break up the system. But the practice per se of clinics–I think, no. My opinion didn’t change at all. I still think it’s a distraction from us working on the really tough issue.

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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time 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.

A Conservative and a Liberal Walk Into a Safe-Injection Site


The weekend before last, I took a second trip up to Vancouver, B.C. to visit Insite, North America’s only safe-injection site and, as such, the likely model for two proposed safe consumption sites (which will include space for people who smoke meth, heroin, crack, and other drugs as well as injection stations) in King County. (The sites are among many recommendations that came out of the county’s heroin and opiate addiction task force.) I visited Insite previously over the summer, when program manager Darwin Fisher gave me a tour of the facility and the Downtown Eastside neighborhood that surrounds it. That time, Insite was open for business, and a steady stream of clients filed through; each told the staffer at the desk her code name and what drugs she was bringing in, and settled into one of 13 mirrored booths that line one wall of the tidy facility. I watched as drug users fresh off the streets searched for veins in their feet, did their makeup, washed their hands for what might’ve been the first time in days.

This time, I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t visiting during business hours. Instead, I was playing third wheel to an unlikely pair of elected officials—uberliberal Seattle city council member Lisa Herbold, and conservative Republican state Senator (and candidate for state auditor) Mark Miloscia. Herbold, a supporter of safe consumption sites, invited Miloscia along in hopes of getting him to see the ways that Insite has benefited the surrounding neighborhood, and to view harm reduction through a more sympathetic lens. Miloscia has said he plans to propose legislation that would bar all cities from authorizing safe consumption sites—a sort of companion bill to his proposal to prevent Seattle from relaxing its policy on encampment sweeps.

Over the course of a long morning and part of the afternoon, Miloscia, Herbold, and I toured Insite, wandered around the Downtown Eastside, talked harm reduction over lunch with City of Vancouver urban health planner Chris Van Veen and Insite founder Liz Evans, and toured a clinic that prescribes heroin to addicts who don’t respond to methadone or suboxone, two common drugs prescribed as part of treatment for heroin addiction. We also visited the Rainier Hotel, a zero-eviction apartment building for women that used to be a thriving, successful drug treatment center; in 2013, thanks to what Evans calls the government’s “culture of bureaucracy,” it lost public funds for its addiction programs and is now single-room occupancy housing.

Fisher, Evans, and Coco Culbertson, a manager at the Portland Hotel Society, the nonprofit that runs Insite, walked a very curious (and at times visibly distressed) Miloscia through the admission process (more on that here), and explained the benefits of the services Insite provides. “Coming in here from the street, where you’re going to get water wherever you can find it”—that is, from a puddle in an alley— “it’s like going from the third world to the first world in a sense, because of that running water,” Fisher said. Deaths from HIV, overdose, and soft-tissue injury infections have declined dramatically in the surrounding neighborhood and in Vancouver as a whole, and detox admissions have increased (to 400 a year, according to Fisher), because Insite builds trust with its clients and doesn’t judge them, Fisher explained. Later, Evans would say that harm reduction programs like Insite have had an unanticipated side effect: Because people are no longer dying so young, “we’re treating chronic conditions in a population that’s aging ten years more than they would have 20 years ago. That’s incredible. We’re seeing chronic health conditions win a population that used to just die.”

Miloscia, who stared, aghast, at the drug users displaying goods for sale, shooting up, and chilling out on the sidewalks around Insite as Evans explained how programs like Insite and the Rainier Hotel save money, peppered the Canadians with questions: How do you know this is working? (They have data and studies that say it is). Why not just focus on prevention? (Prevention is just one pillar; you need to deal with people after they get addicted as well). And: “When do we say, enough is enough, and you have to rejoin society?”

That question was really at the heart of Miloscia’s objections to the Canadian experiment: Why coddle people who will continue to stay addicted, according to Evans, an average of 14 years, instead of just shaming them for their bad behavior, pushing them toward their own “rock bottom,” and if all else fails, forcing them into treatment? This is a fundamental difference in philosophy between those who advocate for harm reduction and those who believe in prevention and punishment. Evans and the other advocates argued that not only does forcing people into treatment not work, blaming and shaming only pushes people further into the shadows—and further away from help. “We would like to believe that forced treatment works, but it does not,” Evans said over lunch. “If we make people feel their life matters… their outcomes are going to be way better than if we push them further away.

“We have been so ingrained with this belief that telling people that what they’re doing is wrong and bad works, but it doesn’t work. In 25 years, I have never seen a drug user stop using because we told them they were wrong and bad.”

Miloscia is a firm believer in stigmatizing drug use and forcing people into treatment. He thinks it works. But what Miloscia really believes in, he says, is prevention—”scaring” parents and kids, in his words, into never picking up a drug in the first place. Tomorrow, I’ll have a post-Vancouver Q&A with Miloscia in which the conservative senator talks about what he learned from Vancouver, what he thinks of King County’s current approach to addiction, and whether anything he saw changed his mind.

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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time 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.

Grand Bargain Preserved, with New Barriers to Development in “At-Risk” Neighborhoods


Last of its kind? Vulcan’s proposed project at 23rd and Jackson.

Weeks of heated behind-the-scenes negotiations ended in compromise over the affordable-housing provisions of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) late Monday afternoon, as Murray announced an agreement that will maintain the current affordability requirements in South Lake Union and downtown, impose affordability mandates (also known as mandatory housing affordability, or MHA) that vary based on how much additional development capacity is being added, and create additional hurdles for developers looking to add housing in moderate-income, racially diverse areas like the Central District.

I wrote about the variable affordability requirements a couple of weeks ago. Basically, the new rules say that in areas where zoning capacity (potential density) is being increased more than in other areas (say, a single-family block where three-story buildings are now permitted), developers have to provide more affordable housing or pay more into an affordable-housing fund. The logic is obvious—developers who take advantage of greater height increases should pay more for that privilege—but also flawed: Penalizing developers for building density in densifying areas arguably discourages development in those areas.  At any rate, developers at the negotiating table these past few weeks clearly decided they could live with the higher fees, and agreed to the new formula.

More contentious were the fees and performance requirements (the amount of housing that has to be affordable, and at what level) in downtown and South Lake Union, which were negotiated as part of a separate process than the rest of HALA back in July, and are generally lower than what the fees and performance requirements will be in other parts of the city. (The Grand Bargain stipulated that the requirements downtown and in South Lake Union under MHA would be no greater than what was already required under the previous affordability program, known as incentive zoning. It was considered a Grand Bargain, in part, because social-justice advocates agreed to leave the downtown and South Lake Union requirements untouched).

Despite the signed agreement, Sage and other advocates reportedly wanted to increase the fees in those two neighborhoods significantly, to as much as double the rates both sides agreed to, which could have ended the Grand Bargain and blown up the coalition that came up with the agreement over a year ago. (Opponents of the Grand Bargain, and of MHA in general, have predicted this would happen all along.) After weeks of discussions, the two sides came to an agreement, and the fees will remain the same.

One thing that will change, at the behest of lefty activists and their allies on the city council, is the affordability requirement in neighborhoods whose residents are supposedly at a “higher risk of displacement” from new development—that is, areas with more black and brown people, fewer job opportunities, and lower housing costs. In those areas, developers will have to preserve as much as 11 percent of new units for housing affordable to people making 60 percent or less of Seattle median income, or pay as much as $32.75 a square foot into a city-run affordable housing fund—the same fee as areas of the city that are being upzoned the most.

The change is supposed to “increase affordability in areas at higher risk of displacement,” according to Murray’s proposal. But developer advocates have argued that by making it much more expensive to build in areas like the Central District, the Rainier Valley, and the International District, the city will make it much less likely that new projects like Vulcan’s 570-unit, 6-acre development at 23rd and Jackson, which is vested under pre-Grand Bargain standards, get built. (Another large development, at 23rd and Union, has also been permitted under the current rules.)

That means not just less “gentrification” (another term for providing amenities like shops, modern grocery stores, and cafes in low-income neighborhoods). It also could mean less low-income housing. Vulcan plans to make 20 percent of the units in that project affordable for people making up to 65 percent of median income, under the Multifamily Tax Exemption program that keeps units affordable for 12 years. An 11-percent, 75-year affordability requirement—what could be required under the new plan Murray proposed yesterday—will be a much tougher sell.

Vulcan, of course, was the developer heavyweight at the Grand Bargain table. The fate of another proposed project, at 23rd and Union, is unclear.

Seven members of the council—all but Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant—have signed off on the mayor’s proposal.

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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time 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.

With Transitional Housing Under Fire, Rapid Rehousing Remains Unproven


Graphic from Seattle Human Services Coalition letter responding to Murray’s Pathways Home proposal.

As the city council indicates it will delay any decision about how to address the issue of homeless encampments until December (a proposal by Mayor Ed Murray to officially bar camping in parks appears to be the template on which the council will work once they adopt a budget), another, more sweeping homelessness proposal moves to the front burner.

Pathways Home, Murray’s response to two consultants’ reports suggesting a move away from transitional housing (a fairly structured, and costly, form of housing that includes supportive services) to “rapid rehousing,” would mandate a major shift in the way the city funds housing for people experiencing homelessness. In addition to shifting funds away from transitional housing, the proposal would change the city’s funding model from a provider-centered framework (in which housing providers create programs to serve the specific groups that are their clients, such as veterans) to a funder-centered model (in which funders, including the city and United Way, determine the best way to allocate funds and providers must adapt.)

On the ground, it means that less-“efficient” programs, like the Low-Income Housing Institute’s transitional apartments for veterans and Muslims, will be cut and replaced with “rapid rehousing” funds to provide homeless people from all backgrounds with temporary (three-to-nine-month) vouchers for housing in the private market. After the vouchers run out, most recipients will be on their own.

There’s a lot to unpack in this radical shift from the current model to the new voucher-based system, but let’s start at the top: With HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD determines federal housing policy, which filters down to states and municipalities, and right now, they’re all about rapid rehousing. That’s understandable: According to the Focus Strategies report on which (along with a set of recommendations known as the Poppe Report) Pathways Home is partly based, transitional housing “is extraordinarily expensive at more than $20,000 for each single adult exit and $32,627 for each family. By contrast, rapid re-housing, despite exit rates being less than ideal, only costs $11,507 per household.”

One issue with the Pathways Home report, and its sanguine predictions about massive cost savings, is that the data it used was from housing markets—including Phoenix, Houston, and Salt Lake City—that are dramatically different from Seattle’s. (The average apartment in each city, respectively, is $924, $967, and $949. In Seattle, it’s $1,906.)

So what does this purported cost savings mean for homeless people? That’s unclear, in part because rapid rehousing is such a new strategy—just five or six years old. According to Rachel Fyall, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance who is studying rapid rehousing, the best study on rapid rehousing, called Family Options, only includes 18 months of data and only evaluated families with children; in Seattle, rapid rehousing is being touted as the best option specifically for single men, who tend to be the hardest to house. In other words, the study most commonly cited as evidence that rapid rehousing works to get people out of homelessness is short-term and didn’t study the very population for whom it’s supposed to work in Seattle.

“Rapid rehousing is very new,” Fyall says. “There’s a lot we don’t know about this, and I’m sometimes frustrated by claims that this is evidence based and proven.”

Fyall (who stipulates bluntly that “transitional housing is not a good idea” for getting people into permanent housing either) is currently finishing up work on a study of a new rapid rehousing program run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center in Seattle. Looking at the data so far, she says “the jury is out” on whether rapid rehousing actually gets people into “permanent housing” long-term, or whether people are forced back into homelessness once their subsidies run out. “We don’t know what happens to them, and that is the big unknown of rapid rehousing generally,” Fyall says.

Another big unknown is whether rapid rehousing actually houses people who wouldn’t have been able to exit homelessness on their own, or whether most of those who are quickly able to get by in the private rental market would have done so anyway.

DESC director Daniel Malone, like Fyall a skeptic of both approaches, says that DESC’s rapid rehousing program “by and large ends up being used for the higher-functioning folks who will move into an apartment, get an agreement with a landlord, and make it work for a few months.” What the studies haven’t done, he says, is compare people who receive temporary subsidies to those “who have not gotten rapid rehousing assistance and got out out of homelessness anyway. That’s the crux of the matter: Is rapid rehousing doing anything that wasn’t going to happen naturally?”

Malone also notes that the small amount of data that exists on rapid rehousing programs indicates that while people on vouchers don’t immediately fall back into homelessness once their rent subsidies run out, they also don’t tend to stay in their original, subsidized apartments. Sharon Lee, the director of LIHI and someone whose programs stand to lose a lot of funding under Pathways Home, says, “If they would just say rapid rehousing is a shelter—’rapid rehousing means we’ll get you off the street, and you can have three months of being off the street in market-rate housing’—that would be more honest.”

Mark Putnam, director of All Home, the agency that manages homelessness policy across King County, says he understands Lee’s frustration but adds that right now, the county and city are under a HUD mandate to shift away from longer-term transitional housing and “just house people any way we can, wherever we can while we are fighting the advocacy battle to get our [housing] trust fund funded” by the state and federal governments. “It’s the reality of where we are right now. … We need more resources, but these are also reality-based recommendations. Can we house more people with [our current] resources? The answer is yes.”

One issue with the Pathways Home report, and its sanguine predictions about massive cost savings, is that the data it used was from housing markets—including Phoenix, Houston, and Salt Lake City—that are dramatically different from Seattle’s. (The average apartment in each city is $924, $967, and $949, respectively. In Seattle, it’s $1,906.) What that means in practice is that formerly homeless people will be cast out after a few months of subsidy into a private market that is unaffordable even for many middle-class people.

Pathways Home brushes aside concerns about the relative unaffordability of Seattle by suggesting that people may just have to make some tough choices—like paying much larger proportions of their income in rent (current HUD standards for “affordability” say you should spend no more than 30 percent of your income on rent and utilities), or by moving out of town. From the Focus Strategies report:

“RRH programs should not limit clients’ housing options based on unrealistic expectations about the percent of income they should pay for rent, the types of neighborhoods they should live in, or even whether they wish to remain in Seattle/King County. RRH is not an anti-poverty program, so households may pay a significant portion of their income for rent if it makes the difference between being unsheltered and being housed. Households should have the option of sharing units if that makes their rental budget stretch further. Clients should also have the option to move to areas where housing is cheaper. In some high cost communities, RRH clients have to move out of county to secure affordable apartments.”

That may sound fine when you’re moving widgets around a map. But when you’re moving people around a region—particularly a region in which poor people, people of color, immigrant communities, and many other marginalized populations are being pushed out of an ever-wealthier Seattle—such a strategy raises huge questions about equity and economic inequality. Is it fair to say that poor people just have to live where we tell them to, even if that means they’re torn away from their jobs, friends, family, social structures, and community supports? Should immigrants who want to live among people who speak their language, or single moms who rely on family members for child care, or low-income workers who rely on public transit, be required to move to isolated areas away from those supports? And at a time when Seattle is setting up programs to help low-income residents, such as the pilot “universal preschool” initiative, does it make sense to tell many of those same residents that their only option may be moving to another county?

“[Rapid rehousing] programs should not limit clients’ housing options based on unrealistic expectations about the percent of income they should pay for rent, the types of neighborhoods they should live in, or even whether they wish to remain in Seattle/King County.” — Focus Strategies

Merril Cousin, director of the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, says while the city tries to save money and move people indoors, they should consider those people’s individual circumstances, rather than treating them as problems to be solved through increased efficiencies. For the domestic violence victims she works with, for example, “being able to maintain social support is really important to a survivor’s ability to get safe and heal from the the abuse,” and Cousin says that need for social support extends to lots of other communities.

“If we want to have a diverse and vibrant community, we can’t just say to people, ‘Just go somewhere else.’ Families are already fleeing Seattle because it’s not affordable here, and now we’re saying, ‘Veterans, you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else. Poor people, go somewhere else,'” Cousin says. “To say, ‘Your only option is to move away from a community where you may have social support and services’—that doesn’t lead to self-sufficiency and wholeness. Social support is an incredibly important part of that.”


Putnam, with All Home, says he doesn’t disagree, but argues that without additional funding from the state and the feds, the city and county have to do whatever houses the most people, even if that means dislocating them from their communities.

“Moving them away—that’s a tough thing for the city to feel okay about,” Putnam says. “If everybody needs to leave Seattle or leave King County, that’s not the ideal, but my job is to get people into housing. To me, equity is about getting people housed.”

“One of the calls for us at the systems level is that we’re trying to house as many people as we can with the resources that we have,” Putnam adds, and “It seems like the choice right now between people living in tents in Seattle versus apartments somewhere else.”

Lee, whose organization runs transitional housing for teenagers, vets, immigrants, and other groups, says All Home assumes, unfairly, that the system for housing homeless people can be “fixed” simply by reshuffling money and people around, rather than by adding funds for all sorts of housing, including transitional programs. “I think the problem with Mark Putnam is that he thinks it’s a zero- sum game: We should ‘right-size’ [a term that appears several times in the Focus Strategies report] and therefore if we want to do more rapid rehousing, we have to take away from someplace else. He’s constructed his own problem. [He’s saying], ‘We shouldn’t be spending more; let’s just find creative ways of doing more with less,’ which can only take you so far.”

Lee notes that one of the longstanding criticisms of groups like hers is that they historically engaged in “creaming”—taking in the easiest-to-serve clients in order to demonstrate high success rates to funders like HUD. She predicts rapid rehousing will have the same effect: Providing apartments for those who were almost able to make it in the private market already, while leaving the most vulnerable, including those who are currently served by “inefficient” transitional housing, behind.

Funders, Lee says, “used to say, ‘You’re only taking people who are going to be successful.’ Well, we know that recent immigrants and refugees are not going to be able to exit transitional housing in three to six months and be successful so you’re setting them up to fail. If Mark Putnam overlays the same requirements [on rapid rehousing], then he’s incentivizing going back to the old way, which is, you’re only going to want to work with people who are going to be successful.

“That’s the problem of feeling like you have to cut services to fund rapid rehousing. If you’ve got 3,000 people on the street, and some of them are homeless young adults and homeless families with multiple [Child Protective Services] involvements around the care of their children, and people with issues around not just income but mental health, you’re going to need more services tied to the housing, and sticking them in market rate housing with just short term rent subsidy isn’t the answer.”


Putnam and Lee differ on the issue of whether HUD’s shift away from transitional housing is a mandate on Seattle or an unproven idea from which Seattle can deviate. Lee points to the Seattle Housing Authority’s Stepping Forward program—a Pathways Home-style initiative that would have increased some public housing residents’ rent up to 400 percent—as a time when Seattle decided to go its own way and abandon a market-based strategy that was pushed by the feds. Putnam says funding from HUD is contingent on adopting “performance-based contracting” and moving away from transitional housing, so Lee’s strategy is unrealistic.

Fyall, the UW researcher, suggest that the real solution may be long-term housing subsidies—especially in a market, like Seattle’s, where people who work multiple jobs find it hard to stay afloat.

“A key component of homelessness is the inability to afford housing, and for many people, affordability”—not mental health or addiction or any other personal issue—”is really the number one difference between people who are homeless and pole who are housed: They can’t afford a place to live,” Fyall says. She says some groups cite the 18-month Family Options study (which will be updated with 37 months of data in December) as “the success of rapid rehousing, which I find bogus, because my read on the study is that the only thing that works permanently is a permanent subsidy, and the rest of it is just spitting people back into homelessness.”

“When I think about the homelessness problem in our region, everything that’s happening at a intervention level is really just bailing out buckets of water from the ocean of rising rents,” Fyall says. “When you have people at all income levels struggling to find housing that is affordable to them, that is what I would consider the root cause of homelessness.”

And here’s what Focus Strategies has to say about affordability. “Disentangling the homelessness crisis from the housing affordability crisis in Seattle/King County is critical to the community making progress towards ending homelessness.”

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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time 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.

Mayor: Zero Tolerance for Camping In Parks, Four New Official Encampments


At a press conference Thursday evening, flanked by council members Tim Burgess, Sally Bagshaw, and Debora Juarez, Mayor Ed Murray announced that he planned to propose legislation authorizing four new sanctioned encampments for unsheltered homeless people in the city—three with strict rules, including a sobriety requirement, and one “low-barrier” encampment where people could show up drunk or high; additional funds for private contractors and nonprofits to create more shelter space for the city’s estimated 3,000 homeless people, and plans for trash cleanup, needle pickups, and to make showers available at some parks and public pools. (Notably, he proposed adding 10 new sharps disposal containers across the city; a more effective proposal might be to put one in every library and public building.)

That was the carrot. The stick is that Murray’s proposal will ban all camping in public parks, including not just the “active” areas that all sides in this debate have long agreed are unsuitable for campers, but remote and unimproved areas as well. “When it comes to sidewalks and parks, people have been removed and will continue to be removed, period,” Murray said. “We know it is just unacceptable to camp. We can’t have people in our parks, we can’t have people on our sidewalks, we can’t have people on school property or in areas where they’re at risk—either the homeless or other people.”

People in unauthorized encampments that are not in parks will be directed to any available shelter beds as they are now, but “if we do not have enough capacity, we will not be moving these people,” Murray said. He also acknowledged that many people prefer not to stay in shelters, which segregate clients by gender, require them to line up at night and be out by 6 or 7 in the morning, and which can be dangerous, dirty, and frightening places.

Murray’s line in the sand around parks will no doubt be reassuring to neighborhood activists who have bombarded council members and the mayor’s office in recent days with petitions, mass emails, and phone calls urging them to reject a proposal drafted by the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services and sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien, which would allow homeless people to stay in unimproved areas of parks. Perhaps channeling some of their talking points, the mayor said tonight that for many elderly people on fixed incomes, community centers in parks are “the only place to socialize and recreate,” and that the same is true for many poor families. Homeless people in tents, the mayor was saying, prevent families from using parks and senior citizens from using community centers.

Murray emphasized stepped-up outreach to people living outdoors. He said his plan would double the city’s “outreach capacity” and create “a citywide group of outreach teams that will work in coordination with police and cleanup crews to connect those individuals with services … particularly those with substance abuse.” It’s worth noting, however, that the city’s “outreach” so far has typically preceded sweeps, so people living in encampments might understandably not trust city workers who show up, hand extended, saying they’re there to help.

Murray’s announcement essentially circumvents Burgess’ and O’Brien’s competing proposals, which Bagshaw said she would put on the back burner until after the budget process and the Thanksgiving recess. But expect some heated discussion on this tomorrow morning at 9:30, when Bagshaw’s health and human services committee will meet to discuss the encampment legislation and the mayor’s alternative proposal, which he’ll officially send to the council next week.

Ultimately, Murray repeated several times tonight, the city can’t solve its homelessness problem alone; it needs funding from the federal government, which has not been especially forthcoming. If the windstorm that’s expected to hit Seattle this weekend gets as bad as the 1962 Columbus Day storm that killed 46 people, Murray said, “I’ll declare a state of emergency and federal and state funds will show up.” But for the homelessness state of emergency, which kills some 60 people every year, Seattle is on its own, Murray said.

“We as a city do not have the resources to do this ourselves. If we want more capacity or more shelter, we need our partners to step up.

“These are not the solutions. This is not a model. This is an attempt to provide some shelter and some services until we can truly transform our system.”

Pathways Home for Whom? Advocates Say Sober Housing, Domestic Violence Victims Could Lose Out


Merril Cousin, director of the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, testifies at last week’s council budget hearing.

For all the Poppe report’s specificity about the need for “efficiencies,” emphasis on “performance-based strategies,” and laser focus on housing those who are “literally homeless” and have been so the longest, it (along with Mayor Ed Murray’s related Pathways Home proposal) is notably silent on what will happen to those who don’t fall into the category of “long-term homeless,” or who use transitional housing programs designed for specific vulnerable populations, such as domestic violence victims and people struggling with addiction who want to live in clean and sober housing.

Both types of programs could be cut under the Pathways Home/Poppe plan, which would move the city away from transitional housing (a category that includes sober houses and housing for domestic violence survivors) toward “rapid rehousing” on the private market.

Domestic violence victims and sober addicts and alcoholics aren’t the only people who will potentially lose services under the mayor’s plan (as the Seattle Human Services Coalition noted in an analysis they released last week, housing for veterans, refugee families, and girls under 18 could also be cut)  but they are among the most vulnerable—domestic violence survivors to their abusers, and people struggling with addiction to relapse.

Transitional housing for people who want to stop drinking or using generally consists of supportive group housing in a community of people who hold each other accountable. “Sober houses,” both those that receive subsidies and those that do not, require strict abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and often require random urinalysis (UA) tests to enforce the rules. Because sobriety is strictly enforced, they’re at the opposite end of the spectrum from the “housing first” approach (which seeks to lower barriers to permanent housing), but for some who want to stop using and need structure and a support system, sober housing can be literally a lifesaver.

Flo Beaumon, associate director of the Archdiocesan Housing Authority (Catholic Community Services), says “clean and sober” housing like the CCS-run Aloha Inn on Aurora, which houses people for up to two years and provides services like counseling, recovery support, and housing search assistance, is a vital part of the housing spectrum “for people who choose it who are in recovery and personally need to be in a clean and sober environment to maintain their recovery.”

“I personally know plenty of people who need the clean and sober environment to be able to succeed,” Beaumon says. “They can’t be around people who are using.”

Beaumon worries about what will happen to those clients if abstinence-based recovery housing loses its funding under Pathways Home. “The direction that All Home [the group that manages homelessness policy in King County] is going with now is saying that they support recovery housing, but they aren’t willing [to support] programs to enforce sobriety,” Beaumon says. “Well, what do you do about relapse? Our experience is that relapse is contagious. If somebody starts using and doesn’t immediately do a u-turn and get back on the wagon, it can become a dangerous environment for other people who are in a very fragile state of recovery, because it’s new and they’ve been homeless.”

Sharon Lee, director of the Low-Income Housing Institute, says LIHI has already “phased out” some of its clean and sober housing, because “we’ve been asked by the city to reduce the barriers for people getting in.” Lee says LIHI used to run three houses for people in recovery in Seattle, and two in King County, which are no longer operated as sober housing.

Daniel Malone, director of the housing-first-focused Downtown Emergency Service Center, is skeptical that abstinence-based housing is necessary for people to stay clean and sober (and don’t get him started on the term “recovery housing,” which he thinks unjustly excludes current drug and alcohol users who consider themselves to be “in a recovery process”). And he dismisses the “strongly held contention—I might call it a myth—that someone who’s got a substance use problem, and wants to not use, must be in an environment with no one who is using and otherwise will not be able to remain abstinent.”

That said, Malone adds that he doesn’t see funding for sober housing going anywhere, because, he argues, it has powerful advocates. “I would be shocked if the system does not maintain some allowance for abstinence housing in the continuum,  because there are a lot of constituencies for that kind of housing—organizations that promote it defend it and want to see it continue.” But he acknowledges that agencies that provide sober housing might have to shift from transitional to permanent housing, because “transitional is going away.” According to homeless advocates, transitional sober housing can serve three times as many people per year as a permanent housing program.

Victims of domestic violence could also be deprioritized under the mayor’s proposal, because existing transitional housing for survivors (which has a temporary waiver from the county’s coordinated-entry program, through which people experiencing homelessness are documented and assigned levels of priority) may lack the capacity to accommodate everyone who has suffered from domestic violence but isn’t currently plugged in to the DV “system.” Merril Cousin, director of the King County Coalition Ending Gender Violence, says that many homeless women who currently use shelters and transitional housing services have been victims of domestic violence, and may fall to the bottom of the triage list under the new criteria because they haven’t been homeless long enough, or aren’t “literally homeless” yet because they’re living in their cars.

Cousins worries that a system that prioritizes people who have been homeless longer could push women fleeing their abusers to the bottom of the list, making them more likely to stay in dangerous home environments or lose custody of their kids as they move down the rungs of poverty. Alternatively, she says, they might seek services in the domestic-violence system only to find long waiting lists as these programs get overburdened by an influx of women who are no longer at the top of the list for programs serving the general homeless population.

“Domestic violence assistance programs get five to 20 applicants for every one position that they have, and that’s now,” Cousin says. “What we’re concerned about is [that] if the prioritization for housing placement moves to [one that’s] totally based on the length of time someone’s homeless, as opposed to to their vulnerability, it’s going to increase the number of people they refer to domestic violence programs

For example, says says, if “somebody calls and says, ‘I slept in my car last night because my partner threatened me with a knife,’ the way it is right now, we can refer you to domestic violence programs.” Under Pathways Home, Cousin says, “it might be, ‘You just slept in your car one night and now you’re at the bottom of the list.”

The council will continue to discuss the mayor’s proposed budget, which includes just under half a million dollars in 2017 and 2018 to “staff Pathways Home Implementation,” through the middle of November.


Rapid Rehousing: A Word of Caution


Something about the proposed shift away from transitional housing (which provides supportive services like job and life skills training, as well as help getting jobs, benefits, and child care for those who need it) toward “rapid rehousing” (“a relatively new program type that provides homeless individuals and families with a short term rental subsidy (usually up to about six months), after which they take over responsibility for paying their own rent,” according to the city’s Focus Strategies report“) reminds me of welfare reform.

Remember welfare reform? (Millennials: “Nope!”) The idea, promoted by Republicans and championed by then-President Bill Clinton, was to get people off cash assistance and into jobs as quickly as possible, by cutting off assistance after two years and most welfare recipients to get jobs. Like rapid rehousing (and Section 8 housing vouchers, which replaced most public housing projects), welfare reform was supposed to be “a hand up, not a hand out.” It was also supposed to include guaranteed jobs for people who couldn’t find employment in the private sector, but the Republicans who controlled Congress in the mid-1990s made short work of that. Ultimately, the number of families receiving direct cash benefits from the government was cut in half (even as need for these benefits increased), and the number of people living in extreme poverty doubled.

That’s the issue with getting rid of, or even drastically reducing, funding for transitional housing. It looks great on paper—rapid rehousing costs a fraction of the cost of transitional housing, $11,507 compared to $32,627 per household—but what happens to all those people who are left to fend for themselves on the private market after three, six, or nine months? Is it realistic to believe that someone who can pay $100 in rent when they enter the system will be able to pay for a $1,500 apartment six months later? The Poppe and Focus Strategies reports, which look at just five rapid rehousing projects in Seattle, conclude triumphantly that rapid rehousing is far less expensive than more intensive transitional housing, but even they have to acknowledge that the rate of exit to permanent housing in those programs, at 52 percent, “is well below what is common in high-performing RRH programs.”

Nationally, even those “high-performing” programs are scarce and graded on a curve. In a survey of the few rapid rehousing programs that are up and running in the US, only a quarter of participants were in the same apartment one year after their subsidies ended, meaning that they couldn’t afford their rent after their subsidies ran out, not surprising since their incomes increased only marginally ($15 a month for every month a family was in rapid rehousing in a Philadelphia survey). The survey does conclude that rapid rehousing reduces the number of people who return to unsheltered homelessness with a year compared to transitional housing, but those numbers were already low: from 9 percent of those leaving transitional housing to 4 percent of those leaving rapid rehousing programs.

And remember, rapid rehousing is “relatively new.” We don’t know that rapid rehousing “works” long term. What we do know for certain is that it’s cheaper.

Cheaper, at least, for the government agencies that fund housing providers. But for renters experiencing homelessness, it can have profound consequences. If circumstances, job loss, family disruption, or other factors prevent newly “rehoused” renters from being able to make their payments, they may face eviction, which will not only render them homeless (or unstably housed) again but will make it much harder for them to rent in the future. (Advocates for rapid rehousing say people who can’t make it on the private market will have access to other options, like permanent supportive housing with extensive—and expensive—wraparound services, but not all families and individuals will qualify for, or need, such intensive care; many just need affordable housing).

“RRH programs should not limit clients’ housing options based on unrealistic expectations about the percent of income they should pay for rent, the types of neighborhoods they should live in, or even whether they wish to remain in Seattle/King County,” the Focus Strategies report concludes.

The Focus Strategies and Poppe reports make clear that when they talk about rapid rehousing, they don’t mean affordable housing, nor do they mean housing that an individual would pick for herself. For all their talk of taking a “person-centered approach,” the reports suggest strongly that individuals and families should be required to accept whatever housing becomes available on a first-come, first-served basis, even if that housing is many miles removed from their community, job, extended family, services, and other support systems. “RRH programs should not limit clients’ housing options based on unrealistic expectations about the percent of income they should pay for rent, the types of neighborhoods they should live in, or even whether they wish to remain in Seattle/King County,” the Focus Strategies report concludes.

Nor does this purely utilitarian view take into account the fact that if we focus on those who’ve been unsheltered the longest (generally older, single men with criminal histories and issues with mental health, addiction, or both), we risk letting other vulnerable people (women fleeing domestic violence, kids who just ran away from home) fall through the cracks. These issues should raise concern for council members considering whether to adopt a purely “performance-based” approach to housing the 4,000-plus people experiencing homelessness in Seattle. Homeless people are still people with preferences and autonomy; they should not be manipulated like chess pieces to satisfy empty promises like “ending unsheltered homelessness through increased efficiency.”

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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time (typically no less than 20 hours a week, but often as many as 40) as well as costs like transportation, equipment, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council Skeptical of Plan That Could Require Moving Homeless Out of Town


The city council started getting into the details of Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget for homelessness-related programs yesterday, and it was clear from the start of the meeting that many of them don’t plan to let the mayor ram his Pathways Home proposal, which would radically reshape the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness, through without careful scrutiny.

I’ve written before about Pathways Home and the so-called Poppe Report on which it’s based, but here’s the gist: The proposal, which hews to new federal guidelines that encourage cities to shift away from funding more expensive (and longer-term) transitional housing toward “rapid rehousing” with short-term vouchers that subsidize rent on the private market, would eliminate funding for “low-performance” programs and emphasize housing for those who have been homeless the longest, as opposed to those who are most vulnerable or are merely unstably housed.

The proposal also has the potential to eliminate or ignore personal agency in choosing where to live; according to a report by the consulting firm Focus Strategies, on which the Poppe report and Pathways home are largely based, “In some high cost communities, RRH clients have to move out of county to secure affordable apartments. … While this may feel unsatisfying to providers and runs contrary to community goals relating to diversity and combatting gentrification and displacement, the alternative is leaving families and individuals with long stays in shelters or living in tents or sleeping in cars.” The report also recommends a shift away from transitional housing programs that serve specific populations, such as veterans (who may benefit from living with other veterans rather than scattered in isolated apartments across the county), domestic-violence survivors, and immigrants and refugees.

This concept—that homeless people who live in high-cost housing markets like Seattle should be willing to leave behind their communities, support systems, services, and employment opportunities just to get a roof over their heads— didn’t slip past council members Friday.

Council member Kshama Sawant pointed to a footnote in the Focus Strategies report noting that “in San Francisco, where rents are extremely high, it is common practice for [rapid rehousing programs to assist families to re-locate upwards of 60 miles from the City to other counties where rents are lower.” (Side note: The report explicitly says it is not concerned with affordability, and that if people end up having to spend half their income or more on housing, at least that’s better than sleeping outside. The current federal, county, and city standard for “affordability” is that a person spend no more than 30 percent of his or her income on housing.)

“I don’t think, in any reasonable definition of housing people effectively, does this count, because where are they going to go?” Sawant said. “Sixty miles away? We know what the housing situation is in San Francisco.” Indeed, the Focus Strategies report points to Houston, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Hennepin County, MN as examples where a shift to rapid rehousing in the private rental market has been effective at housing people who had lived in shelters for months or years—all places where median rent is a fraction of what it is in Seattle.


Lisa Herbold, another skeptic of the Pathways Home proposal, pointed to Hennepin County as an example in which government funders and service providers tried rapid rehousing on a trial basis before closing down shelters and transitional housing programs to test whether that was the right approach, and provided supportive services to assist those moving from shelter to voucher-subsidized housing in the private market.

“I’m concerned that the Pathways Home approach, as we’re looking at it right now, will mean pathways home for people who are staying outside unsheltered, but it will mean a pathway out of town for other people who are using [transitional and shelter] housing services,” Herbold said. Moreover, “I don’t feel like the Poppe Report recommendations really did a really good job of identifying solutions and strategies that match our high-cost housing.”

Murray’s proposed budget includes nearly a half-million dollars in additional spending in 2017 and 2018 to “staff Pathways Home implementation,” which implies that the city council is supposed to embrace the Poppe recommendations in next year’s city budget, which the council will adopt next month. The skepticism some council members expressed on Friday suggests that Murray may be in for another battle.

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Why Did the Mayor Cut Ties to District Councils? These Folks Have Some Theories.


When I got notice that the Eastlake Community Council was holding an “urgent public meeting” to discuss how to “save the district councils,” I figured it was as good a time as any to check in on how the traditional neighborhood councils—the homeowner-dominated, largely white, largely elderly groups that feel they’re losing sway at City Hall—are dealing with the changes Mayor Ed Murray and Department of Neighborhoods Director Kathy Nyland announced in July.

Turns out  the answer is: Not well at all. At last night’s meeting on Eastlake (more sparsely attended than a West Seattle gathering held just after the mayor made his announcement), neighborhood council and district council members from across the city (north of I-90, at least) denounced legislation that would codify the mayor’s executive order, which severed formal ties between the city and the neighborhood councils and cut $1.2 million in funding that, until July, paid for staffers to attend district council meetings and assist the groups.

The purpose of the meeting was, ostensibly, to discuss and propose amendments to an ordinance and resolution that would redirect DON resources to creating a more inclusive community involvement process.

What it turned into, though, was a chorus of disappointment and despair, borne out of a shared conviction that Murray and Nyland want to eliminate geographically based community groups and redefine “community” along demographic lines. I got the sense that this was a group that would like nothing more than to go back to 1987—a year that was invoked frequently last night, because it’s when the neighborhood district councils were formed—before the Internet, politically active renters, and the notion of “inclusion” as a critical cultural value.

The concerns I heard—many of them based in what I’d call a somewhat paranoid view of city government—fell into a few broad categories.

1. Nyland and Murray “based this entire change on a single sign-up sheet,” rather than any process or data. The charge, first raised at last night’s meeting by Central Area District Council president Dan Sanchez, seems to be that the decision to cut ties with and financial aid for the district council was based on reading a single sign-up sheet at a single district council meeting where most of the people were white.

As far as I can tell, there’s no basis to this claim, except that Nyland may have picked up a sign-up sheet and made a comment about it at some point. Having gone to countless neighborhood meetings over the years, I can tell you anecdotally that the people who show up are overwhelmingly white and over 50. But actually, you don’t need me to say that because a city audit confirmed it all the way back in 2009, and warned the councils that “if the City is truly to prioritize race and social justice, use of Roberts Rules, complicated bylaws, and tedious meeting requirements, coupled with a lack of funds for translation, childcare, or other incentives and aids for participation must be addressed for the entire district council system, including the CNC.”

None of that has taken place in the intervening seven years.

Nyland told me recently, with some exasperation, that the district councils have been well aware that the city planned to reduce their role if they didn’t make the changes suggested by the audit. “The audit is from 2009, and that audit was triggered by years and years and years of conversations; this is nothing new,” Nyland said. “Since [Murray’s] first day in office, he’s been very clear that status quo was not an option. DON has great programs, but … .how we do outreach and engagement as a department and as a city has not evolved with the changing demographics” of the city.


2. It’s more important that the neighborhood councils be geographically representative than that they’re demographically diverse. In fact, it’s “unconscionable” to point out that the district councils and their constituent groups are dominated by white, middle-to-upper-middle-class homeowners.

“All the stuff about diversity, about age, about income, has all been part of their strategy,” one speaker (whose name, unfortunately, I did not catch) said. “It seems unconscionable to me that the mayor would talk about one end of town being racist, and all this terrible, divisive kind of talk.” (He didn’t.) “If you really want to talk about what’s happening [with] gentrification that’s impacting people of color, it’s the gentrification of Columbia City, that whole thing. I used to drive down Martin Luther King Way to get to Boeing, and you could see a very sizable African American community waiting out there for the buses.” I think the implication is that “you” no longer see that as you drive past, ergo: Must be gentrification.

Suzie Burke, a board member for the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, put it this way: “I don’t identify as an Irish person—I identify as someone from Fremont, for goodness’ sakes!” Thing is, Irish people have not been historically (or at least recently) excluded from the organizations that supposedly represent Seattle’s neighborhoods. And suggesting that African Americans, or renters, or young people, or any other demographic group, don’t share any common interests shows a profound need to actually engage with people outside your social circle.

3. People who don’t show up at neighborhood council meetings just aren’t interested in participating, and the city shouldn’t coddle them with things like “online engagement.”

Chris Leman, president of the Eastlake Community Council, argued passionately in favor of the old-timey, drawn-out community meetings the 2009 audit called “tedious,” saying that the “town meeting” was part of the fabric of American life and culture.

“If you go to a public meeting, you don’t have to have internet access. You don’t even have to be able to read, as long as you can understand,” Leman said. (In all my years of attending community meetings, I’ve never seen someone attend who can’t read, but I guess the point is that strangers can wander in to community council meetings even if they don’t have computers and weren’t on the email list. I haven’t seen that happen either.) “The fact is that town meetings are so fundamental to the whole American way of life. Meetings go back hundreds of years. This notion of social media—what they call slacktivism—that as long as you just check off on a petition electronically, that you’ve done all you need to do… I’m just frightened that we have a Department of Neighborhoods that knows so little about organizing anymore.”

The notion that you have to show up at nighttime meetings to truly participate (anything less and you’re just a “slacktivist”) conveniently sidelines people who work at night, people with kids, young people who live their lives online, and anyone who would be intimidated by walking in a room, like the one last night, and put on the spot by a stranger demanding that you tell the group your full name, where you live, and who you represent (true story, and not for the first time).

There was also a bizarre tangent about whether allowing people to participate and engage in dialogue online would allow “bad actors” to engaged in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks or flood council members’ inboxes with  “millions” of letters and their feeds with “unfiltered hashtags” to skew their opinions and votes. To me, that speaks to the need for neighborhood groups to learn a little bit more about how the Internet works (and how council members process the form letters they receive) before condemning all digital communications as “slacktivist” silliness.

4. It’s all a plot.

Reasonable arguments can certainly be had about the value of online communication, or the definition of “community.” But some of the conspiracy theories fielded last night truly deserve that name. Blogger David Baum, who has written many posts on his blog accusing various groups of being in secret cahoots on HALA, the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, spoke about the “explicit strategy to move control from us up to city hall,” demonstrated, somehow, by the progressive policy think tank Sightline Institute, which is supposedly itself in the pocket of Facebook.

“It is a deliberate strategy based in ideology, and they’re executing it with extreme deliberateness to move authority up, so that people can’t resist the new way of thinking,” Baum said ominously. “They can’t say no to increased density on [the city’s] terms.”

Another speaker, eager to be heard in the back of the room, kept jumping in while others were talking to say that the real reason the mayor “got rid of” the district councils (he didn’t, and Burke herself noted at the start of the meeting that few of them intend to disband) is because “they were too effective.”

Finally, there was Leman’s theory that Kathy Nyland, who was appointed head of DON in May 2015, has personally spent years obsessively “collecting complaints about district councils” and waiting for her opportunity to pounce. “She never shared them. She just saved them up and pulled them out now. … She suppressed that information and kept it to herself,” Leman said.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the meeting before its scheduled end time of 9pm (typical slacktivist), but I talked afterward to Sarajane Siegfriedt, who stayed until the end; she said the group never reached consensus or voted on anything, including her proposal to ask the city council to change “community” to “neighborhood” in the mayor’s resolution.

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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time (typically no less than 20 hours a week, but often as many as 40) as well as costs like transportation, equipment, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.