Africatown, Forterra Part of Partnership to Redevelop Midtown Center

Midtown Center—the property at 23rd and Union that has been the subject of an on-again, off-again debate about how to provide new housing in the Central District without economically displacing its remaining African American residents—has been sold to Lake Union Partners for $23.25 million. LUP, in turn, will sell 20 percent of the block to the conservation nonprofit Forterra, which will then work with Africatown to transfer the property into a community development partnership.

The Lake Union Partners-owned portion of the property will include between 400 and 420 apartments, including around 125 apartments that will be affordable to people making between 60 and 85 percent of area median income, or about $40,000 to $65,000 a year, under the city’s Multifamily Tax Exemption program, which provides developers a 12-year tax break in exchange for building affordable housing, and the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, which will require that 10 percent of the units be affordable to people making 60 percent or less of the area median. (The city council has not yet approved MHA for the Central District.) The rest of the site will be developed by Forterra and Africatown, and will include between 120 and 135 apartments affordable to people making 40 percent or more of median income, or about $26,880.

As I reported back in March, the original deal for the current owners of the Midtown Center block, the Bangasser family partnership, fell apart after a dispute between the Bangassers and Africatown, which led protests against the family when it changed the locks on a space occupied (though not formally leased) by the business incubator Black Dot and, in a separate action, evicted Omari Tahir Garrett, father of Africatown leader K. Wyking Garrett, from the house where he had been living without paying rent since at least 2012.

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.

The original plan for the site would have included 475 apartments, some of them affordable, along space for small retail businesses.

In a statement, Mayor Ed Murray said the development “will ensure that 23rd and Union remains connected to Seattle’s cultural heritage and ongoing struggle for racial justice and equity of opportunity.”

The proposal now enters the long approval process, starting with design review, which will begin this fall.

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: Shutting It Down in the 37th

State senator and mayoral candidate Bob Hasegawa

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!

1. Last night, the 37th District Democrats made endorsements in the races for Seattle City Attorney, City Council, King County Sheriff, King County Executive, and a number of other in-district seats including Renton City Council. One race in which the Dems did not endorse: Seattle Mayor. After two rounds of ballots failed to yield the required 60 percent majority for either of the leading two candidates, Bob Hasegawa (far ahead with 55 percent) or Jenny Durkan (at 22 percent), the Dems decided to call it a night, arguing that—at 10:15, 15 minutes after they were supposed to vacate the meeting room at the Ethiopian Community In Seattle’s community center in Rainier Beach, too many district members had left for a representative vote.

In the first round of voting, former mayor Mike McGinn—who noted his support for Bernie Sanders in his stump speech—was dropped off the ballot, with the lowest support of the five nominated candidates. (The other two who remained were Jessyn Farrell and Cary Moon).

In the other races, the district dual-endorsed labor lobbyist Teresa Mosqueda and attorney and NAACP leader Sheley Seacrest for Position 8; incumbent council member Lorena Gonzalez for Position 9; City Attorney Pete Holmes; King County Sheriff John Urquhart; and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

I was live-tweeting the whole thing, and I’ve Storified the entire, sweaty blow-by-blow here.

2. One candidate who wasn’t on the Dems’ ballot last night—because he isn’t a Democrat—was Jon Grant, who is running as a Democratic Socialist. Grant touts his work on the $15 minimum wage campaign and last year’s statewide minimum wage initiative. Yesterday, his campaign put up an ad for a campaign organizer position that pays $2,500 a month, or $14.42 an hour assuming a 40-hour work week.

Grant responded to my post on Twitter, saying that using a “standard 2,000-hour work year,” the pay for this campaign job works out to $15 an hour. Payroll professionals, the federal and state governments, and simple math show that a standard work year (52 weeks at 40/hours a week) is 2,080 hours a year. At this rate, Grant’s campaign is offering less than the $15 minimum—and that’s assuming that this campaign employee never goes over 40 hours a week. My own very limited campaign experience (Jim Mattox for Texas AG ’98!), and the experiences many campaign workers have described to me over the years, suggest strongly that “campaign organizer” is not typically a 40-hour-a-week job, especially as Election Day approaches. Since the job is a salaried position, rather than hourly, that means that the more the campaign organizer works, the further below minimum wage his or her salary will drop.

Of course, a $15 hourly wage (rather than the flat $2,500 fee) would mitigate this issue. (It would also likely increase the amount Grant would have to pay his staffer.) And of course, campaigns jobs often pay sub-minimum wages. But it’s worth noting that Grant is, so far, the best-funded of all the candidates for Position 8—largely, as Grant himself has frequently pointed out, thanks to $25 donations in the form of publicly funded “democracy vouchers” to the candidate. A well-funded candidate running on his record advocating for higher wages for people struggling to afford to live in Seattle should probably make sure he isn’t contributing to the problem.

3. The Seattle Planning Commission issued a set of recommendations for implementing the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, a centerpiece of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. As Dan Bertolet of Sightline pointed out yesterday on Facebook, the recommendations call into question one of the key principles behind the program, which sets higher affordability requirements in areas, like the Central District and the Chinatown-International District, that the city has identified as areas at “high risk for displacement” because  of rising housing prices combined with a vulnerable population. The Planning Commission writes:

MHA is an essential anti-displacement tool when paired with complementary antidisplacement strategies. The Planning Commission is concerned that increasing MHA requirements in areas with a high risk of displacement may have negative consequences on Seattle’s historically marginalized communities by stagnating growth, exacerbating housing shortages, and further limiting access to jobs, housing, and amenities. While we acknowledge that some communities hope to combat displacement by deterring growth, discouraging new development to retain existing naturally-affordable units, this does not preclude rents from rising, and may in the future cause land to be underutilized. A lack of new units contributes to an overall scarcity of housing options that drives up competition and cost.

Instead of requiring larger payments toward affordable housing in high-risk areas, the Planning Commission recommends “alternative anti-displacement strategies,” like the city’s equitable development strategy, which seeks to prevent economic and cultural displacement by providing cultural, housing, and economic anchors. Read the Planning Commission’s whole letter, which includes nine other recommendations, here.

Seattle Goes All In on Rapid Rehousing. D.C. Already Tried That. Here’s What Happened.

Since declaring a homelessness emergency in 2015, the city of Seattle has gone all-in on an a set of recommendations based on a report by Ohio homelessness consultant Barb Poppe called Pathways Home. The strategy, based on the laudable principle that people need housing before they can deal effectively with the other problems that may be keeping them homeless, relies heavily on so-called rapid rehousing—rental assistance vouchers that help formerly homeless people rent market-rate apartments. The idea is to give individuals and families some time to stabilize and, if necessary, find employment before releasing them into the regular rental market. The strategy has been successful at reducing homelessness in other cities, like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Houston, and those successes have frequently been cited as evidence that rapid rehousing can work in Seattle, too.

Critics, including this blog, have pointed out that Seattle is different from those cities in one key respect: Rents here are a lot higher—about double—what they are in Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City If the city provides a voucher for a four-person family to live in an typical $2,700-dollar two-bedroom Seattle apartment, and that family is earning $500 a month when they move in, that means their total income will have to rise by $8,500 a month for that apartment to be affordable under federal affordability guidelines, which stipulate that tenants should pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

Or let’s assume a much cheaper, smaller apartment—say, a $1,500 one-bedroom, shared by that same four-person family—and change the definition of “affordable” to assume that family will pay 40 percent of their income on rent, their income would still have to rise by $3,250 a month to pay the full rent when their voucher runs its course in three, six, or 12 months.

Looking at those numbers, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to conclude that many of those new renters, still getting their feet under them after weeks, months, or years on the streets, would end up homeless again once their vouchers expired. And in at least one city with housing prices very similar to Seattle, that’s exactly what has happened. A new report by the D.C.-based Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, “Set Up to Fail: Rapid Rehousing in the District of Columbia,” concludes that D.C.’s $31 million-a-year experiment in rapid rehousing has failed. The program, which provided up to 12 months of rental assistance to formerly homeless families, left many families worse off than they were before they entered the program. Although D.C. says the program has an 85 percent success rate, the study’s author, attorney Max Tipping, says that number is illusory—all it indicates is that only 15 percent of the program participants have ended up in D.C. homeless shelters, and does not account for whether clients were evicted, ended up living with friends or family, moved into their vehicles, or ended up homeless in another area.

The problem, not surprisingly, is that families that start out with almost no income are usually unable to start making enough to afford market rents within even 12 months, especially in a very high-cost area like D.C. On average, the report concludes, only about 10 percent of families in the D.C. program increased their income at all—by an average of $68 a month. The result was that families in the program only had enough income, on average, to cover 40 percent of the market rent when their subsidies expired.  Tipping calls this the “rapid rehousing cliff”—the point when a rapid rehousing subsidy ends and a family is left unable to fend for themselves.  “After being  terminated from rapid re-housing, many return to homelessness, now with an eviction or rental debt on their record,” the report concludes.

D.C. and Seattle’s housing prices are roughly comparable; according to the tracking website Rentjungle,  the average two-bedroom in the District is $2,741 a month (compared to $2,734 in Seattle) the average one-bedroom, $2,081 (compared to $2,004 in Seattle).

“The unfortunate reality is that temporary housing subsidies are not a solution to family homelessness in the District’s expensive housing market. The math simply does not add up,” the report concludes.

As Seattle moves toward requiring that homeless service providers follow a rapid-rehousing model, and the dollars the city spends on combating homelessness shift toward temporary vouchers and away from more expensive transitional housing, program planners will encounter many of the same challenges as Washington, D.C., such as the need for more intensive case management, attempts by landlords to abuse the system, and the potential that short-term vouchers will exacerbate segregation. Many of those problems are solvable through targeted spending and regulations. But one factor that’s unlikely to change is Seattle’s rental market, which, like D.C.’s, grows less affordable every year. Perhaps one of the lessons for Seattle is that we shouldn’t divest from long-term housing assistance and permanently affordable housing until we’re sure that the short-term “hand-up” programs we’re relying on to reduce homelessness don’t leave families worse off.

(Seattle Human Services Department spokeswoman Meg Olberding said HSD director Catherine Lester was aware of the D.C. report, but “has not had time to read” it.)

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: What Socialist?

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!

1. One name that won’t be on the long list of those running for mayor when the window for candidates to file for Seattle offices this year closes at 4:00 this afternoon is city council member Lorena Gonzalez. Although Gonzalez would have been giving up her council seat by running for mayor, since both offices are on the ballot this year, she had decided to take the risk as recently as last Friday—until she failed to secure a key endorsement, sources close to the council member say. On Tuesday, she announced she wasn’t running.

That key endorsement? US Congresswoman (and former state senator) Pramila Jayapal, who was the executive director of immigrant rights group OneAmerica when Gonzalez was its board chair. Jayapal’s decision not to endorse Gonzalez reads like a major snub not just because Jayapal supported Gonzalez when she first ran for city council in 2015, but because Gonzalez reversed her own endorsement of Brady Walkinshaw, who, like Gonzalez, is Latinx, to support Jayapal when she ran for Congress after Jayapal accused Walkinshaw of running ads she said were racist and sexist. After sticking her neck out for her former OneAmerica colleague and longtime political ally, Gonzalez might have understandably expected Jayapal to return the favor. Jayapal has not made any endorsement in the mayor’s race so far.

2. Speaking of erstwhile political allies, the King County Labor Council’s secretary/treasurer Nicole Grant sent out a harshly worded statement earlier this week denouncing socialist city council member Kshama Sawant for endorsing former Tenants Union director Jon Grant, and excoriating him for being a “phony” who advocated for low-income people harmed by the foreclosure crisis while living in a foreclosed house purchased for him by his parents. (Jon Grant has said he is paying the mortgage himself). Nicole Grant is a supporter of Teresa Mosqueda, a longtime labor lobbyist in Olympia who is running for the same Position 8 council seat Jon Grant is seeking. The Sawant endorsement is especially painful, Nicole Grant says, because she considered Sawant a strong labor ally; Nicole Grant even helped swear Sawant in after her election in 2013.

Nicole Grant says that as a woman of color, a labor leader, and a renter struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly unaffordable city, Mosqueda “represents what workers see in themselves when they look in the mirror. And all of a sudden, a coalition partner [Sawant’s Socialist Alternative party] that we’ve worked on many different issues with is like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go with the socialist. And we’re like, ‘What socialist? Who are you talking about?’ And they say, ‘Jon Grant,’  and [my reaction is] just, ‘What?'”

“It’s hard when you support someone with real passion and real consistency, and then you ask them to support you and they don’t. That is not a great feeling,” Nicole Grant says. “When [Sawant ran] and Socialist Alternative needed labor to support her, labor was there. … So when the labor movement has an incredible candidate emerging and it’s not good enough for them that she’s a union member, that she’s a working class leader, that she’s a woman of color, that her record is strong—when they’re just like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t say “socialist” behind her name, sorry’—it’s outrageous. Because it’s not reciprocal.”

Nicole Grant criticizes Jon Grant’s leadership of the Tenants Union—”I feel like we’re spiraling into the abyss and our’e the one with the steering wheel in your hand”—but her major critique is that Jon Grant doesn’t acknowledge the privilege that enabled him to spend years building his resume at low-paying nonprofit and campaign jobs and that allows him to campaign full-time now. “Jon comes from the privilege machine—he is fired in the kiln of privilege,” Nicole Grant says. “Bainbridge Island, all the best private schools—for him to be like, ‘Oh, I’m a socialist’—it’s like, ‘No, dude, you’re slumming.'”

Of the credible candidates in the Position 8 race, Jon Grant is the only white man. Nicole Grant says it shows. “At a forum, he made some comment like, ‘I’m seeing a lot of experience [on Mosqueda’s resume] but I don’t see any ideas here. That is just such a classic. I don’t want to be like, ‘Okay, white man,’ but—okay, white man. I know that narrative. The woman does the work, the man has the ideas.” Nicole Grant points to Mosqueda’s work on public health, paid family leave, and wage equity legislation. “She’s the one that closes the deals,” she says.

Jon Grant and Mosqueda are widely viewed as the frontrunners in the race, which means that we could still be watching these issues play out throughout the summer and fall.

3. In response to a records request by The C Is for Crank, the city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services provided a complete list of expenses associated with the city’s emergency response to homelessness since February 21 of this year, when Mayor Ed Murray announced he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center in response to the homelessness crisis. (In practice, this means that representatives from various city departments meet at the EOC facility for two hours every morning to discuss and coordinate the city’s homelessness response.)

The two biggest costs so far have been construction of the Navigation Center, a planned (and delayed) low-barrier, 24/7 shelter for homeless individuals, and garbage pickup at unauthorized encampments. The city has spent $2,244,000 building the Center, and plans to spend another $1.3 million this year to operate the 100-bed shelter.  Garbage pickup has cost the city another $2,165,000, although most of that line item is labor from existing city staff who have been repurposed to administer, plan, and actually pick up the trash. The Navigation Team, an eight-member team that does outreach at encampments and conducts encampment sweeps, has cost the city $759,000 so far, including labor costs and overtime expenses for eight police officers and one sergeant. Three new authorized encampments have cost the city $201,000 to operate so far this year.

See the full list of the city’s homelessness-related expenses between February 21 and April 30, 2017, here. 

Morning Crank: Planning Is Necessary. Stalling Is Not.

L-R: Commissioners Vickie Rawlins, Brendan Donckers, Eileen Norton, Bruce Carter, Charlene Angeles

1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dealt another blow to defenders of Mayor Ed Murray yesterday afternoon, agreeing unanimously that the mayor’s supporters couldn’t create a legal defense fund and solicit unlimited anonymous contributions on his behalf.  Moreover, the board ruled that the supporters’ backup plan—limiting the amount of contributions and disclosing the names of donors—was equally unacceptable, on the grounds that the city’s ethics rules contain no provision allowing legal defense funds for elected officials.

“Given our current ethics code, or what we care about in the city about transparency and accountability, I don’t see a path for you,”  commission chair Eileen Norton addd.

Murray’s supporters proposed creating the fund to help the mayor defray the cost of defending himself against charges that he sexually assaulted a young man in the 1980s, and some speculated that one reason the mayor announced he would not run for reelection was to eliminate one objection to the fund—that it would violate campaign-finance rules.

 

“There is concern about whether the mayor has the resources” to defend himself, Flevaris said, “and the folks putting the fund together want to address that issue and make sure that the lawsuit can’t be used as a political tool” against him. “When you have a scandalous lawsuit like this, we think [that] informs this issue.”

“I don’t think the emotional issue around the lawsuit should inform our decision,” Norton responded.

Flevaris and Lawrence argued that by keeping the names of contributors to the fund anonymous and requiring donors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the fund would avoid any appearance of political impropriety. However, commission director Wayne Barnett countered that if, for example, “someone involved with the development of an arena in SoDo makes a substantial gift to the legal defense fund, I don’t see how an unenforceable nondisclosure agreement is going to persuade a reasonable person that it was not given with an intent to influence” city policy.

Moreover, Barnett said, if the commission granted the defense fund the right to solicit anonymous, unlimited contributions, the commission wouldn’t have a leg to stand on the next time a campaign came before them asking for the right to take anonymous contributions, which has happened in the past.

Murray can still accept very nominal gifts under the city’s gift rules, but the commission did not appear to leave any path for the legal defense fund to proceed. After the vote, Flevaris said he was glad that the commission had given the attorneys for the fund some “clarity” on whether they could proceed. Once Murray’s term ends on December 31, he will be a private citizen no longer subject to the city’s ethics rules; however, Flevaris said “time is of the essence” in the lawsuit. Paul Lawrence, another attorney for the mayor’s supporters, said he hadn’t “heard anything to suggest” Murray would resign in order to start collecting contributions to help him defend against the lawsuit.

Turina James: “I’m the face of a heroin addict. Just a year and seven months ago, I was right out there with all of them. Without harm reduction … I don’t know what I would have done.”

2. Also yesterday, the King County Council’s Health, Housing, and Human Services Committee decided to delay for another month a motion that would direct King County Executive Dow Constantine to prepare a report and work plan for the creation of two pilot supervised drug consumption sites in King County. Citing the number of people (about 40) who showed up to testify in the middle of the afternoon, committee chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles postponed the measure that was the subject of all that testimony on the grounds that there was too much else on yesterday’s agenda.

Most of those who turned out to testify—including emergency room nurses, recovering addicts, Real Change vendors, and residents of neighborhoods, like Belltown, where injection drug use is common—supported the sites. However, the delay speaks to the disproportionate weight of opponents’ voices.  Yesterday, those opponents claimed, as they always do, that supervised consumption sites will turn entire neighborhoods into apocalyptic landscapes overrun by strung-out zombies who shoot up, turn tricks, and lie half-dead with their faces on the sidewalk in front of “legalized shooting galleries” that exist to “enable human suffering.”

“You seem to be forgetting that heroin is illegal,” one opponent, who identified himself as a recovering addict, said. “This plan is completely insane,” argued another.

Peer-reviewed studies from supervised-injection and -consumption sites around the world show that they reduce deaths from overdoses, infections, HIV, and hepatitis C, and connect people struggling with addiction to services and treatment.

Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, a member of the task force that, almost nine months ago, recommended a supervised consumption site pilot project as part of a comprehensive package of recommendations to address the opiate and heroin addiction epidemic, said after the meeting that she was frustrated with the slow pace the committee has taken. “It’s hard to say that it’s behind schedule, given that it would be the first of its kind in the country. That said, this isn’t ideal, because these recommendations have been sitting for months.” Noting that the task force only recommended a three-year pilot project, Daugaard said the only way to demonstrate whether supervised consumption can work, or that it’s doomed to disaster, is to try it.

“The answer to those questions [opponents raised] lies is the implementation. We will find out whether there are good, bad, or neutral effects, and we will make an assessment at that point,” Daugaard said.

“But staying in this limbo is the worst of all possible worlds. Planning was necessary. Stalling is not.”

3. In response to a 58 percent increase since 2013 in the number of complaints about vacant buildings, mostly single-family houses, that have fallen into disrepair across the city, the council is considering legislation that would streamline the process for declaring empty buildings hazardous and tearing them down.

Currently, city law requires property owners to wait a full year before tearing down a building if it was most recently occupied by renters; the changes would lower that timeline to four months (which the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says  is still plenty of time to “ensure that good-quality rental housing is not inappropriately removed”) and make it easier for the city to demolish or clean out hazardous properties and so-called squatter houses. At the city’s planning, land use, and zoning committee Tuesday, Seattle fire chief Harold Scoggins said that in the past 28 months, the fire department has responded to 47 fires in vacant buildings. “That’s very significant for us,” Scoggins said.

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

 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Nikkita Oliver

 

Image result for nikkita oliver

via Youtube.

Nikkita Oliver, an attorney, spoken-word poet, and educator who works for Creative Justice, a program that provides arts-based alternatives to youth incarceration, announced she was running for mayor back in early March, a month before allegations of sexual misconduct sidelined incumbent Ed Murray’s campaign, and two months before he announced he will not run for reelection. What once looked like a relatively simple choice between a popular incumbent and a social-justice advocate who promised to shake up the system has since become a free-for-all, with 13 candidates—including a former mayor, two state legislators, and an ex-federal prosecutor—in the race so far, with five more days remaining for other candidates (such as city council member Lorena Gonzalez, who would have to give up her council seat to run for mayor) to jump in.

Oliver is running as a representative of a new group called the People’s Party (city races are nonpartisan), which aims to “break down barriers and open doors for collective leadership that is willing, able, and experienced in divesting from practices, corporations, and institutions that don’t reflect the values and interests of our city,” according to its platform. Oliver argues for rent control, larger mandatory affordable housing contributions from developers than what is mandated by Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) programs, and restorative justice practices like mediation and restitution over incarceration. I sat down with Oliver at the Creative Justice Office at Washington Hall, in the Central District.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Given that you aren’t raising money or hiring staff, some have raised questions about whether you’re actually hoping to win, or if you’re just running to lift up issues and raise questions. Can you talk a little bit about why you’re running and what you and the People’s Party hope to accomplish?

NO: Absolutely we’re running to win, but there’s also multiple lenses here. To become mayor would be incredibly transformative in and of itself. I’d be the first woman mayor in 91 years, the first woman of color mayor ever in Seattle, and I would certainly be someone who very progressively and honestly speaks to substantive issues, and I’m very well acquainted with the community.

But there are also all kinds of other wins. The conversation around housing and homelessness, around what economics looks like in our city, the gap between the rich and the poor, what does racial justice and equity actually look like—those conversations have been substantively pushed to a place that they would not have been pushed to if the People’s Party and myself had not joined in the race. And I think that’s an essential place for us to be. It’s challenging the unwillingness of our electeds to actually engage in talking about the substantive issues. They tend to talk about these things at the 30,000-foot level, and then they get into office, and what they promised doesn’t really happen.

ECB: You’ve focused on the issue of displacement, particularly in the Central District. What is your policy plan to prevent displacement? If you could erase HALA and MHA today, what would you replace them with?

NO: I don’t think it’s about erasing HALA and MHA. I think the real problem there is that the Grand Bargain [between social justice advocates and developers] really created a developer incentive to just build as much as they want to at whatever cost they want to, because they don’t have to actually invest in the communities that have been impacted by the very fast change that’s happened in our city.

The same areas have taken the brunt of that zoning over and over again, and there are solutions for that. Some of that’s [building] mother-in-law [apartments in single-family areas]. Some of that is simply saying to a neighborhood, ‘Look, our city is growing. We’re absolutely going to have to build some places, maybe somewhere in your neighborhood. Where would you want that density to go?’

What HALA and MHA does is, one, it doesn’t ask for enough in investment from developers in the city. It makes us very reliant on the private market to develop enough housing to meet the needs of the people who are already here and the people who are coming, and we just know from basic supply and demand that that’s going to increase the cost of housing. So yeah, we do talk a lot about displacement, because Seattleites of all colors and ethnicities and backgrounds have actually been displaced from the neighborhoods. So when we think about displacement, there’s making sure we don’t continue to push people out, and there’s finding ways to build enough housing fast enough that people could in theory actually come back.

And I think it’s a multifaceted strategy. It’s not just MHA and HALA. It’s also thinking about market intervention strategies, like looking at who’s buying what, what places are left unused, addressing the conversation about speculative capital and how that’s impacting our overall economy.

And also, if the city truly cares about ensuring that people have the right to stay, the city will get invested in building housing and will expand what our own housing authority is doing around providing affordable housing, as well as redefining what is affordable.

ECB: Did you support the housing levy? 

NO: Which levy?

ECB: The one that passed last year, that will bring in $290 million to build affordable housing.

NO: Honestly I don’t remember.

ECB: It was a property tax levy that doubled the amount the city is spending to build affordable housing.

NO: That’s where we’re at, right? Using property taxes to pay for things. If we’re not asking developers to invest at a higher level, we’re going to have to continue to leverage the dollars of people that have already taken on the burden of what development is doing in our city instead of asking the developers to take their fair share of that burden.

The zoning issues do need to be differently distributed throughout the city. The same areas have taken the brunt of that zoning over and over again, and there are solutions for that. Some of that’s [building] mother-in-law [apartments in single-family areas]. Some of that is simply saying to a neighborhood, ‘Look, our city is growing. We’re absolutely going to have to build some places, maybe somewhere in your neighborhood. Where would you want that density to go?’

ECB: Having covered the issue for a long time, I think that for a lot of neighborhood activists, the answer would be, ‘Nowhere in my neighborhood.’ 

NO: And we’re going to have to deal with that, the same way communities of color are often pushed to continue being in conversations until we achieve a consensus or, in our case, typically a compromise. I think asking more wealthy, affluent communities to do the same is important.

ECB: The homeowners who don’t want density have gone so far as to sue the city to stop backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments, which are about the gentlest form of density there is. What makes you think you can work with them to reach a compromise?

NO: I think at either end, you’re going to have people with extreme [views]. You’re going to have people who say, ‘We want density everywhere, as much as possible,’ and you’re going to have people who say, ‘We want absolutely no additional density anywhere. That’s what the media talks about. Rarely do we see stories in the media about homeowners who have sat down and are willing to compromise in some areas, and I know those folks exist because we’ve had  really great conversations with them, where what we’ve been told is the three things they want are: Input in the process, connection to the offices that are making the decisions, and preservation of the culture of their neighborhood, of the space, as much as possible. I don’t think that’s impossible. I don’t think it will be a time-efficient process. I think it can be a very effective process.

“I think we need to adjust that approach and trust that when folks in encampments ask for certain services, that those are the exact services that will help them do better.”

ECB: Murray says his approach to homelessness is a compassionate middle ground – clearing encampments periodically but offering people services and shelter while working to rebid all the contracts for homeless providers who that they’re focused on permanent housing. What is your critique of that approach?

NO: I think they’re absolutely sweeps. I’m sure there’s an attempt to offer services, but are they the services that people are asking for? The city doesn’t have any 24/7 shelters or storage spaces. One of the most damaging things about a sweep is that people lose all of their belongings, but also what we’re missing is the personal agency and self determination that is created when people develop an encampment, that they are, together, developing a community that’s self-regulated and is also creating a certain amount of stability for those community members, and when sweeps occur, they disrupt all of that.

These are intelligent folks. To figure out how to survive outside is no easy task. I think that when people see folks who are living in encampments, they tend to think that they don’t know what they need and to assume that their requests are maybe not the solution. I think we need to adjust that approach and trust that when folks in encampments ask for certain services, that those are the exact services that will help them do better. I think the city has to actually philosophically shift, in some ways, the way that we view houseless and homeless folks and also understand that there is a certain amount of self-determination that has to be honored in order for any solution and any services provided to actually be effective.

ECB: Mayor Murray has gotten quite a bit of credit for moving the city forward on police accountability and complying with the Justice Department’s consent decree. What’s your specific critique of the way the city has responding to DOJ’s directives and dealing with excessive use of force and biased policing?

NO: The Community Police Commission has made tons of recommendations, many of which are very good solutions for how to move forward, but the CPC has no teeth currently and can’t actually enforce those changes. There’s a lot of distrust of police in the neighborhoods that are highly overpoliced. We need to figure out how you give people a voice in the actual process. How do we help officers figure out how to better engage with actual community members? How do we get more officers on foot in neighborhoods? How do we get more officers at community events, not just as officers but as community members? A lot of our officers don’t actually function as community members, so then they are just police. The overpoliced communities, the most impacted communities, should get community input into the community policing project.

“In 2008, we saw burglaries go up, we saw more youth snatching people’s phones out of their hands, and it’s because they didn’t have access to resources. We’ve created a system where for some people, the only way to access those resources is to take them.

ECB: You’ve said that you’d like to get to a place where we don’t need police. What would that look like?

NO: I grew up in a place where, if I got in trouble, I literally got in trouble on every block until I got home, which meant that I just didn’t get in trouble too often anymore after the first few times. And that was how me and all my siblings and my cousins grew up. Over time, as communities become gentrified and more policed and there’s less relationships between neighbors, I think what we see is the decrease in that accountability and ownership for each other. So you might see your neighbor’s house getting broke into, but you’re not going to say anything because that’s not your house. That’s not how I was raised. I think gentrification has really began to decrease how much communities know about each other. Most people do not know their neighbors. So I think part of the culture shifting that has to happen in our neighborhoods is, how do we get neighbors to know each other? It sounds kind of corny, but in a lot of places, block parties play a major role in that. Just having resources for neighborhoods to get out and be around each other is very valuable.

I’m not an unreasonable abolitionist. But those things have to happen simultaneously. We can’t just get rid of police. It’s not going to work like that. We do need an infrastructure for how we address harm. But I don’t think police have to be the first resort. I think police can be the last resort. I also think we have a fire department and EMT services when there is an actual physical harm, and there are processes we can go through, first of all, to see if people want to be involved in a restorative justice process.

It also has to be coupled with an economic, job opportunity and education response. Some of the harms that we see are literally a response to not having access to resources, and we know this because when we see recessions happen, like in 2008, we saw burglaries go up, we saw more youth snatching people’s phones out of their hands, and it’s because they didn’t have access to resources. We’ve created a system where for some people, the only way to access those resources is to take them. I think we tend to look at abolitionists and say, ‘Oh, y’all just want to get rid of police,’ but what I really want is to create a healthy, just system where people have a lot of options.

 

Think about what happens when you put someone in jail for a property crime, and the trauma that jail causes, and the likelihood that they will actually recidivize after being released, but not for another property crime, most likely for a crime that’s categorized as violent. What it shows is that we’re actually using an ineffective system. We’re neither rehabilitating, nor are we getting the retribution that people seem to want, because what we’re doing is we’re actually creating the likelihood that we’re going to end up with more crime, and with more violent crime, from folks who hadn’t actually quite yet reached that level.

ECB: What do you think the media has gotten wrong about you?

NO: I think that they’ve labeled me as a protest candidate, and this is not about protest. It’s about transformation. It’s about, this is a system of inaccessibility and inequality that I’ve lived in my entire life, and other people in the People’s Party have as well, and instead of being complacent and giving in to it we continue to strive to be organizers who are solution-oriented. I think that the media has purposely tied to strip me of my merits and my credentials. It is easier to label me a Black Lives Matter leader, which I’m not. I’m black, so I do advocate for my life and the life of my family, but I’m also a lawyer and an educator, and I have worked very hard to get those credentials. I have done a lot of work in the community that has given me a lot of trust and respect with community members.

When you see the way that [fellow mayoral candidate] Cary Moon is talked about, she’s an urban planner, an engineer, and a civic leader. The term ‘civic leader’ has never been used for me, but I’ve probably been to more council meetings than most of the other candidates in the race. Is that not civic leadership? Is that not civic engagement? I think the media has played into a trope or a stereotypical narrative. It’s an easier box to put me in as a woman of color than it is to actually talk about me as a human being with merits and credentials and substantive work that I’ve done around education and juvenile incarceration and community development. I don’t ever get tied to substantive issues. I think it is an unfair characterization. It’s not unexpected, though.

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 foryour support.

Morning Crank: “Somebody Is Going to Write Their Ph.D. Thesis on This.”

1. I sat down with Mayor Ed Murray at his campaign office last Friday, four days before he announced that he would not run for reelection. At the time, the mayor put on a game face, outlining what he saw as his path to victory and sounding very much like a man who planned to fight at least until the primary, where he would have faced a dozen or more opponents. I have no way of knowing what was going on in the mayor’s mind during that interview, or whether he had decided not to run (although sources close to the mayor tell me he made the decision sometime over the weekend), but there were moments when he seemed to dwell on the past—and the counterfactual world in which he still could look forward to easy victory. Here’s a bit of that portion of our conversation.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Since the scandal broke, you went from a pretty safe race to a primary where you could have a dozen or more opponents by the filing deadline. You’ve made it clear so far that you aren’t dropping out of this race, despite the allegations against you. What is your path to victory at this point?

Mayor Ed Murray (EM): More opponents.

ECB: How does that help you?

EM: Well, that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek. If the field gets so crowded, it allows me to be the person with the highest name recognition in the city—in good times as well as bad times —and I’m the one who’s actually producing. And our road to victory is to tell my story. It’s to go to every single one of these forums, every single one of these debates, and talk about what I did as a legislator, what I’ve done as mayor, why I’m one of the most liberal mayors in America, and how I get things done.

There are other aspects of this, [like] the [new] $500 limit [on campaign contributions], which is even lower than last time. We had a strong grassroots effort before and we’ll need a stronger one now that the limits have gone down. [And] we made a really clear decision that the people in the office would work and run the government, that people on the campaign side are still on the campaign side, and then we set up a group of folks who’ve been managing the allegations. So that’s basically how we’ve tried to deal with it.

ECB: Will responding to these allegations make it more difficult for you to concentrate on your job as mayor?

EM: A lot of the case itself involves issues that only lawyers can handle. Depositions will take up some time and a jury trial will take up time, but if everybody who’s ever been sued, whether elected or otherwise, had to stop their job, there’d be a lot of people not working.

ECB: Three of the last four mayors served just one term, and Nickels didn’t get a third. It seems obvious that you’re in an even more challenging situation.

EM: I would have said a month ago that I was in the best situation of any of us.

ECB: But this is the world you’re in now.

EM: [Pause] OK, sorry.

2. Homelessness director George Scarola and Seattle Police Department Lieutenant Jason Verhoff had good news for city council member Sally Bagshaw’s health and human services committee yesterday: Of 499 people the city’s new Navigation Team has contacted since it began doing outreach to unsheltered people and people living in encampments last month, 342, or about 69 percent, agreed to accept “some sort of services,” Verhoff said. “That’s a staggering number—staggeringly high,” Verhoff said. “That’s amazing, in my opinion.”

Bagshaw agreed, asking Scarola and Verhoff, “Who’s writing this up? This is a case study for somebody.” She continued, “Seriously—I would reach out [to the] University of Washington … and let people know this is going on. … I think that somebody is going to write their Ph.D. thesis on this.” 

The lovefest continued as Verhoff recounted several stories of individual homeless people who were helped by the Navigation Team’s outreach efforts—a woman who commuted every day from the tent she shared with her husband in Seattle to her job in Redmond, until the Navigation Team found her a spot in a tent city in Issaquah; the man who “looked like a West Virginia coal miner” when the team first made contact with him but is doing well now that he’s “away from the addiction and the other drug users down there who might have contributed to his lifestyle”; and the man who was “very, very addicted to methamphetamine” but has reconnected with his mother and “by all accounts is no longer using meth.” 

If you’ll indulge a bit of skepticism, I have few issues with these tidy stories. First, I’m not sure a tent in Issaquah is a marked improvement on a tent in Seattle, except that it reduces the commute of the woman living in that tent by some minutes. (In other words: We need abundant, low-barrier housing, not tents.) Second, addiction stories don’t typically end with “and then he moved back in with his mother and kicked meth”—meth addiction, in particular, typically requires lengthy, intensive treatment and often medical intervention, not just gumption and a new place to live. And finally, all of these success stories are so recent—the Navigation Team started doing outreach less than three months ago—that it’s hard to say whether these interventions will be successful in the long run, or even in the short-to-medium term. My hope is that the city will keep tabs on all those “contacts” for longer than the time it takes to put them on the path to a new tent or a room in Mom’s basement or a bed at the Union Gospel Mission. Real success is different for every person, but the one thing every success has in common is that it’s sustainable.

3. A few items of note from Murray’s April campaign reports, which he filed yesterday: In April, when it appeared he was still in the running, Murray raised less than half of what he raised in March—$30,468, compared to $69,054 a month earlier. That’s tens of thousands less than Murray spent in April on consulting from Sound View Strategies ($12,000), Strategies 360 ($34,500, including $4,500 for video production), and Northwest Passage ($21,000). Murray also spent $25,300 for the EMC poll that apparently helped convince him that he could not win. Murray’s April report also includes $775 in returned contributions from five campaign contributors.

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.

Murray Won’t Seek Reelection, Will Serve Out Term

This morning, at the Alki Bathhouse in West Seattle—the neighborhood where he was born and raised—Mayor Ed Murray announced that he will not seek reelection.

Until a month ago, Mayor Ed Murray had what looked like a clear path to reelection, with an approval rating that reportedly topped 60 percent. But all that changed in early April, when the Seattle Times broke the news that a 46-year-old man, later identified as Delvonn Heckard had filed a civil lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abusing him when Heckard was a teenager and Murray was in his late 20s. In addition to Heckard, three other men have accused Murray of sexual misconduct. Since the allegations against Murray became public, several high-profile candidates to jump in, including urban planner and engineer Cary Moon, former mayor Mike McGinn, and, over the weekend, 11th District state Sen. Bob Hasegawa.

Facing reporters at the Alki Bathhouse, backed by dozens of supporters, many of them crying, Murray was ashen as he read a prewritten statement from a set of Teleprompters in a trembling, halting voice.

After recounting a familiar list of accomplishments—the largest transportation levy in state history, marriage equality, LGBTQ civil rights legislation, paid family leave, the housing levy, programs for youth employment—Murray got to the point.

This campaign for mayor—any campaign for mayor—must be about the future of this city, about the actions we must  take to make this a more equitable city, the actions we must take to make this a more affordable city, the actions we must take to solve our homeless crisis, the actions we must take to address growth and livability. These are real and urgent and important issues before this city,” Murray said. “The mayor’s race must be focused on these issues, not on a scandal, which it would be focused on if I were to remain in this race.”

Murray categorically denied the allegations against him, saying that they “paint me in the worst possible historic portrait of a gay man, before adding, “But the scandal surrounding them and me is hurting this city. It hurts those who have been victims of abuse. It hurts my family it hurts [Murray’s husband] Michael [Shiosaki].”

Murray said he will serve out his term, and that “I will be just as active as mayor as I was at the beginning of my term.”

“My heart aches,” Murray said. “Since I was 12 years old, politics has been my life and my dream, I laid on the grass on this beach and read children’s books about FDR and JFK and PT-109. I tagged along as a five-year-old when my mother doorbelled for John F. Kennedy. From this, an idea came to me and the love of politics was created in me, and from that came a career, and I have the best job in politics. This lifelong love, this political career, this career that has been my life,  will come to an end on December 31. It tears me to pieces to step away, but I believe it is in the best interest of this city that I love.”

On Monday, the Seattle Times reported that Murray’s supporters hope to set up a legal defense fund to help him defray the cost of litigation, which could cost upward of $1 million, and have requested guidance from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission about whether the fund will pass ethical muster. By stepping down, Murray has likely made their decision easier—one probable factor in Murray’s decision, reportedly made over the weekend, to announce his decision not to run today.

Quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Murray concluded: “To be Irish is to know in the end that the world will break your heart. We thought we had a little more time.”

Note: This story originally misreported Delvonn Heckard’s last name. It is Heckard, not Howard. 

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.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Mayor Ed Murray

Until a month ago, Mayor Ed Murray had what looked like a clear path to reelection. Critics from the left and right certainly assailed aspects of his record—his response to homelessness, his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the phased-in $15 minimum wage—but no credible candidates had stepped forward to challenge Murray on his record. And, it seemed, none would.

All that changed on April 6, when the Seattle Times broke the news that a 46-year-old man, later identified as Delvonn Heckard, had filed a civil lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abusing him when Heckard was a teenager and Murray was in his late 20s. In addition to Heckard, two other men had accused Murray previously of sexual misconduct, but neither pursued legal action and Murray vehemently denied their allegations; a fourth accuser stepped forward after Heckard filed his lawsuit. Initially, Murray seemed committed to staying in the race and trying to weather the allegations, but his  polling numbers  apparently suggested that the path to victory was not just narrow but nonexistent. Earlier this month, Murray supporters sought guidance from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission about the feasibility of creating a legal defense fund to help defray the costs of defending against the lawsuit.

I sat down with Murray in his campaign office last Friday. (Incidentally, as I was leaving, Martha Choe—a former council member for whom Murray was once a legislative aide—walked in. Choe, according to the Seattle Times, will oversee the defense fund if it is approved.) The purpose of the interview, at the time, was to talk about the campaign, Murray’s legacy, and whether there was a path to victory in spite of the scandal. But with the news today that Murray he will drop out of the race instead of seeking reelection, I’m highlighting the parts of our conversation that deal with Murray’s legacy—a legacy that has been sidelined, and perhaps made beside the point, by the shocking allegations against him.

ECB: How did the allegations against you sideline your agenda? 

EM: They have certainly made it harder.  But I work a lot, and I work all the time. I’ve had to work since I was 12 years old in one way or another—to buy school clothes, to pay for my dental work—so I just work a lot. I love this job, and yeah, it gets to be a strain, but man, we moved forward with a big announcement on homelessness with the Allen Foundation that we’d been working on for months, we continue to implement [the homelessness strategy] Pathways Home, we continue to work on the arena proposals, we’re doing HALA [the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda], I’m doing Find It, Fix It walks. I’m going to be at something like 6 to 10 events this weekend, as I was last weekend.

ECB: Earlier this year, you announced the formation of a Navigation Team that is supposed to go out when the city clears an encampment and offers shelter and services to the people living there. In the absence of abundant affordable housing and accessible 24/7 shelter, though, it’s inevitable that the city will simply be pushing the majority of those people from place to place. Is there a point at which you would say, “stop the sweeps, it isn’t working”?  

“I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.”

EM: So first of all, we don’t do sweeps, and I would really encourage you to go back and look at when they used to just go in there, the sheriff and the police department, and just throw everybody out. As you know, the Navigation Teams are made up of folks that are police officers with deescalation training, an outreach worker who’s often a homeless person themselves, somebody with some medical skills, and others that may have addiction-related skills. So what we’ve done is, we have gone out there and tried to connect people with services. And what we have been told by these teams is, you know, you move someone three or four times, they eventually come in and say, ‘I want treatment.’ In fact, a woman I met the other day in one of the encampments, she said she broke her hip, and she decided she had been moved before and she didn’t want to be moved again. She took shelter. But it took moving her two or three times before we were able to get her to take [the shelter and services] she needed in the first place.

ECB: It seems to me that the problem isn’t so much that people refuse shelter, as that we don’t have actual housing and treatment beds for the people who are homeless or need addiction treatment.

EM: We don’t, but remember, I’m the guy who doubled the housing levy and tripled the number of affordable units that are being built. And that can’t be the end of it. My predecessor [McGinn] wasn’t able to get legal authorized encampments on public space; I did. We’re doing tiny houses in conjunction with nonprofits. We’re experimenting to see what we can do to stabilize people. So I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.

ECB: How many sanctioned encampments do you think we’ll ultimately need?

EM: I actually don’t know. The growth of homelessness up and down the I-5 corridor in Washington State has grown exponentially over the last year, and now we have cities up and down the corridor in Washington asking, ‘What are we going to do?’ You have parks being taken over in California and suburban cities. I think the answer is not how many tent cities do you set up or how many little houses do you build. I think we have to have a much more significant conversation about what we’re going to do about housing affordability in this country and how we’re, once again, going to have to subsidize at the federal level.

“We weren’t seeing the county step up, and we weren’t seeing the level of leadership on homelessness from the county. So that’s why we put it in our proposal. Now that will be in a county proposal that will be paid for by, hopefully, county and city residents. So I see us as benefiting from that situation.”

ECB: Do you still stand by the Poppe Report, even though it has been used by people who oppose new taxes as a political weapon to argue that we don’t need more money for homelessness?

EM: First of all, [homelessness consultant Barb Poppe] never said that. You know what she said about the levy I proposed? She said she would vote for it. She recognizes that Seattle does not have enough [housing] stock. We asked her to look at our existing services and our existing programs and how our existing services were funded. So we created a box to put her in, because we wanted to know how to reform what we have, and that’s exactly the report that she offered.

The city is going to stick with Pathways Home. Pathways Home identified housing early on. It identifies diversions before people even become homeless. It wasn’t especially strong on the addiction part, but the county knows this.

There are people, particularly in the business community, who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, according to Barb Poppe, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.

ECB: What are they missing?

EM: They’re missing the fact that the middle class in this country has shrunk considerably. They’re missing that literally two-thirds of the housing that allowed working families to live, that kind of money that used to come through HUD for working families—that money is gone. That we have an addiction treatment crisis that’s the largest, at least according to the New York Times, in our country’s history, and we are not treating it. We are not paying for it. That we have a mental health system that we took apart the old fashioned way and we replaced it with nothing. So that’s what we need to be looking at. Homelessness, actually, is a word that does more harm towards trying to solve the underlying problem than any other phrase I can think of because we have more than homelessness crisis.

ECB: Barb Poppe did sort of say that she doesn’t consider homelessness an affordability issue—that she thinks the main problem is just that we aren’t we’re allocating our services efficiently. Do you think it’s an affordability issue?

EM: I believe it is both an affordability issue and an issue about how we’re allocating our resources. Look at our shelter system. One of the things that she pointed out is our shelter system is basically broken. We haven’t competitively bid that system in 10 years. So we just write checks. We don’t ask [providers], ‘Did Jill Smith stay stable when she left your shelter for two years?’ And then we find out we have people living in shelters for 16, 17 years, and we’re calling that housing.

“There are people who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.”

So she’s absolutely right that there’s a resource issue, that the existing resources are absolutely broken. We definitely have a system that’s disconnected from itself and we can reduce the problem significantly. Just look at the fact that homeless kids—these kids who are first-graders, fifth-graders. who are sleeping in cars or couch-surfing with their parents and going to school every day—those kids would go to the county and be put on a list. And the list, not intentionally, had a perverse incentive that said, ‘You need to be homeless longer.’ We went with the Pathways Home reforms and we now house those people immediately. We have a goal, I think it’s probably an 18-month goal, to try and house all of our school-age children and their families.

ECB: You announced recently that the city is postponing the opening of the Navigation Center [a 24/7, low-barrier shelter for homeless men, women, and pets] because of objections from the Chinatown/International District community. Is the Navigation Center still going to happen, and do you regret how you handled the outreach for that project?

EM: I have regretted things about the outreach in every single neighborhood that we’ve tried to place services for the homeless, because every single neighborhood has had a problem. So I have not found yet, as mayor, the way that you get people to approve a homelessness facility in a process that doesn’t veto the facility itself.

I believe it will be built. We are having discussions with the community. We are identifying issues that we can work with. And I have also made a commitment to the community, as I’ve made around all these things: If it doesn’t work, we’ll close it down. It’s an experiment. It’s a pilot project. Maybe it works in San Francisco and it doesn’t work in Seattle .

ECB: Does the pushback you’ve received on the Navigation Center, and the delay on that project, bode poorly for a safe drug consumption site, if neighborhood protests are enough to derail a controversial project?

EM: I think it makes it very difficult. It’s going to be a really difficult discussion, and it’s not just difficult because of the siting problems.

But it was very interesting in Canada, talking to people who deal with this issue, they saw it as a value, because at least it keeps the person alive. They leave hope for another day for treatment. What I hear a lot in Seattle, or maybe just up and down the radios on the West Coast, is that there’s some kind of, like, Puritan aspect in our DNA. It’s like, ‘Well, if they’re using it, it’s immoral. It’s this idea that if you’re using something that might kill you, that’s your choice. So I think there’s going to be a pretty significant battle over this issue.

ECB: Do you feel that HALA has accomplished everything you wanted it to, given all the compromises you ended up making, such as taking small-scale density increases like backyard cottages off the tbale?

EM: When a version of the proposal was leaked before it was even written or even in a final form, the issue of accessory dwellings—ADU, DADU, whatever you want to call them—was the first issue to blow up, and [council members] Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess and the Times thought we might need to take another look at it. We get most of our growth not from ADUs or DADUs—we get most of our growth and most of our affordability from the [HALA] Grand Bargain. I didn’t want to let anything upset the Grand Bargain. We are proceeding now on a separate track on the ADU/DADU thing. And you know, I have done this before—you break things in pieces and you do it incrementally and you get the whole. And we’re really close to getting the whole.

ECB: Traditional neighborhood groups were furious at you when you cut ties with the neighborhood district councils. What are you hearing from them now, and how have the city’s efforts at community engagement worked out since then?

EM: It’s probably the thing I’ve heard the least amount of criticism about, maybe because the different techniques we’ve been using to engage people in civic and city issues seem to be getting people excited.

 We used to have a town hall meeting when I was in the legislature, with whoever my seatmate was—Pat Thibadeau and Frank [Chopp], and then Frank and Jamie [Pedersen], and every year we’d have 100 people from one side of the spectrum, very, very, very loud and often very, vert angry. And then we started doing these telephone town hall meetings, both in the legislature and on issues like HALA, where you’d have 3,000 to 7000 people on the phone, who stay on the phone for an hour and ask questions and give you input. That’s very, very different than the people who show up in one room.

Let me just give you one example: Millennials don’t give up summer evenings to sit in a room of people yelling at each other. We have to change. The world is changing how it communicates and we in the city need to change how we communicate. And the fact that [the district councils] took it as a threat—they shouldn’t have. They should have taken it as an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, we can do something really exciting. And in regards to [the funding the city provided district councils], it didn’t meet our [Race and Social Justice Initiative] demographic requirements for when we spend money. We were basically asking a group of people like me –older white homeowners, almost entirely—to make all these decisions, and to me, that is a violation of our own city policy.

ECB: Bike sharing is starting or expanding across the country—except here. Was the failure of Pronto a failure on your part? Why did you abandon it rather than trying to emulate what other successful cities have done?

EM: I’ll take responsibility. We chose the wrong model. We chose a nonprofit model that didn’t work. The way it was run, the administrative cost overheads of that nonprofit, their financial model didn’t work, and probably we should have had a better understanding of that from the very beginning.

We probably have read  20 articles on a loss of a million and a half dollars to the city of Seattle [on Pronto] versus a 70-and-a-half-million dollar loss on the seawall that sort of had a one-page article [in the Seattle Times] on my first day in office and then disappeared. So yeah, we made a mistake. But will Seattle have bikeshare? Yeah, Seattle will have bikeshare some day, and it’ll be bikeshare that is based on a much better model, a financial model that pencils out—and also, I think, an equipment model that pencils out and is more usable in a city that has topography like we do.

ECB: You were a supporter of the tunnel project. Even though Bertha has broken through, there is still heated debate about who will pay for the cost overruns on the project. Do you consider the tunnel project a success, and will the city ultimately be on the hook for overruns?

EM: I think it was the right move. This is a city that has grown exponentially since this project was conceived, and if we’re going to keep that corridor moving, we need the tunnel. We need the street level [roadway]. We need the transit that’s going to come through that corridor between West Seattle and Ballard. That’s the only way that system is going to work. We’re going to get a world-class park that will become the most iconic thing that’s happened to Seattle since the World’s Fair.

The attorney general of the state of Washington at the time [the tunnel was approved], a Republican [Rob McKenna], issued an opinion that said that you cannot make a local jurisdiction pay for a state road. And by the way, I would love to see this pass the legislature, and all those Republican legislators would have to realize, ‘Oh, if we’re going to enforce this, we’re going to have to do some follow-up legislation based on the attorney general’s opinion which means I’m going to put my small city in my rural Republican district on the hook for having to pay for a state road.’ It’s not happening. As someone who spent most of my legislative career on transit, I feel pretty strongly that Seattle will not pay for the cost overruns for a state road.

ECB: What are your biggest regrets from your term?

My biggest regret is that one of the thing I focused on in my inaugural address was the need to focus on partnerships for education. And while the Education Summit was a success—as successful as the one 25 years ago under Norm Rice—part of the work we haven’t gotten to is taking it to scale—identifying the money, building a different relationship with the private sector in our school system, and taking it to the next step. We made some good progress in building a relationship with the school district—[Seattle School Board member] Betty Patu told me this was the best relationship she’s ever seen between the city and the school district —but these things are all in just their beginning stages. I had thought this, not homelessness, would be one of the key issues I would be working on reforming.

ECB: And your legacy? What do you want to be remembered for?

EM: I ran it [the office of the mayor] equity. Ninety percent of that growth you’ve seen out there was permitted before I became mayor, but we had no successful plan to grow affordably. HALA is a huge accomplishment in getting towards affordability. The minimum wage could easily have turned into a ballot measure; instead, we phased it in and we had a process that other cities are hoping to copy. The police department has gone from a city with a mayor that was fighting with a justice department – the Obama justice department – and the federal court and the federal monitors, to a city with the new chief and new leadership cooperating with the federal monitor, cooperating with the federal judge. Again and again, we have seen progress, and we have seen that progress recognized. A lot of public pensions are sideways. Ours isn’t. I inherited a seawall that had $71 million in cost overruns because they basically hid the numbers. We now have that back on target and balanced.

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Surprise Bidder Threatens Plans for Rainier Beach Food District

This story originally appeared on the South Seattle Emerald

Image result for richard conlinUPDATE: Conlin says he ahas withdrawn his bid for the Rainier Beach property, after conversations with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition about partnering on a development at the site.

Conlin says he and his business partner, Ben Rankin, “have been in discussions with RBAC and had much encouragement from city and other folks who said working with a good developer could have really helped the project. Our last communication from RBAC said that they supported our investment and looked forward to good negotiations on making the project work.” “Although RBAC is not in a position to provide any financial contribution towards a down payment right away, we would like to convey our support for the investment and look forward to developing a mutually acceptable partnership for the project.”

Conlin says the RBAC told him that they were unable to help out with a downpayment on the property themselves, but were interested in becoming partners on a development that would include the Food Innovation Hub. “While we felt that an agreement was likely, we ultimately had to respond to them by telling them we had decided not to make the payment, [because] there were too many uncertainties and possible risks around the community relationship, the potential upzone, and some physical attributes of the property,” including its irregular shape and wet soils that would likely require expensive support piles to develop.

Original story follows.

Years-long efforts to create a food innovation district—a network of food businesses and food-related activities aimed at creating living-wage jobs and preventing displacement in the Rainier Valley—saw a major setback last month when the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC) learned that another buyer outbid them on a property, next to the Rainier Beach light rail station, where they hoped to site the food innovation hub at the center of the district.

The food innovation hub, as the RBAC and its partners envisioned it, would have included a network of food-related uses to promote jobs and entrepreneurship in the food industry—not just jobs “busting suds” in restaurant kitchens, as Thomas puts it, but higher-paying positions like truck driver, food packer, chef, caterer, and accountant. According to the city of Seattle, which has been an intermittent partner on the project, the Rainier Beach station hub could have included classrooms, a co-packing facility for food startups, a food bank grocery store, tests kitchen, and a computer lab.

The winning bidder? Former Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin. As a council member from 1997 to 2013, Conlin was an outspoken advocate for improving access to food and food-industry employment through his Food Action Initiative, and is far better known as an environmentalist than as a developer—largely because he hasn’t been one until this project.

Conlin, whose firm is a joint venture with developer and former theater manager Ben Rankin, says he had no idea the Rainier Beach Action Coalition had made its own bid for the property, a 23,000-square-foot plot that currently houses a rent-to-own furniture shop and a Mexican grocery and restaurant. “We weren’t even aware that somebody else was competing for it,” Conlin says. “We just had this property come on the market and were informed about it and weren’t really aware of their intent.” The RBAC made its bid in collaboration with South East Effective Development, a community development nonprofit, and Forterra , an environmental preservation group that has recently begun investing in equitable development projects.

RBAC strategist Patrice Thomas says that if Conlin wanted to find out what the group’s intentions were, he had every opportunity to seek them out. “We shouldn’t have to reach out to him—he knows the process,” Thomas says. “There are multitudes of avenues by which he could have found anyone in the neighborhood to reach out to, to ask, ‘What’s up with the bid that was going on? I’m thinking of doing X Y Z.’ He did none of that. He chose not to speak with anybody.”

David Sauvion, RBAC co-founder and coordinator for the food innovation district, says “it was particularly harsh” to be unexpectedly outbid by Conlin “because we put all this time and effort into this, and now we have about 10 potential tenants who were talking to their boards, saying, ‘Things are progressing, we put in an offer,’ and having to go to their boards and say ‘there’s been another setback—they decided to go with another buyer’. It’s a terrible thing. You never want to be in that position.” The RBAC also received a significant grant to work on the food innovation district from the Kresge Foundation’s Fresh, Local, and Equitable initiative, and the food innovation district (and hub) was identified as a priority in the 2012 Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan. Sauvion says the foundation is still supporting the initiative.

Conlin says he’s open to the idea of a food innovation hub in his development, but the vision he describes—low- to moderate-income apartments, marketed to artists and funded by low-income tax credits and tax-exempt bonds, built over “community-oriented” ground-floor uses—isn’t an obvious fit with the RBAC’s ground-up proposal focused on economic and food security. “I’d say we don’t really have a vision as yet—we’re just starting on this particular piece of property,” Conlin says. But, the Madrona resident adds, “We’re community-oriented developers. We’re not in this to make a ton of money. It is a for-profit [business] so we will make a little bit.”

Few of those in the negotiating and bidding process would talk on the record about what happened. Michelle Connor, executive vice president of Forterra, said only that her organization “made an offer that was not accepted by the sellers” and “received no information beyond that the sellers selected another offer.” The property owners, Jack and Peggy Solowoniuk, declined a request to talk about the deal; Jack Solowoniuk told me only that “the property is for sale and we have a backup offer” before hanging up on me. Another person involved in the process said on background that the owners, who don’t live in the neighborhood, probably didn’t care about what happened on the property once it was sold; their interest was in selling to the highest bidder.

“They don’t have a developer, like us, committed to their vision, who’s willing to leverage their financial capacity, because that’s what it takes,” says Tony To, director of the nonprofit developer Homesight. To says HomeSight would be interested in the Rainier Beach station project if they weren’t already overextended—HomeSight is all-in on another project, the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center at the Othello light rail station, one stop away.

Sauvion thinks the pending approval of Mayor Ed Murray’s mandatory housing affordability upzones around the Rainier Beach station, which will increase the height of any potential development from four to seven stories, may already be driving up land values in the area. That, in turn, enables complex agreements led by nonprofit coalitions without a lot of cash up front, to win in bidding wars. If the developments that result follow the typical pattern—mixed-income housing built above retail—they will fail to provide the kind of living-wage jobs and business opportunities the RBAC envisions.

“I really want to be clear: retail doesn’t work,” Sauvion says. “Retail doesn’t create good jobs.”

Rankin, Conlin’s partner, says that assuming he and Conlin do move forward with their project (their bid is not a final sale; it simply forecloses other bids on the property), “we do indeed hope and plan to incorporate the good work already done on a Rainier Beach food innovation district.”

Connor, the Forterra VP, says her group isn’t giving up on the food innovation hub, or pulling out as a partner on the project. “We stand ready to re-engage on behalf of RBAC should the property come back onto the market in the future.” And if it doesn’t? The RBAC and its partners say they’ve seen setbacks before, and are ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work.