A Note to Readers About Patreon

As you may have read over the last few days, Patreon—the billing system that I and many other artists and writers use to enable readers to support our work financially recently implemented some changes in how they do their billing. Under the new system, Patreon will charge patrons a 35-cent fee per transaction plus 2.9 percent of your monthly donation which means that if you’re a monthly donor, your annual transaction fee will now work out to $4.25 a year, plus 2.9 percent of whatever you contribute. Previously, the monthly fee was 5 percent. You can do the math, but the upshot is that donors who contribute on the higher end of the scale (say, $10 or $20 a month) will now pay lower annual transaction fees, and donors who contribute on the lower end of the scale (say, $1 or $2 a month) will pay higher annual transaction fees. I also pay a 5 percent fee on each transaction from Patreon.

Some of the backlash to this move has come from creators like me, who depend on monthly donations not to fund our entire lives, but to supplement a number of income sources that range from (in my case) freelance work and consulting to (in other people’s cases) part- and full-time jobs. It’s true that some people make a full-time living from Patreon and no other sources, but for most creative types (and scrappy journalists trying to make a living outside the sometimes limiting, and always precarious, world of full-time jobs at traditional media companies), it’s part of a portfolio of stuff we do to make ends meet.

Currently, after my own Patreon transaction fees are taken out, contributions from readers provide me with about $25,000 in income a year, which, because I’m self-employed, is taxed each year at a rate of about 30 percent. This is a significant source of income for me. When I say that The C Is for Crank would not exist without reader contributions, I mean that quite literally: I make my living as a freelance journalist and consultant (for example, I still do some communications work for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, where I worked as an employee from 2015 to 2017.) I truly appreciate your contributions and I could not do this work without them.

That said, for those who no longer wish to contribute through Patreon, I wanted to highlight another option for monthly (or one-time) giving: The C Is for Crank has a Paypal account! To make a one-time contribution, just enter the amount you would like to give in the form provided; to make a recurring gift, just click the box beside the words “Make this a monthly contribution.”

There is no fee for you to contribute through Paypal; however, if your contribution is closer to the dollar-a-month end of the spectrum, know that I pay a 2.9 percent fee plus a flat 30 cent fee for each transaction (so if you give a dollar a month, I will only receive 67 cents of that amount after I pay the mandatory fees. If you give $5 a month, I will receive $4.55 of your $5 contribution and Paypal will get the rest.)

Basically, with Patreon, you’ll pay a bit more to contribute and I get to keep a higher percentage of your contribution, and with Paypal, you pay nothing to contribute but I get a smaller percentage (sometimes a significantly smaller percentage) of your contribution.

I wish there was a perfect billing system that let you contribute without paying fees and that let me keep 100% of your contributions, but there isn’t, so it’s your choice between two options that are flawed in different ways. Just know that however and whatever you choose to contribute, it really helps. Whether it’s a dollar or 20 dollars a month, your contributions are what make this blog possible, and I truly appreciate anything you can give.

Paypal here; Patreon here. Thanks!

Why “I See Lots of Apartments Going Up” Is Not an Argument Against Building More

Last week on KUOW, former Seattle Times editorial board member Joni Balter took issue with my statement that the reason apartments are so expensive in Seattle is that we simply aren’t building enough of them. “I don’t know, have you been to Ballard lately?” she asked (rhetorically, I think, although the answer is yes I have.) I managed to get out the words, “But the numbers don’t support that. Numbers-wise, we aren’t—” before she interrupted me and directed a question to the other guest: “So here’s a question for you, Tim Burgess…”

That’s cool. I get that the only real response to facts that defy arguments based specious anecdata is to deflect or change the subject, and I’m used to people doing it. “But I know someone who…” is basically always the first response any time I bring up an economic or land-use fact that defies the wisdom of the anecdote. So here’s my response to Joni Balter’s claim that we’re building more than enough housing for everyone who’s moving here, based not on that one time I went to Ballard and barely recognized it anymore, but on numbers.

According to new-ID statistics from the state Department of Licensing, which is a fairly accurate proxy for the in-migration (it fails to count people who don’t update their IDs, like students and short-term residents, so it’s a lowball, which is fine for our purposes), 60,527 people moved into King County from elsewhere (out of county or out of state) in the first ten months of 2017. Taking the monthly average (which varies widely and does not depend strictly on season) and assuming growth of 6,053 people a month for November and December, we arrive at total in-migration to King County of 72,632 people in 2017.

Now let’s look at apartment growth. According to a recent analysis by the Seattle Times, the city is on pace to add a record number of units this year—nearly 9,900 of those in Seattle alone. Overall, King County as a whole is on pace to add just over 10,600 units. Next year, that record pace is expected to continue, with apartment forecasting firm Dupre + Scott, the source for the Times’ information, predicting that more than 12,500 units will open in Seattle.

 

Notice a difference between those “record” numbers of units opening up and the number of people moving here? Me too. It’s a ratio of about 1 to 7.

I’ve been listening to a great podcast series about the rise of the flat-earth movement—people who literally believe that the earth is shaped like a pizza, with walls around the edges so we don’t fall off. The specifics vary—some flat-earthers think the sky is just a giant dome built by the government, others believe that there is no such thing as “space” and we only think there is because of implanted memories. But all have one thing in common: They rely on an absolute belief in what you can perceive with your senses. Plainly, the horizon is flat because that’s how it looks. Clearly, the earth isn’t spinning because we aren’t dizzy.

Obviously, we’re building more than enough apartments because just look at all that construction.

Except that we aren’t. And the longer we make decisions based on people’s gut feelings about how the way things look, the more inadequate our response to the housing shortage will be.

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

How Mayor Durkan Could Surprise Seattle

A version of this piece originally ran at Seattle Magazine.

When Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon emerged as the top two vote-getters in the August primary election, there was no longer any question that Seattle would elect a female mayor. But when Durkan emerged victorious, with a commanding 56 percent of the vote, many were wondering if the first woman mayor in nearly 100 years would merely be more of the same. (Bertha Knight Landes, the first female mayor of a major American city, ended her single two-year term in 1928, when she was beaten by a man whose primary platform plank was that he was not a woman. No woman has come close to being elected mayor of Seattle since.)

“Murray 2.0” was a tag that dogged Durkan throughout the campaign, and the new mayor has been pilloried by Seattle’s left, with some justification, for being the “establishment” candidate—the one with money, backing from big businesses like Amazon and Comcast, and insider connections (her sister Ryan is a land-use attorney with many major local clients, her brother Jamie was a prominent Seattle lobbyist, and her brother Tim works for the city.)

Durkan has flinched at the “establishment” label—pointing to her work as an early advocate for marriage equality (Durkan is gay) as well as her support for undocumented immigrants as US attorney under former President Obama—but will it stick? She has four years to answer that question; in the meantime, here are some ways we think Durkan could—not will, but could—surprise Seattle:

By actually sticking to her promise to be the mayor “of the people, not of City Hall.”

On her first day as mayor, Durkan attended ceremonial swearing-in ceremonies from Delridge to Phinney, Ridgeand was officially sworn in several miles south of city hall, at the Ethiopian Community Center in Rainier Beach. If she keeps her commitment to be out in the neighborhoods, listening to neighborhood concerns personally instead of sending emissaries to meetings that are likely to get hot (as her predecessor Murray often did), she will build valuable trust, especially in communities that feel they lack a voice at city hall, like the East African immigrants of South Seattle or renters getting priced out of neighborhoods across the city.

By cleaning Murray’s house.

Durkan may have appointed Murray’s former chief of staff, Mike Fong, as her senior deputy mayor, but don’t let that fool you: Fong’s experience as a policy wonk and City Hall dealmaker long predates his time in the Murray office, spanning all the way back to 2001, when he worked as a policy staffer for the city council. Her other deputy mayor, Shefali Ranganathan, led the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition. The mayor has the ability to hire and fire the heads of more than two dozen city departments. This week, she announced the (voluntary) departure of police chief Kathleen O’Toole and the (requested) departure of City Light director Larry Weis. Scott Kubly, the head of the Department of Transportation, is already looking for jobs elsewhere. (Jesus Aguirre, the parks director, left shortly before Durkan took office.)

By implementing an activist agenda that includes compromise versions of policies Seattle’s left holds dear.

Some of her detractors scoffed when Durkan made free community college tuition a centerpiece of her campaign—her opponent Moon, for example, who immediately issued a statement calling for a progressive statewide income tax and capital gains tax to pay for education instead. Less than a week into her term, Durkan has already signed an executive order directing the city to come up with a plan to pay for the two-year-college proposal, and to begin implementing it in 2018, by expanding the number of credits that people in an existing program called 13th Year Promise can take for free. Other areas where Durkan could move fast: Implementing a new business tax or taxes on large employers—a proposal that came up late in this year’s budget cycle and failed to pass; expanding the families and education levy, which is up for another vote next year, to increase access to preschool; and moving forward with a safe drug consumption site in Seattle, which Durkan identified as a priority on the campaign trail.

By not being the new Ed Murray—and being the new Greg Nickels instead.

Below the marquee positions, Durkan’s day-one staff looks like the who’s who of the Nickels years, which ran from 2001 to 2009. There’s major initiatives director Kylie Rolf, Nickels’ onetime outreach coordinator; Andres Mantilla, also on Nickels’ outreach team; legislative affairs director Anthony Auriemma, who worked for Nickels late in his term; and office administrator Lyle Canceko, a former communications staffer for Nickels. Will surrounding herself with staffers for the former mayor, a competent centrist who was ousted after his muddled handling of a major snowstorm, make Durkan more likely to govern like Nickels, too? Hard to say—but during her kickoff in Rainier Beach, she did work in one snowstorm joke.

And finally: By surprising some of the transit advocates and urbanists who didn’t support her and being an effective advocate on the Sound Transit board.

No, Durkan isn’t likely to revisit the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda—an Ed Murray initiative that irks many urbanists because it doesn’t increase density at all in single-family neighborhoods, which make up the vast majority of Seattle’s residential land. But during the campaign, when her opponent was promising to speed up light rail with a loan that Sound Transit said wouldn’t actually help them, Durkan offered her own plan to get the trains running to Ballard and West Seattle faster by expediting the permit and construction process and paying for better bus service in the meantime.

 

Evening Crank: Week 2 Shakeups at SPD, Seattle City Light

The big news out of city hall today was the surprise announcement, dropped in the middle of a press conference to announce the less-surprising news that Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole was stepping down, that Seattle City Light director Larry Weis had resigned over the weekend. “It was clear to me that City Light … was somewhere we needed to make a change,” Durkan said this morning. “I talked to the director in terms of what my expectations were, we made a mutual decision that he would resign and so we will be having a nationwide search to make sure that we get the right person in place.”

The news of Weis’ departure came after allegations of widespread sexual harassment and sexism in the department, and after the department’s new consolidated utility billing system launched months late and at least $34 million over budget. “We’ve had challenges at City Light… everything from billing to the workplace environment,” Durkan acknowledged.

Weis is the highest-paid city employee, with a base salary of $340,000, and the only department head eligible for a performance bonus; earlier this year, while seeking a $30,000 bonus, he gave himself perfect marks on a self-evaluation of his performance. I asked Durkan whether she planned to compensate the next director as generously as Weis, whose high salary former mayor Ed Murray justified by saying a lower salary would not be competitive with similar positions in the private utility market. “I’m not going to comment on what the range of compensation is, but I can tell you that if we pay at a certain range, we expect a certain performance,” Durkan responded. The city will do a national search for Weis’ replacement; during the last national search, which resulted in Weis’ hiring, the city paid $50,000 to an executive recruiting firm.

SPD chief O’Toole will be replaced, on an interim basis, by deputy SPD Chief Carmen Best, who will the the first African-American woman, and only the second woman, to head the department. The search committee will be headed up by ACLU deputy legal director Jeff Robinson, former mayor Tim Burgess, Chief Seattle Club director (and Community Police Commission member) Colleen Echohawk, and ex-King County sheriff Sue Rahr. Durkan said she would announce the other members of the search committee in the next two weeks, and that they will begin a national search at the beginning of 2018. O’Toole’s last day will be December 31. Best said she plans to apply for the permanent position. Best’s status as a department veteran—she’s could give her the inside track on the job.

Durkan announced she had asked several other department heads, including fire chief Harold Scoggins, Office of Emergency Management director Barb Graff, and Seattle Public Utilities director Mami Hara, to stay. Last year, Hara was given a significant pay increase, to around $300,000, after the city’s human resources department argued that her pay was not competitive with similar department heads in other cities.

Durkan said to expect more big HR announcements in the coming weeks. Don’t take this as gospel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s taking a close look at who’s running the Office of Housing and the Human Services Department, two departments whose profiles are only going to get higher as the city—and Durkan—tackle the growing homelessness crisis in the coming year. And I would be shocked if she isn’t planning to announce a new director for the Seattle Department of Transportation (whose current director, Scott Kubly, is already applying for jobs out of town) very soon. Although many urbanists may long to see Durkan appoint Jessyn Farrell, the former mayoral candidate, state legislator, and director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, the better money’s on SDOT chief of staff Genesee Adkins, the former chief lobbyist for King County and, as it happens, a former Transportation Choices policy director herself.

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

City’s Homeless Spending Plan Cuts Downtown Restrooms, Laundry Facilities

This story originally appeared at Seattle Magazine

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, the city’s Human Services Department released a list of programs, operated by 30 local organizations and agencies, that will receive $34 million in restructured homeless service contracts. The announcement was the culmination of a years-long process to move the city toward performance-based human service contracting and to reward service providers that emphasize moving homeless Seattle residents into permanent housing quickly. Those that provide longer-term housing assistance or other services that aren’t strictly housing-related, like hygiene centers and overnight shelters, were deprioritized.

“I recognize this is a huge change, but it’s a huge change motivated by the scale of the need that we face on the streets of Seattle,” interim mayor Tim Burgess said Monday. (On Tuesday, Burgess was replaced by new Mayor Jenny Durkan.) “Business as usual is really not an option, because we’re not moving enough people off the street and into permanent housing.”

The funding changes announced on Monday could have a major, and highly visible, impact on downtown, because they eliminate or reduce funding for three downtown hubs where homeless people can use the restroom and shower: The Women’s Wellness Center in Belltown, run by Catholic Community Services, the Urban Rest Stop, run by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), and the Compass Housing Alliance’s Hygiene Center in Pioneer Square.

Without access to these restrooms during the day and (in Urban Rest Stop’s case) for part of the night, homeless advocates say unsheltered people will have no choice but to relieve themselves wherever they can—including alleys, parks and business doorways. “It’s going to be another sanitation nightmare,” LIHI director Sharon Lee predicts.

City Council Human Services and Public Health Committee chair Sally Bagshaw says she thinks that once new 24-hour shelters the city plans to fund get up and running, they’ll be able to fill the gaps left by the loss of the hygiene centers. “There are 22 enhanced shelters” in the funding plan, Bagshaw says, referring to shelters that offer case management and help getting into housing, “and of those, 21 have showers.”

Additionally, Bagshaw says, people who need to take a shower during the day already have access to showers at six of the city’s community centers (none of them downtown). “Is it perfect? No. But part of the goal here is to use our money in a way that’s going to move people through shelter and into permanent housing.”

According to the brief explanations the human services department provided for why it did not renew some grants, the hygiene centers’ missions were not directly focused on “moving people from homelessness to permanent housing” because they only provided basic hygiene services.

Lee says that LIHI’s Urban Rest Stop, whose funding will be cut by nearly 50 percent, will have to reduce its hours, which are currently 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. “If you go in there at 5:30 in the morning, it’s packed full of people” showering, washing their clothes and getting ready for work, Lee says. “If you take that away from people, it’s going to lead to more problems and more misery.”

Lee points to a recent Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego that resulted from a lack of access to showers, restrooms and handwashing facilities for homeless people in that city. The outbreak spread throughout the unsheltered population and is now being called an epidemic. According to a memo the King County public health department sent to service providers in September, “the disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation and lack of access to hygiene services.” In another memo, the department noted, “Good hand-washing is essential.”

The lack of 24-hour public restrooms downtown is a longstanding issue: People have to relieve themselves somewhere and in the absence of public restrooms, they tend to do so wherever they can. The downtown business community, Lee predicts, “is going to be really affected, because no longer can a merchant say [to a homeless person], ‘Go down the street to the Urban Rest Stop.’”

The Downtown Seattle Association, which runs an outreach team of 10-plus people, also lost about half a million dollars a year, initially declined to comment. But after this story published, its senior media relations manager James Sido reached out with a statement.

“Given the concentration of homeless individuals living downtown, and our long-standing relationships with this population and other downtown stakeholders, we were understandably disappointed to learn that we will not be among those organizations receiving city funds as of Jan. 1,” he wrote. “We are currently considering an appeal, and also discussing the program’s future with staff and leadership. Without city funding, the size and scope of our outreach program must shift.”

Morning Crank: “If There Were Easy Solutions, Seattle Would Not Have Elected a Woman Mayor.”

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Moxie Media worked on an independent expenditure campaign on behalf of then-mayoral candidate Ed Murray in 2013; it did not work directly for the Murray campaign.

1. Jenny Durkan was sworn in as the first female mayor of Seattle since the 1920s yesterday, and although much of the local press coverage has downplayed that aspect of her victory (in part, perhaps, because her general-election opponent, Cary Moon, was also a woman), I saw quite a few women wiping tears from their eyes and doing little victory dances when Durkan noted that it had been “Almost 92 years since we had a woman mayor,” adding, “if there were any easy solutions, Seattle would not have elected a woman mayor—again.” After Durkan’s speech—delivered with more dynamism than her predecessor Ed Murray, but otherwise pretty standard “let’s-get-to-work” fare—a woman I didn’t know grabbed me by the hand and said “Isn’t this great??” while another woman I do know wiped away tears and told me, “We’ve waited a long time for this.”

After her official swearing-in, by US District Court Judge Richard Jones, Durkan headed out to continue a series of swearing-in ceremonies around the city, where she signed two new executive orders. The first, aimed at helping low-income renters find housing or keep their existing housing, directs city departments to identify people eligible for utility discounts and other benefits and sign them up; create a proposal for a rent assistance program for people who are “severely cost-burdened” (meaning they pay more than half their income on rent and utilities); speed up housing placements from the lengthy Seattle Housing Authority waitlist; and streamline the process of signing up for multiple benefits by creating an “affordability portal.” The second executive order commits the city to evaluating the Race and Social Justice Initiative and making changes if necessary, and requires all department heads and mayoral staff to go through implicit bias training within Durkan’s first 100 days in office.

2. Yesterday, Moxie Media—the consulting firm that charged self-financed mayoral candidate Cary Moon more than $257,000 for its services—and Winpower Strategies, most recently the consultant for city council candidate Jon Grant and mayoral candidate Mike McGinn’s unsuccessful campaigns, announced that they were merging. “We’re excited to blend our teams into a bigger, stronger Moxie Media, providing our clients with all the strategic acumen and creative innovation we can leverage toward ensuring everyone has a voice in our democracy,” Moxie founder Lisa MacLean said in a statement. Winpower is run by John Wyble, a longtime local consultant who was part of Moxie from 2001 to 2009; in 2003, I described the firm’s client base as “moderate, Prius-driving Seattle environmentalists.” Since striking out on his own, Wyble’s client base has included people further out on the left of whatever the current Seattle spectrum happens to be, from firebrand former council member Nick Licata to Seattle Displacement Coalition co-founder David Bloom to Grant.

Vintage cutline and photo via the Stranger.

A look at Winpower’s local electoral record suggests this is not a merger of two equal partners—as does the fact that the firm will retain the Moxie name.  Wyble’s biggest win locally happened in 2009, when Mike McGinn beat Joe Mallahan in the mayor’s race, but since then, his Seattle clients have mostly failed to catch fire. Think Bobby Forch (2009 and 2011), Brian Carver (2013), Morgan Beach, Halei Watkins, and Tammy Morales (2015), and Jo(h)ns Grant, Creighton, and Persak this year. You don’t even have to look at his client list to know that Wyble’s political analysis has been off-base locally; just check out his blog, where he predicted in August that Durkan would not be the mayor, because all the “progressive” votes, combined, would hand the win to Moon. “The electorate has changed in Seattle and change is what the electorate wants. … When you add [up all the Moon, Farrell, Oliver, Hasegawa, and McGinn] votes and a more progressive electorate, it’s not hard to believe that the candidate who came in second in the primary has the best shot at winning the general,” Wyble wrote.

Durkan won with 56 percent of the vote.

Winpower’s client list does include a number of well-funded campaigns for incumbent state legislators (Steve Hobbs, Jeannie Darnielle, Nathan Schlicher) as well as Democratic challengers (Michelle Rylands, who lost to incumbent Phil Fortunato in her race for 31st District state senate; Lisa Wellman, who defeated incumbent Sen. Steve Litzow in the 41st). But state elections are only in even years, which means most consultants also have a local client base. For obvious reasons, serious candidates want consultants who can demonstrate that they win election, which is why the fortunes of Seattle consultants tend to rise and fall with their win-lose ratios. On this score, Moxie’s recent record is also mixed; their local clients in recent years have included Ahmed Abdi, who lost to Stephanie Bowman for Seattle Port Commission this year; Debora Juarez, elected to the Seattle City Council in 2015; Fred Felleman, who defeated Marion Yoshino for an open Port seat in 2015; and an independent expenditure campaign for Ed Murray, who beat Winpower’s client McGinn in 2013. (The IE paid for this controversial ad accusing McGinn of being soft on domestic violence.) They also worked on 2015’s Honest Elections campaign, which led to public financing of elections, better known as “democracy vouchers.”

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

City Bets Big on Enhanced Shelter, Rapid Rehousing in New Homeless Spending Plan

Mayor Tim Burgess: “Business as usual is not really an option.”

Homeless service providers and the city of Seattle say they’re confident that they can double the number of people moved from homelessness to permanent housing in the next year through a combination of traditional tools like permanent supportive housing and private market-based solutions like rapid rehousing with short-term rent assistance vouchers. Yesterday, the city’s Human Services Department released a list of programs, operated by 30 local organizations and agencies, that will receive $34 million in new homeless service contracts. By this time next year, Mayor Tim Burgess predicted yesterday, the city will have moved “more than twice as many people from homelessness to permanent homes compared to this year.” Burgess added that he has “confidence … that the new approach will be effective. …I recognize this is a huge change, but it’s a huge change motivated by the scale of the need that we face on the streets of Seattle. Business as usual is really not an option, because we’re not moving enough people off the street and into permanent housing.” See below for sassy footnote.*

The city also released a list of the dozens of projects that did not receive city dollars because they failed to meet HSD’s new funding standards, which prioritizes low-barrier shelters and programs that promise to get people into housing quickly over longer-term transitional housing and “mats-on-the-floor” shelters that have high barriers to entry and don’t emphasize permanent housing. This year, according to HSD, 56 percent of the city’s shelter funding goes to bare-bones night shelters; as of next year, “mats-on-the-floor” shelters will make up just 15 percent of HSD’s shelter budget, with the remainder going to enhanced shelters. Overall, there will be 300 fewer HSD-funded shelter beds in the city.

Several longstanding programs will be defunded partially or completely, including the SHARE/WHEEL nightly shelter program, which provides high-barrier nighttime-only shelter to about 200 people per night. (SHARE’s shelters are high-barrier because they require adherence to a long list of rules that varies from shelter to shelter, require prospective shelter residents to pass a “screen” by a current member, and restrict residents’ comings and goings—for example, by requiring them to stay at a shelter consistently for a certain number of nights.) HSD deputy director Jason Johnson confirmed yesterday that SHARE’s application for $694,153 to run its shelters ranked dead last among all applications for emergency shelter service funding; its sister organization for women, WHEEL, also ranked poorly, according to HSD.

HSD deputy director Jason Johnson said that in deciding which providers received funding, the agency prioritized “quality” over “quantity,” noting that having to line up every night for a shelter bed is stressful and makes it harder for homeless people to improve their lives.

 

“Ideally, we want to support people living in their own choice community,” HSD director Catherine Lester said, but “for me, a more important ideal is that we’re supporting people living inside, and unfortunately, there are times when it means people will be living outside of their choice community.”

 

In response to yesterday’s announcement, SHARE released a portion of the application it submitted to HSD (the full applications will be unavailable, HSD officials said, until after an appeal period concludes on December 12), which asserted that the city’s goal of drastically increasing the rate at which people move from homelessness to permanent housing “is a painful impossibility considering the lack of affordable housing in Seattle.  Demanding it forces competition, false promises, and a practice commonly called ‘creaming’—programs rejecting hard-to-serve folks to gain better housing outcomes.” SHARE has been vocal during the city council’s budget deliberations, and will almost certainly show up at city hall to protest the cuts; they will still receive funding to operate the city’s six sanctioned tent encampments.

Low Income Housing Institute Director Sharon Lee

HSD’s prediction about how successful its new approach will be does appear optimistic in light of the high, and growing, cost of living in Seattle, where a one-bedroom market-rate apartment might cost $1,800 to $2,000. As Low-Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee, whose organization lost funding for two transitional housing projects in the Central District and Georgetown, noted pointedly, permanent housing is always the ultimate goal—but vouchers for formerly homeless people to rent on the private market will only work if people can go from minimal or no income to a relatively high income extremely quickly. If, as seems more likely, they can’t, they may end up worse off than when they accepted the voucher—homeless again, but now with a broken lease or eviction on their record.

“I think that rapid rehousing is totally oversold,” Lee said. “I think there is a way to lie with statistics. I think they say, ‘We put someone into market-rate housing, and if they don’t show up in the [Homeless Management Information System] later, then it is successful,’ but they haven’t checked” to see if that person is still living in the “permanent housing” after their rent subsidy runs out. Lee said that about 80 percent of the people who live in LIHI-owned and -operated transitional housing would not be good candidates for rapid rehousing, because they are living with physical and developmental disabilities, PTSD, or mental illness. “Permanent supportive housing would be the solution, but we don’t have enough permanent supportive housing”—long-term housing with wraparound services. (Interestingly, as SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield points out, HSD appears to estimate the cost of each “exit” to permanent supportive housing as just $1,778 per household, which is far less than any other program, including diversion, transitional housing, and rapid rehousing.).

Enhanced shelters, like the 24-hour, low-barrier Navigation Center that opened earlier this year, are also key to HSD’s plan to permanently house 7,400 people by the end of 2018. The goal is to move most clients through enhanced shelter and into permanent housing within 60 days—but that goal, as I’ve reported, has been harder to achieve in practice than the city predicted. (The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, it should be noted, has issued a mandate saying people should move through enhanced shelters and into permanent housing in no more than 30 days.) As of October, the Navigation Center, which is run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center had housed just one person—in transitional housing, not the permanent housing the city hopes will be the key to solving the homelessness crisis. (Another person left town, saying they planned to move in with family.)

 

“I think that rapid rehousing is totally oversold.”—Low Income Housing Institute Director Sharon Lee

 

Asked why they have confidence that other low-barrier, high-service shelters will be able to rapidly move people from homelessness to permanent housing when the Navigation Centers has struggled, HSD staffers said only that they have faith in the organizations that were chosen for funding and that the 7,400 number is actually a lowball, based on the assumption that most enhanced shelters will need some amount of “ramp-up time.” Johnson also alluded to the need for the Navigation Center to show “fidelity to the San Francisco model,” a reference to the original Navigation Center in that city, on which Seattle’s Navigation Center is modeled. But San Francisco’s Navigation Center benefited early on from the fact that San Francisco was able to steer clients into units the city owned, which meant that people exiting the center didn’t have to find units in the private market; now those units are full, and recent reports suggest that three-quarters of that Navigation Center’s clients have failed to find permanent housing and that most have returned to homelessness.

DESC director Daniel Malone, like LIHI’s Lee, points to high rents in the Seattle area as a key barrier to moving people from shelter to housing in the private market. “While some of the resources in this plan will help pay for people to get into housing, I do believe we still have a major problem in this community with the accessibility and availability of housing that’s affordable to low-income people, so I think we’ve got to address both the navigation”—steering people toward the services that can help them—”and the availability of housing in order to achieve the goals that we all share, and I worry that we haven’t paid enough attention to that second part.”

The city’s grants for rapid rehousing providers did not say that the vouchers needed to pay for housing in Seattle, making it a near-certainty that many voucher recipients who would prefer to live close to their current homes, jobs, and communities may be forced to move to suburbs where rent is cheaper. Given that one of the key criteria HSD considered in the grant process was racial equity—the groups that will receive funding include several organizations that serve Native Americans, African Americans, and African immigrants—I was surprised that HSD was so blithe about pushing more low-income people, especially people of color, out of the city. Lester, the HSD director, said it was a question of priorities: Is it more important to make sure people can find housing in Seattle, or to get them off of the streets or out of their cars? “Ideally, we want to support people living in their own choice community,” Lester said, but “for me, a more important ideal is that we’re supporting people living inside, and unfortunately, there are times when it means people will be living outside of their choice community.”

As readers of this blog may recall, the city council is still discussing ways to put more funding into homeless services, after rejecting a $125-per-employee tax on the city’s largest 1,100 or so employers. If that funding comes through, HSD staffers said yesterday, the agency already has a list of “tier two” projects that didn’t quite make the cut for this round of funding.

A full list of the projects that received funding is available here.

* Permanent housing, by the way, doesn’t always mean a room or an apartment; it also includes things like crashing on a couch with friends or moving out of the state to live with family; the thing that makes it “permanent” is that it isn’t time-limited, and the thing that makes it “successful” in the city’s eyes is that a person doesn’t re-register as officially homeless with the county, so people who pack up to be homeless elsewhere are out of sight, out of mind.

2018 City Budget Passes Without Head Tax. Now What?

Seattle may be rolling in tax revenues thanks to an economic boom that just won’t quit, but this year’s budget process played out like a recession-year knock-down-drag-out battle. It started when the council’s new budget chair, Lisa Herbold, proposed a budget that presumed the council would agree to a head tax on large employers (and made their top-priority projects dependent on the tax). When the tax failed on a (somewhat predictable) 5-4 vote, council members were left scrambling to come up with a new “Plan B” that would preserve their top priorities. This plan—call it Plan C—included deep cuts to incoming mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, without commensurate cuts to the legislative branch, whose budget included some literal padding in the form of $250,000 for new carpet in council members’ offices.

Over the weekend, though, council members decided to have mercy on the mayor, reducing the proposed cuts to her office by half (and sacrificing their top-dollar carpet in the process). That change would have meant less new funding for the Human Services Department, but a last-minute amendment by council member Kirsten Harris-Talley increased HSD’s funding by dipping into the budget for the Department of Construction and Inspections, which administers permits and inspects buildings (including rental housing) for code compliance. That change, along with numerous other last-minute amendments, happened almost in the moment, and council members who hadn’t seen the proposed changes before today appeared to be reading them on the fly in the moments before voting them up or down. The public, meanwhile, had no way to read or absorb many of the proposed amendments unless they were physically in council chambers, where staffers made hard copies of (some of) the amendments available as the council discussed and voted on them.

Council member Kirsten Harris-Talley

The debate over how much additional funding the council should allocate for HSD—which administers all the city’s grants for homeless services, a job that has grown in scope as the city’s budget for those services has increased—broke down along somewhat surprising lines. On the center left-to-socialist spectrum of Seattle politics, HSD’s mission is strictly centrist, and its director, Catherine Lester—appointed by former mayor Ed Murray in 2015—is a staunch defender of that mission. This year, HSD rebid all its homeless service provider contracts under a new system known as “performance-based contracting”—a process critics say favors large, established service providers that prioritize people who are easier to house at the expense of smaller, scrappier groups that focus on more challenging clients. The agency’s job next year will be to administer those projects and implement Pathways Home, a controversial plan developed in collaboration with Ohio-based consultant Barb Poppe. In 2016, Poppe did a report that concluded that Seattle already has plenty of resources to house every person living outdoors, a conclusion many (including this blog) have contested.  Pathways Home, which is based on that report, directs HSD to shift spending away from transitional housing programs that provide long-term assistance and toward more “cost-effective” solutions like  “rapid rehousing”—short-term rent subsidies to move people directly from homelessness into market-rate apartments. Critics of this approach have argued that expecting people to move from homelessness to full self-sufficiency in a matter of months is unrealistic in a city  where the average one-bedroom apartment now rents for around $1,800.

Murray and Lester butted heads with the left wing of the council (as well as many homeless advocates) over rapid rehousing, performance-based contracting, and Pathways Home, but you wouldn’t know that from this month’s budget debate, in which HSD was often portrayed as a direct social service provider rather than a contract administrator. (This happened a lot earlier in the process, too, when hundreds of thousands of dollars were shifted from the Department of Finance and Administrative Services to HSD). On Monday, Harris-Talley described Lester as “a jewel of the community” and said she had “deep concerns about what has happened in regards to HSD, how that department has been treated.” It was disappointing. she added, “to see a department with a black woman at the helm” taking on significant additional responsibility without a commensurate amount of additional funding. It’s unclear whether Durkan—who supports Pathways Home—will appoint her own HSD director or keep Lester on board.

Comic Sans and public opinion in the ladies’ room.

The employee hours tax tax isn’t dead. In fact, several council members attempted to forcibly resurrect it yesterday, by proposing a budget amendment that would have required the council to pass the head tax after going through the motions of a four-month process to come up with a sustainable revenue source for homelessness. The five council members who voted against the head tax, unsurprisingly, weren’t interested in committing in advance to the same tax they just rejected, and they (also unsurprisingly) prevailed, inserting language into the amendment that commits the council instead to coming up with “progressive taxes” of some sort that will yield at least $25 million for homeless services. Any proposal they come up with will likely include a head tax, because the council’s taxing authority is quite limited, and council members made that clear. That didn’t stop the crowd from screaming “Bad!” and “Shame!” and booing council members so loudly they had to repeatedly stop the proceedings. (A couple of people were kicked out). Sawant, too, repeatedly denounced her council colleagues, as she has throughout the budget process, as “corporate politicians” kowtowing to their masters at the Chamber of Commerce. This kind of rhetoric definitely riles up the base, but it doesn’t win any currency with people like Rob Johnson, an earnest liberal who fought (against Herbold!) to ensure that supervised consumption sites were fully funded in this year’s budget, a position that I’m betting scored him zero points in his Northeast Seattle council district.

Social service and safe consumption site advocates line up hours early for yesterday’s 2pm council meeting—as they do whenever they know council member Kshama Sawant has invited her supporters to “pack city hall”

A cynical observer might point out that by keeping the discussion over the head tax alive, council members who did not prevail last week got another opportunity to make rousing speeches and rally the base on Monday. The council’s resident (official) socialist, Kshama Sawant, has encouraged her supporters (on social media and through her official city council email list) to “pack city hall” for every budget discussion and vote, and they have done exactly that, showing up at every budget meeting to wave red “stop the sweeps” signs, applaud Sawant’s lengthy speeches (one of many she made yesterday stretched nearly 15 minutes) and shout down council members who voted against her proposals.

A word about the screaming. It may be directed at the three women and two men who vote the “wrong” way, but it has the effect, in the moment, of shutting down all discussion. When you use brute verbal force against political opponents (both those on the dais and those who are scared to speak because, well, they’re worried about screamed at) it goes beyond merely “disrupting business as usual.” It’s disrespectful, counterproductive, and, most importantly, intimidating—social service advocates whose programs are in the budget still show up (hours early, to get ahead of Sawant’s supporters) to speak at council meetings, but otherwise, public comment is overwhelmingly dominated by a single set of voices. People who used to show up don’t show up. Dissent—the normal give and take of democracy playing out in public—is almost literally drowned out when one side asserts their right to own a public space by shouting everyone else out of the room. This year, I was disturbed to hear council members explicitly equate “the people here in the room today” with “the community” at large. Most of the 700,000 people in Seattle, and indeed most of the much smaller group of people who have an opinion about the 2018 city budget, weren’t represented in council chambers, and rarely are. This, even under ordinary circumstances, is perfectly understandable—most people have to work during the day, for one thing—but council members should take that into account, and not conflate “people with time to sit in council chambers day after day” with “a representative sample of the community at large.”

It will be interesting to see what happens to the council’s left wing—Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, and Mike O’Brien—once council member-elect Teresa Mosqueda takes office, replacing Harris-Talley, next week. Mosqueda defeated the far left’s preferred candidate, Jon Grant, and will not be a reliable vote for the Sawant wing of the council, who couldn’t muster a majority for the head-tax-based budget even with Harris-Talley on the council.

Sawant, who represents council District 3 (which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District), was the only council member to vote against the budget—as she has since her election in 2013.

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

After Defeat of Head Tax, Council Scrambles for Plan B

City council budget committee chair Lisa Herbold made a risky gamble this week, and she lost. As a result, the council will pass a budget this coming Monday whose details were thrown together largely at the last minute, after a budget proposal that hinged on the passage of the controversial employee hours tax failed to secure a majority.

The gamble Herbold took was fairly straightforward, First, she proposed a version of the budget that incorporated revenues from the head tax—a $125-per-employee tax on businesses with more than $10 million in gross receipts, known as the HOMES tax. Second, she made sure that city council members’ top-priority projects would be on the chopping block without the tax, so that any council member who voted against the tax would risk losing funding for her favorite projects. Third, instead of coming up with a backup plan in collaboration with head tax opponents, she crafted a “Plan B” that included draconian cuts to council members’ priorities (including the criminal justice diversion program LEAD, housing for homeless Native Americans, and trash removal at homeless encampments), giving them an additional incentive to vote “yes” on the tax.

The problem was with step 4—the one where a majority of council members were supposed to fall in line and support the tax. That didn’t happen, for a number of reasons. First, some council members were simply dead set against passing the tax, or—to hear council members like Lorena Gonzalez tell it—opposed to passing it on a rushed timeline without an opportunity to do deeper analysis and look at other alternative revenue sources. (Council members have had less than three weeks to consider the proposal.) Second, several council members bristled at the way Herbold’s initial balancing package, in council member Debora Juarez’s words, “held hostage” so many important projects by putting them “in the head tax parking lot.” Juarez, in particular, was indignant about this forced tradeoff. And third, potentially persuadable council members may have been put off by the behavior of the head-tax supporters who showed up, many at Sawant’s behest, day after day, screaming invectives (“Shame!” “Their deaths are on your hands!” “Republican!”) at council members who didn’t fall in lockstep behind the proposal.

After the tax failed, it became clear that Herbold didn’t have a backup, and the council ended up canceling a scheduled budget meeting to hammer one out. The result was that the process that led to a final budget package was disorganized and chaotic, with some council members reportedly in the dark about budget amendments until less than an hour before they had to vote them up or down. (Many amendments weren’t available in hard-copy form until minutes before they were voted on.)

A few things stand out about the substance of the budget package that will go before the council on Monday. First, it includes aggressive cuts to incoming mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget. If the budget passes unchanged on Monday, the city’s first female mayor in nearly a century will have to reduce her budget 17 percent, the equivalent of five mayoral staffers. (This was one of the budget amendments that reportedly came through at the last minute). Much of the money that would have gone to the mayor’s office will now fund new contract management positions in the Human Services Department.

Council members who supported cutting the mayor’s budget, including Mike O’Brien, said they were merely bringing it down to the “baseline” level established under former mayor Mike McGinn. However, that characterization is misleading: McGinn had a skeleton staff because he became mayor during the worst economic recession in recent memory, and made the cut at a time when the city faced ongoing annual revenue shortfalls in the tens of millions. As the economy recovered and all city departments expanded back to pre-recession levels, McGinn’s successor, Ed Murray, staffed up too. While budget cuts during recessions are standard, I can recall no recent precedent for slashing the mayor’s budget so dramatically in the middle of an economic boom. Notably, the council did not propose any cuts to its own staff budget, which council members increased by 33 percent just last year.

Outgoing mayor Tim Burgess fired off a sassy response to the council’s cuts, saying that if the council, “in their wisdom[,] believes these funds are needed for other purposes, and remembering that the Legislative Department’s budget is twice the size of the Mayor’s budget, then the funds should come proportionately from the Mayor’s Office and the Legislative Department.” Should Durkan want to respond to the cuts more directly than Burgess did, she could take a hard look at the dozens of statements of legislative intent the council also adopted today, each of which constitutes a request for the mayor’s office to craft legislation or produce reports and analysis. Or the council could decide to dial back the cuts on its own; they still have until Monday to find cuts elsewhere if they don’t want to pick this fight with the new administration. Durkan, it’s worth noting, did quite well in several council members’ districts, including O’Brien’s (Northwest Seattle) and Herbold’s (West Seattle). Both council members are up for reelection in two years.

The cuts to Durkan’s office highlight another unusual aspect of today’s budget proposal: It shifts a significant amount of money into the city’s Human Services Department from other departments, primarily the Department of Finance and Administrative Services. Although intuitively, it makes sense to move funding for things like homeless encampment removals to the department that hands out contracts for homeless services, HSD was not necessarily clamoring for the change, and will need time to hire seven new employees and train them to do the work FAS has been doing. Durkan, meanwhile, presumably has her own ideas about how the department should be run, and who should run it (the current director is Catherine Lester).

Today’s budget debate also solidified the ideological fault lines on the council—and highlighted the need for someone to serve as de facto council leader. As budget chair and a council veteran (before her election in 2015, Herbold was a staffer for former council member Nick Licata for 17 years), Herbold had a chance to be that leader, by counting votes and dealing with both sides to come up with a best-case scenario for the council’s left wing as well as a viable Plan B that could win the support of a council majority. Instead, Herbold went for broke—proposing a budget that was, in essence, an ultimatum, and declining to work with council moderates like Rob Johnson on a backup plan. That gamble didn’t pay off, even with a reliable ally like Kirsten Harris-Talley temporarily on the council. Once the council equation shifts in November (when Teresa Mosqueda, who handily defeated Herbold-endorsed socialist Jon Grant, replaces Harris-Talley), she could find herself increasingly isolated—insufficiently socialist for Sawant (whose supporters yelled “Shame!” and “Republican!” as fervently at Herbold as they did at Johnson), insufficiently “moderate,” (which is to say, conventionally liberal) for the council’s new majority.

I’ll have more to say about the final budget package on Monday.

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council Passes Short-Term Rental Tax, Puts Airbnb Regs on Ice Until After Thanksgiving

Council members Lisa Herbold and Rob Johnson, on opposite sides of the short-term rental debate.

After several hours of discussion and a number of convoluted parliamentary procedures, the city council voted this afternoon to impose a new tax on people and businesses that provide short-term rental housing through online platforms like Airbnb—$14 per night for an entire home, and $8 a night when the rental is a single room in a larger residence. They did not resolve a key question about the underlying legislation, which would limit each short-term rental operator to just two units, down from an unlimited number today—namely, how many existing units would be exempt from the new requirements. (The legislation, as written, would exempt existing short-term rental units in parts of downtown, Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, and some units on First and Capitol Hill.) Council member Rob Johnson argued that it made little sense to adopt the tax without knowing how many rental units it would apply to (and therefore how much revenue it could generate); others, including council member Kirsten Harris-Talley, argued that delaying the vote could give lobbyists for companies like Airbnb time to pressure  community groups into supporting their preferred version of the legislation.

Ultimately, the council put off, for at least two weeks, several amendments that would raise or lower the number of existing short-term rental units that would be exempt from the two-unit restriction. On one end of the revenue-vs.-regulation axis, Johnson suggested exempting all existing short-term rental units from the new two-unit limit; on the other, council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien proposed requiring short-term rental operators who currently rent out several or many units to reduce their rental stock to two or less, with no location-based exemptions. (O’Brien, along with Sally Bagshaw, also offered a middle-ground amendment that would restrict the area in which short-term rental operators could continue to have more than two units to a small area of downtown).

The big-picture question today, as it has been since the city began discussing how to regulate short-term rentals a couple of years ago, was whether short-term rentals remove affordable housing units from circulation in sufficient quantities to drive up housing prices. Advocates argue that they do, but come armed mostly with anecdotes, not data—for every story about a person who got priced out of their old apartment only to see it turned into an Airbnb, there’s one about a homeowner who was able to pay her mortgage by turning her kid’s old room into short-term lodging for a few days every month. The point is—we just don’t know, and arguments that rely on anecdote and correlation-causation fallacies (2,000 people had to move last year because they couldn’t pay their rent and the number of Airbnbs increased; therefore, Airbnbs caused the displacement) aren’t convincing.

For one thing: The total supply of housing in the city has increased faster than the number of short-term rental units—an important factor for people making supply-side arguments against short-term rentals to consider. For another: Many Airbnbs are rooms in people’s homes, and there’s little evidence to suggest that people who want to rent their spare room out a few nights a month would be just equally eager to take on a full-time roommate if Airbnb were not an option. (The difference between a tourist who comes home late at night and a roommate who’s always underfoot is self-explanatory). And for still another: Airbnbs serve the same function as hotels; that’s who the company is competing against. Shutting down Airbnb or dramatically reducing the number of short-term rentals in Seattle would only increase demand for hotel rooms—and hotels are single-purpose buildings that can’t be easily adapted to serve as permanent rental housing if the economy slows or demand for hotel rooms dries up.

Full disclosure: I stay in Airbnbs almost exclusively, whenever I go to another city where I don’t have friends or family I can stay with. I also live in a building where one of the three rental units is an unregulated Airbnb with random people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. Having seen the short-term rental from at least two angles (and talked to plenty of homeowners who rent out rooms in their houses for extra cash), I think they should be taxed and regulated, but not run out of town. As someone who likes to hit the road every chance I get, my options are generally: Airbnb, or chain motel by the freeway. And when travelers like me stay at chain hotels near highways, or even at corporate hotels in the parts of town where such amenities tend to concentrate (downtown; near convention centers), our money goes to Hilton and Starbucks (or Motel Six and Bucky’s), not local boutiques and coffee shops.