1. The city’s Human Services Department is revising its benchmarks for withholding funds from underperforming homeless service providers after 20 of 46 service providers who received contracts with the city last year failed to meet new standards adopted in 2017. The new benchmarks will reduce the total amount of contracted pay HSD can withhold from 12 percent to 8 percent per year, and will reward providers for improvement over the course of a year, even if providers don’t hit their targets for things like exits to permanent housing and returns to homelessness.
As I reported last month, 20 of 46 city-contracted homeless service programs failed to meet the city’s new performance standards by the end of 2018, and were docked part of their pay under a new contracting system adopted by HSD in 2017. That system, which represented a major shift in how HSD contracts with human-services providers, enables the city to withhold 12 percent of a service provider’s contract if they fail to hit specific numbers on five metrics, including the percentage of clients who exit to permanent housing and the number of clients who end up back in the county’s homelessness system (a metric known colloquially, and somewhat imprecisely, as “returns to homelessness.”) Officials with the city refer to this system as “performance pay,” and say it’s meant as a reward for good results; providers have argued that withholding contracted funds makes it harder for them to meet the city’s ambitious new goals for moving people from homelessness to permanent housing.
A look through the performance improvement plans (PIPs) for the 16 programs that initially failed to receive their full contract pay last year, which I obtained through a records request, shows that many are falling far short of their targets—so far, in some cases, that it’s difficult to see how they will ever catch up.
Lindsey Garrity, with HSD, says the city will provide performance pay in increments of 25 percent, depending on how much progress providers are making toward their goals. “We have room to move around how we structure the performance pay and how we look at rewarding programs as they move toward performance,” as opposed to the previous “all or nothing approach,” Garrity says. “As it was structured, we weren’t rewarding improved performance and that is something we’re going to change in 2019.” HSD’s Lily Rehrmann adds. The standards, which vary by program type, will remain the same.
Whether the programs that failed to meet HSD’s stringent new standards in 2019 will be able to do so next year remains an open question. A look through the performance improvement plans (PIPs) for the 16 programs that initially failed to receive their full contract pay last year, which I obtained through a records request, shows that many are falling far short of their targets—so far, in some cases, that it’s difficult to see how they will ever catch up.
A shelter run by Compass Housing Alliance, for example, is supposed to move a minimum of 40 percent of its clients into permanent housing when they leave. Throughout 2017, and during the first three quarters of 2018, that number never rose above 19 percent. Youthcare’s Catalyst shelter for young adults, from which no more than 20 percent of clients are supposed to return to homelessness, had a homelessness return rate, in one quarter, of 67 percent (and the number never went below the 20 percent target.) Santos Place, a transitional housing program run by Solid Ground, has an average stay in 2017 of 844 days, a number that had declined to 705 by the second quarter of last year. The target length of stay is no more than 150 days.
In some cases, the performance improvement plans, which are largely boilerplate, provide a glimpse at providers’ objections to the one-size-fits-all performance metrics. Catholic Community Services, for example, argued that their nighttime-only shelter for homeless men over 50 lacked funding for the kind of intensive case management that would allow to hit the target of 40 percent exits to permanent housing. Compass Housing Alliance pointed out that their rate of exits to permanent housing at the Peter’s Place shelter was artificially low (between 8 and 19 percent last year, against a goal of 40 percent). because the shelter accepts a high volume of one-night-only referrals from Operation Night Watch—people who stay at the shelter for one night and leave without accessing the services that are provided to regular guests. The Downtown Emergency Service Center raised a similar concern about its downtown night shelter, noting that many overnight clients are one-time-only direct referrals from Harborview and the Seattle Police Department who are “often not interested in engaging with services.” And several organizations cited staffing shortages as a major challenge—a problem that presumably requires more funding, not less.
Garrity says HSD is committed to making sure its contractors succeed. “The city cannot do the work it does without the providers. Our goal is to always keep it moving forward and keep it a relationship that works for both entities,” she says. “Sometimes performance pay is talked about as if its purpose is very punitive, but we need [providers] to succeed in order for us to be successful.”
2. Advocates and opponents of a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE are meeting Tuesday with new Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe and staff from the mayor’s office to discuss the resolution of the debate over the lane. Bike lane proponents have told me that they anticipate Mayor Jenny Durkan to side with bike lane opponents and agree to eliminate the lane. Neither the mayor’s office nor SDOT provided any details about the meeting, which will reportedly also include the mediator hired by the city last September.
Some background: The city’s official Bike Master Plan has included a separated bike lane on 35th Ave. NE between Wedgwood and Ravenna since it was last updated in 2014. The project has already been both designed and contracted, and was supposed to be completed in 2018. Last year, however, opponents of the bike path began a concerted effort to convince Mayor Jenny Durkan to kill the proposal. Their efforts included both standard-issue arguments (eliminating on-street parking will destroy businesses; cyclists can just shift their route six blocks to the east or west) and more novel approaches, like arguing that bike lanes are only “for the privileged”—a claim that is surely news to groups like Rainier Valley Greenways, which have been begging the city for safe bike infrastructure on or near the most dangerous street in the city, which happens to run through many of Seattle’s least-privileged neighborhoods.
After death threats, vandalism, a bomb scare, and the creation of a single-issue PAC dedicated to supporting to “transportation-related causes like Save 35th and candidates for local office who are not ideologues when it comes to local transportation planning” (they’ve raised $21,125 so far), the city hired mediator John Howell, at a cost of nearly $14,000, to “explore areas of concern” between opponents and advocates of the bike lane. The result, ultimately, was the creation of a new “compromise” plan that did not include any bike lanes at all, including any kind of alternative path for bike commuters. Strangely, the city’s proposed compromise eliminated just as much parking as the city’s original designed and contracted plan.