Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to allow the city to fine and prosecute anyone who “allows” another person to live in an “extensively damaged” vehicle met with a cool reception in city council chambers this morning, particularly after the mayor’s director of Finance and Administrative Services, Calvin Goings, likened homeless people living in RVs to “dogs” living in inhumane conditions. (FAS oversees the city’s towing program).
Goings’ comment came after a testy exchange with council member Teresa Mosqueda, who took issue with Goings’ statement that “the foundational question” for the council was, “does the council agree this is a problem?” Goings said. If they agreed that it was a problem for people to be living in “squalor conditions,” Goings said, they had a “moral obligation” to support some version of the mayor’s legislation.
“If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”–Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings
“It’s very clear to me that the full council shares the concerns,” Mosqueda responded, noting that they have continued to push for more funding for shelter and services and have repeatedly increased the size of the mayor’s Navigation Team. But, she added, “when we’re looking at specific legislation, we have to look at the language here. Words matter. The words in the legislation matter.”
Goings responded: “If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”
Mosqueda was leaving the meeting during Goings’ comments, but council member Mike O’Brien piled on, noting that the mayor’s legislation neither defines “RV ranchers” (people who buy derelict RVs and lease them out) nor says how common the problem is. Although Goings and other mayoral officials at the table reiterated that the bill was meant to target “the predatory rentals of unsafe vehicles,” the legislation as written would allow the city to go after people who live in RVs with family members as well as people living in cars or RVs that meet just two of a long list of deficiencies that includes things like cracked windshields and leaking fluids.
“Do you know what we do for animals that need a home? We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”—City Council member Teresa Mosqueda
“Are are we talking five? Are we talking 300?” O’Brien asked. (The city estimates that between two and five individuals are renting out RVs to other people, but has no exact number or estimate of how many RVs those two to five people own). “I would expect someone to get that information.” O’Brien also noted that some of the photos Goings and staffers from the city’s RV remediation program and the mayor’s office showed in council chambers looked like examples of hoarding, which is also fairly common among people with homes.
Council member Sally Bagshaw asked why the legislation didn’t include any additional funding for enhanced shelter or tiny house villages, which would allow people living in tents or RVs to keep at least some of their possessions and wouldn’t require people to separate from their partners or pets. Tess Colby, the mayor’s homelessness advisor, described the Navigation Team’s outreach on “the day of the clean” (which, as I’ve reported, no longer routinely includes nonprofit outreach workers) and said that only 10 to 15 percent of people living in RVs tend to “accept services” when they’re offered.
The penalty for “RV ranchers” who rent substandard RVs will be up to $2,000—payable directly to their former “tenant” in the form of restitution—plus a $250-a-day fine and potential criminal charges. Bagshaw asked whether it’s realistic to believe people who own derelict RVs have that kind of money. “We believe that they do, and we also think that this is an important message to send to ranchers and a disincentive to continue to do this,” Colby said.
After the meeting, Mosqueda said she found Goings’ comments comparing people living in RVs to “animals” living in abusive conditions “shocking” and off point. “Do you know what we do for animals that need a home?” Mosqueda said. “We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”
“We’re actually supportive of is getting people into safe living situations, and nothing in that legislation was actually targeted toward helping individuals.”
The city council’s central staff wrote a memo outlining what the legislation would do, along with a number of questions for the council to consider, that is very much worth a read.