Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension

1. King County’s Regional Policy Committee passed a much-amended plan to create a regional homelessness authority yesterday morning, but supporters acknowledged that it would go through more amendments once it reached the Seattle City Council, which has raised increasing alarms over a proposal some members say merely “shifts the deck chairs on the Titanic”—a metaphor that has been in constant rotation during the regional planning process.

Although the plan passed the RPC unanimously with some new amendments (an effort by Seattle council president Bruce Harrell to increase the number of governing board votes required to amend budgets and policies and hire and fire the executive director of the new authority failed), the city council sounded more skeptical of the plan than ever at a special committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

The council’s main objections highlighted the rift between suburban cities (who want several seats on the governing board, explicit suburban representation on the board of experts, and the authority to draft their own sub-regional homelessness plans) and the city of Seattle.

The first point of contention: Why should Seattle give suburban cities so much say over composition and policies of the new authority when they’re contributing nothing financially? The legislation the RPC adopted yesterday explicitly bans the regional authority from raising revenues, which means that the only funding sources are Seattle—contributing 57% of the authority’s initial budget—and King County. (Residents of suburban cities, like Seattle, also pay county taxes, but their contribution is small and indirect compared to what Seattle is putting on the table.)

“The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” — Seattle city council member Lorena Gonzalez

“I had always had the impression, going all the way back to One Table”—a task force that was supposed to come up with regional solutions to homelessness—”that we were going to have a conversation about our funding needs,” council member Lisa Herbold said. “I don’t know why we would, in the structure, foreclose our option to do that.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez added: “The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” 

Council members raised similar objections about the fact that the legislation now requires “regional sub-planning,” which means that different parts of the county could create their own homelessness policies, and that the new authority’s five-year plan would be required to reflect (and fund) those policies, even non-evidence-based strategies like high-barrier housing that requires sobriety. Gonzalez said that the question for her was, “Should municipalities who want to primarily or solely focus on non-evidence-based strategies to address homelessness… be able to qualify to receive money from these pooled resources? And the answer for me is no, they should not.”

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A larger, but related, issue council members raised Thursday is the fact that the new body would keep power where it has always been—in the hands of elected officials, who would make up two-thirds of the governing board that would wield most of the power over the new authority. Originally, the idea behind creating a new regional authority was to create a “de-fragmented system” where experts, including people with lived experience of homelessness, could make decisions on policy without feeling swayed by political considerations like the need to get reelected. The new plan, as Herbold pointed out, “flips [that] script.”

Gonzalez agreed, saying that without new revenue authority, and with a structure controlled by elected officials, the regional authority will be “AllHome 2.0″—a powerless body controlled by people making decisions for political reasons. “I don’t want us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing something transformative,” she said..

For a moment near the end of the meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw, who has spent months negotiating the plan with the county, seemed to agree. Moving toward a regional approach to homelessness, she said, was “a journey worth taking.” But “whether I would say that it’s transformational— I can’t go that far.”

2. The Northlake tiny house village, which had been slated for closure on Monday, December 9, got a reprieve Thursday morning in the form of a memo from Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson saying that the encampment could stay in place until March of next year. (I reported the news on Twitter Thursday morning).

The city had planned to close the village on the grounds that it has been less successful than any other tiny house village at moving people into permanent housing. The site is also at the center of a dispute between Nickelsville, the group that runs the site, and the Low Income Housing Institute, which is contracted to provide case management to village residents. Under the agreement, the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church, whose pastor, Jami Fecher, sits on the Community Advisory Committee for the Northlake tiny house village, will sponsor the village until March.

3. One of the points of contention at the heart of Nickelsville’s controversial tenure at the Northlake site, which is located in the shadow of the I-5 Ship Canal bridge in Wallingford, is whether residents have been offered case management and housing, as the city claims. (In his memo, Johnson writes that LIHI “has been working around the clock to provide case management” to residents who want it.) At a meeting of the Wallingford Community Council last night, new District 4 council member Alex Pedersen said that everyone living at the site had “been offered housing and services” but had refused to accept them.

After a Nickelsville resident told him that he had never been offered housing—only a spot at a different tiny house village or a “ticket out of state”—Pedersen responded, “My understanding is that there are only about 10 people who haven’t taken advantage of this, so it seems like it’s a doable thing to get those ten people into housing, and it’s my understanding from HSD and LIHI that they’re making constant offers. So it’s a dispute, right? It’s different stories. … People aren’t accepting the housing and services that are being offered.”

Pedersen, who ran on a platform of limited growth and a return to 1990s-style neighborhood planning (a process that centered the white Baby Boomers who still dominate community councils), may have showed up at the Wallingford Community Council expecting a friendly reception. (His politically polar-opposite predecessor, Rob Johnson, left his first meeting of the same group “traumatized” by the way they portrayed his views on development). Instead, Pedersen got an earful from homeowners who want to let the village stay.

“There’s 20-some people who are going to be kicked out in the middle of fucking December,” one member, Paul Chapman, said. “You’re here, you’re saying you want to be accountable… We’re asking you to, in the next day or so, go to make sure people aren’t kicked out onto the streets.”

The message seems to have gotten through: On Thursday morning, Pedersen was reportedly out at Northlake, meeting with residents. 

4. Meanwhile, District 3 council member Kshama Sawant sent out a press release on Thursday claiming credit for saving the tiny house village with a petition sent to Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday morning. “It is due to this pressure from, and unity in with the grassroots movement, that we have successfully forced the Mayor’s office to back off from the decision to evict our homeless neighbors,” Sawant said in her announcement.

Johnson’s letter to council members went out Thursday around 9 in the morning. No one at Sawant’s office returned a call for comment, but a staffer was unaware of the reprieve as of 10:00 Thursday morning. Sawant’s press release claiming victory went out just before 5:00 that afternoon.

3 thoughts on “Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension”

  1. If the suburbs aren’t contributing any revenue, then why is the city council even considering this proposal?

    It seems like this gives non-Seattle politicians say over how Seattle money is spent, presumably so they can override the Seattle City Council. In return Seattle gets nothing.

    This seems less like an attempt to address homelessness, and more like some kind of political power play.

    The major problem is that the vast majority of homelessness services are in Seattle. I’ve heard something like 80% of shelter space is in Seattle. The suburbs have contributed very little. Giving the same group of politicians who have done nothing to address this crisis more power, while completely letting them off the hook in terms of funding seems like a bad plan.

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