Seattle Experiments With Community-Owned Hubs and Job Incubators

The patch of ground at the southwest corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way South and South Othello Street, kitty-corner from the Othello light rail station in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, may not look like much now—an overgrown sidewalk, a few incongruously jaunty “O!hello!” signs, and a whole lot of weeds. But in the next few years, it could be Ground Zero for a new type of real-estate development—one championed by the City and local non-profits, working closely with community members, as a way to help keep vulnerable communities intact as the city changes by investing in cultural and economic anchors.The projects emerged from a community-driven process, led by social-justice groups like Puget Sound Sage and South CORE (Communities Organizing for Regional Equity) as well as several small-business associations in Southeast Seattle, that culminated in the city of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative, which aims to encourage (and help fund) developments that preserve communities at risk for economic displacement.

The development, known as the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center (SEEOC), is one of five planned equitable developments across Cascadia’s largest city. These city-blessed projects, driven by non-profit developers and community groups and funded by private investors, foundations, and city and state dollars, aim to help communities at risk of displacement prosper in place. They will preserve cultural institutions and provide opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and child care in areas of the city where rapid change threatens to fracture fragile communities.

The project, supporters hope, will not only provide affordable housing to Rainier Valley’s immigrant and refugee communities but will also serve as those communities’ social and cultural nexus. It will also offer job training, education, and employment in ground-level retail stores and restaurants, the center’s Seattle Children’s Hospital-run health clinic, a public charter school, and small-business incubators. The centerpiece of the Opportunity Center, a Multicultural Community Center serving eight discrete ethnic and cultural populations, would be community-owned and operated.

“If this community doesn’t own something, we’re going to get pushed out.”
-Tony To

“If this community doesn’t own something, we’re going to get pushed out,” says Tony To, director of the nonprofit housing developer Homesight, which is spearheading the project. “We have to own real estate. We have to own our own assets. We have to own our own programming. And this is not something that’s easy to do. This is not, frankly, something that Seattle is usually used to.”

Read the rest of my piece on the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center over at Sightline.

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.

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.

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.

Morning Crank: Keep Seattle What Now?

 

1. In announcing plans for a 1.75-cent-per-ounce soda tax last week, Mayor Ed Murray emphasized what he considers the nexus between sugary soda consumption (which has disproportionate impacts on low-income and minority communities) and what the tax will fund (programs that attempt to close the education and opportunity gap in those communities). As he did during his State of the City speech in February, Murray placed a particular emphasis on improving outcomes for young black men in Seattle Public Schools, by expanding mentoring programs aimed at keeping black male teenagers in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline. The city’s program, Our Best, is based on an Obama-era program called My Brother’s Keeper that was widely criticized for focusing on male achievement while ignoring the specific, and different, challenges facing young black women. For example, African American Policy Forum director Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw wrote in the New York Times that young black women are more likely than other young women to be victims of sexual violence, become pregnant at a young age, get suspended from school, die violently, and be victims of sex trafficking than other girls. “The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.”

Crenshaw notes that “supporters of My Brother’s Keeper use the analogy of ‘the canary in the coal mine‘ to justify both a narrow focus on individual-level interventions — as opposed to systemic policies to narrow the persistent racial gaps in education, income and wealth — and the exclusion of women and girls. Black boys are the miner’s canary, the argument goes, and so efforts to save them will trickle down to everyone else.”

When I asked Murray last week why he, like Obama, planned to emphasize young black men to the exclusion of young black women, his response was straight out of the Obama playbook. “Lots of the programs I listed—STEM, extracurricular activity programs, and other programs that will be enhanced—those are for young men and young women in our high schools,” Murray said. “They’re not limited to just men.”

Dwane Chappelle, director of the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning, jumped in. “At Aki Kurose Middle School, they are doing My Brother’s Keeper for young black men, but they’re also focusing on young black women and Hispanic women as well, making sure that students are all taken care of. They just use the My Brother’s Keeper framework” for both boys and, Chappelle said. But when I asked Chappelle whether the Aki Kurose program focuses on problems that are specific to girls, like teen pregnancy, he said he didn’t know the specifics.

2. A neighborhood effort to prohibit a four-story, 57-unit apartment building from going in along a commercial stretch of Greenwood, where the zoning has allowed apartments for many years, has passed the point of absurdity and is becoming downright surreal. Neighbors of the development, which is located right next to the frequent Route 5 bus line, argue that its residents will have to have cars because they won’t have access to transit, that by building small apartments, the developers are trying to “force” people to live in “Soviet-Union-like” dwellings, that it is “inhumane and unacceptable” for people to live without air conditioning in Seattle, and that a small garden on the roof would be an invitation for renters to “party” and cause disturbances.

Encouraged by a city planning and development department that subjects small projects like this one to design review, and the passivity of a design review board that failed to challenge or reject any of their complaints (virtually none of them the province of design review), the residents filed a challenge to the building under the State Environmental Policy Act, arguing, among other things, that the apartments will inconvenience neighbors by making it harder for them to park their cars.

livablephinney.org

Last week, the group opposing the building, which calls itself (of course) Livable Phinney, released the list of witnesses they would like to hear from and exhibits they hope to introduce at their first appearance before the city’s hearing examiner. (That hearing examiner, Sue Tanner, recently found in favor of Queen Anne homeowners who argued that allowing people to build mother-in-law apartments would harm the environment by, among other things, making it harder for people to park their cars.) A typical witness list might include five or six witnesses; Livable Phinney’s includes a dozen, plus 47 separate exhibits. The proposed witnesses include a Metro employee who will testify that Metro’s Route 5 is often behind schedule, making it less than “frequent,” an architect who will testify that the new apartments will create shadows on a nearby high-end condominium complex, a resident of that complex, and several nearby neighbors who oppose the project. The hearing, which is expected to last three days, starts on Tuesday.

3. Washington State Wire, which “relaunched” in January after several years as a conservative-leaning blog whose chief writer, Erik Smith, now works for the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus, has given consultant John Wyble a weekly column, where, last week, he tried to explain his client Mike McGinn’s perplexing campaign slogan, “Keep Seattle.” Says Wyble: “It simply means keep Seattle a welcoming place for all.”

Wyble continues: “I understand that this shorthand phrase could be confused with nostalgia. I remember riding in my Dad’s Ford Falcon along Boeing Field in the early 70s when Seattle was a blue-collar scrappy fishing town and SeaFair was the biggest event of the year. While I remember that fondly, this campaign knows that cities evolve and change. But for who?

“This is a campaign about keeping the promise of a great city for every person who lives in it.”

I guess that… clears that up?

Washington State Wire editor DJ Wilson says Wyble will write a total of eight columns for the website. No word yet on whether they plan to give equal time to consultants or spokespeople for the other mayoral campaigns.

4. David Preston and Harley Lever, two of the activists behind the Safe Seattle Facebook group, announced on their Facebook page that they plan to announce their candidacies for unspecified city offices this afternoon. (I’m guessing council Position 8 and mayor.) Anyone who reads my Twitter feed has a pretty good sense of my thoughts on Preston, who has mocked me relentlessly and even filed a frivolous city ethics complaint after I published a public record that showed another activist in an unflattering light, but you can find out even more about him by Googling his name and checking out his web page, which is a pastiche of conspiracy theories, images of city council aides and other private citizens lifted from their Facebook pages and Photoshopped, and overwrought imitations of hard-boiled journalism, minus the journalism.  You can also check out the video of his appearance before a flabbergasted Ethics and Elections Commission, starting around the two-minute mark.

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: Cary Moon

Cary Moon, a civic activist and urban planner best known for leading the fight against the downtown tunnel (read my 2004 story about that effort here) is an unlikely candidate for mayor. A wonk who recently cowrote a four-part series about neoliberalism and gentrification for the Stranger, Moon has never made herself the center of attention, and seems more comfortable debating the granular details of housing policy than she does speaking directly into a camera, as she did in the video announcing her candidacy. She’s running, she says, because she wants to address the growing divide between Seattle’s “haves and have-nots,” with progressive taxation, a crackdown on speculative property buyers, and by having a conversation with Seattle residents about “what kind of city we want to be.” I spoke to Moon by phone on Thursday.

The C Is for Crank: A lot of people seem to be jumping in to this race because they perceive that Murray is newly vulnerable. Do you have a specific critique of Murray’s record and positions?

Cary Moon (CM): I think he has done quite a bit and he deserves to be proud of that. He’s made a lot of good changes for the future. [But] I feel like we have had a lot of big, transformative changes in the city. We’ve become a city of haves and have-nots, and I don’t think he has the right analysis of why that’s happening. I feel like in a time of change, we need a really strong vision and idea of what we’re aiming for, and we need an action plan to get there, so people feel like they have a voice on housing affordability, and on building a local economy that circulates [wealth] back into small businesses and local businesses. There’s things the city and state could and should be doing to increase the ability of the city to share prosperity.

“Housing used to be local. It used to be local players, building housing for local people. Now they’re acting more and more like Wall Street, where outside predators are piling on just left and right.”

ECB: Can you give some specific examples of times when Murray has used the wrong analysis to inform his policy choices?

CM: I think we missed some opportunities with HALA. There’s some good things in it. I like the mandatory affordability proposal. I like the proposals about what to do in single-family zoning to add townhouses and duplexes and accessory dwelling units—building the missing middle. But I think we’re missing some good opportunities. We’re not really understanding everything that’s driving up demand. So yes, let’s build houses for everyone who wants to live here, but there are other causes that are escalating housing prices that the city is not considering. We need to figure out what to do with those.

ECB: Like what?

CM: If you look at what’s happening in other world-class cities, you see this phenomenon of outside investors piling on and taking advantage of everyone wanting to move here. It’s just like Wall Street—when Wall Street sees a stock go up two days in a row, all of Wall Street piles on to that stock. That same phenomenon is going on in our housing market.

Housing used to be local. It used to be local players, building housing for local people. Now they’re acting more and more like Wall Street, where outside predators are piling on just left and right.

ECB:  You’ve mentioned this theory before—that foreign investors from places like China are snapping up properties here as investments and leaving them vacant, which helps drive up housing prices. But all the available data seems to show that while this is happening in Vancouver, it isn’t happening here. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen in the future, but what evidence do you have that so-called hot money is driving up housing prices now?

CM: I don’t have any secret information that nobody else has, but the dynamic is there. I’ve read enough articles that have said that investors that have been in Vancouver are now looking at other cities, and Seattle is one of their choices. It’s not just hot money, it’s not just foreign investors, but everything has changed in the last 10 years. It used to be, you buy property, you build a building, you get a certain rate of return, and you get your money back, maybe 7 percent in 20  years. It’s completely different now. Now, you buy a building and sell it right away, and the return on investment comes not from the slow, long revenue stream of rents coming in, but from the quick turn of selling at a higher rate and doing the same thing again and again and again and again. Our development world is behaving more like Wall Street than it used to. It’s developers leaving buildings vacant, it’s people buying investment properties, it’s Airbnb, it’s people building second and third and fourth homes that might not have anybody living in them for most of the year. Real estate is a great place to put your money, if you have money.

“It’s very attractive to anybody that’s trying to find a place to live that’s affordable, so everyone piles on. ‘We can live in the Central District. It’s close to downtown, close to work.’ It’s escalating.”

ECB: Isn’t the bigger problem that a lot more people want to live here, and that housing supply isn’t keeping up with demand? Wouldn’t the obvious solution to that be just—build more housing?

CM: I think people are moving here because there are jobs here, and that’s great—I don’t want people to stop moving here—but there’s additional pressure on neighborhoods that have been traditionally redlined, where society and government and banks and the real estate industry kept prices low and kept segregation happening, and now those prices are different than the rest of Seattle. It’s very attractive to anybody that’s trying to find a place to live that’s affordable, so everyone piles on. ‘We can live in the Central District. It’s close to downtown, close to work.’ It’s escalating. We need to take a very careful look at what can we do to preserve access to the neighborhood for people from the community, with cultural ties and family ties in the community, so that we’re not blasting out those people and filling the neighborhood up with a bunch of wealthy white people.

ECB: So what do you propose to prevent displacement from those communities?

CM: Strong tenants’ protection rights are a part of it. I think looking at rent stabilization—not rent control, but are there things you can do to dampen rent escalation, to slow it down? Are there things you can do with the community to benefit the people from the community that already live there? There are a lot of subtle things that you can do that are going to benefit folks from the community.

I think [HALA] wasn’t enough. I think it was a good step. But where we were three years ago when HALA started—that was as far as developers were willing to go. I would like to revisit and look at some of the solutions we proposed, things we didn’t do yet in single-family-zoned lands, like townhouses and duplexes and accessory dwelling units. I want to have that conversation.

ECB: Those things were all originally part of HALA, and they all got shot down during that process. How would revisiting HALA change that outome?

CM: I think it’s a matter of leadership and vision. The way I think people perceived HALA was that it was a power struggle between stakeholders, and everybody fighting for their own interests. I would like to set aside that way of operating for a minute and ask the people of Seattle what kind of city we want to be. How do we want to welcome young families? How do we want to welcome all communities and restart this debate towards a constructive goal around what kind of city we want to be? We need to change the framework, change the context, and talk to  people about what kind of city we want to be.

ECB: Homelessness has become a huge issue during Murray’s term. What do you think of his approach to homelessness—from the ongoing sweeps of homeless encampments to Pathways Home, which focuses on rapid rehousing and rebidding city contracts with service providers?

CM: The proposal that was put forward by the organizations involved in homelessness and Mike O’Brien and the ACLU—that was much closer to what we should be doing. I would like to go back to that proposal and figure out the best way to do this in a way that respects people’s human rights and dignity.

[In general] ,my feeling is that there are a few things we need to do differently. First, we need to get better data, a better sense of collaboration, and a commitment to those values across city agencies and the nonprofit community and providers. It feels like Barb Poppe was possibly right that there was a lot of duplication of effort and a need for efficiencies. I like the idea of housing first—people need shelter to get back on their feet, and you can’t really accomplish anything if you don’t have a place to sleep. I like low-barrier shelters, and I like the idea of looking at the shelters where people are staying for months and months and months and not moving. I like the idea of figuring out what those folks need to do to move on.

I’m concerned about the voucher system. Unless we address the root cause of affordability, vouchers are not going to do it. Vouchers might work for a family that just had a temporary crisis and lost their job and had a fairly easy time getting back on their feet. But for people whose incomes are low and are going to stay low, the voucher system is very impractical. We need to figure out how to build more affordable housing or people are going to be back out on the street.

“Low-income people, middle-income people, have been generous enough. They pay, as a proportion of their income, seven times more than wealthy people do in taxes.”

ECB: You and ex-mayor McGinn hold a lot of the same views, support many of the same policy positions, and seem likely to draw support from the same set of progressive young urbanists and social justice advocates. What distinction would you draw for voters who are torn between you and him?

I’m wondering what he’s all about with his slogan of Keep Seattle, because it’s signaling, like, a direction I don’t quite understand. We might have a lot more policy differences than I thought we did. Definitely, our style of leadership is different. I want to build will and momentum toward a common vision, and I think he loves the street fight of scrappy power struggles. And I believe I have a much deeper analysis of how to tackle the affordable housing crisis and how to build affordable housing. I’ve spent the last two years working on that as well as democracy reform—how to spread power across spectrum, not just to wealthy white people.

ECB: Do you agree with McGinn that people in Seattle are overtaxed, and that the city should adopt an income tax, even one that’s unlikely to hold up in court?

CM: I see the same problem as he does. Low-income people, middle-income people, have been generous enough. They pay, as a proportion of their income, seven times more than wealthy people do in taxes. I want to have a big, broad conversation with the city and all the most creative lawyers in the city about how do we do this. Wealthy people should be paying their fair share, and a lot of wealthy people believe that too. We have to build the public will and the right legal strategy. I’ve heard that a capital gains tax is a better place to start [than income tax] because it’s more likely to hold up, but I need more information on that. I would say yes, I’m for finding new sources that are more progressive.

 

ECB: When they were teasing your candidacy before you announced, Moxie Media described you as a “well-resourced” candidate. How much of your own money are you willing to put into this race?

CM: I don’t know. I’m fundraising like hell, because that’s important to building commitment and credibility and expanding the movement. I’m going to do that first.

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: There Has Been One Bump in the Road

Lauren McGowan, Marty Hartman, Barb Poppe

1. The third of three panel discussions on homelessness in Seattle (sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association, Seattle Chamber, Visit Seattle, and the Alliance for Pioneer Square) featured an all-female panel (KIRO radio host Dave Ross, who moderated, made a cringeworthy joke about bringing “gender diversity” to the stage) that covered a lot of the same territory as the previous two. The panelists (consultant Barb Poppe, King County Human Services director Adrienne Quinn, Seattle Human Services Department director Catherine Lester, Mary’s Place director Marty Hartman, and United Way of King County financial stability director Lauren McGowan) agreed on the need for more accountability and better data; lamented the fact that homelessness is growing faster than the city or county’s ability to place people in housing; and disputed the notion, suggested by some audience members, that arresting people for sleeping in tents and panhandling was a good solution. I livetweeted the event and Storified those tweets here.

One new theme in yesterday morning’s discussion, which I hadn’t heard leaders acknowledge openly before, was the city’s inability to convince private landlords to voluntarily rent their units to formerly homeless individuals and families. The city’s Pathways Home homelessness strategy, which is based on a report Poppe produced last year, relies heavily on landlords to decide to participate voluntarily in a “housing resource center” that will, in theory, link people experiencing homelessness, including those with histories of eviction or criminal records, to landlords. The idea is to entice landlords to rent to people who might not meet their usual screening criteria by providing incentives such as on-call emergency assistance, a “mitigation fund” to pay for any damage caused by tenants, or flat financial payments to landlords who take on formerly homeless tenants. The center, Lester acknowledged, “has been an area where we have not been able to accelerate as quickly as we would like to.”

The view from Belltown: “I feel like I’m living in a war zone.”

Poppe appealed to landlords’ sense of obligation to help their communities. “There has been one bump in the road, which is the housing resource center, and they need your help on this,” Poppe told the audience of business community members. “They need those landlords to come forward. I really encourage the business community to engage and help get back on track.” Without much larger incentives, or a market crash that drastically slows or reverses population growth, that strikes me as wishful thinking—as things stands, landlords clearly see no reason to voluntarily rent to high-risk tenants in a market where they can easily find tenants with stable jobs and perfect credit.

2. The discovery of $3.4 million in “missing” money from the city’s incentive zoning program—which required developers in certain neighborhoods to build affordable housing or pay into a fund in exchange for greater density—wasn’t quite the bombshell news some media made it out to be; the error was discovered by the city auditor and corrected last year. However, the news raised obvious concerns about both accountability—are developers fulfilling their affordable-housing obligations?—and transparency—how do citizens know developers are fulfilling their obligations?— and both issues were on the table yesterday morning, when the council’s planning, land use, and zoning committee looked at the audit findings and a list of recommendations aimed at ensuring no more multi-million-dollar obligations slip through the cracks. The city is replacing the old incentive zoning program, which allowed developers to build taller as an incentive for affordable housing payment or production, with a new mandatory affordable housing program, which requires developers across the city to build affordable housing or pay into the affordable housing fund.

In addition to the need for better controls and more frequent checks to make sure that developers pay what they owe the city, council members pointed to the need to make sure developers are producing the housing they say they’re producing under the new program—and to ensure that the public can easily access that information as well.

“When I’m in the community talking about the MHA program, there’s a skepticism around the payments,” District 6 council member Mike O’Brien said. “I hear from folks in the community that they just pay and who knows where that money goes? The reality is that that money is going to a bunch of cool program, but the more clarity we can provide to people so they can see that ‘that project next to me or down the street is producing this many units or they wrote this check and we can actually see that project—it’s down the street,” the better. “My goal is not to create an overwhelming burden on the process or slow it down, but just to make sure that folks who are trying to access this information can look at that,” O’Brien said.

Office of Housing director Steve Walker said his office had made progress toward creating a public system that tracks new units built under various affordable housing programs, and Department of Construction and Inspections director Nathan Torgelson said DCI was working on a system to track how new developments plan to meet their MHA obligations, and where those developments are in “the pipeline.”

“I know the audit turned up, certainly, a couple of high-profile things that we’re all embarrassed by, and should be,” O’Brien said. “While this isn’t a shining moment of how everything worked perfectly at the city, I think it’s an example of how checks and balances are in place, and we have people dedicated to working through the process and informing the public” in the future.

3. Tensions in council chambers were high Monday morning,  when the council met for the first time as the Select Committee on Civic Arenas, a committee that was formed after the council voting against handing control of a public right-of-way over to billionaire hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, who wants to build a new NBA arena in SoDo.

The street vacation went down by a 5-4 vote, which happened to break down along gender lines, prompting an awful lot of grown men (and a few women) to spend an awful lot of time and mental energy thinking up creative new ways to call the majority of the city council bitches and cunts. One of those women, Lorena Gonzalez, said yesterday that she’s hopeful that having a whole committee dedicated to the arena discussion will give people an opportunity to air substantive issues related to the arena debate issues “in a way that is more public and transparent” than last year’s street vacation discussion, which took place in the transportation committee, to which most council members do not belong.  “My hope is that the pro-SoDo arena crowd will, at a minimum, recognize that there is an effort by this council to air out potential issues early and to have conversations about those issues and concerns in a way that is productive,” Gonzalez said.

Fingers crossed.

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: The War on Immigrants Is a War on Cities

1. “The war on facts has become a war on cities.” 

That was Mayor Ed Murray’s latest volley in his own war against the Trump Administration, launched yesterday along with a lawsuit charging that Trump has no legal right to pull federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration statutes according to the new Administration’s harsh interpretation of those laws.

Yesterday, the mayor and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced they were filing suit against the US Justice Department, whose director, KKK apologist Jeff Sessions, announced this week that he would pull Department of Justice grants to cities that refuse to assist federal agents in tracking down and detaining undocumented immigrants. Seattle’s 2017 budget assumes $2.6 million in DOJ grants for domestic violence prevention, officer body cams, human trafficking prosecution, and more.

The lawsuit contends that Sessions’ order violates the 10th Amendment, by dictating the way the city enforces federal laws, and the Spending Clause from Article 1 of the Constitution, by attempting to coerce the city into aiding immigration agents by threatening to withhold federal funding if it doesn’t.

“We have the law on our side: the federal government cannot compel our police department to enforce federal immigration law and cannot use our federal dollars to coerce Seattle into turning our backs on our immigrant and refugee communities,” Murray said.

Trump’s war on immigrants is a war on cities because cities are made stronger, politically, culturally, and economically, by the presences of immigrants, and he’s waging that war because city values—diversity, inclusion, resistance, queerness, intellectualism, and unconformity—are anathema to his backward-looking vision of a nation united by fear and mutual distrust. Seattle is the first city to formally resist Sessions’ and Trump’s unconstitutional bullying by filing a lawsuit. If cities’ response to the last unconstitutional order targeting immigrants was any indication, we won’t be the last.

2. A Queen Anne homeowner’s dogged, well-financed effort to kill backyard cottages in Seattle won a victory that will further delay a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build accessory units and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in the process.

This week, city council member Mike O’Brien announced that thanks to activist Marty Kaplan‘s successful effort to delay new rules that would loosen the regulations that currently make it prohibitively expensive for many homeowners to build accessory units, the city will do a full environmental impact statement to determine the impact accessory units will have on the city’s environment. The intuitively obvious conclusion would be that backyard cottages improve the environment, because they add density, which helps prevent suburban sprawl and reduce auto dependence. In addition, they allow homeowners to age in place, promoting multigenerational households and preventing the development of lot-line-to-lot-line McMansions that often sprout in neighborhoods when single-family properties change hands.

O’Brien proposed his backyard cottage legislation in May 2016. With any luck, he will be able to introduce new legislation sometime in the summer of 2018.

3. Bikesharing advocates will say goodbye to Pronto with a group ride tomorrow afternoon. Pronto riders will gather at 3rd Ave. and Broad Street at 5pm (there are two Pronto stations within two blocks, but the clunky green bikes are available all over downtown) and ride slowly up Capitol Hill, ending at a bar TBA. “Ed Murray’s house for bell ringing party optional.” Murray announced he was killing the money-losing bikeshare system in January.

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