Morning Crank: A Framework for Inaction

1. Nearly every candidate in this year’s Seattle elections, from urban planner Cary Moon to labor crusader Teresa Mosqueda to former US attorney Jenny Durkan, calls herself (or himself) an “urbanist.” (Moon was even endorsed by The Urbanist blog.) But what are the candidates telling neighborhood groups—the sort of organizations that too often stand in the way of the kind of new housing that would move Seattle toward an actual urbanist future?

At a recent candidate forum held by a group of Magnolia, Queen Anne, and Ballard homeowners, Moon said she would “restart” the process of allowing more housing in neighborhoods so that people already living in those neighborhoods—incumbent property owners—can make sure that their “culture” and neighborhood “character” is preserved.

Asked about Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which allows modest increases in housing supply in non-single-family areas, Moon responded:

The HALA process was way too insular and top-down. It was a small group of people, behind closed doors, who decided that they had a compromise with each other that they unleashed on the world and said, ‘You shall do this.’ That is not the way we do things in Seattle. A better process would have been to go to neighborhoods and say, ‘We’re growing this much and we need to create a healthy society where people of all income levels and all ages and stages of life can live in your neighborhood. Here’s the target goals for your neighborhood. How can we achieve these goals together?’ And work directly with these neighbors around how they want to grow. Do you want duplexes? Row houses? Backyard cottages? Upzone your urban village? [Put] the whole range of tools on the table and work with neighborhoods to figure out, what is the right way for you to grow that preserves your culture and your character of your neighborhood that you care about. That is what we should have done. And I would restart that process at this point and have a new discussion based in those constructive approaches and that positive future vision, because that’s the only way we’re going to make change in this city.

Moon’s response parroted both anti-development activists like Jon Grant, who’s running on a socialist party platform for council Position 8, and property values activists like Marty Kaplan, the Queen Anne homeowner who sued to prevent the city from allowing more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in Seattle’s single-family areas. (Not to mention former mayor Mike McGinn, who ran unsuccessfully this year on a similar message).

Although Moon has, to her credit, been consistent with this let-the-neighborhoods-decide talking point (she said something similar to Transportation for Washington, the political arm of  the urbanist Transportation Choices Coalition, in their endorsement interview, and to me), she’s savvy enough to know that promises to preserve “your culture,” “neighborhood character,” and even “your neighborhood” are dog whistles,  not neutral policy goals. Assuring homeowners that the neighborhoods belong to them, not newcomers or renters, and defining “character” as “exclusive single-family areas” creates a framework for inaction, not a blueprint for growth.

2. On a more positive note, it’s been fun to see Moon and Durkan try to outdo each other with proposals to advance pay equity for women and in jobs primarily held by women over the past two weeks—something I’ve never seen from any male candidate for local elective office, ever. (This, in case you’re wondering, is one of many reasons we need more women in local positions—try to imagine any of the male council members of the past 50 years adding “gender pay equity” to the mission of a standing council committee, which Jean Godden did, or expanding that mission to “gender equity” in general, as Lorena Gonzalez did after Godden left the council.)

The latest shot across the bow comes from Moon, who on Monday proposed a set of rule changes to promote pay equity and transparency from large employers and an ordinance that would bar employers from asking prospective hires about their salary history. Women in Seattle currently make just 78 cents on the dollar compared to men doing similar work, one of the worst big-city pay gaps in the country. Salary history requests contribute to this gap, because when employers base salaries on women’s current pay in a system that underpays them, it only perpetuates the problem. In addition to the salary history ban, Moon proposed working toward a local version of state legislation that would have banned retaliation against workers for discussing their pay, prevented employers from paying some people less for doing the same work as other employees based on their job title, and tracking women into lower-paying jobs.

The pay gap, unsurprisingly, is even worse in the tech industry, where female programmers make, on average, almost 30 percent less than their male counterparts. Durkan is supported by the political arm of the Seattle Chamber, which includes the Washington Retail Association and the Washington Tech Industry Alliance, organizations that opposed SB 1605 this year. The Chamber’s PAC, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, has poured $86,000 into an independent expenditure group, People for Jenny. I reached out to Durkan’s campaign yesterday afternoon to find out whether she supports a ban on salary history or a local ordinance that mirrors 1605 and will update this post when I hear back from them.

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How Programs Like “Our Best” Fail Black Girls: A Conversation With Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

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This story originally appeared on the South Seattle Emerald.

The story of the school-to-prison pipeline is a familiar one: Nationwide, young Black men in both public and private schools are more likely than their White counterparts to be disciplined, tracked into special education classes, and suspended for the same infractions, contributing to higher dropout rates and subsequent incarceration. Seattle is no exception to this nationwide phenomenon. In Seattle public schools, African-American boys are nearly three times as likely as White boys to be referred to special education, and fall far behind their White counterparts on nearly every standard measure of success—from third-grade reading scores, to seventh-grade math proficiency, to graduation rates.

Earlier this year, Mayor Ed Murray announced a new initiative, called Our Best, that aims to close this achievement gap by doubling the number of Black male mentors, providing a clearinghouse and technical support for existing programs that serve young Black men, and creating a new special advisor to the mayor on young Black male achievement. The program, which is modeled on former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, aims to increase the number of Black boys who graduate from high school, provide Black young men between the ages of 14 and 24 more pathways to “meaningful, well-paid employment,” and reduce the percentage of young Black men entering the criminal justice system.

Admirable as those goals may be, some advocates wonder: What about the girls? Young Black women face unique challenges that aren’t shared by young Black men, including pregnancy (four in 10 Black girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as the reason), lack of economic opportunity (the jobs that are available for female high school dropouts pay significantly less than those available to male dropouts), and abuse (girls are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and harassment.) Black girls are also far more likely than Black boys to be single parents without other sources of support, which compounds the impact of lower wages. Little wonder, then, that the median net worth of single Black women is $100, compared with almost $7,900 for Black men and $41,500 for single White women.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the founder and director of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Columbia University, was one of the first prominent African-American writers to ring the alarm bell about My Brother’s Keeper back in 2014 when she wrote a New York Times op/ed titled “The Girls Obama Forgot: My Brother’s Keeper Ignores Young Black Women.” (Crenshaw is also known for coining the term “intersectionality,” which describes overlapping social identities and related systems of oppression.) The following year, Crenshaw and the AAPF published a report titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” which chronicled the “hidden toll of race on Black girls,” including the astonishing fact that Black girls are six times as likely as White girls to be suspended from school for the same infractions—a gap in suspension rates that dwarfs the gap between Black and White boys.

I sat down with Crenshaw in Seattle earlier this summer.

Erica C. Barnett [ECB]: Mayor Ed Murray has argued, essentially, that if the city can address the achievement gap for young Black men, the benefits will accrue to all Black students, including young women, without the need for a separate program addressing young women’s specific needs. Specifically, part of the argument is that when boys end up in jail, it destabilizes the African-American family structure and forces women to take on all the responsibilities in a family, including earning a living and taking care of kids and other family members. What do you think of the argument that addressing Black boys’ issues will ultimately help address Black girls’ problems as well?

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: Where do I start? Trickle-down social justice doesn’t work any better than Reaganomics did. If there is a crisis with respect to Black families or Black communities, it is a crisis that can’t be fixed by trying to embrace a nostalgic desire for Ozzie and Harriet. That ship has sailed. It sailed a long time ago. What’s most important is to recognize the ways that boys and girls who are from socially marginalized groups are marginalized by a variety of factors.

Gender correction is not at the source of the solutions for African-American people or for any people. These frameworks are effectively foregrounding a framework that appeared in the 1960s, and even at that time it wasn’t really accurate to what was happening. This is [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan effectively warmed over and reproduced over 50 years later. [Moynihan, who served as assistant labor secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote a now-infamous 1964 report called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” that argued for racial self-help and the restoration of the traditional family as the solution to racial economic inequality]. The Moynihan thesis was basically that equality would always outpace what African-Americans were able to expect as long as their family structure was non-normative. To think that the source of inequality is incomplete socialization to gender norms is to ignore a whole variety of structural and historical dynamics that impact both boys and girls, men and women.

“If there is a crisis with respect to Black families or Black communities, it is a crisis that can’t be fixed by trying to embrace a nostalgic desire for Ozzie and Harriet.”

So what about the job market? What about the under-resourcing of public schools? What about stereotypes about men and women, boys and girls? What about suspension and punishment that happens inside of schools and outside of schools? What about geographic isolation and segregation? All of these are structural, institutional, historical factors that together contribute to the wide variety of inequalities that African-Americans face? To essentially say that the problem is located in the individual, as opposed to the structure in which the individuals live, is to effectively let off the hook an entire history of subordination and do so by essentially saying that, ‘the inequality rests in you, Black boy,’ rather than in the society that constructs the situations in which people live.

ECB: If you were creating a program within a school system to address those structural inequalities more directly, what would it look like?

KWC: I think there should be targeted programs for socially marginal and struggling students, and those students come across all genders. It’s not just one gender that’s struggling. I think the measurement of what counts as a crisis is also a problem, because the conversation up ‘til now has assumed that the only students in crisis were boys.

We’ve heard all about the school-to-prison pipeline, the disproportionate suspension rates, and all that, but if you actually look at the data from the Department of Education, the disparities between girls of different races is greater than the disparity between boys. Basically, it’s the way that we frame social problems that is the problem. Assuming that the girls are doing okay, or ‘the girls can wait,’ is basically assuming that ‘whatever is going on with you is basically irrelevant; the racial disparity between you and White girls is something that isn’t the primary point of concern.’

“If you actually look at the data from the Department of Education, the disparities between girls of different races is greater than the disparity between boys.”

What we know is that the long-term consequences of being pushed out of school for girls are in some ways even more consequential over the long term, because the jobs available for girls without a high school diploma actually pay less than the jobs that are available for boys without a [high school] diploma. If you add to that the fact that the majority of Black children will, at some point in their lives, rely either wholly or in part on the income of their mothers—to ignore that, to ignore those real family formations [in exchange] for the ones that we fantasize about, is basically to say, ‘All of you can wait until we get the ideal family formation that we want.’

That kind of framing of families is almost only expressed with respect to racialized communities. Outside of that, we have a completely new idea about what counts as a family. We have a completely new idea about gender roles. But when it comes to remediation—treating Black folks as sort of in need of gender repair—we’re back to old ideas about that.

ECB: A lot of what I’ve heard from supporters of these kinds of programs is that Black women are strong; they can provide for themselves; they’re the rock for their families.

KWC: So what’s that saying? Black men and boys are weak? I think that’s the question that should get asked. Unfortunately, we have accepted this idea that there’s something uniquely vulnerable about the boy child, rather than saying, ‘okay, this is the way the entire system impacts boys and here’s the way it impacts girls.’ Sometimes they’re impacted the same, particularly relative to their White counterparts, but sometimes there are differences, too. There are a whole range of ways that girls are impacted by some of these environments that people aren’t even talking about because the point of departure is always the boy.

“It’s almost like, ‘This is a race thing, so we’re not going to apply the typical anti-patriarchy, anti-heterosexism, anti-transphobia frames to it. It’s a Black boy thing.’ And I’m wondering, okay, how can some of the same administrations have policies that are really progressive on gender and also embrace this?”

ECB: For example?

KWC: Harassment that happens in school. The way that Black girls are often framed as unruly because of a stereotype about both Black people and girls, and that comes together and it makes it more likely that Black girls will be seen as acting out, having attitude. Obviously, the consequences of single parenting are greater for girls than they are for boys. Sexual abuse is more common for girls than it is for boys. So all this stuff gets sort of swept under the rug by saying, ‘Okay, you, girl, can wait so we can create Prince Charming for you.’ We need boys and girls who actualize their best capacity. We need to create opportunities for both of them and not create this fantasy where the girls can wait until the knight in shining armor comes along. Some of them don’t want a knight.

And then you add to that: How can we even be thinking about his when we’re starting to understand that gender is fluid? It’s not just two! So how’s that work? And where are the folks who are advocating for gender diversity when it comes to these issues? Where is the gay community? It’s almost like, ‘This is a race thing, so we’re not going to apply the typical anti-patriarchy, anti-heterosexism, anti-transphobia frames to it. It’s a Black boy thing.’ And I’m wondering, okay, how can some of the same administrations have policies that are really progressive on gender and also embrace this?

Seattle is about to choose a new mayor from among two White women. Although neither of the two candidates, Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan, have expressed an opinion about Our Best specifically, both have had what Crenshaw would call “non-normative” family experiences—Moon as a single mom and Durkan as the mother of two boys with her partner, who is a woman. For now, the city’s focus will remain on young Black men, whose mass incarceration, according to Office of Economic Director Brian Surrat, has “been very destabilizing to the African American family.” Surrat acknowledges that this “sounds like a very conservative argument,” and says the city does “need to have a different set of initiatives and investments targeting young Black women and Latinas, as well as the Southeast Asian community.”

However, the city has no specific plans for such an initiative, nor any details about what it might look like. For now, the city has decided that Our Best is good enough.

 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Lorena Gonzalez

Incumbent city council member Lorena Gonzalez may have only been on the council for two years, but she has already made her mark as head of the council’s public safety and gender equity committee, which has spent the past five years, give or take, overseeing the implementation of police reforms in the city. (In 2012, the US Department of Justice ordered the Seattle Police Department to implement reforms to curb excessive force and racially biased policing, and a US district judge has refused to release the city from the consent decree until he is satisfied that the city is in compliance). Gonzalez, a civil rights attorney who was Mayor Ed Murray’s chief counsel before running for council in 2015, was the first council member to call on Murray to resign after the Seattle Times reported on records related to the sex-abuse case against him in Oregon, where a child-welfare investigator concluded that Murray had sexually abused his foster son in 1984.

I sat down with Gonzalez late last month at Uptown Espresso in West Seattle.

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The C Is For Crank [ECB]: You were first council member to call for Murray to step down. How do you feel about that decision now?

LG: I feel as strongly today as I did then about needing to take a very strong moral position that the mayor should step down. It was hard for me to realize that I would be standing alone on that for quite some time, and I’m okay with that, because it was the right thing to do. I will always choose the side of survivors, and so if I could go back, I would do it all again.

ECB: I assume it’s damaged your relationship with the 7th floor.

LG: (Laughs.) I think I have had the great benefit of having really strong relationships with a lot of the mayor’s staff because they’re former coworkers and colleagues of mine, and I continue to work collaboratively with a lot of my former colleagues on the 7th floor to get done what we need to finish getting done. That being said, the mayor and I have not personally communicated since my announcement.

ECB: That must be hard, since you worked with him so closely in the past.

LG: This whole thing is hard because of that. He’s somebody that I respected. He’s somebody that I trusted. He’s somebody who motivated me enough to leave a ten-year-long career doing civil rights work and sexual survivor advocacy work that I really fundamentally believed in and loved. And personally, it was difficult for me to process and accept that the what I saw in the investigation file from Oregon was true. So that was very personally difficult to reconcile all that.

ECB: The city has made progress on police reform, but there are still gaps and calls for reform. What additional efforts would you like to see on police accountability and reform?

LG: I actually think we have made significant strides, but that doesn’t mean that we are close to being there yet, whatever ‘there’ is. The reality is that the [police accountability] ordinance that I sponsored, that was approved by unanimously by the council in May of 2017, hasn’t been implemented yet. And it hasn’t been implemented yet because we haven’t been able to convince the federal court to allow us to move forward with the ordinance, and part of that is because [federal district judge James Robart] has legitimate concerns around the powers that our police union holds in the collective bargaining process. And until we are able to convince the judge that we are willing to prioritize constitutional policing above all else, even in the collective bargaining process, then we will continue to be in  a place where this ordinance is in limbo and where some of the huge significant policy changes that are reflected in the ordinance won’t be implemented until we convince the judge that we’re willing to hold the line.

“I feel as strongly today as I did then about needing to take a very strong moral position that the mayor should step down. It was hard for me to realize that I would be standing alone on that for quite some time, and I’m okay with that, because it was the right thing to do. I will always choose the side of survivors, and so if I could go back, I would do it all again.”

ECB: Some reform proponents have suggested that police union negotiations be held in public. Why do you oppose that idea?

LG: I think that that’s a fundamentally anti-labor position. The reality is that the state really does dictate what the rules are around collective bargaining, and we as a city are beholden to those rules. I think what we have historically seen in the city of Seattle is that our agreed-upon system of accountability and discipline has historically been eroded in the collective bargaining process. So I think for me, what is more important is how do we engage in collective bargaining with unions where we make sure that there is no backsliding on the intent and purpose that we’re trying to accomplish through our legislation.

Something that I think could be incredibly powerful in that context, that has been suggested by people like retired judge Anne Levinson, is the idea of having a special monitor in the labor negotiation processes that would just be focused on tracking whether or not the proposed parameters or a final tentative labor agreement have caused some backsliding on what the actual intent and purpose is, as reflected in the police accountability legislation.  I think that level of technical assistance provides more real information about whether or not there’s backsliding than just allowing sort of people who might not understand the intricacies of these policies to speculate as to whether or not they’re working.

ECB: Would part of the aim of creating a monitor position be to satisfy the objections of people who want to give the CPC more authority over things like hiring and firing the police chief and instigating investigations?

LG: I think we’ve empowered the Community Police Commission to the extent that they want to be empowered.  The CPC did not ask for a system that doesn’t look like what it looks like now. They asked to have the role that they currently have in this version of the ordinance. They did not ask for the power to fire the chief. They did not ask for the ability to discipline or do individual investigations. And they fundamentally wanted to stay focused on, how can we create a table of community leaders and members who would have the power and ability to do systemic review and make fundamental recommendations to change those systems if the system becomes unhealthy. And that’s what they decided as a democratic body to advocate for in this legislation, and that’s what’s reflected in the legislation.

ECB: Given that we’ll have a new mayor next year,  I wondered if there’s any part of HALA that you would want to revisit once Murray is out of office.

LG: I’d like to spend more time thinking about displacement tools. A lot of times, people think the mandatory housing affordability program is an anti-displacement tool, but in reality, it really is designed to increase the stock of affordable housing for people of a certain income. It’s not the very low or extremely low-income folks. And so I do think there’s an opportunity for city council to really step into the anti-displacement arena.

“The CPC did not ask for a system that doesn’t look like what it looks like now. They asked to have the role that they currently have in this version of the ordinance. They did not ask for the power to fire the chief. They did not ask for the ability to discipline or do individual investigations.”

I continue to be really interested in having the conversations around opening up more of our single-family zones to multifamily housing. And it’s obviously a very delicate conversation to have, and it’s delicate for a variety of reasons. But just because it’s a tough conversation doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have it. And we should explore best practices in terms of how we can best engage the community and how we can pilot at least a version of what I think there is interest in doing.

ECB: Given how controversial the mandatory housing affordability (MHA) program was at first, it’s been interesting to watch the council pass every upzone unanimously.

LG: But it’s because it’s in urban villages.

ECB: Right—the problem is that we have single-family zones where you can’t even build a duplex. Were you disappointed when Murray pulled back on opening up single-family zones to more types of development so quickly?

LG: I think it’s fair to say that I wish we could have had more of an opportunity to really see how the conversation could have unfolded. These conversations are really tough, right, because we’re talking about fundamentally changing parts  of the city that have never had to change, so I think we could have potentially benefited from allowing the city and its residents more time to have that public conversation.

ECB: How do you think the mayor’s navigation teams have been performing, in terms of getting people in tents into safer shelter as well as into permanent housing?

LG: I think it’s better than what we had before. I will say that I share concerns about having the Office for Civil Rights being effectively the auditor of how that outreach is occurring around the encampment conversation as a whole, which is where these navigation teams are being used primarily. The Office for Civil Rights has an inherent conflict because they are a department of the executive and it’s a very small office, and I just don’t know how a small office like that could reconcile that conflict of interest and be a true independent auditor.

ECB: How would you resolve that conflict?

LG: I think that the Office for Civil Rights should be its own independent office that has stand-alone authority, similar to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and hopefully someday soon similar to the Community Police Commission, or to shift that work to the city auditor’s office. I’m not sure that there is any other way to ensure that that work isn’t being unduly influenced by the political will of the executive.

 

“I think that impounding somebody’s vehicle as a result of unpaid fines and tickets is not helping our homelessness situation.”

 

ECB: Mike O’Brien has proposed creating a new program where people living in cars and RVs could get immunity from tickets in exchange for accepting services. Is that approach something you’ll support?

LG: Council member O’Brien’s approach is one that makes some sense to me in terms of requiring people to sign up to be part of this registration program. And that would allow outreach workers to know exactly where you’re at, and it also requires you as a person who’s camping to commit to be engaged in service efforts. So I think that that component of give and take is an important one, and it imposes a responsibility on campers that doesn’t currently exist.

I think that impounding somebody’s vehicle as a result of unpaid fines and tickets is not helping our homelessness situation. That, to me, is not a harm reduction approach to the situation. The only thing that we gain by continuing to tack on legal fees that lead to an impoundment is moving people from camping in cars to camping outside and I don’t think that that’s what any of us want. I think the big, tough question will be, how do we administer it? How do we fund this program? And at this point we don’t know what the funding would be. And is that how we should be using our funds in the context of also shifting towards upping our investments in permanent supportive housing?

 

ECB: When the Poppe Report on homelessness came out and the city started moving away from transitional housing in favor of a rapid rehousing approach, you expressed concern that domestic violence victims and others who currently use transitional housing might be shut out in the new housing-voucher-based system. Do you still have those concerns?

LG: I will continue to track that particular issue. I had heard from the Human Services Department that that is a question of prioritization of the funds and have been assured that those individuals—families and survivors—are at the top of the priority list, as some of the most vulnerable populations within a vulnerable population.

ECB: How did you feel when the Seattle Times endorsed your opponent, Pat Murakami?

LG: Oh gosh—it was really disappointing to me, and on a professional level, it felt more like a referendum on the entire  city council, on the work that we have been doing over the last two years. And I accept the fact that I am the only incumbent running for reelection in the city government besides the city attorney, but it really just felt like there was an unloading of sorts that needed to happen, and I was going to be the person who was going got be on the receiving end of that. I think it’s unfortunate, because I do believe that the city is moving in the right direction, and I think that that is in part because of the leadership that the city council has provide over the last two years. I think that, at the end of the day, my primary election results show that people are still happy with the work that I’m doing on the city council and with the direction of the city.

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Morning Crank: Inherently Dangerous

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1. If you’re a renter who makes less than six figures, you already know how hard it is to find an affordable apartment in Seattle. Now imagine that you’ve convicted or arrested at some point in your life. (Quite possibly, you don’t have to imagine—according to the city, 173,000 Seattle residents have an arrest or conviction on their record.) The legislation, sponsored by council member Lisa Herbold, would prohibit landlords from advertising that they don’t accept tenants with criminal records, and would bar them from asking prospective tenants about convictions that are more than two years old, juvenile records, convictions that have been expunged, criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, or pending charges.

As I’ve reported, the legislation as originally proposed included a number of exemptions—on top of the two-year window, it did not apply to landlords of small buildings (four units or fewer) who live on the premises. By exempting small landlords who live on their properties, the original bill effectively accepted the premise that people with criminal histories are inherently dangerous—too dangerous, anyway, for landlords to live next to them.

That exemption, as it turns out, has a fascinating history. It originated in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, where it was known as the “Mrs. Murphy exemption.” That exemption says that it’s acceptable under federal law for a landlord to discriminate against someone because of their race if they rent to no more than four people or families and live on the premises. (Mrs. Murphy was, as the New York Times’ Adam Liptak put it, “an apocryphal bigot.”) That exemption has remained in place to the present day; however, many state statutes go beyond federal law and do not include the exemption.

The city’s Office for Civil Rights was unable to say precisely how the exemption got into the proposal, except that it was originally included “to address concerns raised during the stakeholder process,” according to OCR policy manager Brenda Anibarro. “We recently learned of the history of the federal FHA exemption from an article in the Harvard Law Review which includes a significant history steeped in racism,” Anibarro said in an email. “It is for this reason we believe Councilmember O’Brien’s amendment striking this exemption is the correct course of action.”

Interestingly, the “Mrs. Murphy exemption” does not appear anywhere else in Seattle’s municipal code, and the city’s “first in time” rule, which prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants because of their source of income, only exempts single-family homeowners who live at their properties and are essentially renting to roommates.

Last Tuesday, the council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee discussed an amendment by council member Mike O’Brien (who is out of town) to remove the exemption. Council member Lorena Gonzalez noted that the exemption for small buildings could make “naturally occurring affordable housing”—the small, mom-and-pop type units that anti-displacement advocates often argue the city must preserve—off-limits for the people who need it the most.

Other amendments to the proposal would prohibit landlords from considering an adult prospective tenant’s juvenile sex offense record (landlords could still refuse to rent to adult sex offenders) and remove the two-year “lookback” period. (The sex offender amendment is Herbold’s; the lookback amendment is O’Brien’s.) As advocates have pointed out, people exiting jail are much less likely to reoffend if they have stable housing; nonetheless, one in five people exit King County Jail directly into homelessness, according to All Home, largely because landlords refuse to rent to them.

Herbold, who has not decided whether to support O’Brien’s lookback amendment, says she has heard from small landlords who say they might choose to to sell their buildings instead of renting to people straight out of prison, removing affordable units from the rental market. On the other hand, many people who are just leaving jail or prison would probably be disqualified from renting on the private market anyway, because they wouldn’t pass a standard credit check, so eliminating the lookback may have little practical impact in any case.

The committee will consider the amendments, and the legislation, again at its meeting on August 8.

2. On Tuesday morning, the council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee voted unanimously on what council member Rob Johnson called a “no-brainer” proposal that will remove one step in the process that opponents of new projects must go through before filing a formal appeal to stop a proposed development. The step, called a land-use interpretation, costs $3,150 and is required before a project can go before the city’s hearing examiner, the judicial official who ultimately decides whether contested projects can move forward.

As I reported earlier this month, a council staff analysis concluded that removing the interpretation step could “facilitate judicial appeals of land use decisions for projects that may be considered locally undesirable by near-neighbors, such as low-income housing projects, work-release centers, and homeless shelters.” Those appeals will now cost just $65, making it easier than ever for homeowners to stall projects they don’t like—projects like the 57-unit Phinney Flats development, which Phinney Ridge homeowners have held up for more than a year by filing endless appeals on issues such as parking, transit headways, shadows, and lack of air conditioning and washing machines in the new apartments.

3. The land use committee also considered, but did not vote on,  three amendments Herbold proposed to legislation that would it easier for the city to force property owners to demolish vacant buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

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.

Herbold’s amendments, which she describes as a three-part package, would: Exempt many houses slated for redevelopment from the new four-month requirement; set up a mandatory vacant property monitoring and registration program; and prohibit land owners from demolishing buildings unless the cost of repairing the building exceeds half its replacement value.

Herbold’s reasoning, as she explained it Tuesday, is that vacant buildings could still be used as housing while they await demolition and redevelopment, and that the original proposal—which lacked a monitoring program—could provide a perverse incentive for property owners to kick out tenants and let their buildings fall into disrepair. “The language as originally proposed was much broader than I intended,” Herbold said Tuesday.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

“Fair Chance Housing” is “Ban the Box” for Tenants—with Exceptions

Mayor Ed Murray and city council member Lisa Herbold released a draft of legislation earlier today aimed at making it easier for people with criminal records to find housing by barring landlords from requesting information about most kinds of criminal convictions. The legislation, which is certain to be challenged by the city’s vocal landlord lobby, is aimed at addressing one of the key challenges people with criminal histories face when trying to rebuild their lives—many landlords use criminal records to weed out applicants—one reason, Herbold said, that an average of 85 people exit jail directly into homelessness in Washington State every month.

“This is about addressing a homelessness crisis that we have partially created ourselves,” Herbold said.

And yet, the bill undermines those premises in a couple of ways. First, it exempts small landlords—those with four units or fewer, including backyard cottages or basement apartments—if they live on the premises. This suggests that, despite all those whereases, that people with criminal histories are somehow dangerous—after all, the legislation explicitly protects landlords from having to live next to them.

The legislation would prohibit landlords from advertising that they don’t accept tenants with criminal records, and would bar them from asking prospective tenants about convictions that are more than two years old, juvenile records, convictions that have been expunged, criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, or pending charges. It would allow landlords to refuse to rent to someone on the state sex-offender registry.

“Fair-chance” housing legislation was one of the recommendations proposed as part of the the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) back in 2015, and is of a piece with other proposals to reduce recidivism and homelessness among people, primarily men of color, who have served their sentences. “Ban the Box” legislation that passed in 2013 prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their criminal records during their initial employment screening.

The proposal includes nearly five pages of “whereas” clauses enumerating the reasons for the bill, including the fact that nearly one in three adults in the US has a criminal record; studies showing that people with stable housing are less likely to reoffend; the existence of persistent racial bias in both criminal justice and housing; and the fact that “there is no sociological research establishing a relationship between a criminal record and an unsuccessful tenancy.”

And yet, the bill undermines those premises in a couple of ways. First, it exempts small landlords—those with four units or fewer, including backyard cottages or basement apartments—if they live on the premises. This suggests that, despite all those whereases, that people with criminal histories are somehow dangerous—after all, the legislation explicitly protects landlords from having to live next to them.

Second, by requiring prospective tenants to run out a two-year clock before they can benefit from the bill’s protections, the legislation could set up some people with recent criminal history to fail (and reoffend); after all, as one of those “whereas” clauses says, “research shows higher recidivism occurs within the first two years of release and is mitigated when individuals have access to safe and affordable housing and employment.”

When I asked Murray why the bill includes so many exemptions, he said, “There are disagreements over the number of years, how far you should go back, that we have not been able to reach agreement with landlords on. There’s some challenges for us to meet all of their concerns.” Then he kicked the question over to Office for Civil Rights policy manager Brenda Anibarro, who said, “that two-year [exemption] was an attempt to address some of [landlords’] concerns … We had participated in [the outreach] process for a straight year. We wanted to give them something on that. So that’s where that two year lookback comes from, and the same with the exemptions.”

One issue the legislation does not address is how people coming out of prison will be able to afford housing in Seattle even if they are no longer hindered by their criminal history. Advocates are trying to convince King County to add another three cents to the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, on the countywide ballot in November, to fund affordable housing for people with criminal convictions as well as active drug users.

Herbold was the only council member present at today’s press conference, which was held on Murray’s turf—the 7th-floor Norm B. Rice conference room on the 7th floor of City Hall. Asked whether she had the votes to pass the “fair-chance” legislation, Herbold said she hadn’t done a vote count yet; “I would not let having five votes be a prerequisite for the mayor sending the bill down,” she said.

Herbold’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation at City Hall on July 13 at 5pm.

What Can Cities Do For Women? Let’s Ask San Francisco

Last week, I mentioned (with some consternation) that in a 45-minute speech focusing on actions the city can take to mitigate the impacts of Trump Administration policies, Mayor Ed Murray did not find time to suggest a single policy that would benefit women. The omission was particularly galling given that just last a few weeks earlier, 170,000-plus Seattle women and allies marched from Judkins Park to downtown Seattle denouncing the administration’s proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act (leaving more women uninsured and reverting to a system that allowed insurance companies to charge women more for insurance just for being women), defund Planned Parenthood, overturn a rule that ensures access to affordable birth control, and gut the Violence Against Women Act. (Murray mentioned the march in his speech as an example of “a surge of action across the nation,” but did not follow up with any policy proposals that might have responded to that action.)

After the speech, I talked to Murray spokesman Benton Strong a couple of times about the mayor’s omission of women from his agenda. Strong made the point that the State of the City isn’t a policy speech—the mayor usually announces big policy initiatives in his budget speech, which happens in September. Fair, but Murray’s state of the city did include a number of concrete proposals to protect immigrants and refugees, to improve outcomes for young black men, and to close the educational achievement gap. And none of Murray’s three budget speeches so far have included specific proposals to help or benefit women, so any new proposals in this year’s budget would represent a departure from precedent for Murray.

Strong also argued, reasonably enough, that ensuring health care access and funding for family planning is generally the responsibility of the state and county. He also asked me what I would propose the city to do protect women’s health care, promote pay equity, or ensure that women can take time off to care for a new baby or a family member. To quote April Ryan, I’m just a reporter, but I decided to look to see if other cities are doing anything that we could emulate. Turns out, I didn’t have to look that far. Just two states south, San Francisco has adopted quite a few policies to improve women’s equality in that city. Here are a few ideas for Mayor Murray to consider.

1. Paid parental leave

Taking time off after the birth or adoption of a new baby is vitally important to the wellbeing of both parents (particularly birth mothers) and their children, yet the US is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee a single day of paid parental leave. Low-income women and those with part-time or unstable jobs are hit hardest by this national failure, because they often have to return to work immediately after giving birth, giving them no time to recover or bond with their new baby. Last year, San Francisco became the first US city to address this national failure, by passing a law that requires all companies with 20 or more employees to provide six weeks of parental leave, fully paid, to new parents. (The policy complements a state law that provides six weeks of leave paid at 55 percent of a new parent’s original salary). Washington, D.C. also recently adopted a generous paid leave law, which requires companies to pay workers 90 percent of their salaries for up to eight weeks. Council member Lorena Gonzalez is currently meeting with business leaders in a series of closed-door roundtables to hear their concerns about a city-level paid-leave mandate.

pay-equity-report2. Equal Pay

Seattle still has one of the biggest pay gaps between men and women in the nation, with women earning 73 cents on the male dollar for doing the same work. Seattle has taken some action toward closing the 10-cent pay gap in city employment—a number that obscures the fact that women are underrepresented in the highest-paying city jobs—but so far has done nothing to close the yawning gulf between what private employers pay men and women for doing the same work.

This might seem like a good place for the state to step in, imposing penalties on employers who discriminate by paying women less than men. So far, though, they haven’t (and with the state senate controlled by Republicans, they won’t), so it might be up to cities to step in. San Francisco has already taken steps in that direction, by passing an Equal Pay Ordinance that requires companies that contract with the city to prove that they pay men and women equally by filing annual pay equity reports with the city’s Human Rights Commission. The commission has the authority to penalize contractors who pay women less than men. It’s not a perfect law—requiring private employers to publish what they pay their workers by race and gender would go further toward promoting pay equity in the long run—but it’s a step in the right direction, one that Seattle hasn’t taken (yet)

3. Family-friendly workplace policies

One issue that often comes up for new and expecting parents, particularly women (who still tend to be the primary caregivers) is the need to take time off to deal with family obligations—from prenatal visits to caring for a sick child or family member to daycare pickups and parent-teacher conferences. Yet many caregivers are reluctant to ask for flexible schedules or other accommodations for fear of losing their job or other retaliation. San Francisco has attempted to address this problem with its Family-Friendly Workplace Ordinance, which gives employees the explicit right to request special arrangements, such as a change in start times, part-time and part-year schedules, telecommuting and schedule predictability. Employers don’t have to grant every request, but they do have to provide a reason for refusing to provide flexibility, and can’t retaliate against workers who make such requests. The law, which applies to companies with 20 or more employees, took effect in 2013.

4. Transitional housing for domestic-violence victims

As I’ve reported, the mayor has announced sweeping plans to eliminate funding for transitional-housing programs, shifting those dollars to “rapid rehousing” programs that provide short-term vouchers for homeless Seattleites to rent housing on the private market, with the understanding that once the vouchers run out in three to 12 months, the rent will revert to market rate, currently around $2,000 a month for the average apartment in Seattle. But transitional housing for women fleeing domestic violence is also vulnerable, because the new system gives special priority to people who have been homeless the longest, meaning that abused women who aren’t already plugged into the formal domestic-violence “system” (which is already overburdened) may slip through the cracks.

San Francisco, which is also revamping its homeless-services system but relies less heavily on the federal grants that have accelerated Seattle’s shift to rapid rehousing, has a special grant program dedicated to preventing violence against women and helping female victims of domestic violence; in 2014, the last year for which data is available, the program funded nearly 12,000 bed-hours in transitional and permanent housing programs for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

5. And how about a whole department? 

Seattle has the Seattle Women’s Commission, a volunteer commission that meets once a month and advises the city on policies that impact women. San Francisco has an entire Department on the Status of Women, which focuses on advancing women’s human rights, preventing and addressing violence against women, and promoting gender equity in the workplace. A city’s values and priorities are reflected not just in policy or speeches, but in where it invests its resources, and the city of San Francisco has cemented its commitment to women by creating not just a commission made up of women who volunteer their time, but an entire department with a $7 million annual budget whose entire purpose is promoting women’s equality. Seattle should consider doing the same.

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 it 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: “We Are the Dakota Access [Pipe]line Tribe.”

Last night, the Mercer Island City Council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in part, to preserve the right of island residents to drive alone in the westbound I-90 HOV lanes.

The island has been fighting to preserve this highly unusual privilege for decades, despite the fact that the original agreement granting them special access to carpool lanes, signed in 1976, anticipates a future when transit lanes, or fixed-rail transit, will supplant some freeway lanes and require island residents to give up their access. (Mercer Island also wants its residents to be permanently exempt from tolls on I-90, to restrict parking at the Mercer Island park-and-ride serving light rail to Mercer Island residents only, and to prohibit bus transfers on the island, keeping the people who ride buses from deboarding in the wealthy enclave.) The lawsuit seeks to force the state and Sound Transit to grant all these privileges, which, as Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog has noted, would be “completely unique to Mercer Island.”

If you weren’t following along last night, I Storified all my tweets here.

2. Jan Angel, a conservative Republican legislator from Port Orchard, has introduced a bill that would prohibit cities from passing laws barring landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income—a proposal that would, if passed, slap down Seattle’s new law that says landlords can’t refuse to people because their income comes from sources like Social Security or unemployment, and requiring them to rent to the first qualified applicant. (The Seattle law also prohibits landlords from offering special deals to employees of specific companies, such as Amazon.)

That Angel has introduced such a bill is hardly news—in recent years, the conservative Republican has proposed drug testing for welfare recipients and business-friendly changes to the workers’ compensation system. What was surprising is who showed up to testify in favor of the anti-Seattle bill: Smart Growth Seattle lobbyist Roger Valdez, who once worked for a liberal environmentalist think tank, the Sightline Institute, and a liberal city council member, Peter Steinbrueck.

“At a time when demand for housing is outpacing supply, producers and operators of housing have faced an ever-expanding gauntlet of rules, regulations, fees, fines, inspections, infringements, and limitations that are confusing for both housing providers and consumers,” Valdez said. “It’s time for the state to take back the control. … What’s also important is that the mayor and council have pursued this improvisational regulatory spree with no consultation of housing developers, property managers, or anyone in the housing business whatsoever. None. That’s true. They have not talked with us at all. That’s why this was a problem.”

Sen. David Frockt (D-46) pointed out that developers were very much represented on the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee, which worked to create many of the rules Valdez was opposing so vociferously; in fact, supposed overrepresentation by developers is one reason many neighborhood groups and anti-development liberals oppose HALA. In a testy back and forth, Frockt challenged Valdez, who eventually allowed that the city did give developers a seat at the table, but that “sitting in the room on a large committee is not consultation.”

Historically, anti-discrimination laws have come from cities first before being adopted by the state; it is unprecedented for the state to adopt renter protection laws before they have first emerged at the municipal level.

3. Crank hears that another candidate may soon be jumping in the race for City Council Position 8, the citywide seat that Tim Burgess will vacate next year: Stephan Blanford, a Seattle Public School director who has focused on closing the achievement gap between black and white students in Seattle schools. Blanford, who was endorsed in his 2013 school board run by local Democratic groups and elected officials as well as the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce and former King County Executive Ron Sims, would join a crowded race that already includes 2015 Burgess challenger and tenant organizer Jon Grant and Washington State Labor Council policy director Teresa Mosqueda.

Grant sent out two job announcements this week seeking a campaign manager and an organizer; his campaign will rely heavily on the city’s new Democracy Voucher program, which provides $100 in vouchers for Seattle residents to donate to the candidate or candidates of their choice.

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 it 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.