Seattle Goes All In on Rapid Rehousing. D.C. Already Tried That. Here’s What Happened.

Since declaring a homelessness emergency in 2015, the city of Seattle has gone all-in on an a set of recommendations based on a report by Ohio homelessness consultant Barb Poppe called Pathways Home. The strategy, based on the laudable principle that people need housing before they can deal effectively with the other problems that may be keeping them homeless, relies heavily on so-called rapid rehousing—rental assistance vouchers that help formerly homeless people rent market-rate apartments. The idea is to give individuals and families some time to stabilize and, if necessary, find employment before releasing them into the regular rental market. The strategy has been successful at reducing homelessness in other cities, like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Houston, and those successes have frequently been cited as evidence that rapid rehousing can work in Seattle, too.

Critics, including this blog, have pointed out that Seattle is different from those cities in one key respect: Rents here are a lot higher—about double—what they are in Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City If the city provides a voucher for a four-person family to live in an typical $2,700-dollar two-bedroom Seattle apartment, and that family is earning $500 a month when they move in, that means their total income will have to rise by $8,500 a month for that apartment to be affordable under federal affordability guidelines, which stipulate that tenants should pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

Or let’s assume a much cheaper, smaller apartment—say, a $1,500 one-bedroom, shared by that same four-person family—and change the definition of “affordable” to assume that family will pay 40 percent of their income on rent, their income would still have to rise by $3,250 a month to pay the full rent when their voucher runs its course in three, six, or 12 months.

Looking at those numbers, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to conclude that many of those new renters, still getting their feet under them after weeks, months, or years on the streets, would end up homeless again once their vouchers expired. And in at least one city with housing prices very similar to Seattle, that’s exactly what has happened. A new report by the D.C.-based Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, “Set Up to Fail: Rapid Rehousing in the District of Columbia,” concludes that D.C.’s $31 million-a-year experiment in rapid rehousing has failed. The program, which provided up to 12 months of rental assistance to formerly homeless families, left many families worse off than they were before they entered the program. Although D.C. says the program has an 85 percent success rate, the study’s author, attorney Max Tipping, says that number is illusory—all it indicates is that only 15 percent of the program participants have ended up in D.C. homeless shelters, and does not account for whether clients were evicted, ended up living with friends or family, moved into their vehicles, or ended up homeless in another area.

The problem, not surprisingly, is that families that start out with almost no income are usually unable to start making enough to afford market rents within even 12 months, especially in a very high-cost area like D.C. On average, the report concludes, only about 10 percent of families in the D.C. program increased their income at all—by an average of $68 a month. The result was that families in the program only had enough income, on average, to cover 40 percent of the market rent when their subsidies expired.  Tipping calls this the “rapid rehousing cliff”—the point when a rapid rehousing subsidy ends and a family is left unable to fend for themselves.  “After being  terminated from rapid re-housing, many return to homelessness, now with an eviction or rental debt on their record,” the report concludes.

D.C. and Seattle’s housing prices are roughly comparable; according to the tracking website Rentjungle,  the average two-bedroom in the District is $2,741 a month (compared to $2,734 in Seattle) the average one-bedroom, $2,081 (compared to $2,004 in Seattle).

“The unfortunate reality is that temporary housing subsidies are not a solution to family homelessness in the District’s expensive housing market. The math simply does not add up,” the report concludes.

As Seattle moves toward requiring that homeless service providers follow a rapid-rehousing model, and the dollars the city spends on combating homelessness shift toward temporary vouchers and away from more expensive transitional housing, program planners will encounter many of the same challenges as Washington, D.C., such as the need for more intensive case management, attempts by landlords to abuse the system, and the potential that short-term vouchers will exacerbate segregation. Many of those problems are solvable through targeted spending and regulations. But one factor that’s unlikely to change is Seattle’s rental market, which, like D.C.’s, grows less affordable every year. Perhaps one of the lessons for Seattle is that we shouldn’t divest from long-term housing assistance and permanently affordable housing until we’re sure that the short-term “hand-up” programs we’re relying on to reduce homelessness don’t leave families worse off.

(Seattle Human Services Department spokeswoman Meg Olberding said HSD director Catherine Lester was aware of the D.C. report, but “has not had time to read” it.)

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: What Socialist?

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. One name that won’t be on the long list of those running for mayor when the window for candidates to file for Seattle offices this year closes at 4:00 this afternoon is city council member Lorena Gonzalez. Although Gonzalez would have been giving up her council seat by running for mayor, since both offices are on the ballot this year, she had decided to take the risk as recently as last Friday—until she failed to secure a key endorsement, sources close to the council member say. On Tuesday, she announced she wasn’t running.

That key endorsement? US Congresswoman (and former state senator) Pramila Jayapal, who was the executive director of immigrant rights group OneAmerica when Gonzalez was its board chair. Jayapal’s decision not to endorse Gonzalez reads like a major snub not just because Jayapal supported Gonzalez when she first ran for city council in 2015, but because Gonzalez reversed her own endorsement of Brady Walkinshaw, who, like Gonzalez, is Latinx, to support Jayapal when she ran for Congress after Jayapal accused Walkinshaw of running ads she said were racist and sexist. After sticking her neck out for her former OneAmerica colleague and longtime political ally, Gonzalez might have understandably expected Jayapal to return the favor. Jayapal has not made any endorsement in the mayor’s race so far.

2. Speaking of erstwhile political allies, the King County Labor Council’s secretary/treasurer Nicole Grant sent out a harshly worded statement earlier this week denouncing socialist city council member Kshama Sawant for endorsing former Tenants Union director Jon Grant, and excoriating him for being a “phony” who advocated for low-income people harmed by the foreclosure crisis while living in a foreclosed house purchased for him by his parents. (Jon Grant has said he is paying the mortgage himself). Nicole Grant is a supporter of Teresa Mosqueda, a longtime labor lobbyist in Olympia who is running for the same Position 8 council seat Jon Grant is seeking. The Sawant endorsement is especially painful, Nicole Grant says, because she considered Sawant a strong labor ally; Nicole Grant even helped swear Sawant in after her election in 2013.

Nicole Grant says that as a woman of color, a labor leader, and a renter struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly unaffordable city, Mosqueda “represents what workers see in themselves when they look in the mirror. And all of a sudden, a coalition partner [Sawant’s Socialist Alternative party] that we’ve worked on many different issues with is like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go with the socialist. And we’re like, ‘What socialist? Who are you talking about?’ And they say, ‘Jon Grant,’  and [my reaction is] just, ‘What?'”

“It’s hard when you support someone with real passion and real consistency, and then you ask them to support you and they don’t. That is not a great feeling,” Nicole Grant says. “When [Sawant ran] and Socialist Alternative needed labor to support her, labor was there. … So when the labor movement has an incredible candidate emerging and it’s not good enough for them that she’s a union member, that she’s a working class leader, that she’s a woman of color, that her record is strong—when they’re just like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t say “socialist” behind her name, sorry’—it’s outrageous. Because it’s not reciprocal.”

Nicole Grant criticizes Jon Grant’s leadership of the Tenants Union—”I feel like we’re spiraling into the abyss and our’e the one with the steering wheel in your hand”—but her major critique is that Jon Grant doesn’t acknowledge the privilege that enabled him to spend years building his resume at low-paying nonprofit and campaign jobs and that allows him to campaign full-time now. “Jon comes from the privilege machine—he is fired in the kiln of privilege,” Nicole Grant says. “Bainbridge Island, all the best private schools—for him to be like, ‘Oh, I’m a socialist’—it’s like, ‘No, dude, you’re slumming.'”

Of the credible candidates in the Position 8 race, Jon Grant is the only white man. Nicole Grant says it shows. “At a forum, he made some comment like, ‘I’m seeing a lot of experience [on Mosqueda’s resume] but I don’t see any ideas here. That is just such a classic. I don’t want to be like, ‘Okay, white man,’ but—okay, white man. I know that narrative. The woman does the work, the man has the ideas.” Nicole Grant points to Mosqueda’s work on public health, paid family leave, and wage equity legislation. “She’s the one that closes the deals,” she says.

Jon Grant and Mosqueda are widely viewed as the frontrunners in the race, which means that we could still be watching these issues play out throughout the summer and fall.

3. In response to a records request by The C Is for Crank, the city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services provided a complete list of expenses associated with the city’s emergency response to homelessness since February 21 of this year, when Mayor Ed Murray announced he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center in response to the homelessness crisis. (In practice, this means that representatives from various city departments meet at the EOC facility for two hours every morning to discuss and coordinate the city’s homelessness response.)

The two biggest costs so far have been construction of the Navigation Center, a planned (and delayed) low-barrier, 24/7 shelter for homeless individuals, and garbage pickup at unauthorized encampments. The city has spent $2,244,000 building the Center, and plans to spend another $1.3 million this year to operate the 100-bed shelter.  Garbage pickup has cost the city another $2,165,000, although most of that line item is labor from existing city staff who have been repurposed to administer, plan, and actually pick up the trash. The Navigation Team, an eight-member team that does outreach at encampments and conducts encampment sweeps, has cost the city $759,000 so far, including labor costs and overtime expenses for eight police officers and one sergeant. Three new authorized encampments have cost the city $201,000 to operate so far this year.

See the full list of the city’s homelessness-related expenses between February 21 and April 30, 2017, here. 

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.

Morning Crank: “Somebody Is Going to Write Their Ph.D. Thesis on This.”

1. I sat down with Mayor Ed Murray at his campaign office last Friday, four days before he announced that he would not run for reelection. At the time, the mayor put on a game face, outlining what he saw as his path to victory and sounding very much like a man who planned to fight at least until the primary, where he would have faced a dozen or more opponents. I have no way of knowing what was going on in the mayor’s mind during that interview, or whether he had decided not to run (although sources close to the mayor tell me he made the decision sometime over the weekend), but there were moments when he seemed to dwell on the past—and the counterfactual world in which he still could look forward to easy victory. Here’s a bit of that portion of our conversation.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Since the scandal broke, you went from a pretty safe race to a primary where you could have a dozen or more opponents by the filing deadline. You’ve made it clear so far that you aren’t dropping out of this race, despite the allegations against you. What is your path to victory at this point?

Mayor Ed Murray (EM): More opponents.

ECB: How does that help you?

EM: Well, that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek. If the field gets so crowded, it allows me to be the person with the highest name recognition in the city—in good times as well as bad times —and I’m the one who’s actually producing. And our road to victory is to tell my story. It’s to go to every single one of these forums, every single one of these debates, and talk about what I did as a legislator, what I’ve done as mayor, why I’m one of the most liberal mayors in America, and how I get things done.

There are other aspects of this, [like] the [new] $500 limit [on campaign contributions], which is even lower than last time. We had a strong grassroots effort before and we’ll need a stronger one now that the limits have gone down. [And] we made a really clear decision that the people in the office would work and run the government, that people on the campaign side are still on the campaign side, and then we set up a group of folks who’ve been managing the allegations. So that’s basically how we’ve tried to deal with it.

ECB: Will responding to these allegations make it more difficult for you to concentrate on your job as mayor?

EM: A lot of the case itself involves issues that only lawyers can handle. Depositions will take up some time and a jury trial will take up time, but if everybody who’s ever been sued, whether elected or otherwise, had to stop their job, there’d be a lot of people not working.

ECB: Three of the last four mayors served just one term, and Nickels didn’t get a third. It seems obvious that you’re in an even more challenging situation.

EM: I would have said a month ago that I was in the best situation of any of us.

ECB: But this is the world you’re in now.

EM: [Pause] OK, sorry.

2. Homelessness director George Scarola and Seattle Police Department Lieutenant Jason Verhoff had good news for city council member Sally Bagshaw’s health and human services committee yesterday: Of 499 people the city’s new Navigation Team has contacted since it began doing outreach to unsheltered people and people living in encampments last month, 342, or about 69 percent, agreed to accept “some sort of services,” Verhoff said. “That’s a staggering number—staggeringly high,” Verhoff said. “That’s amazing, in my opinion.”

Bagshaw agreed, asking Scarola and Verhoff, “Who’s writing this up? This is a case study for somebody.” She continued, “Seriously—I would reach out [to the] University of Washington … and let people know this is going on. … I think that somebody is going to write their Ph.D. thesis on this.” 

The lovefest continued as Verhoff recounted several stories of individual homeless people who were helped by the Navigation Team’s outreach efforts—a woman who commuted every day from the tent she shared with her husband in Seattle to her job in Redmond, until the Navigation Team found her a spot in a tent city in Issaquah; the man who “looked like a West Virginia coal miner” when the team first made contact with him but is doing well now that he’s “away from the addiction and the other drug users down there who might have contributed to his lifestyle”; and the man who was “very, very addicted to methamphetamine” but has reconnected with his mother and “by all accounts is no longer using meth.” 

If you’ll indulge a bit of skepticism, I have few issues with these tidy stories. First, I’m not sure a tent in Issaquah is a marked improvement on a tent in Seattle, except that it reduces the commute of the woman living in that tent by some minutes. (In other words: We need abundant, low-barrier housing, not tents.) Second, addiction stories don’t typically end with “and then he moved back in with his mother and kicked meth”—meth addiction, in particular, typically requires lengthy, intensive treatment and often medical intervention, not just gumption and a new place to live. And finally, all of these success stories are so recent—the Navigation Team started doing outreach less than three months ago—that it’s hard to say whether these interventions will be successful in the long run, or even in the short-to-medium term. My hope is that the city will keep tabs on all those “contacts” for longer than the time it takes to put them on the path to a new tent or a room in Mom’s basement or a bed at the Union Gospel Mission. Real success is different for every person, but the one thing every success has in common is that it’s sustainable.

3. A few items of note from Murray’s April campaign reports, which he filed yesterday: In April, when it appeared he was still in the running, Murray raised less than half of what he raised in March—$30,468, compared to $69,054 a month earlier. That’s tens of thousands less than Murray spent in April on consulting from Sound View Strategies ($12,000), Strategies 360 ($34,500, including $4,500 for video production), and Northwest Passage ($21,000). Murray also spent $25,300 for the EMC poll that apparently helped convince him that he could not win. Murray’s April report also includes $775 in returned contributions from five campaign contributors.

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: Mayor Ed Murray

Until a month ago, Mayor Ed Murray had what looked like a clear path to reelection. Critics from the left and right certainly assailed aspects of his record—his response to homelessness, his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the phased-in $15 minimum wage—but no credible candidates had stepped forward to challenge Murray on his record. And, it seemed, none would.

All that changed on April 6, when the Seattle Times broke the news that a 46-year-old man, later identified as Delvonn Heckard, had filed a civil lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abusing him when Heckard was a teenager and Murray was in his late 20s. In addition to Heckard, two other men had accused Murray previously of sexual misconduct, but neither pursued legal action and Murray vehemently denied their allegations; a fourth accuser stepped forward after Heckard filed his lawsuit. Initially, Murray seemed committed to staying in the race and trying to weather the allegations, but his  polling numbers  apparently suggested that the path to victory was not just narrow but nonexistent. Earlier this month, Murray supporters sought guidance from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission about the feasibility of creating a legal defense fund to help defray the costs of defending against the lawsuit.

I sat down with Murray in his campaign office last Friday. (Incidentally, as I was leaving, Martha Choe—a former council member for whom Murray was once a legislative aide—walked in. Choe, according to the Seattle Times, will oversee the defense fund if it is approved.) The purpose of the interview, at the time, was to talk about the campaign, Murray’s legacy, and whether there was a path to victory in spite of the scandal. But with the news today that Murray he will drop out of the race instead of seeking reelection, I’m highlighting the parts of our conversation that deal with Murray’s legacy—a legacy that has been sidelined, and perhaps made beside the point, by the shocking allegations against him.

ECB: How did the allegations against you sideline your agenda? 

EM: They have certainly made it harder.  But I work a lot, and I work all the time. I’ve had to work since I was 12 years old in one way or another—to buy school clothes, to pay for my dental work—so I just work a lot. I love this job, and yeah, it gets to be a strain, but man, we moved forward with a big announcement on homelessness with the Allen Foundation that we’d been working on for months, we continue to implement [the homelessness strategy] Pathways Home, we continue to work on the arena proposals, we’re doing HALA [the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda], I’m doing Find It, Fix It walks. I’m going to be at something like 6 to 10 events this weekend, as I was last weekend.

ECB: Earlier this year, you announced the formation of a Navigation Team that is supposed to go out when the city clears an encampment and offers shelter and services to the people living there. In the absence of abundant affordable housing and accessible 24/7 shelter, though, it’s inevitable that the city will simply be pushing the majority of those people from place to place. Is there a point at which you would say, “stop the sweeps, it isn’t working”?  

“I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.”

EM: So first of all, we don’t do sweeps, and I would really encourage you to go back and look at when they used to just go in there, the sheriff and the police department, and just throw everybody out. As you know, the Navigation Teams are made up of folks that are police officers with deescalation training, an outreach worker who’s often a homeless person themselves, somebody with some medical skills, and others that may have addiction-related skills. So what we’ve done is, we have gone out there and tried to connect people with services. And what we have been told by these teams is, you know, you move someone three or four times, they eventually come in and say, ‘I want treatment.’ In fact, a woman I met the other day in one of the encampments, she said she broke her hip, and she decided she had been moved before and she didn’t want to be moved again. She took shelter. But it took moving her two or three times before we were able to get her to take [the shelter and services] she needed in the first place.

ECB: It seems to me that the problem isn’t so much that people refuse shelter, as that we don’t have actual housing and treatment beds for the people who are homeless or need addiction treatment.

EM: We don’t, but remember, I’m the guy who doubled the housing levy and tripled the number of affordable units that are being built. And that can’t be the end of it. My predecessor [McGinn] wasn’t able to get legal authorized encampments on public space; I did. We’re doing tiny houses in conjunction with nonprofits. We’re experimenting to see what we can do to stabilize people. So I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.

ECB: How many sanctioned encampments do you think we’ll ultimately need?

EM: I actually don’t know. The growth of homelessness up and down the I-5 corridor in Washington State has grown exponentially over the last year, and now we have cities up and down the corridor in Washington asking, ‘What are we going to do?’ You have parks being taken over in California and suburban cities. I think the answer is not how many tent cities do you set up or how many little houses do you build. I think we have to have a much more significant conversation about what we’re going to do about housing affordability in this country and how we’re, once again, going to have to subsidize at the federal level.

“We weren’t seeing the county step up, and we weren’t seeing the level of leadership on homelessness from the county. So that’s why we put it in our proposal. Now that will be in a county proposal that will be paid for by, hopefully, county and city residents. So I see us as benefiting from that situation.”

ECB: Do you still stand by the Poppe Report, even though it has been used by people who oppose new taxes as a political weapon to argue that we don’t need more money for homelessness?

EM: First of all, [homelessness consultant Barb Poppe] never said that. You know what she said about the levy I proposed? She said she would vote for it. She recognizes that Seattle does not have enough [housing] stock. We asked her to look at our existing services and our existing programs and how our existing services were funded. So we created a box to put her in, because we wanted to know how to reform what we have, and that’s exactly the report that she offered.

The city is going to stick with Pathways Home. Pathways Home identified housing early on. It identifies diversions before people even become homeless. It wasn’t especially strong on the addiction part, but the county knows this.

There are people, particularly in the business community, who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, according to Barb Poppe, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.

ECB: What are they missing?

EM: They’re missing the fact that the middle class in this country has shrunk considerably. They’re missing that literally two-thirds of the housing that allowed working families to live, that kind of money that used to come through HUD for working families—that money is gone. That we have an addiction treatment crisis that’s the largest, at least according to the New York Times, in our country’s history, and we are not treating it. We are not paying for it. That we have a mental health system that we took apart the old fashioned way and we replaced it with nothing. So that’s what we need to be looking at. Homelessness, actually, is a word that does more harm towards trying to solve the underlying problem than any other phrase I can think of because we have more than homelessness crisis.

ECB: Barb Poppe did sort of say that she doesn’t consider homelessness an affordability issue—that she thinks the main problem is just that we aren’t we’re allocating our services efficiently. Do you think it’s an affordability issue?

EM: I believe it is both an affordability issue and an issue about how we’re allocating our resources. Look at our shelter system. One of the things that she pointed out is our shelter system is basically broken. We haven’t competitively bid that system in 10 years. So we just write checks. We don’t ask [providers], ‘Did Jill Smith stay stable when she left your shelter for two years?’ And then we find out we have people living in shelters for 16, 17 years, and we’re calling that housing.

“There are people who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.”

So she’s absolutely right that there’s a resource issue, that the existing resources are absolutely broken. We definitely have a system that’s disconnected from itself and we can reduce the problem significantly. Just look at the fact that homeless kids—these kids who are first-graders, fifth-graders. who are sleeping in cars or couch-surfing with their parents and going to school every day—those kids would go to the county and be put on a list. And the list, not intentionally, had a perverse incentive that said, ‘You need to be homeless longer.’ We went with the Pathways Home reforms and we now house those people immediately. We have a goal, I think it’s probably an 18-month goal, to try and house all of our school-age children and their families.

ECB: You announced recently that the city is postponing the opening of the Navigation Center [a 24/7, low-barrier shelter for homeless men, women, and pets] because of objections from the Chinatown/International District community. Is the Navigation Center still going to happen, and do you regret how you handled the outreach for that project?

EM: I have regretted things about the outreach in every single neighborhood that we’ve tried to place services for the homeless, because every single neighborhood has had a problem. So I have not found yet, as mayor, the way that you get people to approve a homelessness facility in a process that doesn’t veto the facility itself.

I believe it will be built. We are having discussions with the community. We are identifying issues that we can work with. And I have also made a commitment to the community, as I’ve made around all these things: If it doesn’t work, we’ll close it down. It’s an experiment. It’s a pilot project. Maybe it works in San Francisco and it doesn’t work in Seattle .

ECB: Does the pushback you’ve received on the Navigation Center, and the delay on that project, bode poorly for a safe drug consumption site, if neighborhood protests are enough to derail a controversial project?

EM: I think it makes it very difficult. It’s going to be a really difficult discussion, and it’s not just difficult because of the siting problems.

But it was very interesting in Canada, talking to people who deal with this issue, they saw it as a value, because at least it keeps the person alive. They leave hope for another day for treatment. What I hear a lot in Seattle, or maybe just up and down the radios on the West Coast, is that there’s some kind of, like, Puritan aspect in our DNA. It’s like, ‘Well, if they’re using it, it’s immoral. It’s this idea that if you’re using something that might kill you, that’s your choice. So I think there’s going to be a pretty significant battle over this issue.

ECB: Do you feel that HALA has accomplished everything you wanted it to, given all the compromises you ended up making, such as taking small-scale density increases like backyard cottages off the tbale?

EM: When a version of the proposal was leaked before it was even written or even in a final form, the issue of accessory dwellings—ADU, DADU, whatever you want to call them—was the first issue to blow up, and [council members] Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess and the Times thought we might need to take another look at it. We get most of our growth not from ADUs or DADUs—we get most of our growth and most of our affordability from the [HALA] Grand Bargain. I didn’t want to let anything upset the Grand Bargain. We are proceeding now on a separate track on the ADU/DADU thing. And you know, I have done this before—you break things in pieces and you do it incrementally and you get the whole. And we’re really close to getting the whole.

ECB: Traditional neighborhood groups were furious at you when you cut ties with the neighborhood district councils. What are you hearing from them now, and how have the city’s efforts at community engagement worked out since then?

EM: It’s probably the thing I’ve heard the least amount of criticism about, maybe because the different techniques we’ve been using to engage people in civic and city issues seem to be getting people excited.

 We used to have a town hall meeting when I was in the legislature, with whoever my seatmate was—Pat Thibadeau and Frank [Chopp], and then Frank and Jamie [Pedersen], and every year we’d have 100 people from one side of the spectrum, very, very, very loud and often very, vert angry. And then we started doing these telephone town hall meetings, both in the legislature and on issues like HALA, where you’d have 3,000 to 7000 people on the phone, who stay on the phone for an hour and ask questions and give you input. That’s very, very different than the people who show up in one room.

Let me just give you one example: Millennials don’t give up summer evenings to sit in a room of people yelling at each other. We have to change. The world is changing how it communicates and we in the city need to change how we communicate. And the fact that [the district councils] took it as a threat—they shouldn’t have. They should have taken it as an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, we can do something really exciting. And in regards to [the funding the city provided district councils], it didn’t meet our [Race and Social Justice Initiative] demographic requirements for when we spend money. We were basically asking a group of people like me –older white homeowners, almost entirely—to make all these decisions, and to me, that is a violation of our own city policy.

ECB: Bike sharing is starting or expanding across the country—except here. Was the failure of Pronto a failure on your part? Why did you abandon it rather than trying to emulate what other successful cities have done?

EM: I’ll take responsibility. We chose the wrong model. We chose a nonprofit model that didn’t work. The way it was run, the administrative cost overheads of that nonprofit, their financial model didn’t work, and probably we should have had a better understanding of that from the very beginning.

We probably have read  20 articles on a loss of a million and a half dollars to the city of Seattle [on Pronto] versus a 70-and-a-half-million dollar loss on the seawall that sort of had a one-page article [in the Seattle Times] on my first day in office and then disappeared. So yeah, we made a mistake. But will Seattle have bikeshare? Yeah, Seattle will have bikeshare some day, and it’ll be bikeshare that is based on a much better model, a financial model that pencils out—and also, I think, an equipment model that pencils out and is more usable in a city that has topography like we do.

ECB: You were a supporter of the tunnel project. Even though Bertha has broken through, there is still heated debate about who will pay for the cost overruns on the project. Do you consider the tunnel project a success, and will the city ultimately be on the hook for overruns?

EM: I think it was the right move. This is a city that has grown exponentially since this project was conceived, and if we’re going to keep that corridor moving, we need the tunnel. We need the street level [roadway]. We need the transit that’s going to come through that corridor between West Seattle and Ballard. That’s the only way that system is going to work. We’re going to get a world-class park that will become the most iconic thing that’s happened to Seattle since the World’s Fair.

The attorney general of the state of Washington at the time [the tunnel was approved], a Republican [Rob McKenna], issued an opinion that said that you cannot make a local jurisdiction pay for a state road. And by the way, I would love to see this pass the legislature, and all those Republican legislators would have to realize, ‘Oh, if we’re going to enforce this, we’re going to have to do some follow-up legislation based on the attorney general’s opinion which means I’m going to put my small city in my rural Republican district on the hook for having to pay for a state road.’ It’s not happening. As someone who spent most of my legislative career on transit, I feel pretty strongly that Seattle will not pay for the cost overruns for a state road.

ECB: What are your biggest regrets from your term?

My biggest regret is that one of the thing I focused on in my inaugural address was the need to focus on partnerships for education. And while the Education Summit was a success—as successful as the one 25 years ago under Norm Rice—part of the work we haven’t gotten to is taking it to scale—identifying the money, building a different relationship with the private sector in our school system, and taking it to the next step. We made some good progress in building a relationship with the school district—[Seattle School Board member] Betty Patu told me this was the best relationship she’s ever seen between the city and the school district —but these things are all in just their beginning stages. I had thought this, not homelessness, would be one of the key issues I would be working on reforming.

ECB: And your legacy? What do you want to be remembered for?

EM: I ran it [the office of the mayor] equity. Ninety percent of that growth you’ve seen out there was permitted before I became mayor, but we had no successful plan to grow affordably. HALA is a huge accomplishment in getting towards affordability. The minimum wage could easily have turned into a ballot measure; instead, we phased it in and we had a process that other cities are hoping to copy. The police department has gone from a city with a mayor that was fighting with a justice department – the Obama justice department – and the federal court and the federal monitors, to a city with the new chief and new leadership cooperating with the federal monitor, cooperating with the federal judge. Again and again, we have seen progress, and we have seen that progress recognized. A lot of public pensions are sideways. Ours isn’t. I inherited a seawall that had $71 million in cost overruns because they basically hid the numbers. We now have that back on target and balanced.

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: “Let’s Actually Do It.”

1. For a few weeks, a rumor has been going around that Scott Lindsay, Mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor and the most vocal defender of encampment sweeps in the mayor’s office, was thinking of running for city attorney against longtime incumbent Pete Holmes. Yesterday, Lindsay put those rumors to rest, announcing that not only is he running, he’s leaving the mayor’s office in one week, presumably to campaign full-time. Perhaps most interesting, Lindsay’s announcement included two unlikely endorsements, from Mothers for Police Accountability founder Rev. Harriet Walden and Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard. Walden is a longtime police accountability advocate and Daugaard has been highly critical of Murray’s homeless encampment sweeps; both serve on the Community Police Commission, the civilian body that oversees police reform efforts at the city.

Daugaard’s decision to support Lindsay is surprising not only because she supported Holmes in the past (over two campaign cycles, Daugaard  contributed $246 to Holmes’ campaigns), but because Lindsay is widely seen as a law-and-order guy and a strong defender of Murray’s encampment removal policies. (Shortly after Lindsay announced, Safe Seattle—a group opposed to homeless encampments, safe drug-consumption sites, and Murray’s pro-density policies—sung his praises on their Facebook page.

I asked Daugaard why she was supporting Lindsay. Her response: “We need to do more with the office of City Attorney. We’re entering an era when we had better be doing things worth defending here in Seattle. If we’re saying safe consumption [sites for drug users], let’s do it. If we’re saying we can care for people and reduce crime through community based alternatives, let’s actually do it.

“Scott’s analysis that we can take a more serious approach to all of these issues is correct. I haven’t always agreed with him and that may continue, but I respect his energy and openness to evidence about it what works.”

Daugaard says she’s concerned that after eight years with Holmes as city attorney, misdemeanor defendants “still serve long sentences on cases with excessive probation, are held in lieu of bail because they are poor, and are made to give up their trial rights to get services in too many cases. Jail utilization has climbed.”

“I give Pete great credit for hiring Kelly Harris as his criminal division chief last year. Kelly has made important improvements. But we need to get serious about making more effective city wide use of community based diversion. This has to work—we don’t have an infinite time frame to get it right and take it to scale. Scott is very serious about showing that we can achieve strong neighborhood-level outcomes through a public health-based approach. We need that kind of energy or people are going to get fed up.”

Murray’s campaign confirms that he will continue to support Holmes, whom he endorsed before Lindsay got in the race. The timing of Lindsay’s announcement puts Murray, who is running for reelection himself amid allegations that he sexually abused teenage boys in the 1980s, in a tough position—having a top staffer abandon ship during a tough reelection campaign does not exactly inspire confidence.

There may be another reason Lindsay decided to leave Murray in the lurch: Because polling suggested he could win. So far, Lindsay has reported one expenditure: A $20,000 phone poll, conducted between April 21 and April 23.

2. Four years after denouncing a soda tax proposal by his then- (and future) opponent, Mike McGinn (and getting trounced by his opponents as a shill for the beverage industry) on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, Mayor Murray rolled out the details of his own soda tax proposal Thursday. The proposal would impose a 1.75-cent-per-ounce on all sodas, including diet sodas, to be paid by soda distributors, who would almost certainly pass the cost on to customers. (This, I should note, hits Crank where she lives. Don’t mess with my garbage water, Mr. Mayor, SIR.)

The money—an estimated $18 million a year, depreciated from the $23 million the city budget office estimates it would taken in on current soda sales to account for the fact that soda taxes reduce consumption—would pay for programs that support education and access to healthy food in low-income communities, including: $469,000 a year to expand school-based mentorships; $1.1 million a year for workplace learning programs for kids in high school; $1.1 million a year for case management and training to reduce racial disparities in discipline; and a one-time investment of $5 million to create an endowment that, Murray said Thursday, will provide “one free year of college at Seattle colleges [formerly known as community colleges] to all public schools students who graduate.”

Acknowledging that a soda tax is regressive—not only does it hit lower-income people hardest, lower-income people buy more soda—Murray said, “To those who say that we are resorting to a regressive tax, I say, you know what is more regressive? You know what is really taking money out of African American communities? Tolerating an education system that is failing students of color every day and leaving them without a future and giving them food that will only lead to health problems.” Excessive soda consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart and liver problems, Murray noted. Murray said he decided to include diet soda in the tax for equity reasons—higher-income white people are more likely to drink diet soda than sugar-sweetened drinks—but the expansion to diet drinks also allowed him to lower the tax slightly from the 2-cents-per-ounce tax he originally proposed in his State of the City speech in February.

The soda tax requires council approval; two council members, Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess, flanked Murray at yesterday’s press conference.

Immediately after Murray’s press conference, a group of Teamsters and other soda-tax opponents gathered in the lobby of City Hall to denounce the proposal.  Pete Lamb, a representative from Teamsters Local 174, said similar taxes had already forced companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to cut jobs in Philadelphia, where a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on soda went into effect this year. (The mayor of Philadelphia pointed out that the two companies saw gross profits of more than $6 billion last year, and called the company- and union-led efforts to blame the tax for layoffs a “new low.”) “We will not support a tax that puts our members’ jobs on the line,” Lamb said.

“Just in the soda and beverage industry alone, we have 1,200 to 1,300 workers, plus distributors and warehouse workers—when you really look at the full scope of it, you’re looking at thousands of jobs being potentially impacted,” Lamb said. “We support … working to combat obesity, but to just target soda when we have so many things in our food chain that are sugary—we can’t support that.”

Interesting foot note: The spokesman for the soda tax campaign, the Seattle Healthy Kids Coalition, is Aaron Pickus—the longtime spokesman for former Mayor McGinn, who proposed the original soda tax four years ago.

3. This morning, the city will once again remove a persistent unauthorized encampment above the Ballard Locks and provide its residents with information about open shelter beds and services in the hopes that some will accept their offers. The Locks encampment has been swept numerous times thanks in large part to repeated complaints by Ballard residents about garbage and erosion at the site.

George Scarola, Murray’s homelessness director, acknowledged Thursday that “of course [the decision to clear a particular encampment] is in part based on complaints. He says the Locks encampment is a “longstanding issue—as long as I’ve been here, I’ve heard people complain about it.” But, he says, the city is getting better about offering real services and shelter, rather than simply directing people to line up at bare-bones shelters downtown. “Are we simply moving people from one place to another? We are doing some of that,” Scarola acknowledges. But, he says, “We are getting 40 percent who are accepting services.” And “moving people around is somewhat useful, because we can remove some of the garbage,” which is a major source of neighborhood complaints.

The sweep begins at 8:30 this morning.

4. A new website that includes a petition to “recruit” 2016 Republican. gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant for mayor appears to be the handiwork of Matthew Donnellan, Bryant’s campaign manager in his unsuccessful effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last year. Although the owner of the site paid to register it through a service that hides site owner identity, Ben Krokower of  the consulting firm Strategies 360 noticed Donnellan’s name in the source code and pointed it out on Twitter. Bill Bryant received 32 percent of the vote in King County in his race for governor.

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.

Afternoon Crank: I’m Shocked At the Scale of That

1. The city auditor has completed his investigation into the implementation of a new joint billing system for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities customers (memorably known as the New Customer Information System, or NCIS), and concluded that the reason the NCIS went $34 million over budget is that … the system ended up being more complicated than anyone had anticipated, and took more time and manpower to implement.

Or, as assistant city auditor Jane Dunkel put it during a briefing before the council utilities committee Tuesday, “The simple answer is that it took … ten months longer than anticipated,” and the extra cost “was in labor—city labor and consultants.” Specifically, the city spent $10.8 million more than budgeted on consultants, and $20.6 million over budget on city staffing, in the 10 extra months it took to complete the new billing system.

Mike O’Brien, a former CFO himself, seemed incredulous at those figures. “When I look at $20 million over 10 months—so, $2 million a month— if a city employee is costing us $10,000 a month, that means 200 employees were on this project,” O’Brien said. “I’m shocked at the scale of that.” Dunkel said that many of those employees had probably been reassigned from other tasks, but acknowledged that 200 employees is a lot of city workers to dedicate full-time to a single project. (The city calculates costs in full-time equivalent employees, or FTEs, so 200 full-time workers is just a proxy for the total cost.) And, Dunkel said, the city decided to “prioritize quality over timeliness.”

That brought O’Brien to his second question: Why, if project leaders knew they were slipping over budget and behind schedule, did they not inform the council sooner? (Committee chair Lisa Herbold had the same question.) Dunkel acknowledged that the trend toward being over budget and late was obvious “in retrospect,” but said the people working on the project may have thought they could make up the money and time. “Is it just well-intentioned people who are optimistic and thinking, ‘If we just keep working harder and faster, we’re going to make it’? Or is it people saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not going to make it and we need to let someone know that,'” Dunkel said.

“There were vacations and leaves, there was mandatory overtime—there wasn’t a point when they said, ‘Let’s stop and recalibrate.’ And part of it is that it’s hard to come back and report on that. You don’t want to do that until you’re really certain that you can’t make that date.”

You can read the auditors’ recommendations—which include requiring the city’s Chief Technology Office, Michael Matmiller, to report back to the council monthly on the status of the city’s IT projects—as well as the auditor’s presentation and a report on best practices by an outside consultant—on the city’s website.

2. On Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray’s Human Services Department announced the location of a new, 24/7, low-barrier homeless shelter on First Hill. The shelter, which will accommodate about 100 men and women, will be located at First Presybterian Church, at 1013 8th Avenue. The city will hold one community meeting on the shelter at the church, on May 22 and 6pm, and hopes to open the shelter in June or July. If opposition to a methadone clinic in the neighborhood is any sort of guide, expect protests.

3. HSD and the mayor’s homelessness director, George Scarola, came to the council’s human services committee yesterday armed with numbers that they say demonstrate the success of the city’s new Navigation Team. The eight-member team, which includes both police and outreach workers, notifies residents of homeless encampments when the city plans to remove them from public property, and provides information on services and shelter, including other, authorized encampments. Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s special assistant on public safety, said that of 291 homeless people the team has contacted since it formed in February, 116 went into “alternative living arrangements”—about 70 to traditional shelters, and 46 to authorized encampments. “That’s more than just a referral—that’s actually a connection,” Lindsay said. “Those are people who were weeks or days or months ago living on streets unsheltered, who are now living inside or at an authorized encampment.”

But how big of a victory is that, really? People who live in camps tend to do so for many reasons: Shelters tend to be dirty and crowded, and most don’t allow people to come in with partners, possessions, or pets. Major addiction problems and mental illnesses that make it difficult to sleep in close quarters with hundreds of other people can also be issues. And sanctioned encampments fill up as fast as the city opens them—a point HSD deputy director Jason Johnson acknowledged.

Tuesday’s sweep of the encampment under the Spokane Street Viaduct, which the city said was necessary because of an RV fire at the site last week, was less successful by the city’s standards. Of 38 “total contacts,” Lindsay said, 15 “declined any form of services,” and 8 agreed to go to shelter or an authorized encampment. The rest took referrals to employment, case management, and other services, Lindsay said.

4. Chris Potter, director of operations for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, updated council members on the city’s new delivery service, which allows people to retrieve  belongings confiscated from encampments without busing all the way down to the city’s storage facility on Airport Way. So far, Potter said, two people have asked for the belongings back, and one has gotten their “materials” returned. Pressed by council member Tim Burgess to explain why this was good news—given that the city has hundreds of bins full of unclaimed stuff taken from homeless encampments—Potter said, “Getting two calls represents a dramatic increase in the number of people who have reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, can I get my things back?'” But, he acknowledged, “It’s difficult to have a conversation with somebody whose material you’ve gotten and who hasn’t made a phone call to try to recover it from us.”

5. The Seattle Times ran a breathtakingly solipsistic, question-begging editorial this week calling on Mayor Ed Murray not to run for reelection. Their argument: Someone under such a “cloud” of “sordid” allegations can’t possibly win reelection, but could divide the electorate, leaving the city stuck with “Mayor Kshama Sawant, or some other extreme left-wing ideologue.” First of all, Kshama Sawant has repeatedly and explicitly said she does not plan to run for mayor—a minor detail the Times omits. (Obviously, people can change their minds, but this seems a somewhat crucial point.) Second, and more glaring: The Times itself is the publication that decided to publish all the sordid details about the allegations in the first place, including detailed allegations about rough sex and a mole on Murray’s genitals, so if anyone has created an environment of “sordid theater,” it’s them.

Finally, it requires a truly special sort of arrogance for a newspaper to first declare that its own story is “the biggest political scandal in Seattle in generation,” then claim that the subject of that story has been “transformed [by that story] from the bold big-city mayor into one who defers to his defense lawyer when he is invited to speak to The Seattle Times editorial board,” and then use that entirely reasonable deferral—which no one was aware of until the paper reported it, making the story about itself—as a justification for demanding his resignation.  Traditionally, a newspaper that wants a public official to step aside cites public opinion or some other outside evidence to shore up such a demand; the Times cites only itself, and its own declaration that its own reporters have uncovered the biggest scandal in generations.

As I said on Twitter:

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: An Excuse to Remove Us Immediately

1. The city council’s approval of the HALA upzone in South Lake Union and downtown yesterday—which requires developers to make between 2 and 5 percent of their new units affordable, or pay a fee of up to $13.50 per square foot into an affordable-housing fund—played out pretty much as everybody expected it would. aAnti-development activists booed loudly and shouted “Shame!” when council members Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess spoke in favor of the legislation, the Raging Grannies sang, and Lisa Herbold proposed an amendment that would have required developers to contribute more to affordable housing, which lost.

Oh, and Kshama Sawant gave a speech.

But there were some familiar faces who were missing from today’s HALA hearing—namely, the single-family homeowners and erstwhile affordable housing advocates who turn out in droves (and even sue the city) when a proposed upzone threatens to allow apartments (or cottages) in their North Seattle backyards. When the U District upzone was up before the council, for example, homeowners from across North Seattle filled council chambers, decrying developers as heartless opportunists and demanding greater concessions in the form of large affordable housing mandates that would have made the upzone unworkable. And yet, when an upzone that actually constitutes more of a giveaway to developers, because it will require them to build less affordable housing than in any other upzoned part of the city, came up, they were nowhere to be found.

Weird. It’s almost as if they care more about preserving exclusive single-family zoning in their own neighborhoods than they do about making sure developers provide affordable housing in every part of the city.

2. Homeless residents of the West Seattle bridge encampment where an RV caught fire last week said they have been informed that the city will sweep their camp tomorrow morning at 9. The fire destroyed two RVs at the camp, which has been home to dozens of people in recent months. It was ruled an accident.

Rebecca Massey, who has lived at the encampment for the last eight months, told the council yesterday morning that the city was using the fire as “an excuse to remove us immediately.

“They’re offering a few individuals places to go, but most of the people that live there are not being told where to go—they’re just being told you have to leave,” Massey said. “The housing solution for the homeless is great, [but] it’s a long-term solution—it’s an eventual solution—and there’s people living under the bridge in my community that have been on the waiting list for housing for years.”

3. Council president Bruce Harrell, who would become mayor if Mayor Ed Murray were to resign in the wake of a lawsuit alleging he molested a teenage boy in the 1980s, said yesterday that the council would have no comment on the allegations, then went on to comment:

“Our city cannot afford to be distracted. There is a judicial process that will address the serious allegations that this situation has presented, and we will respect that process and the rights of all parties involved. All accusations of abuse require a thorough investigation. It is in our human nature to immediately want answers, but I ask we not cast aspersions to the parties involved before we have all the facts through the legal process. I am confident that through this process, truth and justice will prevail.”

Murray isn’t hiding from public view. Yesterday, he attended a naturalization ceremony at the downtown library (where he was trailed by multiple TV cameras) and went to the Mariners’ opening game.

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.

Mayor: Just Kidding About That $275 Million Property Tax for Homelessness

Dow-Ed-Claudia

Just three weeks after rolling out a proposal to increase Seattle residents’ property taxes about $135 a year to raise $275 million for homelessness over the next five years, Mayor Ed Murray, joined by King County Executive Dow Constantine and other county officials, announced today that he was scrapping that proposal in favor of a countywide 0.1-percent sales tax, which will go on the ballot in 2018. The measure would raise $68.6 million in the first year, according to the city, rising to $91.1 million in year 10. (Murray’s original proposal would have raised about $45 million a year, but the new, higher figure will have to be spread across the county and its 39 cities).

Standing in a room filled with many of the same city and nonprofit agency staffers who flanked him at the last announcement, Murray called the new-look homelessness plan a “regional approach” that unites the county and city in fighting what Murray called a “regional problem” that impacts cities across the county, from Seattle to Bellevue to Enumclaw.

It was a remarkable, and remarkably abrupt, turnaround for a mayor who had touted his earlier proposal as a data-driven, results-oriented approach to homelessness, mental health care and addiction. Based on last year’s Pathways Home report from Ohio consultant Barb Poppe, the proposal would have invested heavily in short-, medium-, and long-term “rapid rehousing” vouchers, and would have gotten the city into “new lines of business,” in Murray’s term, such as mental health care and opioid addiction treatment. Signature gathers have been out in force over the past two weeks, collecting tens of thousands of names to qualify the measure for the August 2017 ballot—a path Murray chose for his measure, at least in part, because it would allow him to circumvent the red pens of the city council. All reports are that the measure, known as Initiative 126, was polling well, but not great, and with the mayor facing election in November, the prospect of fighting a pitched battle over property taxes with homeowners disinclined to like him anyway couldn’t have been appealing. (A handout provided by the mayor’s office included several data points about Seattle’s relatively low property taxes that would be non sequiturs if they didn’t come from a mayor who tends to get defensive when criticized about property taxes.)

On the other hand, the political calculus also includes King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is trying to pass his own taxes this year—one old, a levy that funds programs for health care and human services for veterans and other county residents, and one new, a sales tax for arts, science, and cultural education. Speculation at city hall today was that Constantine didn’t want all three measures to be on the ballot in the same year—arts and culture and homelessness in August, and veterans and human services in November.

Neither Constantine nor Murray would directly answer questions about what changed between three weeks ago and today, instead falling back on boilerplate about realizing the need for a regional approach to homelessness. “The conversation got started with the city about how we can team up and do a better job to do a comprehensive approach, and really put together a plan that involves all of the stakeholders in the community,” Constantine said. “If you don’t plan, if you don’t take into account where you can get the most value, you end up measuring success by the amount of money you’re putting in and that is not the right way to do it.”

While Constantine was throwing gentle shade at the mayor’s abandoned proposal, two of the men who helped craft that measure were openly disappointed that the plan on which they both collaborated was headed for the shredder. Nick Hanauer, the lefty billionaire whose entrepreneurial expertise was supposedly key to the original proposal, said he felt “a little sad to not be moving forward with our city initiative,” and Downtown Emergency Service Center director Daniel Malone said that “giving that up isn’t something that any of us were ready to do lightly. But,” he added, we’ve settled on something that is even better, bigger, and bolder … and still has the same key emphasis, which is to house people.”

Murray (and Hanauer) also carefully sidestepped questions about whether opposition from property owners helped sink the proposal, and whether a sales tax, which is more regressive (that is, it falls harder on the poor) than a tax on property, was the right way to fund services for homeless people (who don’t pay property taxes but do pay sales tax. Hanauer seemed to deny that the sales tax is particularly burdensome, with an ill-conceived comment that “I pay way more” in sales taxes than a homeless person, “because I buy way more stuff!” Murray launched into a verbal assault on the state’s tax system, which doesn’t allow an income tax. Gesturing at the officials around him, many of whom were state legislators once themselves, Murray said, “Washington State doesn’t have progressive taxes. There’s just no way around it. … Because of our state tax structure, we don’t have the tools here to try and change that.” A fact sheet passed out by Murray staffers at the end of the conference said the average household would pay $30 more in sales taxes per year, and a person making around $11,000 a year (the median low-income person’s annual pay, according to the mayor’s office) would pay an extra $9.

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.