City Budget Roundup, Part 2: Tenants’ Rights, Homelessness, and the Streetcar

This is part 2 of a two-part series; part 1 is just below this post, or right here.

I’m leaving town just in time for election day this year (one more year, and it’ll be a trend), but before I do, I wanted to give a quick rundown of what’s happening with the city budget—specifically, what changes council members have proposed to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget plan, which holds the line on homelessness spending and includes a couple of controversial funding swaps that reduce potential funding for programs targeting low-income communities. None of these proposals have been passed yet, and the council has not started publicly discussing the cuts it would make to the mayor’s budget to fund any of their proposed new spends; this is just a guide to what council members are thinking about as they move through the budget process.,

This list is by no means comprehensive—the list of the council’s proposed budget changes runs to dozens of pages. It’s just a list of items that caught my eye, and which could cue up budget changes or future legislation in the weeks and months ahead. The budget process wraps up right before Thanksgiving, but the discussions council members are having now could lead to additional new laws—or constrain the mayor’s ability to spend money the council allocates, via provisos that place conditions on that spending—well into the coming year.

Tenants’ Rights

Several proposals would enhance and expand the rights of tenants living in substandard housing or at risk of eviction. One, by council member Mike O’Brien, moves about $600,000 for eviction prevention from the Human Services Department to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections and stipulates that most of it has to go to community-based groups that do proactive outreach to tenants at risk of eviction who may not know their rights or the resources available to them. This money was allocated last year for the same purpose, O’Brien said, but was inexplicably spent expanding a hotline tenants can call when they need help, rather than letting tenants know that the hotline and other resources exist.

“We were pretty clear, I thought, in our budget last year” that the money was supposed to be spent “really actively going out and finding households that may not be aware of what their rights are and making sure they have access to those resources,” O’Brien said. “What happened last year is that the executive”—at the time, Tim Burgess—”chose to put that funding into increasing the funding for the hotline response work. … It’s hard to see how we could be more clear than last year. But we will try to be more clear.”

Another proposal, by Herbold, would direct SDCI to come up with faster ways to get landlords to address habitability issues, and to prevent evictions when tenants live in substandard properties. Currently, tenants can be evicted from apartments even if the landlord is in serious violation of the city’s building and land-use codes, or if the tenant has withheld rent because an apartment needs serious maintenance to be livable. Two other Herbold proposals would increase tenant relocation assistance for tenants displaced by rising rents and make more tenants eligible for such assistance, and direct Seattle Public Utilities to analyze the eligibility criteria for the city’s Utility Discount Program. Currently, the program—which provides a discount on water and electricity to eligible customers—is only open to people making less than 70 percent of the state median income, or around $42,000 for a household of two; Herbold wants to expand it to people making less than 70 percent of the local median income, or about $56,000.

“It’s hard to see how we could be more clear than last year. But we will try to be more clear.”

SHARE/WHEEL

Nearly a month ago, I wrote:

“[The] issue of SHARE’s shelter funding, like the issue of whether the city will keep paying for bus tickets for its clients, has become something of an annual ritual—and every year, the council finds a few hundred thousand dollars to keep them going. If this year is any different, it will be a notable departure from tradition.”

Turns out that this year isn’t any different. On Thursday, council members agreed to restore funding for basic overnight shelters that SHARE operates in collaboration with several  churches, despite the fact that the controversial organization scored dead last in the Human Service Department’s bidding for shelter funding last year. When SHARE failed to win funding for its shelters through that process, the city provided “bridge” funding that was supposed to get the group through the middle of next year; during that time, they were supposed to come up with a “transition plan” for when the money went away. Last month, HSD deputy director Tiffany Washington said that of all the agencies that received bridge funding and agreed to come up with a transition plan, SHARE was the only service provider that had failed to do so. The reason SHARE gave the city for not abiding by the agreement, according to Washington: They said they had no plans to close down.

Good instinct: As in previous years, the council came through for SHARE, promising $378,000 for the second half of 2019 and $756,000 in 2020.

Image via Streets.mn

Adaptive Signals

Transit, pedestrian, and bike advocates raised concerns that Mayor Durkan’s proposal to fund new “adaptive signals“—traffic lights that respond to traffic volumes, usually by prioritizing drivers over other roadway users—only paid lip service to the idea of accommodating cyclists and pedestrians. In addition to more car-detecting sensors, Durkan’s budget proposed a pilot project that would trigger a “walk” signal once enough pedestrians had gathered at an intersection, as well an app that would signal to traffic lights that a cyclist was present—as long as that cyclist owned a smart phone and happened to have the app running. O’Brien’s proviso would put a hold on the adaptive signal money unless the plan “test[s] or further[s] the development of passive detection of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit modes.”

Homelessness

Mayor Durkan’s budget proposal, which comes on the heels of the city’s botched attempt to tax large businesses to pay for homeless services, essentially flatlined spending on the homelessness crisis, boosting it by a barely-inflationary 3.2 percent between 2018 and 2019. The council could boost that substantially through a number of small and large budget adds, including, potentially, one very big tent.

The big-tent idea apparently originated in Los Angeles, where the city recently erected a massive white tent containing enhanced shelter and services for about 75 homeless Angelenos. Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who proposed the big-tent idea, said she was skeptical until she visited LA, where she discovered that the tent wasn’t just “a FEMA tent” with tents on the floor or bunk beds lining the walls;  it had “partitions between beds, the option for pets and loved ones to come and be together, [and] access to mental health care on site.” Creating an enhanced shelter in a tent, Mosqueda’s office estimates, would cost $6 million over two years. “I offer this up as a potential opportunity for us to think about ways to expand the options that we have along that continuum of housing  … so that if it is more cost-effective, then we can direct more resources to building permanent housing,” Mosqueda said.

Support

And finally, Some more budget restrictions

Council members have frequently expressed annoyance at Durkan for failing to deliver reports on schedule or comply with recommendations from the council or, in the case of one of this year’s budget provisos, the city auditor’s office.

This year, council members proposed placing spending restrictions on two big, expensive ongoing projects. The first is the existing First Hill and South Lake Union streetcar. The mayor is supposed to report to the council twice a year on how the streetcars are doing, both financially and in terms of performance metrics such as ridership and reliability. The last time the mayor’s office provided such a report was in June 2017, when Ed Murray was mayor. “We’ve been waiting on this report for a while, and I’m sure what the holdup is,” O’Brien said last week. “It should be fairly simple to meet the requirements of this proviso. It’s just unacceptable that we’ve been waiting 18 months for the next report on those two segments of the streetcar system.” Durkan’s budget does include about $9 million in funds over two years to help pay for anticipated streetcar revenue shortfalls up front.

“Another reasonable response might have been to not support continued funding of the Navigation Team, because all the work that was supposed to have been done by the executive by this time this year was not done. So we’re really trying to meet them halfway on this.”

A proposal from Herbold, meanwhile, would require the Navigation Team—a group of police officers and social service workers who remove encampments and direct people living in tents to available services—to submit quarterly reports showing progress on steps the city auditor outlined a year ago before the council would release funding for the coming quarter. Those steps, or “Checkpoints,” include things like creating a plan for “unsheltered individuals to be meaningfully involved in Navigation Team evaluation” and assessments of strategies to prioritize hygiene services and prevent trash from piling up at encampment sites.

Bagshaw said the process Herbold was outlining sounded like “a lot of committee work” for the council, to which Herbold responded: “The issue is that the auditor has made recommendations, and the executive is not in compliance with those recommendations. … I think we’re acting in really good faith. I think another reasonable response might have been to not support continued funding of the Navigation Team, because all the work that was supposed to have been done by the executive by this time this year was not done. So we’re really trying to meet them halfway on this.”

 

Sawant’s City Printer Usage: 26 Hours, One “Tax Amazon” Rally, 4,000 Copies

A little over a week ago, during the council debate over the head tax, council member Sally Bagshaw called out her colleague, council member Kshama Sawant, for using the legislative department’s shared printer to print out a huge number of bright red posters advertising a rally Sawant was holding over the weekend to protest Amazon and create public pressure on the council to support the highest possible tax. “I just don’t think it is right for us to be using city resources or the copy machines to promote something that not all of us agree to,” Bagshaw said.

I wondered just what kind of resources Bagshaw was talking about, so I filed a records request to find out how Sawant’s printer usage compared to other council offices’. (Each office has its own printer, but big jobs—like, say, 11-by-17 color posters for political rallies—must be done on a large color printer in the second-floor printer room).

Unfortunately, the city wasn’t able to provide the most recent month’s invoice to its printer company, Ricoh, because that invoice wasn’t available yet. Printer costs have accelerated steadily through the year, however, growing from $493.86 in January to $1,231.46 in February to about $1,300 in March (the exact total is hard to extrapolate because the March bill includes rent for the copier itself, plus various taxes whose rates are unspecified).

Fortunately, the printer itself does save records for the most recent several days, broken down by document name and the name of the staffer requesting the print job. I made my request on May 14, the day  Bagshaw chided Sawant for using the council’s shared, city-funded printer to create her rally posters, and got records showing all print jobs between 11:02 am on May 10 and 10:19 am on May 14. (According to the council’s public disclosure officer, the printer does not store print records long-term.) Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” rally was on Saturday, May 12.

The documents show that Sawant’s office—specifically, her legislative assistants Ted Virdone and Adam Ziemkowski—printed several thousand posters and other documents related to the rally, including hundreds of chant sheets to guide rally participants during the “March on Amazon.” The printing jobs dwarf other council office’s print requests; moreover, the council offices that did relatively large print jobs during the time when Sawant’s office was using the city printer to produce her rally posters were printing presentations, copies of studies, and agendas for council meetings—not posters for weekend demonstrations against Amazon aimed at pressuring council members to adopt a larger tax.

Between around 2:00 in the afternoon on May 10 and 4:00 in the afternoon on May 11, the day before the rally, Sawant’s office printed:

  • 1,004 copies of a document called “March On Amazon.doc.”
  • 50 copies of a document called “fight bezos bullying.pdf”
  • 75 copies of a document called “tax amazon, no loopholes, no sunset.pdf”
  • 50 copies of a document called “tax amazon – fund housing and services.pdf”
  • 50 copies of a document called “tax amazon, 75 million, no extortion2.pdf”
  • 50 copies of a document called “150m EHT.pdf” (Sawant was pushing for a head tax, or Employee Hours Tax, that would raise $150 million a year)
  • 50 copies of a document called “tax amazon, no bezos durkan deal.pdf”
  • 400 copies of a document called “Tax Amazon chantsheet2.doc”
  • 2,198 copies of a document called “may 11 (two sided).pdf.

It’s unclear, given the limited period of time the records cover, whether Sawant’s office printed other posters and rally-related before 11am on May 10, the earliest time for which printer records are available. It’s unclear from the records which documents were large 11-by-17 posters and which were in full color. However, demonstrators at last Monday’s council meetings on the head tax held signs bearing the same slogans as those in the file names Sawant’s office printed out the previous Friday, and Sawant herself defended her use of the city’s official printer to produce anti-Amazon materials, telling Bagshaw, “You can choose not to use your office for really fighting for the interests of working people and to build movements. I strongly believe that council resources absolutely should be used to further social movements and not for the protection of the interests of the chamber of commerce.”

Overall, Sawant’s office printed out more than 4,000 copies in the approximately 24 hours between the afternoon of May 10 and the afternoon of May 11. (After the rally, their printing needs returned to a normal level—about 40 pages between May 12 and May 14).  No other office came close. Council member Rob Johnson’s office was in second place, with just over 600 copies in the same period (none of them posters), but that was skewed by a single 465-page printout—copies of a PowerPoint presentation on the Families and Education Levy for council members.

Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett told me that he considered Sawant’s use of the city’s printer to produce her rally signs acceptable under city ethics rules, because she was using the posters “to pass legislation.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “An Anthony Weiner Type”

1. The city council got its first look at the revised budget forecast for 2018 yesterday afternoon, and the gist of the presentation can be summed up, more or less, in three graphs. The first shows the rate at which the city’s revenues are projected to grow. In order to just keep city services at current levels, revenues—money coming in from fees and taxes—have to grow at a rate somewhat above inflation, or between 3 and 4 percent. When that doesn’t happen, the city has to make budget cuts.

Although the budget office currently projects growth to exceed inflation (represented by the jagged line on the chart above) for at least the next few years, the city actually needs to see revenue growth well above inflation to pay for all the additional obligations it has committed to, including programs that ongoing but are currently being paid for with one-time funding—or by dipping into the city’s general-fund balance, a cash reserve that grows whenever revenues come in higher than expected. In 2016, the year-end fund balance exceeded $60 million—but since then, the city has been spending far more than it has been taking in, draining the fund to the point that by next year, if nothing changes, the balance will be more than $28 million in the red.

The next chart uses numbers to demonstrate the same problem, and adds an additional ongoing wrinkle: The city anticipates spending about $10 million a year, far more than previously anticipated, paying for “unbudgeted” judgments and claims against the city. By 2020, according to the budget office, the city could face a shortfall of up to $53 million. “We are in a pattern where we are spending down our fund balance,” budget director Ben Noble told the council. “In 2019, given the revenues that we’re forecasting, we would use up all of our remaining fund balance and then some and dip into the red. We can’t do that. We can’t run a deficit.”

On top of that, budget officials told the council Monday, the city needs to figure out how to pay for homelessness programs that were kick-started with onetime funding, a planned safe consumption site, and a long-awaited new accounting system, among other promised programs. “We are supporting some ongoing activities with onetime revenue sources, and what this is saying is that you can’t keep doing that on an ongoing basis,” Noble said. “Our forecast indicates that … the higher growth that we’ve been seeing of late is not going to continue.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked every city department to come up with a budget that reflects cuts of 2 to 5 percent. In a statement Durkan said, “[w]ith a series of one-time spending decisions that carry over into the upcoming years, the City must emphasize its priorities and evaluate sensible cost saving measures.”

2. Former King County Democrats chair Bailey Stober, who just lost his job as communications director for the King County Assessor’s office after an investigation concluded that he “engaged in conduct that was outside the bounds of an appropriate employer-employee relationship” in his position as party chair, told the Seattle Times‘ Jim Brunner yesterday that he will run for the state house seat currently held by Republican Mark Hargrove as an “independent Democrat.” Stober told Brunner that he has the backing of Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, and claimed to have “made lifelong friends and lifelong enemies” because he has “been involved in politics for more than a decade.” Stober, who previously claimed he has been “in Party leadership” for 11 years, is 26.

Stober’s announcement came just two days before another candidate, Debra Entenman, was expected to announce her candidacy for the same position. Entenman is currently the field director for US Congressman Adam Smith, and has reportedly drummed up significant early support from local Democrats.  The race to defeat Hargrove, a conservative Republican in a relatively moderate South King County district, will reportedly be on the agenda at Wednesday night’s meeting of the 47th District Democrats; both Stober and Entenman are expected to attend.

In the course of looking into the rumor that Stober planned to run on Sunday and Monday, I called around to more than a dozen people who have worked with Stober, including many who consider him a friend, and I heard the same story again and again: Everyone close to Stober was urging him not to run, arguing that he needed to disappear from the public eye for at least a few months and express some semblance of contrition before asking for voters’ support and trust. (Stober did not respond to my request for comment Monday morning). “The worst thing that can happen [with a scandal like the one in which Stober has been implicated] is that you’re a pariah, where you don’t have the change to rehabilitate yourself—an Anthony Weiner type,” one Democrat who called Stober “a really nice guy” who “means well” told me. “He’s delusional if he thinks that Auburn [which is in the 47th District] doesn’t know what’s going on in Seattle.”

3. An eagle-eyed reader pointed out that the copy of the report the King County Assessor commissioned as part of its investigation into Stober’s behavior—a report that cost county taxpayers more than $25,000—was missing two pages. This was the result of an oversight by the assessor’s office (the Seattle Times’ copy had the same omission), which provided the missing pages promptly when I asked for them yesterday. The full report can now be found here, but here’s a taste of what was missing from the original version I posted:

Two undated comments that Mr. Stober made within the “Dream Team” Facebook conversation about other members of the KCD are concerning. See Exhibit 6 and Exhibit 7. In these posts, Mr. Stober first commented about a former state party committeeman and said: “I’ll see if I can print off one more certificate to recognize [Redacted] as party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.” Mr. Stober also commented about a former member of the KCD leadership team and said: “Listen if you all want to clean up the bad blood send [Redacted] a chocolate covered dildo and tell him to get fucked.” Mr. Stober and another witness who participated in the “Dream Team” Facebook conversation provided an overview of events within the Washington Democratic party that they said provide context for these comments. Nevertheless, we find Mr. Stober’s choice of words to be wholly inappropriate.

One witness showed us, but declined to share, cell phone video clips of Mr. Stober apparently intoxicated at KCD-related events. Other witnesses reported (i) personally feeling pressure from Mr. Stober to drink and/or (ii) personally observing Mr. Stober pressure others to drink. These accounts lend support to Ms. Koss Vallejo’s claim that Mr. Stober also pressured her to drink. Moreover, prior to the Code of Conduct complaint, a number of witnesses either observed or heard from Ms. Koss Vallejo that she felt she had to (and did) drink socially with Mr. Stober in connection with her role as KCD Executive Director. Finally, we note that at least one individual who declined to be interviewed reportedly reached out to Mr. Stober about seeking professional help regarding his consumption of alcohol.

Read the whole 29-page report here.

4. Secretary of State Kim Wyman showed up at the King County Council yesterday to testify against legislation, sponsored by council member Dave Upthegrove and supported by the council’s six Democrats, that would provide postage-paid ballots to every King County voter in this year’s primary and general elections. The measure, which would cost the county up to $381,000, is aimed at increasing voter turnout in King County; a February 2017 trial run in two King County jurisdictions, Shoreline and Maple Valley, found that prepaid ballots increased the percentage of ballots returned by mail from 43 percent (in the 2016 general election) to 74 percent during the pilot.

Speaking against the legislation, Wyman, a Republican, said that any prepaid ballot program should be implemented statewide, not on a county-by-county basis. “This decision should not be made in a vacuum because the impacts [don’t happen] in a vacuum,” Wyman said. In response, county council member Claudia Balducci tweeted: “I really don’t understand SOS Wyman’s objections. Each County puts out & collects their own ballots for federal, state & local elections. How could KC paying postage confuse voters or impact other Counties in any way? It didn’t affect us when Pierce Co did this a few years ago.”

Wyman, a Republican, won’t be up for reelection until 2020, but it’s worth noting that increased voter turnout in King County means increased Democratic turnout in all statewide races and in legislative districts that include parts of King County. Democrats hoping to turn the Eastside blue in 2018 would only benefit from measures that make it easy for King County voters to cast their ballots.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

Embattled King County Democrats Chair Remains in Power, But Financial and Political Difficulties Deepen

Quick commercial break: This story took many hours of reporting, including but by no means limited to most of the day today and the five-hour meeting I sat through in Tukwila last night. If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including long-form stories like this one, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

In a meeting Tuesday night in Tukwila that lasted nearly five hours, including an almost three-hour closed-door executive session from which officials repeatedly emerged to make sure no members of the press were listening at the doors and that no members of the body were “leaking” information about what was going on inside, the King County Democrats decided to appoint a five-member panel to conduct a new investigation into the group’s embattled chairman, Bailey Stober.  Stober, as I reported Monday, is accused of verbally harassing and bullying the group’s former executive director Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired on February 2, and misusing party funds.

Stober did not step down and continues to deny every charge against him. He has been on paid administrative leave from his job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson since February 12 “so the Department of Assessments can gather and review information about allegations against him related to his position as Chair of the King County Democrats,” according to King County chief deputy assessor Al Dams.

The panel charged with investigating Stober, which is supposed to be appointed within the next two to three days, will include two people hand-picked by Stober himself. The third member is supposed to be appointed jointly by Stober and the two party vice-chairs who investigated the initial complaint and concluded that most of the charges were “founded,” and the other two are supposed to be appointed by the vice-chairs. I say “supposed to” because one of the two remaining vice chairs, Michael Maddux, resigned on Wednesday night; a second vice chair, Cat Williams, had already stepped down before last night’s meeting and sent a statement to the meeting about why she stepped down, which was read during the executive session. On Wednesday night, Maddux told me he resigned because Stober “does not care about protecting workers.  In fact, thanks to expanding the scope of the investigation to include finding whoever leaked [the vice chairs’ report on the complaint], what they really care about is protecting themselves—not protecting, workers not protecting women. It shows what their priorities are, and that’s not an organization I’m willing to be associated with.”

On Wednesday night, former vice chair Michael Maddux said he resigned because Stober “does not care about protecting workers.  In fact, thanks to expanding the scope of the investigation to include finding whoever leaked [the vice chairs’ report on the complaint], what they really care about is protecting themselves.

“It shows what their priorities are, and that’s not an organization I’m willing to be associated with.”

The group will also do a separate investigation, requested by Stober, into the vice chairs’ investigation itself, which Stober and his supporters say was unfair and incomplete. In his complaint, Stober claims, among other charges, that the vice chairs violated the group’s anti-harassment policy by “promoting and sharing ‘offensive written comments,'” which appears to refer to the obscene names he is accused of using to describe Koss Vallejo. Finally, the group plans to do another separate investigation, added last night, into who “leaked” documents and details of what transpired during the executive session Tuesday night to the press, including me. (More on that in a moment.)

According to the report on the complaint distributed in yesterday’s closed session, Koss Vallejo described

extensive harassment on behalf of Stober, including being called ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘slut,’ and being demeaned regularly in front of other people in the political community. She recounted him taking her phone and posting an obscene post to her Facebook while she was using the restroom, and not alerting her for an hour, during which numerous people saw and interacted with the post. She recounted an instance wherein she was driving, and Stober was a passenger, and he sprayed a bottle of silly string in her face and mouth, while recording on his phone, ultimately posting to Instagram. She reported numerous instances of Stober making threats with financials toward her, and referring to her and [another party cited in the complaint] in derogatory terms when they questioned the efficacy of his spending habits. She described extensive demands on her to engage in excessive drinking, and last minute trips to Eastern Washington, with fears of retaliation if she did not comply. [Koss Vallejo has requested a separate meeting to discuss her termination and indicated potential retaliation from Stober. She expressed concerns about Stober sharing misinformation about her termination during the upcoming Special Meeting.

The atmosphere at Tuesday night’s marathon meeting was one of grievance, anger, and high-pitched paranoia. Before those of us who were not voting or invited members of the group were asked to leave, the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, confirmed and elaborated on what she told me over the weekend: The King County Democrats are out of money, and have been both overspending and bringing in far less money than their budget assumes. In January and February of this year, according to a documented distributed by Podschwit, the organization was supposed to bring in $27,649. Instead, they raised just $7,023, leaving the group with just $3,886 at the end of February. Podscwit said yesterday that the group will be “in the red three grand” by the time she pays all their bills this month, including an $1,800-a-month lease for office space in Auburn, and that’s before an anticipated fine stemming from campaign reporting violation charges from the state attorney general’s office that could total tens of thousands of dollars more.

“She described extensive demands on her to engage in excessive drinking, and last minute trips to Eastern Washington, with fears of retaliation if she did not comply.”

Last night, Stober, who told me over the weekend that the organization was doing fine financially—”I am sitting in the Party office with the rent paid, lights on, heat blasting and nothing is suffering here,” he said—suddenly produced a check for $5,000 he said he had just procured; later, I confirmed that this check was from King County Executive Dow Constantine, who pledged the money in November and just paid up this month. However, Wednesday afternoon, Constantine confirmed that he had rescinded the check pending the outcome of the investigation. In response to my tweet confirming that he had asked for the money back, Constantine tweeted, “The recent check to the King County Democrats has been put on hold. It was for the balance of a pledge from 2017. I regularly donate to the State, County, and my local LD Dem organizations, and others. I look forward to helping KCD again as soon as this issue has been resolved.”

In last night’s executive session, Podshwit said Stober’s spending outside what was allowed by the adopted budget included $3,000 in excessive expenditures on travel and entertainment and $14,000 in excessive expenditures on candidate contributions. Podschwit said that she had resigned three times over what she considered Stober’s excessive spending, and that whenever she questioned him about spending funds that were not authorized by the adopted budget, she was told that he had “ultimate power.”

For more details on Stober’s spending, which included thousands of dollars on hotels, at bars and restaurants, and a weekend Vashon Island retreat for party members at a pricey Airbnb house that included a hot tub, check out my original post.

In last night’s executive session, Stober was asked to step aside temporarily while the investigation was ungoing; he refused.  “No. You want to come see the evidence, come see the evidence,” he said. Stober was also given the opportunity to speak at length about how he felt about the allegations. (Koss Vallejo and her invited witnesses were not allowed to speak, except to answer a single question about what time on February 2 Stober fired Koss Vallejo). Stober claimed his attorney had told him that his opponents could not try him in a court of law but that they would try him “in the court of public opinion,” and spoke repeatedly about “justice” and “due process,” invoking Martin Luther King Junior and the fact that “we teach our children the value of fairness” but seem to have forgotten what that means. He spoke so loudly and adamantly that at one point, a member asked him to take a less aggressive tone, and he responded by saying that people tend to get fired up when they’re “falsely accused.”

When I spoke with him by phone and later by email over the weekend, Stober denied all of the charges, including the financial allegations and the claim that he bullied or used inappropriate language around Koss Vallejo. “When there’s an investigation committee or whatever the board decides to  do, you wouldn’t see me saying any of those things,” Stober told me. “You wouldn’t see anything like that. As soon as I give it to an investigator, I’m more than happy to say it to the media as well. It’s just not existent. I went through every text, every Facebook message, every email exchange I ever have had—no.”

The allegations, it’s worth noting, appear to be about verbal, not written, communications; therefore, any review of documents would not address the verbal behavior that was described in the complaint. However, screen shots of what appear to be text message exchanges between Stober, Koss-Vallejo, and another Party official appear to contradict at least the spirit of Stober’s claim. In the texts, Stober appears to make numerous disparaging jokes about women, complaining that the organizers of the Women’s March in Seattle chose to hold their annual Day of Action on January 21, one day after the King County Democrats had planned their own event. “Goddamnit, we need to tell the Women’s March to know their fucking role,” a text message that appears to be from Stober says. “THEY GONNA BAKE COOKIES ALL DAY TO PROTEST? CLEAN THE HOUSE?? JESUS.” In another message, Stober appears to joke about printing off an award certificate recognizing a party member accused of raping a woman at the group’s annual retreat last year as “party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.” Another shows an image of a monkey at a desk, with the message “Honestly looks like Natalia trying to work.”

In another message, Stober appears to joke about printing off an award certificate recognizing a party member accused of raping a woman at the group’s annual retreat last year as “party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.”

I asked Stober specifically about these messages, along with another one suggesting that another person in the thread “send [former King County Democratic Party chair] Rich Erwin a chocolate covered dildo and tell him to get fucked,” via email. Stober responded: “I’m not going to have this trial occur in the media – it doesn’t respect my board, the process or due process. But I will say this – my close circle of friends and advisors have engaged in internal jokes and conversations that could have and should have been avoided and we will address that and improve. But for Natalia to pretend that is one sided is a far stretch. … Here is one of MANY screenshots I’ll be turning over to investigators to show Natalia engaging in the same behavior she’s now accusing others of.”

Attached was a screen shot of an apparent text message exchange in which Koss Vallejo making a mild fat-shaming joke about an unknown person. The implication appeared to be that if an employee who answered to Stober made off-color jokes, it makes his own comments excusable. One important issue that has surfaced during the #MeToo era is the fact that women in subordinate positions who have been harassed or sexually assaulted by more powerful men (such as men who have the ability to fire them) often appear “chummy” with the men who are targeting them (a word used by one of Stober’s defenders, 34th District Democrats chairman David Ginsberg, in the initial story on the complaint in the Seattle Times), appearing cheerful in photos or going along with behavior they may not feel comfortable with.
Stober has consistently claimed that he did not get an opportunity to respond to the vice chairs’ investigation, and specifically that he was not given an opportunity to be interviewed himself. Last night, he said the meeting was “the first time I have ever seen” the full report on the investigation. The vice-chairs, he said in our conversation last weekend, reached out to him late in the afternoon of February 2, when the complaint was filed, and told him that “they were going to interview me. All I asked for is, ‘I can’t do it this week, but I can do it any time after that.’ My week was booked.” That same day, Stober called a special meeting of the Democrats so he could hold an executive session “to brief the board on sensitive materials.” Those materials turned out to include details about why he said he fired Koss Vallejo, according to witnesses.
Back at the King County Democrats meeting, I spent three hours sitting outside the room with several representatives from the live-streaming organization King County Precinct Committee Officers Media Group and a number of people who had been asked to leave the room. I set up my computer on the floor outside, where, very quickly, it became obvious that Stober and his allies were extremely concerned about “leaks” from people inside the meeting. Not only did Stober claim, in open session, that people who talked to the press about what happened in executive session might be subject to a libel lawsuit, he claimed in the executive session to have “sworn statements” from “members of the media” that would prove that the vice chairs had leaked documents about the investigation before he had a chance to review them. At one point, a  sergeant at arms came out and told me she had been asked to stand watch over me and make sure I didn’t communicate with anyone inside the meeting. (I declined to let her stand over my shoulder and look at my computer, and she made it clear she didn’t have any interest in doing so in the first place.) The sergeant at arms, Galaxy Marshall, told me she had also been told that I went into the women’s restroom at the same time as Koss Vallejo, and that she was supposed to ask me what we talked about. Obviously, I declined to do that as well (it was clear that Marshall didn’t want to monitor me at the time, and she said as much herself on Twitter the following day.)
In the day or so since the meeting, I have spoken to several members of the King County Democrats who are thinking of leaving the group. Their shared frustration can be summed up as: This is not what we signed up for. Even if there is a new investigation into Stober, the vice chairs, and the so-called “leakers,” it will almost certainly take months, and require everyone involved, including Koss Vallejo, to be interviewed again, a process that could involve responding to submissions from Stober like the trove of text messages from Koss Vallejo that he appears to believe will vindicate him. Stober has reportedly suggested that bad press from “leaks” is at least partly to blame for the group’s anemic fundraising. I would argue that the existence of a significant investigation into sexual harassment and financial impropriety is more damaging to the King County Democrats than “leaks.” Moreover, “find the leakers” is a phrase more closely associated with a different political party.
*Quick civics lesson: Whistleblowing, or “leaking,” is free speech protected under the First Amendment that is backed up by considerable case law. Truth is an absolute defense to libel. Reporting a fact that another person wants to conceal is not libel. Also, Robert’s Rules of Order, the rules under which the King County Democrats generally operate, is not the law.

BREAKING: Seattle City Attorney Charges Ex-Candidate Sheley Secrest With Theft, False Reporting

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has filed criminal charges against former city council candidate Sheley Secrest, who allegedly used her own money to make it appear that she had more contributions toward the 400 required to qualify for democracy vouchers than she actually had. Secrest ran unsuccessfully for council Position 8, which is now held by Teresa Mosqueda, last year.

The charges include one misdemeanor charge of false reporting, which relates to the false reports Secrest allegedly filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and one gross misdemeanor charge of attempted theft, which refers to the potential $150,000* Secrest attempted to receive from the city through publicly funded democracy vouchers. The 2017 election was the first election in which candidates could qualify for democracy vouchers—$100 in contributions that voters can give to the candidate or candidates of their choice. To qualify for democracy vouchers, candidates had to get 400 signatures, along with small contributions of $10 or more, from Seattle voters. As the Seattle Times reported last year, Secrest’s former campaign manager, Patrick Burke, alleged that Secrest used $560 of her own money and misrepresented it as coming from voters who signed a petition to qualify her for the vouchers. (Secrest did not end up qualifying even with the disputed funds.)

Last year, Burke filed a police report charging that Secrest had told him to collect signatures and not to worry about getting the necessary corresponding contributions; after he turned in 56 signatures at the Trans Pride Festival and at a local high school, he says, Secrest pulled $600 in 20-dollar bills from her purse and handed him $560. Secrest has denied all the allegations.

Burke, who says he is now living at a Salvation Army homeless shelter, has also charged that Secrest failed to pay him more than $3,300 for his services as her campaign manager. (The Ethics and Elections Commission reports that the Secrest campaign paid Burke just over $1,300 and owes him $1,675, but says he was also promised 11.8 percent in bonus pay based on how many signatures and contributions he brought in.) He has a hearing this afternoon in his small-claims case against Secrest. (More about that in tomorrow’s Morning Crank.) ”

“[Secrest] said, ‘If you can stick with this until we get the democracy vouchers, it will be worth your while,'” Burke says, “and I said, ‘If that’s what we need to do, let’s just push it and get done, but you have to understand that I can’t be at all the events that you need me to be at.” Burke says that by the time he was fired from the campaign, in July of last year, he could not afford to keep his phone on or pay for bus fare; part of his dispute is that Secrest paid new vendors before she paid him.

Secrest says Burke “has been paid for all services performed before the date of his termination,” adding, “Washington is an at-will employment state, meaning an employer does not need cause to fire an employee.  In this matter, we repeatedly informed Patrick that we could not afford to keep him on staff. We clearly told him to stop working for pay, and we repeatedly told him that we will reach out once funds were available.”

I have reached out to Secrest for comment on the charges against her, and will update this post if she responds.

The penalty for the simple misdemeanor charge is up to three months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000; for the gross misdemeanor, up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

In Portland, voters shut down a similar public-financing program after one candidate misappropriated more than $90,000 in public funds, and another was convicted for forging signatures.

This is a breaking news post and I will update as more information becomes available.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The Real Surprise in Durkan’s Staffing Announcement Was Who Wasn’t Mentioned

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Last Friday, MayorJenny Durkan announced the departure of Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly, who got in trouble over his role in promoting a now-defunct bikeshare company affiliated with his former employer, and Patricia Lally, head of the city’s Office for Civil Rights. Durkan replaced both Kubly and Lally with interim directors from outside the city—former SDOT director Goran Sparrman and former Youth Violence Initiative director Mariko Lockhart. Kubly reportedly lobbied hard to keep his job, but that was probably never in the cards—his fans saw a visionary, big-picture leader, but his detractors inside and outside the city saw an outsider (from Austin by way of D.C. and Chicago) who threw elbows at too many people.

Durkan also announced a number of department heads she plans to keep, including Office of Housing director Steve Walker, Human Services Department director Catherine Lester, and Department of Education and Early Learning director Dwane Chappelle.

One name that wasn’t on either list was Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland, the onetime Georgetown neighborhood activist who emerged as one of the most transformative figures of the last four years. Nyland reorganized and attempted to remove the deadweight from DON (her email signature: “New Day, New DON!”, which had been the city department where miscellaneous programs went to languish, and to reimagine the concept of “neighborhoods” itself, to include the renters, immigrants, and newcomers who actually make up the majority of the city. Nyland’s dedication to inclusiveness riled the old-guard neighborhood movement—single-family homeowners, mostly white baby boomers, who tended to oppose changes that would add new people, particularly “transient” renters, to their” neighborhoods.

Those old-guard activists lost big during the last election—NIMBY darlings Jon Grant, Pat Murakami, and Bob Hasegawa lost decisively—but are hoping Durkan won’t realize that their time has passed.

The biggest rift between Nyland and the old guard came when Murray announced that the city would no longer fund or staff the 13 neighborhood district councils, and would dedicate the money they had spent supporting the councils to other purposes. Nyland took the brunt of the blame, as neighborhood activists accused her of failing to get their input and shutting them out of the system they have dominated for decades.  On the campaign trail, Durkan talked about “bringing back the district councils,” and said she thinks “the city has quit listening to the neighborhoods’ needs.”

They haven’t—they’ve just started listening to underrepresented people, too—and as Nyland has pointed out, when you’re used to being the only voice in the room, inclusion can feel like an affront. But neighborhoods are made up of renters, immigrants, night-shift workers, and young people, too. It would be a shame if complaints from activists who want to restore things to the “good old days” of Seattle circa 1990 were successful at pushing out an effective advocate whose work is just getting started.

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

Homeless Service Opponents Seek Homeless Service Funding from City

Poring through a pile of requests for funding by homeless services providers under the new Pathways Home criteria for funding (more about that here), I came across this application (and associated budget proposal) from Safe and Affordable Seattle, a group headed up by Elizabeth Campbell (a Magnolia homeowner and pro-viaduct activist who opposes low-income housing near Discovery Park) and Gretchen Taylor (a Magnolia homeowner and neighborhood activist who co-founded the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, argues that homeless people just want to take advantage of the system, and went to this event.) In its previous incarnation, Safe and Affordable Seattle was a group, also headed up by Campbell, that filed papers with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to oppose a levy for homeless services that never happened. The group/Campbell now runs a website dedicated to banning homeless encampments and pursuing “s legal actions against the City and its elected officials who have failed in their very basic duties to keep all Seattlelites safe.”

SAS asked for $264,000 in city funding (including $175,000 for “consultant services”) to produce [sic throughout] a “book and video documentary about the past and present history of 1) homeless individuals and populations in Seattle, the society and culture of homeless-ness, and associated counter cultures or societies associated thereto, 2) solutions and providers organization and local personalitiies that work with homeless people or homeless related matters, 3) City of Seattle policies, programs, and activities related to homeless people or homeless related matters; all between the years 2007 to 2018.”

I’m stunned, of course, that this completely sincere and totally professional application for public funding did not receive the due consideration it deserved from the city. Perhaps Campbell and Taylor can dip into their own funds to produce a “book” on homeless “personalitiies” and “sub cultures” themselves.

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

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Cary Moon

Civic activist, engineer, and first-time candidate Cary Moon isn’t much of a political brawler; during the 2007 campaign against the waterfront deep-bore tunnel, when most Seattle voters first got to know her, Moon’s style was more “convince them on the merits” than “bury the opposition.” But this year, aided by her pugnacious consultants at Moxie Media, Moon has come out swinging, accusing her opponent, Jenny Durkan, of knowingly accepting “illegal contributions” claiming that Durkan wants to protect “profiteers and Wall Street interests,” and issuing a celebratory press release when the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce declined to endorse her. At the same time, Moon (who is white) has aggressively courted supporters of Nikkita Oliver, a black activist, poet, and attorney who finished third in the primary, by pledging to  “share power” with Oliver’s supporters. In carving out an ideological niche on the left, Moon has earned enthusiastic support from the Stranger, which mocks Durkan as a status-quo Hillary clone who will say anything to get elected, but has yet to win an endorsement from Oliver or the candidate who ended up in fourth place, former state legislator Jessyn Farrell.

When we sat down at Moon’s temporary office at Moxie Media HQ in September, I started out by asking Moon about her early support for a tax on foreign homebuyers, which Durkan (who has some pugnacious consultants of her own) has portrayed as a racist attack on Chinese investors.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Your opponent argues that your proposal to tax non-resident property buyers is an attack on Chinese people, because a large percentage of foreign investors in the Northwest are from China. How do you respond?

Cary Moon [CM]: It feels fairly desperate and way off target.

ECB: How so?

CM: Our housing market used to be local—local buyers, local builders, local bankers. That’s how housing markets worked for decades and decades. When we have a housing market that’s hot because of our growth, and because tech workers are moving here, and we’re building more housing, and prices are going up because of natural demand, We’re attracting outside capital and we need to understand that dynamic.  How much of it is private equity firms, real estate investment trusts, or LLCs? How much of it is wealthy Seattleites buying second, third, and fourth homes for rental properties? How much of it is global money that is looking for a safe place to park capital that they need to invest somewhere and they’re like, ‘Oh, look, Seattle’s a nice city with escalating property values, so let’s put our money there’? We need to understand exactly the dynamic of, what is the activity and what would be an effective way to create a disincentive to block it.

 

“Could we do a special real estate excise tax or a capital gains tax on the sale of that property that was a non-primary residence? We need to look at the whole dynamic of what the problem is and we need to look at what is legal, but I think  a foreign buyers tax was never the right approach or the right question to ask.”

 

ECB: I know there’s no definitive data on this, but the indication seems to be that foreign investment is not a huge reason for rising housing prices in Seattle right now.

CM: We need to look at the data. Something’s going on. It could be that because of our condo code and the problems around liability [Washington State law exposes developers and builders to significant legal liability for actual and potential construction defects], we aren’t building very many condos, which are the starter homes that people can usually first buy. [There are conflicting accounts about whether liability really represents a significant barrier to construction.] We have an Airbnb  issue and we don’t really know how big it is. Maybe homes are coming off the market for use by commercial Airbnb operators. It’s just shrinking the available supply of homes for people who do want to live here. And even a fairly small number in each of those categories can have a big, dramatic effect, because it affects price levels at every single tier. So if you take luxury homes off the market and you take starter homes off the market, everything shifts up and it just becomes more and more desperate. The more money there is chasing fewer homes, the more that encourages [price] escalation.

ECB :The city attorney has argued that taxing foreign buyers or vacant homes is illegal. Do you disagree?

CM: I don’t think that’s the right approach. It’s not the foreignness of the buyers that’s the problem–it’s the activity. So maybe if it’s a corporate or nonresident owner and a vacant property. Could we do a special real estate excise tax or a capital gains tax on the sale of that property that was a non-primary residence? We need to look at the whole dynamic of what the problem is and we need to look at what is legal, but I think  a foreign buyers tax was never the right approach or the right question to ask.

ECB: Vancouver has a tax on home sales to nonresident buyers, and it doesn’t seem to have stabilized prices.

CM: It did for a while. For the first six eight months, it stabilized prices and sales dropped dramatically. But what happened there is there is so much capital trying to get out of China right now that even at a 15 percent fee [on sales], it’s still better than leaving the money in China. They’re so motivated to get it out that they’re willing to pay the 15 percent fee.

ECB: What are some other measures you’d support to increase housing supply and reduce housing costs?

CM: We have to keep funding flowing to nonprofit housing production. Get the housing trust fund back up to $200 million, like it used to be before the recession. Look at using surplus city land for very low-income affordable housing production. Look at how do we get more community land trusts going, because that is an excellent step toward homeownership for so many folks. There’s a lot of infill, like multifamily lowrise, that we could be doing in neighborhoods. We need to restart that conversation again, on a more constructive note, about how can we grow in each neighborhood in a way that welcomes people from all income levels and all ages and stages of life into the neighborhoods, so it’s not exclusive by economic class.

ECB: Tell me what do you mean by ‘on a more constructive note.’ Because a lot of the stuff you’re talking about seem very much like things that were on Ed Murray’s agenda.

CM: So HALA had identified 65 different strategies, and we got hung up on the [Mandatory Housing Affordability] upzones because of the way it got leaked. [Ed: Seattle Times reporter Danny Westneat published a column in 2015 that claimed Murray was planning to “get rid of single-family zoning,” prompting a homeowner backlash that ultimately led Murray to walk back a proposal to allow modest density increases, such as duplexes, in single-family areas.]  I think we still need to have those conversations, and I’d like to hit the reset button and start those conversations over again.

“We can’t do what San Francisco did and falsely limit supply, because that escalates prices. But I also want to recognize that only expecting the free market to solve this is not going to work.”

 

ECB: Would you eliminate exclusive single-family zoning, as Murray initially proposed?

CM: I would really look at all the zones and say, would it makes sense for a Single Family 5000 zone, for instance [where housing is restricted to detached single-family houses on 5,000-square-foot lots] to allow backyard cottages or clustered housing, and look at, how do we add row houses, duplexes, or low-rise multifamily in some places? How do we add a little bit more density at each level? So, yes, I would like to take another look at all the zoning and find a way to add infill development in all zones.

ECB: I’m trying to get a better sense of how you differ from your opponent on affordable housing and the need for more housing supply, because I hear her saying very similar things.

CM: I have a very firm belief that the free market is not going to be the only answer. Yes, we need to keep up with demand for people who want to move here. No question. We can’t do what San Francisco did and falsely limit supply, because that escalates prices. But I also want to recognize that only expecting the free market to solve this is not going to work. We have to have a strong component of public and market and affordable housing to balance the volatility that will happen in the housing market. We need rent stabilization.

ECB: What do you mean by rent stabilization? Do you have a proposal to restrict rent increases?

CM: Not yet. I have to look at best practices and what’s working in other cities. You hear the stories that most of us live, of having to move year after year, having to be more and more downwardly mobile, because apartments are increasingly unaffordable and you have to just keep moving to find a place you can afford. It’s causing tremendous housing insecurity. For folks who can afford to keep an apartment, it’s stressful, and for folks who can’t, it’s toxic. So we’ve got to do something, and rent stabilization looks like it’s part of the answer, as well as increasing tenants’ rights and making sure that everybody facing eviction or a huge rent increase has access to a lawyer. It makes a really big difference, because the folks who are getting taken advantage of can get help.

ECB: You’ve said that you think “rapid rehousing” with temporary vouchers, which the city is emphasizing as a key solution to homelessness, is inadequate. Can you elaborate on that comment, and what are some other solutions you would support?

CM: I think the starting point for that set of solutions was that the housing affordability crisis and the homelessness crisis are unrelated, and we all know that’s not true. That’s just stupid. That’s not reality. We have to come up with solutions that acknowledge that two of the main drivers of the homelessness crisis are the defunding of behavioral health services and addiction services, and the housing affordability crisis.

So the solutions I would put forward are: how can we get more funding into those services? How can we build more low-barrier shelters? How can we get more funding for long-term supportive housing, because a lot of the folks in shelters now really do need long-term help? How can we look at some of the emergency solutions, like the RV parks that Mike O’Brien’s feeling out how to implement? How can we build more tiny house villages, because for folks who are currently on the streets, having a roof over your head and a door to lock is pretty much essential?

“I think the starting point for [Pathways Home] was that the housing affordability crisis and the homelessness crisis are unrelated, and we all know that’s not true. That’s just stupid. That’s not reality.”

 

ECB: Some of the changes the city is implementing, like requiring that all providers go through a competitive bidding process that emphasizes permanent housing, could move city funding away from providers that focus on more temporary solutions, like low-barrier shelter and tiny houses. Do you think the city is moving in the right direction with this new bidding process?

CM: I want to be careful here, because I have never worked at a homeless service provider and I am not sure really how to talk about it, except that there always is room for more efficiency in any organization. So if we can figure out a way to get more program delivered for less money, we should definitely be doing that. I think we’re in the middle of the process, so we should continue with the process and see where it gets us.

ECB: One aspect of the new bidding process that has been controversial is that it’s performance-based—meaning, providers get ranked largely on whether they get people out of shelter and into ‘permanent’ housing. There’s a concern that this will result in service providers focusing on the people who are the easiest to serve, rather than the hardest to house.

CM: That’s a good point. Some of the supportive housing for folks in need—for survivors of domestic abuse, for kids coming out of foster care, for people coming back from the criminal justice system—they need more supportive help. If we can afford it, permanent supportive housing is the right approach, but there are certain populations that do need transitional housing, and I don’t want to move way from it completely for those populations.

ECB: Nikkita Oliver has declined to endorse you. How did you feel when you heard about her decision?

CM: The People’s Party [the organization that ran Oliver as its first candidate] is a really important movement in our city, and I want to honor everything that they’ve done and will do, because building black and brown power and building black and brown voices is an essential part of turning the corner and becoming a more just and inclusive city. I feel patient. I don’t question that it’s going to take some time to figure out if and what to do in the mayor’s race. So I honor the process that they’re going through, and I have faith that we’ll reestablish dialogue.

ECB: So you haven’t actually spoken to Nikkita since the election?

CM: No, just texting and voice mail.

ECB: How do you respond to the criticism that, as a wealthy white woman,  you can’t adequately represent low-income black and brown people?

CM: I mean, the reality is that too much power is held by wealthy white people who have access to privilege like I have my whole life. So they’re not wrong. My commitment to building a more just world is true, and I know that means tackling systemic racism. It means changing who has power. It means including the voices of the folks most marginalized and most impacted by inequality and centering their needs and their power as we make the transition.  I’m ready to help do that work from this position, but I own my privilege. I know I’m in a position where I had a lot of doors open for me, and I have a lot of advantages. It’s okay for them to call me out on that.

ECB: Beyond calling you out on your privilege, Oliver and her supporters raised a lot of issues during the campaign that just might not be top of mind for you, like displacement, gentrification police violence, and restorative justice. You’ve talked a lot about wanting to focus on those issues and ‘share power’ with people who have been marginalized. What will that look like in practice?

CM: What it looks like to me is, the campaign cabinet I put together is majority people of color, women, and LGBT people.I’ve made commitments about my leadership team and boards and commissions. I believe that’s the right path to get there. [Ed: Moon has pledged that her “leadership team will be at least half women, LGBTQ and people of color.”] And using a racial equity lens in the budgeting process is really important, [as is] continuing the Race and Social Justice Initiative within the city departments and expanding that and resourcing it so it really can be meaningful in terms of changing how the city operates.

ECB: This is another privilege question, and it’s about your campaign funding. Between campaign contributions and spending by PACs, Durkan is going to be able to raise far more money than you. You spent more than $110,000 of your own money getting through the primary. How much are you planning self-finance to win in November?

CM: I’m hoping not at all anymore. I’m hoping to raise all the money I need for the general from donations, and I’m working my ass off to do that. It’s hard with a $500 limit, and most of the people on my side are not $500 donors. So I’m working really hard to raise as much as I can, because you’re right, we will be outspent two to one, if not three to one. So we need to make up for it in people power and smarts.

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 doing interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Rapid Rehousing Didn’t Work Out. Now Lisa Sawyer May Face Eviction.

Image via Facing Homelessness.

Five years of living on the street takes a toll on a person.

You get used to little indignities—constantly being told to move along, a lack of safe places to use the restroom after 5pm—as well as big ones, like the total lack of privacy, or having all your possessions stolen while you sleep.

For Lisa Sawyer, a Real Change vendor and advocate for homeless services who testifies frequently at Seattle and King County Council meetings, the past five years have been a constant struggle against hopelessness and despair. Rejected for housing over and over by landlords who took one look at her bulky pack and street clothes and decided she wasn’t worth the risk, Sawyer finally signed a lease earlier this year. At $1,350 a month, the one-bedroom apartment in Greenwood was more than she and her boyfriend, a veteran who works as a contractor, could afford, but they had made ends meet despite daunting odds before.  They decided they could make it work. Anything was better than sleeping outside.

Eight months later, Sawyer is once again at risk of ending back on the street, this time with an eviction on her record—a  black mark that would make it all but impossible for her to find housing in the private market. Last month, $2,900 behind on rent, she received a three-day pay or vacate notice—the precursor to a formal eviction. A few days later, the organization Facing Homelessness stepped in and paid her arrears, but next month presents another challenge—and the next month, and the next.

Sawyer’s path from homelessness to housing and, potentially, back again is a case study in how Seattle’s system for housing people experiencing homelessness can fail, and a cautionary tale for leaders who want to go all-in on programs that rely on the private market to catch people at risk for falling through the cracks.

Sawyer, who graduated from Cleveland High School and has lived in Seattle all her life, lost her housing when a roommate lit a candle near some cleaning supplies and the house where she was renting a room burned down. She never imagined she would be homeless this long. “I thought that was the worst day of my life,” she says. “I never thought that having a place could be so much more difficult than being outside.”

Sawyer started out her search for housing armed with a “rapid rehousing” voucher, which would have temporarily paid a portion of her rent in a privately owned apartment. Rapid rehousing, which is the centerpiece of Seattle’s Pathways Home plan to combat homelessness, provides case management and short-term housing vouchers for people experiencing “literal homelessness”—meaning people who are actually living outside or in shelters. The idea behind rapid rehousing is that most homeless people just need a short-term financial boost before they can start making enough money to pay rent on their own. Critics say the program makes unrealistic assumptions about how quickly a person can go from homelessness to full self-sufficiency, and fails to take into account how expensive housing in Seattle can be.

Downtown Emergency Services director Daniel Malone, whose organization distributes some rapid-rehousing vouchers, says “there are a few circumstances where you could use rapid rehousing very confidently and feel very confident that there’s going to be longterm success,” including a situation “where the person has a really good income and is already working a full-time job that pays them enough to rent in the private market.” In that situation, Malone says, rapid rehousing might provide enough money to get a person in an apartment and on their feet. But, he adds, “that’s not the case with a ton of people that are homeless.”

The other circumstance where rapid rehousing works well, Malone says, is when a person with very high service needs—say, a physically disabled person with a serious mental illness—is about to move into permanent supportive housing but just needs a place to stay until a spot becomes available. Sawyer, who works full-time selling Real Change papers at Fourth and Union in downtown Seattle, doesn’t need service-intensive supportive housing, but is unlikely to make enough at her job (which pays as little as $40 a day) to afford a market-rate apartment.

In any case, Sawyer never got a chance to try out rapid rehousing, because she couldn’t find a place that would accept her. From 2015, when she received her voucher from DESC, until this year, when she and her boyfriend moved into their market-rate apartment, Sawyer says she got rejected more than 20 times. “I just gave up hope of finding an actual place, because every time I went to a housing interview, I had all my stuff with me. A lot of people look down on that,” she says. When she did find landlords willing to give her a chance, they weren’t willing to sign a 12-month lease—a requirement for federally funded rapid-rehousing vouchers. The 12-month mandate is meant to ensure rent stability—a landlord can’t sign a three-month lease, then raise the rent beyond a level a voucher recipient can afford—but it also creates a loophole that allows landlords who don’t want to participate in the program to opt out by offering shorter leases.

Eventually, Sawyer got approved for the apartment in Greenwood—but she would have to sign a ten-month lease, making her ineligible for the rapid rehousing program.

Desperate to get indoors, and fed up with caseworkers who urged her to hold out hope, she signed. “We were just fed up with going from interview to interview and getting denied, denied, denied,” she says.

“If you tell a person who’s been outside for a long period of time that they can move in, of course we’ll say yes,” Sawyer says. “It’s heartbreaking.  We were giving up. We were getting at each other’s throats because of being outside this long.” Sawyer’s problems were compounded by the fact that she is not in the county’s “coordinated entry” program, which is run through the shelter system. Like many people experiencing homelessness, Sawyer and her boyfriend avoided the shelter system, which separates opposite-sex couples and can be full of, as Sawyer puts it, “bedbugs and drama.” Sawyer preferred sleeping outside or in motels, where she and her boyfriend could have a semblance of privacy. She put her name on the lottery for several low-income housing developments, but never won; when the Seattle Housing Authority briefly allowed people to sign up for a lottery to get on the waiting list for Section 8 federal housing vouchers, she didn’t bother, because the waiting list is currently several years long. (Section 8 vouchers distributed through the Seattle Housing Authority expire after 120 days, and many people return them unused because they were unable to find housing they could afford or landlords willing to rent to them.)

“I thought this program was going to be a good experience for me, because with that voucher, we thought our housing problems were over,” Sawyer says. “Instead, we got stuck in a place that we cannot afford.” She says she has often been forced to choose between paying rent and buying food; when she makes enough money selling papers at Fourth and Union downtown, she spends “$30 or $40” at the nearby Safeway, but says “that food doesn’t last more than a couple of days, especially if you haven’t eaten in a while.”

Sawyer says she hopes to hang on to her apartment through the end of her lease in September, when she’ll try to find another place—without an eviction on her record. “I can’t be outside again. It’s too heartbreaking,” she says. “We want to get into an apartment so bad. When you have housing, but you know that you might be back outside again soon—that’s the worst feeling that anyone can have. … I’ve worked so hard fighting for affordable housing, fighting for these programs to get more funding, and when it all comes down to it, I wonder: ‘Why are you fighting if you got a voucher that doesn’t really help you?'”

Malone, who has expressed some skepticism at the city’s wholesale embrace of rapid rehousing as a one-size-fits-most solution to homelessness, still thinks living indoors is always preferable to sleeping outside—even when a person has to go through the trauma of losing their home to eviction. “You need to guard against eviction, for sure, but I don’t know that the way you guard against it is eliminating the possibility of it happening by never putting somebody in a rental situation in the first place,” he says. “I don’t want to keep people homeless to protect them or ‘for their own good,’ because the situation of being homeless is so harsh that we should do as much as we can to get people out of it—even if we are far from resolving all their problems.”

Rapid rehousing proponents say stories like Sawyer’s aren’t, in themselves, a repudiation of the program. Mark Putnam, director of All Home—the quasi-governmental agency that oversees King County’s homelessness programs—says rapid rehousing gives people a choice over where they live and how much they want to pay. Putnam says that ideally, someone like Sawyer would have a case manager who would sit down and talk to her about whether $1,350 in rent was realistic, given her current and potential future income; however, case managers in housing programs turn over frequently, and Sawyer herself said she felt desperate enough to sign a lease with any landlord who would rent to her.

“Clearly, the system didn’t work for her, so the question is: What can we learn from it?” Putnam says.

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