Tag: Downtown Seattle Association

Morning Crank: The Ne Plus Ultra of GOP Supervillains

1. Bailey Stober may have been deposed as head of the King County Democrats, but his legacy of profligate spending lives on, in the form of an $1,800-a-month lease (twice what he was reportedly authorized to spend) for an office space in Auburn that has been sitting vacant for several months. This week, the group’s new chairwoman, Natalie Reber, sent out an announcement: The leasing agent for the space had found a tenant.

The bad news? According to Reber’s email to membership:

The leasing agent at the Auburn office has made a deal with the [Dino] Rossi campaign and it sounds like they will be taking over the lease.  While this is not ideal, I think it is reasonable and as far as any talking points, we just simply say, it was a business decision made by the leasing agent.  

Rossi, a current state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate who is running for the 8th Congressional District seat being vacated next year by retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, is not just any Republican—among Washington State Democrats, he’s the ne plus ultra of GOP supervillains. And, starting next month, he’ll be helping  them pay their rent.

Reber, who is out of town, declined to provide any details about the new arrangement, saying only that the group has “let the leasing agent know that we would like out of the lease and left it to them to find tenants. While that’s being sorted out, I don’t have a comment.”

Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former executive director of the King County Democrats (Stober fired her shortly after another woman filed a workplace misconduct complaint against him on her behalf), says the group considered subleasing some of its unused space to a Democratic candidate while she was still director, but rejected multiple potential tenants because the group had not formally endorsed anyone in their races yet. (The endorsement process is still ongoing.) With Rossi renting part of the space, she says, it seems unlikely that a Democrat will rent out the rest of the office in the future: “The walls in those units are super thin. If I was a Democratic candidate, I would not want to be sharing that space with a Republican.”

According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, the King County Democrats continued to pay rent on the space through at least April, but appear to have negotiated a better deal on their Internet service, which was costing the group more than $450 a month. (According the group’s treasurer, Stober signed the group up for the most expensive Internet service package Comcast offers, one better suited to a midsize e-commerce firm than a political organization which had, at its peak, one employee.) Donations that were withheld while the Democrats debated what to do with Stober, including $5,000 from King County Executive Dow Constantine and a couple thousand dollars from various district Democratic groups that refused to pay their dues as long as Stober remained in his position.

2. The Families and Education Levy, which funds programs to help kids from birth through 12th grade, and the Seattle preschool levy, which subsidizes preschool, will be on the ballot as a single, combined Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy in November. (The levy seems likely to share the ballot with what amounts to an anti-levy: A referendum to repeal the $275-per-employee head  tax, whose proceeds are earmarked for programs to address homelessness.) Among other changes, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s levy renewal plan proposes eliminating for a two-year home visitation literacy program for two- and three-year-olds called the Parent-Child Home Program (the plan assumes that future funding for the program will come from the city’s sweetened beverage tax); dramatically reducing funding for programs in elementary schools; and expanding or increasing subsidies for preschool and college to include the very highest-income families.

At a time when the income and wealth gap between Seattle’s wealthiest and poorest residents is increasing and parents who might be eligible for subsidized preschool are being forced to move outside city limits, it’s unclear why Durkan has proposed increasing tax subsidies for wealthy families to send their kids to preschool and college. Currently, the subsidy for preschool tuition declines with income on a sliding scale, from a total subsidy for people making up to 300 percent of the poverty level to a maximum of $535 a year for the highest-income families. Durkan’s proposal would set a minimum subsidy of $1,000 per student specifically for high-income families, for a total subsidy to wealthy families over the life of the program of about $3.6 million.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Promise program, which currently offers a year of free community college tuition to kids at three South Seattle high schools, would expand tuition subsidies to all public high-school graduates, regardless of their family income. Because higher-income students generally qualify for fewer tuition subsidy programs overall, the city would spend more subsidizing their tuition, on average—about $3,000 a student, or half again as much as the $2,000 the city spends on a typical Seattle Promise subsidy today.

On Wednesday, council members expressed concern at the idea of government subsidies for rich families to send their kids to preschool and college. Council member Rob Johnson, who noted that he recently paid preschool tuition for his daughters, said, “I think there is a value for us to provide opportunities for kids at all income levels to participate in the Seattle Preschool Program, but I’m not sure we should be subsidizing ev family that walks in the door.” Similarly, Johnson said he worried that if eligibility the Seattle Promise program is opened up to all students, “kids in my neck of the woods, in Roosevelt, whose parents are really on them to get on it and get their applications in on  time may take up those slots,” while kids with higher needs “who may benefit more form the Promise program may be shut out of it because all those Roosevelt kids got in first.”

Council president Bruce Harrell, who represents Southeast Seattle’s District 2 (where two of the three current Seattle Promise high schools are located) said he understood the argument for socially engineering preschools so they included kids from all over the income spectrum, but drew the line at expanding scholarship subsidies to wealthy families. “I have very little interest [in] subsidies for higher-income families. In fact, I would be opposed to that,” he said.

The committee will take up the levy proposal again at 11:00 on June 6 in council chambers.

3. A few hours after the levy discussion, council members had only positive things to say about an arguably similar proposal to subsidize transit passes for all Seattle public school students students, not just those who are low-income, at an additional cost of about $3 million a year. (The proposal is one of several changes to a sales tax and vehicle license fee measure voters approved in 2014, which was originally earmarked to expand Metro bus service. Because of driver and bus shortages, Metro has been unable to expand service as much as originally planned.) Currently, the city spends about $1 million a year on the youth ORCA program, which pays for free bus passes for low-income students; the change would add $3 million to the youth program and expand it to fund passes for all high school students, and some middle-school students, regardless of income.

Johnson, who originally proposed expanding the youth ORCA program, said yesterday that he would “like us to discuss more options than what the mayor has put on the table, because there might be things like reduced fare for all kids—as opposed to what we have right now, which is a proposal that would give free ORCA cards to all high school kids, some middle school kids, and no elementary school kids.” Discussing the options with staff after yesterday’s hearing, Johnson pointed out that elementary school kids who rely on the bus are most likely to be accompanied by parents (usually moms, often low-income) who rely on the bus to run errands and get their kids to school.

4. The Downtown Seattle Association is hosting a swank-sounding members-only event next week to solicit donations and hand out signature sheets for the effort to repeal the $275 employee hours tax, which is earmarked for housing and homeless services. The location: The Palace Ballroom in Belltown, owned by noted $15 minimum-wage Chicken Little and head-tax opponent Tom Douglas. Appetizers and drinks will be served.

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City’s Homeless Spending Plan Cuts Downtown Restrooms, Laundry Facilities

This story originally appeared at Seattle Magazine

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, the city’s Human Services Department released a list of programs, operated by 30 local organizations and agencies, that will receive $34 million in restructured homeless service contracts. The announcement was the culmination of a years-long process to move the city toward performance-based human service contracting and to reward service providers that emphasize moving homeless Seattle residents into permanent housing quickly. Those that provide longer-term housing assistance or other services that aren’t strictly housing-related, like hygiene centers and overnight shelters, were deprioritized.

“I recognize this is a huge change, but it’s a huge change motivated by the scale of the need that we face on the streets of Seattle,” interim mayor Tim Burgess said Monday. (On Tuesday, Burgess was replaced by new Mayor Jenny Durkan.) “Business as usual is really not an option, because we’re not moving enough people off the street and into permanent housing.”

The funding changes announced on Monday could have a major, and highly visible, impact on downtown, because they eliminate or reduce funding for three downtown hubs where homeless people can use the restroom and shower: The Women’s Referral Center in Belltown, run by Catholic Community Services, the Urban Rest Stop, run by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), and the Compass Housing Alliance’s Hygiene Center in Pioneer Square.

Without access to these restrooms during the day and (in Urban Rest Stop’s case) for part of the night, homeless advocates say unsheltered people will have no choice but to relieve themselves wherever they can—including alleys, parks and business doorways. “It’s going to be another sanitation nightmare,” LIHI director Sharon Lee predicts.

City Council Human Services and Public Health Committee chair Sally Bagshaw says she thinks that once new 24-hour shelters the city plans to fund get up and running, they’ll be able to fill the gaps left by the loss of the hygiene centers. “There are 22 enhanced shelters” in the funding plan, Bagshaw says, referring to shelters that offer case management and help getting into housing, “and of those, 21 have showers.”

Additionally, Bagshaw says, people who need to take a shower during the day already have access to showers at six of the city’s community centers (none of them downtown). “Is it perfect? No. But part of the goal here is to use our money in a way that’s going to move people through shelter and into permanent housing.”

According to the brief explanations the human services department provided for why it did not renew some grants, the hygiene centers’ missions were not directly focused on “moving people from homelessness to permanent housing” because they only provided basic hygiene services.

Lee says that LIHI’s Urban Rest Stop, whose funding will be cut by nearly 50 percent, will have to reduce its hours, which are currently 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. “If you go in there at 5:30 in the morning, it’s packed full of people” showering, washing their clothes and getting ready for work, Lee says. “If you take that away from people, it’s going to lead to more problems and more misery.”

Lee points to a recent Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego that resulted from a lack of access to showers, restrooms and handwashing facilities for homeless people in that city. The outbreak spread throughout the unsheltered population and is now being called an epidemic. According to a memo the King County public health department sent to service providers in September, “the disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation and lack of access to hygiene services.” In another memo, the department noted, “Good hand-washing is essential.”

The lack of 24-hour public restrooms downtown is a longstanding issue: People have to relieve themselves somewhere and in the absence of public restrooms, they tend to do so wherever they can. The downtown business community, Lee predicts, “is going to be really affected, because no longer can a merchant say [to a homeless person], ‘Go down the street to the Urban Rest Stop.’”

The Downtown Seattle Association, which runs an outreach team of 10-plus people, also lost about half a million dollars a year, initially declined to comment. But after this story published, its senior media relations manager James Sido reached out with a statement.

“Given the concentration of homeless individuals living downtown, and our long-standing relationships with this population and other downtown stakeholders, we were understandably disappointed to learn that we will not be among those organizations receiving city funds as of Jan. 1,” he wrote. “We are currently considering an appeal, and also discussing the program’s future with staff and leadership. Without city funding, the size and scope of our outreach program must shift.”

Is the “Head Tax” Half-Baked—or Long Overdue?

A plan to tax businesses with gross receipts above $5 million to pay for homeless housing and services faced intense scrutiny from several skeptical city council members yesterday at the first budget briefing since council members Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley first floated the HOMES (Housing, Outreach and Mass-Entry Shelter) Act last week. (The proposal would resurrect the so-called “head tax,” a tax for each hour an employee works, that was repealed in 2009). Council member Rob Johnson called the proposal a “false choice” between a head tax and doing nothing, and council president Bruce Harrell took umbrage with council member Kshama Sawant’s suggestion that council members who oppose the head tax are “beholden to the Chamber of Commerce.” After the meeting, Johnson told me that his goal is “to stay focused on the outcomes” and figure out how much money service providers need first, rather than to “reverse engineer” a set of solutions based on a specific revenue source like the head tax.

So far, the proposal comes with a big number—$24 million a year—but few details. Here’s what we do know: The HOMES Act would impose a 4.8-cent tax on every hour worked by employees for companies with gross receipts of $5 million or more. The math works out to about $100 per employee, per year, and the council members estimate it will raise about $24 million annually, which would include $5 million for shelters, new authorized encampments, and safe lots for people living in cars and RVs; $18 million for new housing construction and long-term housing vouchers for people with very little to no income; and $1 million to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, a pre-arrest diversion program for low-level drug offenders, into the North Precinct. The number of new units the package could build depends on whether the city can rely on state subsidies through the housing trust fund, which cut the cost of construction dramatically, but O’Brien estimates the measure could permanently house 1,000 people over the next ten years.

The Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association condemned the proposal, calling it a “tax on jobs” that sends a hostile message to businesses hoping to expand or move here. (Amazon came up a lot in the initial press coverage of the proposal, but the tax would actually affect about 2,200 businesses, not just so-called big corporations) O’Brien calls that a false narrative; he says the tax represents a tiny fraction of the cost of doing business—”0.3 percent of your labor cost if you pay your workers $15 an hour”—and that if business groups had a better idea, they would have proposed it by now. “We’ve been dancing around this for years— they hate [the head tax], but they haven’t come up with anything better,” O’Brien says. “It’s the only business tax we have access to, and so there’s a question: Do they hate it because they would like a different business tax better, or do they hate it because they hate business taxes, and this is the one we’re going for, so they hate this one?”

DSA president Jon Scholes insists the downtown business group doesn’t just reflexively “hate” all business taxes; what they hate, he says, is being left out of the loop. Case in point: Scholes says O’Brien contacted him on Thursday to let the DSA know that he was “exploring” the idea of resurrecting the head tax; less than 24 hours later, O’Brien was calling a press conference to announce his plan. The move blindsided the business community, Scholes says. “This was not developed with the input of [O’Brien’s] colleagues on the council or other folks who care deeply about this issue,” Scholes says. “We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be new resources, but we think the resources that are going to go to this issue should be thoughtful and discussed out in the open, not decided behind closed doors and foisted upon businesses and the community.”

Seattle’s business community is unusually progressive by business-community standards—the DSA, for example, was a critical partner in making LEAD a reality, back when there was widespread skepticism about any program that would allow drug offenders to go free. Could the council risk losing business support for progressive ideas like LEAD if it alienates them by imposing taxes they hate? Council member Harris-Talley says she doubts it. “I am hard-pressed to think that the businesses that are in our community are going to set aside their values to have a pissing match with elected officials who want to find resources for solutions” to homelessness, Harris-Talley says. “They know it impacts their bottom line” to allow homelessness to get worse, she adds.

The tax, if it passes, will be based on businesses’ gross receipts, not their net profits, which business groups argue could penalize companies that have thin profit margins and create a perverse incentive for businesses to pay their workers less or avoiding growing past the $5 million threshold. (To get a sense of what businesses would be impacted, they include groups of restaurants, like those owned by Ethan Stowell and Tom Douglas, but not individual Subway franchises or your local dry cleaner.) “Five million in gross revenues—there’s going to be a lot of people wrapped into that,” Scholes says. “Let’s say you’re a business making $4.5 million. If you grow the business [above $5 million], you get to pay tax to the city because you created jobs.”

O’Brien says he’s open to other revenue alternatives, if the business community will help him come up with some. “If we can come up with something better in the next few months, I’m happy to change my support to something better and undo this,” O’Brien says. However, he isn’t willing to shuffle around existing funding for homeless services and hope a new spending scheme will make the numbers pencil out. “Historically, four percent of people in shelters have exited to permanent housing, and to get that number to 40 percent [without additional revenue] is ludicrous. The challenge isn’t that we have a bunch of affordable housing that we’re not using—it’s that there’s nowhere to put them.”

Morning Crank: Ten Things I Heard at the DSA Panel on Homelessness

Dave Ross, Barb Poppe, Mark Putnam, and George Scarola
Dave Ross, Barb Poppe, Mark Putnam, and George Scarola

1. City homelessness consultant Barb Poppe, who wrote the Pathways Home report that is the basis for the city’s sudden shift toward “rapid rehousing” through the use of short-term rental assistance vouchers: “I come from state of Ohio. You did the right thing in November; we didn’t. But there does seem to weirdly be this acceptance that it’s actually okay for people to be on the streets” in Seattle. “You’re smart, caring people. You know how to get stuff done. I don’t know why you don’t get [solving homelessness] done.”

2. George Scarola, appointed by Mayor Ed Murray to head up the city’s homelessness efforts, on one of the main causes of homelessness, the lack of affordable housing: “It’s an affordability problem that’s the result of income inequality. … There are about 32,000 units for people who earn between 0 and 30 percent of median income, and there are more than 80,000 households that are eligible for [those units]. So what do those other almost 50,000 households do? They’re paying 50 percent on rent or 70 percent or all of their income on rent.”

3. Poppe, in response to those “excuses”: “You go back to affordable housing and the rental crisis, and in your community, that becomes the excuse to not get things done, and in other communities, it becomes, ‘This is the reality that we’re in, and how are we going to overcome that reality and get really energized to do that?'”

4. All Home director Mark Putman, responding obliquely to Poppe’s claim that Seattle is just using the lack of affordable housing as an “excuse” to avoid action on homelessness: “A lot of times we do get caught up in ‘It’s a lot cheaper in Las Vegas or Houston’ comparisons to different cities.”  (Critics of Pathways Home have pointed out that the cities cited as proof that very short-term rental assistance vouchers work are much cheaper than Seattle, making it easier for formerly homeless people to pay full rent when their vouchers run out in three to nine months.) “Look at our data. Bring in, sure, some of your thoughts and concepts and strategies that have worked in other areas, because we all need to be learning from each other, but look at our data and tell us what we can do here.”

5. Poppe, on being shocked to find homeless children in Seattle’s tent cities: “I was taken around to sanctioned encampments and I was proudly shown that there was a hut that a newborn infant was living in with their mother. They said it was better that they’re in this hut-slash-“tiny home” with no running water or electricity. I don’t understand why that is acceptable in this community and there’s not tremendous moral outrage to do better. … In almost every community in the United States, it’s completely unheard-of and unacceptable that a child would be outside.” (I fact-checked this and it is not true; in reality, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, child homelessness is a significant and growing problem in communities across the country, including an estimated 25,000 homeless in Poppe’s state, Ohio.)

6. A questioner, who demanded to know why she had to walk past “up to 13 tents” and “piles of human excrement” when leaving her “half-million-dollar condo” in Belltown: “For people who live in tents, who really want to live in a tent, who choose to live in a tent and who don’t want the services that are offered—for these people, it’s working for them” to live on the streets.

7. Scarola, responding to moderator Dave Ross’s restatement of the woman’s question, “When can she pick up the phone and say these people need to move and they’ll be moved?”:  “The mayor fought a battle with the city council to make it clear that sidewalks, parks, or school grounds are unacceptable for people to camp in. We are standing up a team in the next week of eight police officers and outreach workers who are specialized in that problem, let’s call it street disorder. They’re going to go and say, ‘Here’s the plan for you: We will either find you shelter quickly or you will not come back,’ and they will have a police person next to them to make the point clear.”

8. Poppe, on what she calls a total lack of accountability by nonprofit housing providers that receive city funds: “You’ve let 1,000 flowers bloom and there has not been any effort to make sure that nonprofits do anything that they weren’t hired in 1985 to do, and you allow providers to perform in whatever they feel is their niche. …  You’ve had very low accountability for results and that low accountability, I would find to be a mystery. Even this year, with the recommendations that All Home and the city put out, you’ve had a lot of nonprofits say, ‘We shouldn’t be held to outcome-based funding.”

9. Scarola, trying to explain why not everyone wants to stay in existing overnight shelters: “The shelter system, it’s not very user-friendly. You cannot bring your partner or your friend. You can’t bring a dog. You can’t bring more than a small amount of possessions. The shelters are crowded. There can be bedbugs. All it takes is to have that happen to you once and you don’t want to go back. We don’t have an alternative. That’s what we’ve got to change. We’ve got to turn all those shelters into 24/7, where you don’t have to leave in the morning.

10. Poppe, on some factors she does think contribute to the lack of affordable housing in cities like Seattle: “There is a huge impact from local communities that have effectively zoned out rental housing. … As Americans, our expectation of an amount of space that we get to occupy is a way to keep others out. It’s a huge problem. The other piece … is we actually do invest very heavily in housing across the country, and disproportionately, those of us in this room get a disproportionate benefit to actually low-income people: We’re homeowners, and there’s a really high subsidy level to homeowners that is actually tied to the value of your housing and your mortgage, so the more you make, the greater your housing subsidy. There has been a national movement to reduce the mortgage interest deduction and instead fund affordable rental housing through the National Housing Trust Fund.”

The C Is for Crank clapped on the inside at that eminently reasonable and therefore totally doomed suggestion.

(The panel was hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, the Seattle Chamber, Visit Seattle, and Alliance for Pioneer Square.)

 

Downtown Seattle Association/Seattle Chamber/Visit Seattle and Alliance for Pioneer Square.