Homelessness Funding Could Be Flash Point in Upcoming City Budget Discussions

Things are fairly quiet on the city budget front this week as council members draft their first-found wish lists—ideas that may or may not see the light of day as full-fledged “green sheets,” proposed budget changes that require two co-sponsors and proposed cuts to balance any new expenditures—but council members did give a preview of their thinking on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s stay-the-course budget for homelessness last week. Meanwhile, advocates for homeless Seattle residents have presented a list of requests for the council’s consideration that includes $33 million in additional spending on housing, front-line workers’ pay, and SHARE’S basic indoor shelters, which the mayor’s budget assumes will close in June.

At briefings on the proposed budget for homelessness and the expansion of the city’s Navigation Team (which removes encampments and provides information about services to people living outdoors) last week, council members appeared concerned by the fact that Durkan’s budget proposal does not increase funding for actual housing production, focusing primarily on emergency shelter instead. The issue, council members said, is that when there is no housing for people to go to, the city ends up just shuffling them around and around—either from illegal encampment to illegal encampment (as Navigation Team leader Fred Podesta openly acknowledged the city is doing already) or in and out of the shelter system.

“[The budget] really places an emphasis on enhanced funding for immediate day to day assistance vs. those longer-term housing needs,” council member Teresa Mosqueda said last week, addressing her comments at Office of Housing director Steve Walker. “I don’t understand how we are goimg to be able to serve the number of people we have talked about today unless we provide housing [for them].” Durkan’s 2019 budget includes $24.9 million for all “housing” programs, including diversion (which usually involves helping a person identify somewhere they can stay for the time being, such as a relative’s house, rather than permanent housing); emergency services, which includes temporary transitional housing, totals $46.4 million, or more than half of Durkan’s proposed budget for homelessness.

Durkan’s proposal quietly extends a “rental housing assistance” program, originally begun as a pilot in 2017, which provides vouchers for up to three months for people on the waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers from the Seattle Housing Authority. Noting that a high percentage of households that receive Section 8 vouchers end up having to return them because they can’t find an affordable rental unit with their voucher, Mosqueda asked why the Human Services Department would still consider it a “success” when “people maintain housing until they receive their Housing Choice voucher.” Would the city still consider the program a success if people stayed in their apartment for three months, got their voucher, and still ended up homeless because they couldn’t find a place to use it? HSD deputy director Tiffany Washington said the city was using a HUD standard for defining success and added that the city has “seen an improved rate of exits to permanent housing in 2018 compared to the same time last year, and an increase in households served”—something Durkan also touted in her budget speech.

Council members also zeroed in on the fact that the mayor’s proposed budget doesn’t increase funding for preventing homelessness in the first place, which is generally a much cheaper and less daunting prospect than helping people find housing once they’ve lost it. (What looks like a significant cut to prevention programs in 2019—from $6.5 million to $4.4 million— is actually an accounting quirk that reflects the fact that a program to move people off SHA’s waitlists was funded in 2018, but spent over two years. However, that program will expire in 2020, when the city will have to decide whether to fund it again.) Pointing to a recent report from the Seattle Women’s Commission and the Housing Justice Project that faulted the city’s lack of any integrated system for people facing eviction to get rent assistance, council member Lisa Herbold said, “We need some kind of collaboration or cooperation between [assistance] programs, because it happens so quickly. The reality is that your landlord is not under any requirement to accept rent from you after three days even if you have the total amount and the ability to pay.”

Two other sticking points were the future of the Seattle Housing And Resource Effort and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (SHARE/WHEEL) shelters that were defunded, then re-funded on a temporary basis, last year. SHARE’s high-barrier, nighttime-only shelters ranked dead last among shelter applications during last year’s competitive bidding process for HSD contracts, and the groups were given a grace period to come up with a plan to transition their shelter clients to other service providers or into housing. Herbold and her colleagues Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien pressed Washington on SHARE’s rate of success in getting people into housing (which is a matter of much dispute; SHARE claims a rate four times higher than the city average, which HSD says is not correct), as well as what the plan is to help its clients find other living or sleeping arrangements.

“I just want to make sure we remember why SHARE and WHEEL are not provided funding,” Washington said. “It’s actually not a cut—it was bridge funding from the mayor’s office to continue them through this year and for six months next year. … We asked all the agencies who weren’t funded to submit a transition plan to us. All of the agencies did except for SHARE and WHEEL,” who said they weren’t planning to close down. This 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.

A few final quick-hit observations:

• The plan for the growing number of people living in their vehicles—a group that now makes up more than half the people living unsheltered in Seattle grew 46 percent this year, according to King County’s annual count—appears to be … well, it isn’t actually clear. The budget adds a mere $250,000 a year for a vaguely defined “new program” that “is still under development and will be informed by a workgroup made up of people with lived experience, a racial equity analysis using the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) strategy chart, as well as service providers, the City’s Navigation Team, other outreach workers, the Seattle Police Department and Parking Enforcement Officers, and officials working on similar programs in other jurisdictions.” Whatever the new program is, it will have to split that funding with yet another new pilot for a safe parking lot for people living in their cars, this one aimed specifically at “individuals living in vehicles who are largely self-sufficient and require a relatively low level of services.” The city budget adopted last year included $50,000 specifically to conduct “a needs assessment to identify programs and services most likely to help individuals living in their vehicles find permanent housing”; when O’Brien asked if that money had been spent, Washington replied, “Yes and no… how much of the $50,000 we’ll spend we don’t know, but we’ll definitely satisfy the intent.”

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• Low-barrier encampments like the one at Licton Springs, which is closing after months of complaints from neighbors about drug use on the premises (and drug dealers in the vicinity), may be too much of a hassle for the city, which is working to “reassess” the residents of that encampment and move them “to the top of the [housing prioritization] list,” according to Washington. Washington insisted that the encampment isn’t “closing”—”‘closing’ is not reflective, so what we’ve come up with is ‘shifting capacity'”—but the SHARE-managed encampment is in fact going away, thanks largely to neighbors who considered it an unwelcome or menacing presence. Sally Bagshaw, who represents downtown and Magnolia, appeared last week to agree. “One of the keys that I have heard over and over again is that the drug dealers have got to be arrested,” she said—a position that actually represents a departure from the city’s support for the LEAD arrest-diversion program, which focuses on low-level drug offenders and just expanded to North Seattle.

• As I mentioned above, the head of the Navigation Team himself acknowledged that the team is often reduced to moving encampments around and around—and that “there are more encampments that we’re not engaging with than we are engaging with; that’s just a fact”—reflecting the reality that as long as the city has a shortage of affordable housing, some people are going to prefer even the tenuous community and safety of an unauthorized encampment to a shelter system that can be chaotic and dehumanizing. Enhanced shelters—those that allow people to keep their possessions, offer case management, and don’t enforce sobriety requirements at the door—do a better job of getting people to come in off the streets, but there aren’t enough, and the city is creating more homeless people every day. (The eviction cases on the King County Superior Court’s weekly docket represent a steady drip-drip-drip of people being kicked out of homes and onto the streets.) “The team is no more interested in moving people around than anybody else,” Podesta said. “There are cases where we’ve had apartments [available] and they haven’t chosen to accept that”; however, he added, “no one should interpret that as anything but an exception.”

Morning Crank: Fort Lawton Drags On, Spady Drags His Feet, and Enhanced Shelter Shortage Drags Out Homelessness

1. The wait for affordable housing at the Fort Lawton military base in Magnolia—on which, as I noted last week, the city is now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for security —will continue to drag on at least until the end of this year, after a city hearing examiner agreed to delay a hearing in an appeal challenging the environmental impact statement on the project until the end of October so that the complainant, Magnolia activist Elizabeth Campbell, can secure a lawyer. The appeal process has already been delayed once, until the end of September, to accommodate Campbell’s lengthy vacation to Europe. Campbell said that she was requesting this second delay because of health concerns that have prevented her from participating in the appeal process.

The motion granting Campbell’s request for a delay, which also denied the city of Seattle’s request to dismiss the six-month-old case, includes a salty dismissal of Campbell’s claim that the hearing examiner, Ryan Vancil, should not be allowed to hear the appeal because he once served on the board of Futurewise, a conservation group with no stake in the Fort Lawton debate, and because he has represented the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which works to prevent the demolition of existing affordable housing, in the past.

The city’s rules, Vancil noted, require anyone who files an appeal before the hearing examiner to file any motions to disqualify a particular hearing examiner quite early in the process, typically at least 7 days before the first hearing. That hearing was in May.  “As explained at the prehearing conference [on May 15] the Hearing Examiner has not been a board member or officer of Futurewise for two years, and is not currently a member as alleged by Ms. Campbell. Ms. Campbell identified no specific interest in this appeal by either Futurewise, or the Seattle Displacement Coalition. … Ms. Campbell was clearly aware of these facts [and] raised [them] in the context of a response to the Hearing Examiner’s disfavorable order as a form of retaliation.” In other words, Campbell only decided Vancil’s past association with Futurewise was a problem after he ruled against her on an unrelated issue—specifically, the fact that Campbell hadn’t filed her list of witnesses and exhibits by a mid-September deadline.

(Side note: Vancil may not be on the Futurewise board anymore, but the group’s current board includes two attorneys, Jeff Eustis and Dave Bricklin, who have both fought against proposals to allow more density and housing, including Mandatory Housing Affordability, which allows developers to build more densely in exchange for funding affordable housing; a proposed 12-story building in Pioneer Square that would have replaced a “historic” parking garage; a proposed three-story apartment building in Phinney Ridge, which nearby homeowners opposed because they didn’t want to lose parking in front of their houses; and a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build secondary units on their property. Given that track record among Futurewise board members, serving on the group’s board could be seen as an indication that Vancil is sympathetic to housing opponents like Campbell. The Displacement Coalition, meanwhile, often fights against density and development on the grounds that it displaces people and drives up the cost of housing.)

Campbell claimed that she was unable to file a list of witnesses because of her poor health. But Vancil was skeptical about that claim, noting that Campbell had managed to  five no fewer than separate, lengthy motions over a period of about two weeks in September, Vancil said, which “demonstrate[s] Appellants’ capacity to draft documents and work on this case, and/or the ability to have communicated at an earlier date that Appellants did not have the capacity to identify exhibits and witnesses within the time required.”

The next hearing on the Fort Lawton appeal will be at 9:30am on October 29.

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2. A city audit of the Navigation Team—a team  of police officers and outreach workers that removes encampments and offers services to people living unsheltered in Seattle—concluded that the city has not done enough to provide the kind of “enhanced shelter” that people living outdoors are most likely to accept, and should consider increasing the use of diversion strategies like “reunification”—that is, connecting people to family,  and sending them on their way. The idea of reunification is popular in California, where cities like San Francisco provide bus tickets out of town to homeless people who are able to find a friend or family member who will tell the city they are willing to take the person in. Such programs are controversial because, while they do relocate some chronically homeless people outside city limits, little is known about how people in such programs fare at the end of what are often cross-country journeys, and horror stories abound.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget for the Human Services Department notes that enhanced shelters, which provide case management, a place to store possessions, and a place to be during the day, result in significantly more exits to permanent housing than stripped-down, mats-on-the-floor, in-at-9-out-at-7 basic shelters. According to the Human Services Department, 21 percent of people who entered enhanced shelters, like the Navigation Center operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, exited into some form of permanent housing. (Permanent housing can include everything from supportive housing in facilities with case management and other services, or a “rapid rehousing” voucher for an apartment on the private market.) In comparison, just 4 percent of those entering basic shelters exited directly into permanent housing.

Despite their higher success rate, the audit found that enhanced shelters are often full, making it impossible for the Navigation Team to refer many, if any, unsheltered people to them. Between March and December of 2017, the report says, there was an average of 18 beds available for all Navigation Team referrals—an average that includes 27 days when fewer than 10 beds were available, and four months in which the average daily vacancy was less than one bed, citywide. This was during a period when the Navigation Team contacted more than 1,800 individual people, many of them more than once.

Finally, the auditor recommended that the city consider “bridge to housing” strategies like the ones in place in San Diego and Sacramento, which employ large, semi-permanent tentlike structures that can house tens or hundreds of people in dormitory-style or more private rooms. The structures are similar to enhanced shelter—24/7 and low-barrier, they allow singles and couples to bring pets and possessions with them—but are less expensive because the buildings aren’t permanent.

The idea, which council members Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda brought up yesterday, elicited a testy back-and-forth between Mosqueda and Navigation Team director Fred Podesta, who interrupted Mosqueda’s question about the bridge-to-housing strategy by saying, “We need to carefully think about, are people going to accept an enormous, 150-person dormitory that’s in a tent? Before we get too bound up in the efficiency of a particular structure type, we have to think about how our clients are going to respond to it.” When Mosqueda picked up her line of question, Podesta interrupted her again, interjecting, “I just think it’s worth asking the question—if our approach is going to be to offer [housing in that type of structure to] people—’Would you go or not?’ We need to ask those questions before we spend $2 million on a tent.” The city of Sacramento estimates that a 300-bed shelter of this type would cost between $3 million and $4 million a year.

3. Saul Spady, the Dick’s Burgers scion and political consultant last seen soliciting money to defeat the upcoming Families and Education Levy renewal and to fill the seven city council seats that will be up for grabs next year with “common sense civic leaders,” may be improperly raising funds for an election campaign without registering with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and the Public Disclosure Commission.

As I reported, Spady sent an email to supporters in September seeking $100,000 in contributions for a campaign to “educate” voters on why they should oppose the Families and Education Levy ballot measure and support “common sense civic leaders” against incumbent council members next year. The email says that Spady hosted a meeting the previous week—that is, the week of September 3—of “potential 2019 Seattle City Council candidates focused on common sense, fiscally responsible & acountable [sic] government mixed with active citizens who are concerned about the continuing slide of Seattle into the ‘corruption of incompetence’ that we’re witnessing across all sectors of city hall.” The goal of the meeting, Spady continued, “was to engage likely candidates & political donors.”

This kind of unofficial campaigning could put Spady, who owns the ad firm Cre8tive Empowerment, in violation of state campaign finance law as well as the city’s own campaign finance rules. According to the Public Disclosure Commission,  new campaigns for or against ballot measures must register with the PDC “within two weeks of forming a committee or expecting to receive or spend funds (whichever occurs first).” The Seattle Municipal Code, similarly, requires campaigns to file with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission as soon as they’ve raised or spent any money, announced that they plan to support or oppose a candidate or an upcoming ballot measure, bought an ad or reserved ad space, or put a survey in the field about a candidate or ballot measure. Filing involves paying a fee (about $1,300), setting up a campaign office, opening a bank account, and designating campaign officers. All of this, again, must be done within two weeks of soliciting money or engaging in any other campaign activities. Spady’s email went out on Tuesday, September 11—more than three weeks ago. As of midnight last night, Spady had not filed any campaign paperwork with either agency.

Another Durkan Shakeup Adds to Long List of Departments Without Permanent Directors

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced yet another departmental shakeup at the city today, moving longtime Finance and Administrative Services department director Fred Podesta over to the Human Services Department to head up an expanded Navigation Team. The Navigation Team—a joint effort between HSD, outreach workers from REACH/Evergreen Treatment Services, and the police department— oversees the removal of unauthorized homeless encampments and provides outreach services and referrals to people living in encampments.

As head of FAS, Podesta was in charge of coordinating the team responsible for outreach and garbage removal at unauthorized encampments, so moving him to the Navigation Team isn’t as out of left field as it might appear. (The Nav Team’s transition to HSD was approved, in fact, as part of last year’s budget).  It does, however, look very much like a demotion for the city veteran, who will now report to new deputy director Tiffany Washington, under interim director Jason Johnson. This latest reshuffle also leaves another city department without a permanent director at a time when an unusually high number of city departments lack permanent leadership, and when the mayor’s own policy shop is short-staffed.

Some of this goes with the territory of working in a job where the person at the top changes every four to eight years. Every mayor makes his or her mark on the city by changing out departmental leadership, reorganizing some departments, and generally shaking things up. That’s the mayor’s prerogative, and it can serve as a vital corrective to entrenched bureaucracy and government waste. What is unusual in this particular administration is the number of significant departments that lack permanent leadership more than eight months into the mayor’s term.

Here’s a list of some of the departments that currently have interim directors or that are being headed up by deputies:

• Seattle City Light. After former City Light CEO Larry Weis resigned last year, Durkan appointed chief compliance officer Jim Baggs to take his place as interim director while the administration conducted a national search. In February, Durkan announced the formation of a search committee to hire Weis’ replacement. Her office has made no further announcements about how the search is going. Meanwhile, City Light is losing another top administrator, as Chief of Staff Calvin Goings (who, like Podesta, is by all accounts well-liked at the city) moves over to replace Podesta as interim director of FAS.

• Seattle Office for Civil Rights. Former SOCR director Patricia Lally left her position as head of SOCR in December, shortly after Durkan took office. Since then, the office has been headed up by interim director Mariko Lockhart.

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• The Office of Economic Development, which has been headed by Rebecca Lovell  on an acting basis since last December.

• The Human Services Department, which has been headed by former deputy director Jason Johnson since May (his promotion, from deputy director, was announced in March). Today’s announcement about Podesta also included the news that Tiffany Washington—appointed as a division director in charge of homelessness strategy by Durkan earlier this year—will step into the deputy director position.

• The Department of Neighborhoods. Durkan removed Kathy Nyland from her position as director of DON in April and appointed former Greg Nickels aide Andres Mantilla as interim. Nyland, who had a target on her back because of her reputation as a change agent at DON, was moved into a position advising the parks department on neighborhood outreach.

• The Seattle Parks Department. Jesus Aguirre left the department last November, shortly after Durkan’s election, and was replaced by acting director Christopher Williams in January “as a search process for a permanent head begins.” Seven months later, Williams remains acting director at Parks.

• Human Resources. After Susan Coskey stepped down last December, Durkan appointed an interim director, Melissa Beatty, who has since left and been replaced by another interim, Susan McNab.

• Information Technology. Former Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller was cut loose by the Durkan Administration last December, and replaced by acting director Tracye Cantrell in February, when Durkan also announced plans to  “launch a search process to find a candidate for the permanent position.” Cantrell is still in the position.

• Seattle Department of Transportation. I reported last week that Goran Sparrman, who has served as interim director since Durkan sacked former director Scott Kubly last December, is preparing to leave SDOT to take a job at HNTB Corporation, a big transportation engineering firm, at the end of August. He will be reportedly be replaced by another interim director.

And, of course, Seattle has not had permanent police chief since the departure of former chief Kathleen O’Toole, announced last December.

 

Morning Crank: Kind of the Magic of the Place

1. In a State of the City address that focused on major initiatives like a $55 million property tax levy for homelessness and a potential lawsuit against the Trump Administration, Mayor Ed Murray’s brief announcement that he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center to respond to the homelessness emergency was easy to miss.

Murray didn’t explain how he planned to repurpose the facility, which is designed to respond to short-term emergencies like riots and weather events, to address the slow-drip homelessness crisis.  So I called up Finance and Administrative Services director Fred Podesta, who serves as the operations director for the city, to ask him how the mayor’s plan would work.

First, Podesta clarified that the EOC won’t be addressing homelessness full-time; rather, from 8:30 to 10:30 on weekday mornings., representatives from every city department—from the Seattle Police Department to the Office of Film and Music—will sit down to discuss the day’s top homelessness-related priorities and come up with a solution for addressing them. For example, if the city’s new “navigation team,” which will be headquartered at the EOC, is heading out to clear an encampment, representatives from FAS, Seattle Public Utilities, and the Human Services Department will be on hand to advise the team on connections to shelter, trash pickup, and any law-enforcement issues that might arise. (Why would Film and Music need to be at the table? Podesta says they might think of something other departments wouldn’t—like an idea for a benefit, or an impact the homeless community has on the nightlife industry that wouldn’t have occurred to other departments.)

That’s kind of the magic of the place, because it’s a very different sort of setting [than city hall], and a big place where we can get everyone in one room might shake loose some sorts of innovations that we might not have thought of before,” Podesta says. “If you lock everybody in the room and say, ‘I want a solution to this on Tuesday,’ it happens faster. Half of it is working on things we were already working on anyway. This is a way to accelerate it and get solutions that are faster and more comprehensive.”

2. UPDATE: Mayor Ed Murray’s office denies that the city has any plans to authorize more encampments. Murray spokesman Benton Strong says the city’s goal is to open just seven encampments total, including existing camps such as Nickelsville in Ballard. Four new sanctioned homeless encampments are reportedly planned as part of the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness. Last time the city announced four new encampments, they ended up opening only three, after community opposition made it hard for the city to find a suitable location. The three sanctioned encampments that opened most recently are in Highland Park, Georgetown, and Licton Springs in North Seattle.

3. Image may contain: textRemember the Women’s March, or Black Lives Matter, or the Stand With Immigrants rally at Westlake Park?

This is exactly like that, except instead of  “women”/”black people”/”immigrants fighting for their human rights,” this rally is more of a “residents of an exclusive high-rise whining that other rich people are building an equally exclusive high-rise next door” kind of thing.

To recap: Residents at the Escala condos, where units list for around $3 million, are mad because another developer plans to build a 45-story apartment and hotel tower directly across the alley from them. They want the city to intervene and enforce their nonexistent right to water views and “air,” arguing that two towers on two adjacent blocks represents too much density for downtown Seattle. I’ve been assured that this  homeowners association alert is real, so make sure you adjust your travel plans accordingly. I hear they’re bringing the Mercer Island Pipeline protesters with them.

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