Afternoon Crank: Competing for a Limited Number of Units

1. While the city of Seattle was debating over the merits of the head tax last week, the King County Auditor’s Office quietly released a report on the region’s response to homelessness that concluded, among other things, that “rapid rehousing”—which provides short-term rent vouchers to low-income households to find housing in the private market—isn’t working in King County. The city of Seattle’s adopted Pathways Home approach to homelessness suggests investing heavily in rapid rehousing, which assumes that formerly homeless people will be able to pay full market rent on a private apartment within just a few months of receiving their vouchers.

For this system to work, either: a) formerly homeless people must get jobs that pay enough to afford full market rent in Seattle, currently over* $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment, before their three-to-12-month vouchers run out, or b) formerly homeless people must find housing that will still be affordable after they no longer have the subsidy. The problem, the King County report found, is that there are only about 470 private units available throughout the entire county, on average, that are affordable to people making just 30 percent of the area median income—and the competition for those units includes not just the hundreds of rapid rehousing clients who are currently looking for housing at any given time, but all the other low-income people seeking affordable housing in King County. Seattle’s Pathways Home plan would dramatically increase the number of rapid rehousing clients competing for those same several hundred units.

“Given market constraints, difficulties facilitating housing move-ins could limit rapid rehousing success,” the auditor’s report says. “As local funders increase their funding for RRH, it is possible that move-in rates will go down as more households compete for a limited number of units. Given the importance of client move-ins to later success, if this occurs additional funding spent on RRH may have diminishing benefits relative to its costs.” Additionally, the report notes that a proposed “housing resource center” to link landlords and low-income clients seeking housing with vouchers has not materialized since a consultant to the city of Seattle, Focus Strategies, recommended establishing such a center in 2016. In a tight housing market, with rents perpetually on the increase, landlords have little incentive to go out of their way to seek out low-income voucher recipients as potential renters.

2. Learn to trust the Crank: As I predicted when he initially announced his candidacy at the end of April, former King County Democrats chair Bailey Stober, who was ousted as both chair of the King County Democrats and spokesman for King County Assessor John Wilson after separate investigations concluded that he had engaged in unprofessional conduct as head of the Democrats by, among other things, bullying an employee, pressuring her to drink excessively, and calling her demeaning and sexist names, will not run for state legislature in the 47th District.

Fresh off his ouster from his $98,000-a-year job at King County, and with a $37,700 county payoff in hand, Stober told the Seattle Times‘ Jim Brunner that he planned to run for the state house seat currently held by Republican Mark Hargrove. Stober’s splashy “surprise” announcement (his word) came just days before a candidate with broad Democratic support, Debra Entenman, was planning to announce, a fact that was widely known in local Democratic Party circles. In a self-congratulatory Facebook announcement/press release, Stober said that he decided not to run after “conversations with friends, family, and supporters,” as well as “informal internal polling.” Stober went on to say that his “many supporters” had “weathered nasty phone calls and texts; awful online comments; and rude emails from those who opposed my candidacy. We chose not to respond in kind. They went low and my supporters went high.” In addition to routinely calling his employee a “bitch” “both verbally and in writing,” the official King County report found that Stober “made inappropriate and offensive statements about women,” “did state that Republicans could ‘suck his cock,'” and “more likely than not” referred to state Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski as “bitch, cunt, and ‘Waddles.'”

3. On Monday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman announced $1.2 million in funding for prepaid-postage ballots for the 2018 election. The only county that won’t receive state funding? King County, which funded postage-paid ballots for the 2018 elections, at a cost of $600,000, over Wyman’s objections last week. 

County council chairman Joe McDermott, a Democrat (the council is officially nonpartisan but includes de facto Democratic and Republican caucuses), says he was “really disappointed” that Inslee and Wyman decided to keep King County on the hook for paying for its own prepaid ballots, particularly given Wyman’s objection that the decision should be left up to the state legislature.

“She was against it before she was for it,” McDermott told me yesterday. Wyman’s office, McDermott says, “wasn’t working on the issue last year in the legislature, and yet all of a sudden she can find emergency money and appeal to the governor when King County takes the lead.”

In their announcement yesterday, Wyman and Inslee said they will “ask” the legislature to reimburse King County for the $600,000 it will spend on postage-paid ballots this year, but that funding is far from guaranteed. Still, McDermott says their decision to backfill funding for postage-paid ballots for Washington’s remaining 38 counties could set a precedent that will create pressure on legislators to take action next year. If the state believes it’s important to make it easier for people to vote in 2018, he says, “why would they argue that they’re not going to do it in the future? If it’s valuable this year, it should be valuable going forward.”

4. Dozens of waterfront condo owners spoke this afternoon against a proposed Local Improvement District, which has been in the works since the Greg Nickels administration, which many called an illegal tax on homeowners for the benefit of corporate landowners on the downtown waterfront. The one-time assessment, which homeowners could choose to pay over 20 years, is based on the increase in waterfront property values that the city anticipates will result from park and street improvements that the LID will pay for. Several homeowners who spoke this afternoon said they rarely or never visit the downtown waterfront despite living inside the LID assessment district, either because they live too far away (one condo owner said he lived on Fifth Avenue, and considered the hill leading down to the waterfront “too steep” to traverse) or because the waterfront is always clogged with tourists. Another, homeowner Jonathan Mark, said the city was failing to account for the decrease in property values that could result from “turning Alaskan Way into a freight highway.”

The median assessment on residential property owners, who own about 13 percent of the property that would be subject to the assessment, would be $2,379, according to the city’s Office of the Waterfront.

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“Compromise” Levy for Vets, Seniors Less Generous than County Exec’s Proposal

Advocates will make a last-ditch effort this afternoon to convince the King County Council to more than double the size of the King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy, on the ballot this November. But after weeks of debate, and numerous proposals and counter-proposals, the council appeared last week to have settled on a compromise: A levy of ten cents per thousand dollars of property value—double the size of the previous levy—divided evenly between programs for veterans, seniors, and other vulnerable populations.

The argument over the levy has boiled down to two primary issues: How large it should be (County Executive Dow Constantine and advocates have argued for at least 12 cents, and some advocates have pushed for even more), and how it should be divided. The council’s three Republicans, not surprisingly, have advocated for a smaller, 10-cent levy.

Ordinarily, the Republicans would be outnumbered, and the Constantine proposal would prevail. But the Republicans have two Democratic allies in council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski, giving them a five-vote majority. Dembowski, unlike Upthegrove, has made it clear that he would be willing to support a 12-cent levy, but only if that 12 cents was divided 50-50 between veterans and other beneficiaries; the other Democrats argued that it should be split evenly between programs for veterans, seniors, and everybody else. (The Dembowski split would be achieved by taking the third of the money that goes to seniors and earmarking half of it for seniors who are also veterans.) After a number of convoluted machinations at the council’s budget and policy committee, the full council, and a regional policy committee that includes representatives from several suburban cities as well as Seattle, the proposal to reserve more of the levy exclusively for veterans failed, and the “compromise” version the council will consider today is ten cents, evenly divided.

Council members who supported a more even distribution of funds argued that it was a matter of demographics and equity. At last week’s regional policy committee meeting, county council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles pointed out that while the number of veterans in King County continues to decrease, the number of seniors is about to skyrocket. “By 2030, we’re looking at a one to ten ratio of veterans to seniors,” Kohl-Welles said, “so my argument is that the best approach to take would be [the three-way split]. Even at that, the veterans are receiving way more, proportionally, than are the demographic of seniors in our population.” At least one local veterans’ group agreed with this analysis. ”

“Excluding seniors from this levy would be doing a disservice to our aging veterans and those that don’t identify as veterans for a number of legitimate reasons,” such as Ryan Mielcarek, co-chair of the King County Veterans Consortium, testified. “This levy is carried on the backs of veterans and we know that. To that I say, ‘Hop on. We will carry you.'” Even at the lower, 10-cent level, the levy would double what the county will spend on services for veterans.

Suburban members of the regional policy committee, including Mercer Island City Council member Dan Grausz, argued that voters outside Seattle might reject a 12-cent levy as too large. “I would hope that what we an do as electeds is always remember that our paramount duty is to get a result, and that sometimes requires compromise,” Grausz said. Seattle council member Kshama Sawant, who also sits on the regional committee, shot back, “The paramount duty of all elected officials, especially today, is to listen tot your constituents and respond to their needs—not to the political calculations of other politicians. Political realities on the King County Councilare no more etched in stone than they are anywhere else. If you call their bluff and send a 12-cent measure to the King County Council, they will have to go on record and say why they oppose it. If they really want to vote against 12 cents, let them do it. I don’t think it’s my job to make it easier for them.”

Arguments that voters might reject the veterans levy over two cents seem implausible in light of the levy’s overwhelming popularity. In August 2011, seven in 10 King County voters supported the levy—a massive margin for a property tax.

Advocates for the larger levy have pointed out that although it would only add $9 to the median property owner’s tax bill—an average of 75 cents a month more than the 10-cent version—it would increase county funding for services by $67 million over the six-year life of the levy ($407 million compared to $340 million for the 10-cent version.) That’s $21 million more for housing stability programs, $15 more in new services for vulnerable groups, $15 million more for veterans, and $15.5 million more for seniors. “We’re leaving $67 million on the table,” Seattle city council member Debora Juarez, who also sits on the regional committee, said last week. “To me, that’s unconscionable.”

King County Council chair Joe McDermott told me Friday that although he would be willing to support a levy of as much as 15 cents, he falls on the site of the political pragmatists. “I see the increased need around the entire county for all of these services, but part of legislating is working with colleagues and compromising,” McDermott said. “What came out of the [regional policy committee] is a compromise, and that’s the compromise I think we should all be looking at” on Monday.

If the council fails to reach a compromise this afternoon, the “drop-dead date” to vote on a measure for the November ballot is August 1, although that would require an emergency declaration from the council.

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