King County Council members and officials from suburban cities raised new concerns yesterday about a proposal to merge the city of Seattle and King County’s homelessness programs into a single agency during Wednesday’s meeting of the county Regional Policy Committee, which county council members as well as representatives from Seattle and several suburban cities. In addition to questions about whether the new body will be too “Seattle-centric,” officials pressed county staffers on two key points: Will this new agency make real strides toward addressing “root causes” and actually solving homelessness? And will its governing board be accountable to … well, anyone?
The first question was posed most pointedly by King County Council chair Rod Dembowski, who is on the fence about whether to support the restructure. Looking back to the five “root causes” of homelessness that were identified at the end of the lengthy One Table process, Dembowski asked county Department of Community and Human Services director Leo Flor if it was accurate to say that the regional consolidation “Will not play in a meaningful way to addressing those root causes; rather it is narrowly tailored to the crisis response to folks living unsheltered.” Flor responded, “You are exactly correct,” adding that if programs addressing root causes can be thought of as branches of primary care, “what we are describing and proposing is a more efficient and consolidated emergency room.”
“What improvement in people’s lives would you expect to see if we did what the executive and mayor were asking us to do?” Dembowski pressed.
“Consistent improvement on a problem that’s been hard to improve consistently,” Flor responded.
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The other issue was about governance—specifically, the structure of the two boards that will sit atop the new regional authority like tiers of a layer cake. The smaller of two boards would be a steering committee made up of up to six elected officials and two people who have experienced homelessness, whose duties would be limited to confirming members of the governing board that would actually be in charge of the agency; approving that board’s five-year plan and budget without amendment; and confirming or removing governing board members, all by a majority of a plurality vote. (In other words, if four or five members showed up to a meeting, three members would constitute a majority of those present). Continue reading “Questions Raised about Accountability and Goals of New Regional Homelessness Authority”→
1. A new group calling itself Unified Seattle has paid for Facebook ads urging people to turn up in force to oppose a new tiny house encampment in South Lake Union. The ads include the line “SOLUTIONS NOT SHACKS,” a reference to the fact that the encampments are made up of small wooden structures rather than tents. The encampment, which was funded as part of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s “bridge housing” strategy, will include 54 “tiny houses” and house up to 65 people; it may or may not be “low-barrier,” meaning that it would people with active mental illness or addiction would be allowed to stay there. A low-barrier encampment at Licton Springs, near Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, has been blamed for increased crime in the area, although a recent review of tiny house villages across Seattle, including Licton Springs, found that the crime rate typically goes down, not up, after such encampments open.
“URGENT community meeting on NEW Shack Encampment this Thursday, June 28!” the ad says. “The City Council is trying to put a new shack encampment in our neighborhood. Join us to tell them NO!” Despite the reference to “our neighborhood,” the ads appear to directed at anyone who lives “near Seattle.” Another indication that Unified Seattle is not a homegrown South Lake Union group? Their website indicates that the group is sponsored by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, Safe Seattle, and Speak Out Seattle, all citywide groups in existence long before the South Lake Union tiny house village was ever announced.
“The city has imposed an unconstitutional income tax on residents which was ultimately struck down by the courts,” the website claims. “It passed a job-killing head-tax that was embarrassingly repealed. Now, it has undertaken a campaign to seize valuable land and build crime-infused shack encampments to house city homeless. All this in the course of six months.” The income tax, which actually passed a year ago and was struck down by a court, was never implemented. The head tax was never implemented, either. And no land is being “seized” to build the encampment; the land is owned by the city of Seattle.
The meeting is on Thursday night at 6pm, at 415 Westlake Avenue N.
2. Overshadowed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0 was another ruling that could have significant implications for pregnant women in King County. The Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. California struck down a state law requiring that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers”—fake clinics run by anti-choice religious organizations that provide false and misleading information to pregnant women in an effort to talk them out of having abortions—post signs saying what services they do and don’t provide. In its 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the California law violated the center’s First Amendment rights (to lie to women).
Earlier this year, the King County Board of Health adopted a rule requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post signs that say “This facility is not a health care facility” in 10 different languages. Crisis pregnancy centers typically offer sonograms, anti-abortion “counseling,” and misinformation about the risks associated with abortion, including (false) claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer and a higher risk of suicide.
In a statement, Board of Health director and King County Council member Rod Dembowski said that he and the county’s legal team were mindful of the California challenge when drafting the rule. “We intentionally crafted King County’s rule to be less broad than the California … requirements, while still ensuring that women who are or may be pregnant understand that limited service pregnancy centers are not health care facilities,” Dembowski said. “If we need to fine tune the particulars of the form of the disclosure, we will do so. Regardless, I am optimistic that the County’s more narrow regulation that was supported with a strong factual record is constitutional and will remain in place.”
3. A presentation by the city’s Human Services Department on how well its programs are performing supported the narrative that the Pathways Home approach to getting people off the streets, which emphasizes rapid rehousing and diversion programs over temporary shelter and transitional housing, is working. But it continued to raise a question the city has yet to answer directly: What does the city mean by “permanent housing,” and how does they know that people who get vouchers for private-market apartments through rapid rehousing programs remain in their apartments once their voucher funding runs out?
According to HSD’s first-quarter performance report, which department staffers presented to the council’s housing committee on Tuesday, 83 percent of people in rapid rehousing ended up in “permanent housing” after their vouchers ran out. Meanwhile, according to HSD director Jason Johnson, aggregated data suggests that 95 percent of the people enrolled in rapid rehousing were still housed after six months. In contrast, the department found that just 59 percent of people in transitional housing moved directly into permanent housing, and that just 3.8 percent of people in basic shelter did so, compared to more than 20 percent of people in “enhanced” shelter with 24/7 capacity and case management. Ninety-eight percent of people in permanent supportive housing were counted as “exiting” to permanent housing, giving permanent supportive housing the best success rate of any type of program.
However, there are a few factors that make those numbers somewhat less definitive than they sound. First of all, “permanent housing” is not defined as “housing that a person is able to afford for the long term after his or her voucher runs out”; rather, the term encompasses any housing that isn’t transitional housing or shelter, no matter how long a person actually lives in it. If your voucher runs out and you get evicted after paying the rent for one month, then wind up sleeping on a cousin’s couch for a while, that still counts as an exit to permanent housing, and a rapid rehousing success.
Second, the six-month data is aggregated data on how many people reenter King County’s formal homelessness system; the fact that a person gets a voucher and is not back in a shelter within six months does not automatically mean that they were able to afford market rent on their apartment after their voucher ran out (which, after all, is the promise of rapid rehousing.)
Third, the fact that permanent supportive housing received a 98 percent “success” rate highlights the difficulty of basing performance ratings on “exits to permanent housing”; success, in the case of a program that consists entirely of permanent housing, means people simply stayed in the program. To give an even odder example, HSD notes an 89 percent rate of “exits to permanent housing” from diversion programs, which are by definition targeted at people who are already housed but at risk of slipping into homelessness. “Prevention is successful when people maintain housing and don’t become homeless,” the presentation says. It’s unclear how the city counts “exits to permanent housing” among a population that is, by definition, not homeless to begin with. I’ll update if and when I get more information from HSD about how people who are already housed are being counted toward HSD’s “exits to permanent housing” rate.
4 .Last week, after months of inaction from One Table—a regional task force that was charged with coming up with regional solutions to the homelessness crisis—King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to issue $100 million in bonds to pay for housing for people earning up to 80 percent of the Seattle-area median income (AMI), calling the move an “immediate ste[p] to tackle the region’s homelessness crisis.”
That sounds like an impressive amount of money, and it is, with a few major caveats: First, the money isn’t new. Constantine is just bumping up the timeline for issuing bonds that will be paid back with future proceeds from the existing tax on hotel and motel stays in King County. Second, the $100 million—like an earlier bond issuance estimated at $87 million—won’t be available until 2021, when the debt on CenturyLink Field (for which the hotel/motel tax was originally intended) is paid off. King County has been providing some funds to housing developers since 2016 by borrowing from itself now and promising to pay itself back later. Both the $87 million figure and the new $100 million figure are based on county forecasts of future tourism revenue. And third, the amount of hotel/motel tax revenue dedicated to affordable housing could, under state law, be much higher—two-thirds more than what Constantine proposed last week—if the county weren’t planning to spend up to $190 million on improvements at Safeco Field that include luxury suite upgrades and improvements to the concession stands. That’s because although state law dictates that at least 37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax be spent on arts and affordable housing, and that whatever money remains be spent on tourism, it does not limit the amount that can be spent on either arts or housing. Theoretically, the county could dedicate 37.5 percent of its revenues to arts spending and the remaining 62.5 percent to housing.
The fact that Constantine is describing the new bonds as a solution to homelessness is itself a matter of some debate. Under state law, the hotel/motel tax can only be used to build “workforce housing” near transit stops, which the county interprets to mean housing for people making between 30 and 80 percent of AMI. Homeless people generally don’t earn anywhere close to that. Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that although “taking steps that will help to address the critical need for affordable housing for low-wage workers and people who can afford housing at 30 to 80 percent is a good thing, unless there’s a plan to prioritize those units for people experiencing homelessness, along with resources to help buy down some of the rents for people for whom 30 to 80 percent is out of reach, I’m not sure how that helps address homelessness.”
1. Anti-choice activists bombarded King County Board of Health members with hundreds of emails this week opposing a proposed rule change that would require so-called crisis pregnancy centers—fake “clinics” run by anti-choice nonprofits that bait pregnant women with promises of medical care and counseling, then try to talk them out of having abortions, often by providing medically inaccurate information—to disclose the fact that they do not actually provide any health-care services. (CPCs generally provide pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and may offer samples of formula and diapers. Their main purpose, however, is to frighten women out of terminating even risky pregnancies by providing misinformation about abortion and birth control, including claims that abortion leads to cancer, suicide, and “post-abortion syndrome.”)
The rule change would require anti-abortion pregnancy centers to display a sign on their doors that says, “This facility is not a health-care facility” in at least 48-point type, and to include the disclaimer on all its written materials.
King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles says that in the past week, she has received more than 500 letters from CPC proponents, all with the same pre-written message:
Pregnancy Centers are reputable organizations that provide much-needed services. While special interests may claim that these centers deceive and disrespect women, the facts show otherwise- Care Net of Puget Sound boasts a 99.7% positive response rate from those they have served in King County over the last two years. Women in crisis need MORE options for health services, not fewer, and it is unconscionable that the Board of Health would pass regulations intended to harm those providing women with the services they need.
That 99.7 percent satisfaction rate isn’t represented in Care Net’s Yelp reviews, which focus on the fact that they don’t provide any actual reproductive health care services. “I can only imagine a scared, or worried person calling about an unintended pregnancy and getting this casual attitude about having a baby and changing your life,” one reviewer write. “Heaven forbid someone be on the wrong end of a crime and need resources like birth control that these people refuse to give.”
Kohl-Welles says the vast majority of the emails have come from outside her district, and many are from people outside King County.
On Monday, county council member Kathy Lambert said she was disturbed by the CPC advocates’ claims that they had not heard about the board of health rule change in advance. The board of health held a public discussion about the proposed rule in June.
The board of health will discuss the rule change at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon in King County Council chambers.
Full disclosure: From April 2015 to April 2017, I was the communications director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, the pro-choice advocacy group, and currently contract with them for approximately three hours a week.
2. Despite overwhelming support from advocates for veterans, seniors, and homeless King County residents, the county council seems unlikely to support a proposal to increase the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy ballot measure to 12 cents. On Monday, after a dizzying back-and-forth between the county council and a regional policy committee (RPC) that includes representatives from Seattle and several suburban cities, the council tentatively approved a ballot measure that would renew the existing Veterans Levy at 10 cents and expand it to cover seniors and human services for non-veterans, rather than the 12 cents originally proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine.
The measure would also do away with a provision that would have split the levy proceeds evenly between veterans, seniors, and human services, weighting the proceeds more heavily toward veterans. The plan, which the RPC will take up this afternoon, calls for a ten-cent tax, with one third for veterans and one third for human services; the remaining third would be allocated first to senior veterans, until 75 percent of the county’s homeless veterans are housed, at which point the money could be spent on services for non-veteran seniors.
This last, convoluted change came at the behest of council member Rod Dembowski, who has said he would be open to a 12-cent levy but only if a larger percentage of the revenues go to veterans. Kohl-Welles, who has supported the 12-cent, evenly split proposal, said Monday that “I have a lot of trouble saying that one category in our King County population deserves more than other categories—they’r all people.”
After the RPC votes out its own version of the measure—depending on who shows up to vote, the proposal could be 10 or 12 cents, and could be either evenly split or weighted more heavily toward veterans—the measure will move back to the full council, which has to make a decision before the end of the week to avoid triggering a special meeting that will require a six-vote supermajority for any proposal. Council members have been asked to clear their calendars for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings.
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