Resolution on HUD Guidance Regarding Criminal Records, Public Hearings on North Highline Annexation, Update on West Seattle Tree cutting investigation

Resolution on HUD Guidance Regarding Criminal Records

On Monday, 6/13/16, the Full Council unanimously voted to pass Resolution 31669. This Resolution will inform landlords of their legal obligations under the Fair Housing Act to consider as tenants people with arrests or criminal records, who have been cleared of a crime or served their time. Access to housing is critical for folks to get back on their feet. As Efrem McGaughey, a formerly incarcerated individual and member of the Tenants Union of Washington State, said, “By affording formerly incarcerated people who are working to change their lives a chance to find housing without facing prejudice, we are strengthening our community as a whole. The long term results will increase contributing members to our society, more filled apartments for property owners, and more stability for people who have faced oppression and homelessness.”

The resolution clarifying HUD’s guidance to property owners helps people seeking housing, but it also protects landlords from fair housing complaints and lawsuits. In Washington State, African Americans are four percent of the population but account for 18 percent of the state’s prison and jail population. When landlords screen out tenants with previous involvement in the criminal justice system, without considering whether the individual might be a good tenant, it disproportionately impacts families of color and furthers the disenfranchisement of communities of color.

Categorical bans on all people with criminal records actually increases recidivism rates and makes communities less safe. .

This resolution does the following:

  1. Supports HUD’s guidance that landlord screening should consider factors like:
  1. Discourages landlords from excluding a person from housing on the basis of arrests without conviction because an arrest alone does not provide proof of crime, nor can a landlord determine a potential risk to resident safety and protections of property.
  2. Endorses Seattle Office of Housing guidelinesthat landlords should consider when selecting tenant screening agencies. The suggested methods for selecting screening agencies if used by landlords would help prevent fair housing claims.
  3. Supports the Mayor’s Fair Chance Housing Taskforce efforts to propose an ordinance addressing these issues.

This is an important first step in establishing clear screening rules for Seattle landlords. It’s important that all housing providers understand HUD’s advice while the City looks to adopt legislation.

 

Public Hearings on North Highline Annexation

Exhibit 4 - North Highline Annexation Area Boundary

 

This Monday and Tuesday evening the King County Boundary Review Board held public hearings regarding the annexation of North Highline and White Center. The Review Board is made up of 11 members. four are appointed by the King County Executive, three appointed by the Cities of King County, three by Special Purpose Districts, and one by the Governor. You can find the roster here.

In 2009, Burien annexed a portion of North Highline, but in 2012 when Burien attempted to annex the rest of the area, voters overwhelmingly turned it down. Since then Burien has removed North Highline and White Center from its potential annexation area.

Earlier this year the State Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, legislation that will direct $7.75 million in state sales tax revenue to Seattle each year for six years if the City annexes the area. This money is: “solely for the purpose of providing municipal services in the newly annexed area.” Adding this potential new state sales tax revenue to 2014 City revenue estimates shows that the on-going revenue raised from the area would be approximately $18 million/year.  The on-going expenditures, or costs to the City, to support services in the area were estimated to be about $18 million – $31 million a year, not including additional one-time costs ranging from about $14 million to $123 million ($100 million backlog in asphalt and paving needs in North Highline being the biggest variable in this range).  These 2014 numbers will be refreshed to reflect latest revenues/costs prior to the annexation being brought forward to the Council for its consideration.

This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the voters, and is a continuing process, please see the table linked here for a tentative timeline. I would also encourage you to check out the reporting of the public hearings from Monday and Tuesday linked here, and here.

At the end of the discussion on the second night the Boundary Review Board closed the hearing and begin their deliberations, which then lasted for another 20 minutes. At this point the Board voted 8-1 to approve the annexation and direct staff to prepare the written findings and decision. This will likely be adopted at the Board’s regular meeting on July 14th.

 

Update on West Seattle Tree cutting investigation

The investigation into the illegal cutting of trees on public property in the Duwamish Head Greenbelt in the East Admiral neighborhoods of West Seattle is continuing.

The Seattle Police Department is continuing its investigation to determine if there is probable cause for criminal prosecution and will prepare a case to submit to the King County Prosecutor. The King County Prosecutor has jurisdiction over criminal felony prosecutions. The Police Department has conducted interviews and distributed flyers in the adjacent neighborhood for any information or leads. Last month, the Parks Department removed blackberry bushes for evidence of any previous cutting beyond the recent example, but didn’t find any additional tree cutting.

Separately from this effort to prepare a potential criminal violation, the City Attorney’s Office is also working to pursue potential civil action. It is likely that the office will issue one or more demand letters in the next few months, asking potentially responsible parties to pay the City damages and fines. If the King County Prosecutor declines to prosecute, the City Attorney’s Office may – at that time – decide to pursue a criminal action. Responsible parties may (1) be required to pay the City damages, civil fines and penalties, including restoration work, and also (2) face criminal penalties. It appears that the City has between 18 and 30 months during which to timely file a court case.

The City Attorney’s Office and Seattle Police Department are reluctant to publicly disclose additional information or additional specifics on their timeline as they believe that doing so could limit the effectiveness of the investigation and any prosecution or civil actions.

If the King County Prosecutor opts to file felony charges, one option available is under RCW 9A.48.070- Malicious mischief in the first degree, a class B felony. The standard for prosecution is higher than for civil measures, requiring that a person “knowingly and maliciously” cause physical damage to property. The statute of limitations for prosecution is three years, so plenty of time remains.

Potentially applicable laws include the following:

  • SMC 25.09.320 Trees and vegetation section of the Environmentally Critical Areas Ordinance, for any action detrimental to habitat, vegetation or trees, on landslide-prone critical areas, including steep slopes; this includes a civil penalty comparable to parks and street trees, including an additional penalty of $5,000 for any tree over 6 inches in caliper, as well as “an amount reasonably determined to be equivalent to the economic benefit that the violation derived from the violation, measured as the greater of, the resulting increase in market value of the property, the value received by the violator, or the savings of construction costs realized. “ This also includes an alternative criminal penalty of a gross misdemeanor.

 More detail on these provisions is available here.

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