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2020 Council Budget Schedule; Diaper Need Awareness Week; Five Bills Passed Full Council to Strengthen Tenant Protections; Amendments to Green New Deal Oversight Board/ Heating Oil Legislation

2020 Council Budget Schedule

On Monday, September 23rd Mayor Durkan submitted her Proposed 2020 City of Seattle Budget and Proposed 2020-2025 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to the Council. With that, the Council, now meeting as the Budget Committee, begins its work on the 2020 budget.  We will continue through adoption of the budget on November 25th. Here’s a link to the Budget Committee schedule.

Budget Committee meeting agendas are available here.

Here are links to an Executive Summary and Summary Charts and Tables. 50% of the City’s General Fund is dedicated to public safety.

Last week, the Council received high-level briefings from city departments and the City Budget Office. In Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting, we discussed CBO’s Revenue Overview, and budget overview presentations from the Office of Economic Development, Parks and Recreation, and the Office of Labor Standards. At Thursday’s Budget Committee meeting we heard presentations from the Human Services Department, the Office of Housing, and the Department of Education and Early Learning. On Friday we heard from the Seattle Transportation Department, Office for Civil Rights, Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, a Public Safety Budget Overview, the Police Department, Fire Department. The Office of Sustainabilty and the Environment has been re-scheduled for this coming Wednesday.

This week, the Budget Committee is scheduled to meet on October 2nd to consider homelessness, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, and the proposed TNC tax. On Thursday October 3rd, the Council will hold the first public hearing on the proposed budget at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers in City Hall at 600 4th Avenue. People will be permitted to sign up, starting at 4:30 p.m.

Here’s a brief summary of future key budget dates:

  • October 16-22: Budget Deliberation and Issue Identification: this will consist of Council Central Staff presentations with greater detail about different departments. Councilmembers can have proposals listed briefly in these memos.  We have a 10 a.m. deadline to submit proposals to be included. At this point, proposals don’t need to be detailed or include specific dollar amounts.
  • October 23 at 2 p.m:  Councilmembers have a deadline to develop specific Council Budget Actions, which must include specific costs. Those proposals will be discussed from October 29 to November 1.
  • November 6: Budget Committee Chair Bagshaw will propose an Initial Budget Proposal. Councilmembers have a deadline of noon on November 8 to propose changes to the Chair’s Initial Budget Proposal.
  • November 13:  Proposed changes to the Chair’s Initial Budget will be discussed.
  • November 18: The Budget Chair will release a Revised Budget
  • November 19:  The Budget Committee will vote on the Chair’s Revised Budget. This will be the first round of votes.
  • November 25: The Budget Committee will meet for the final time, and vote, in the morning. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the 2020 budget at its regular 2 p.m. meeting.

Diaper Need Awareness Week

Last week I had the honor to present a Proclamation supporting Diaper Need Awareness Week, a nationwide effort of advocacy organizations focused on the health and development of infants and toddlers. WestSide Baby, headquartered a few blocks south of District 1 in White Center, spearheads Diaper Need Awareness Week locally.  Year round they work to build awareness and provide all kinds of goods for families with infants and toddlers, including diapers. The Proclamation notes that one-in-three families have an insufficient supply of clean diapers, which can cost a family between $70- 100/month. Unfortunately, assistance programs like SNAP don’t cover diapers.

CM Herbold and WestSide Baby Deputy Director Sarah Cody Roth

Please consider supporting WestSide Baby in honor of Diaper Need Awareness Week.

Five Bills Passed Full Council to Strengthen Tenant Protections

Today City Council heard and passed five bills to strengthen tenant protections, two of which I sponsored. They are as follows:

  1. CB 119658: protecting survivors of domestic violence from being held liable for damages to a rental unit caused by their abuser
  2. CB 119606: allowing tenants to share the costs of rent and enjoy other benefits of living with roommates and family members by prohibiting landlords from restricting legal occupancy limits established by local, state, or federal law
  3. CB 119619: requiring information on the rights and resources of tenants to be included on notices to terminate a tenancy, increase rent, or for the landlord to enter a unit
  4. CB 119620: authorizing SDCI to enforce the state law requiring landlords to provide receipts for rental payments, and prohibits the requirement of electronic payment options
  5. CB 119621: requiring a landlord to register the rental unit with the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) before filing and issuing a notice to terminate tenancy

The Residential Tenant-Landlord Act in Washington state is a self-help act.  This means that, in many instances, tenants must represent themselves in disputes with their landlord. To make things harder, in the 1980s, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that violations to tenants could not be defended within the scope of the Consumer Protection Act by the Office of the Attorney General.

Nevertheless, the City has options to strengthen a tenant’s ability to secure their rights. Due to advocacy and leadership from Senator Kuderer, Representative Robinson, Representative Macri, advocacy organizations like the Tenants Union and Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and many others, several eviction reform efforts  were passed in the state legislature this year, and the City “harmonized” these various changes in City code this summer (I wrote about it here). The City is working to complement these reforms by increasing education and enforcement strategies to strengthen the provisions of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

The latter three bills I’ve mentioned were proposed by Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) in response to a Statement of Legislation Intent (SLI) I sponsored last year to support tenants in addressing habitability issues more quickly. As these bills intend, and SDCI’s SLI response explains, supporting tenants in addressing habitability issues for the goal of preventing disputes that can end up in retaliation and eviction starts with improving tenant knowledge of their rights and resources. SDCI has experienced an increase in call volume from tenants looking for assistance.  Authorizing SDCI to enforce existing state laws (as CB 119620 does for the requirement that landlords provide rent receipts), and incentivizing registration with the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance, can help a tenant avoid eviction proceedings where the City has limited recourse to intervene.

This strategy can also help manage the increased call volume SDCI is experiencing; each of these bills have fiscal notes stating some adjustments will be made to increase the departments’ capacity but the 2020 Proposed Budget of SDCI notes a 1 FTE reduction for the Compliance program, and no added capacity to the Rental Housing program (pp. 215). I intend to address this during this Budget cycle.

In addition to meeting the priorities outlined in Resolution 31861,  advancing these bills has been an important opportunity for me to respond to the advocacy and leadership of Washington CAN, the Housing Justice Project, and the Coalition Ending Gender Based Violence.

This legislation has also provided me an opportunity to engage with the Rental Housing Association (RHA) and Multi-Family Housing Association (MFHA). Despite representing different constituencies, all of these organizations agree that a survivor of domestic violence should not be punished for the circumstances of their abuse, and that supporting survivors so that they aren’t penalized for damages that can impact their rental history or credit may help to reduce the burden on organizations that support survivors.  In a joint letter with RHA and MFHA, the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN) shared that in 2018 they’ve received an uptick of 173% in calls from survivors seeking assistance. Testifiers in committee have shared personal experiences on how domestic violence affects housing status.

Another important aspect of the bill that the Coalition Ending Gender Based Violence played a vital role in working through is a provision that ensures survivors aren’t put at risk of retaliation. Although the legislation specifically names the perpetrator as liable for damages they cause, in responding to concerns expressed by constituents and landlords in cases where the perpetrator cannot be pursued, I’ve introduced a landlord mitigation fund. Per the advocacy of RHA and MFHA, I’ve modeled this fund after a similar program the state provides to support people receiving housing assistance. Conditional on eligibility, this fund can be accessed by landlords in the case that they cannot recoup damages caused by a perpetrator up to $1000 after a $500 buy-in.

Amendments to Green New Deal Oversight Board/ Heating Oil Legislation

During the last few weeks the Council adopted two pieces of legislation relating to the Green New Deal plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle.

The first bill created the Green New Deal Oversight Board to advise the Mayor and Council on items related to the Green New Deal.

I proposed three amendments. The first explicitly states the Board can make recommendations on what they believe the City should prioritize. The second adds two labor representatives to the Board. It’s important that labor’s voice be included early on in consideration of any changes that could affect employment; the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council has 19 affiliated members with a wide variety of work, so I want to be sure they are involved in the early stages in development of any proposals, in the spirit of the blue/green coalition.

The third amendment states the Council’s request that the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE) “analyze the impacts of potential actions that require Council approval to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the sources identified in the 2016 Seattle Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory, and estimate measurable progress each action would provide towards making Seattle free of climate pollutants by 2030.”

The goal of this amendment is to ensure that Council decisions are grounded in data, and policymakers have a clear sense of how potential actions fit into the overall goal.

The second bill the Council considered was the Mayor’s legislation for a 23.6 cents per gallon tax on heating oil, and to create an implementation plan for regulating the use of hearing tanks. The implementation plan is due July 1, 2020. I proposed four amendments to this bill.

After the plan is submitted next year, a code amendment would be required to adopt any requirement to decommission heating oil tanks.  Under current law, such a code amendment would require a State Environmental Policy Act analysis and be subject to appeal. This wasn’t clear in the public discussion, so I want to make sure it’s clear that this legislation does not adopt a requirement to decommission heating oil tanks.

According to OSE, oil results in 16-18% of residential carbon emissions, and 8-9% of building emissions overall. Reducing building emissions is a key goal in the City’s Climate Action Plan. Carbon emissions from oil-heated homes went down from 109,000 to 65,000 metric tons of CO2 between 2008 to 2014; from 2014 to 2016 the reduction leveled off, to 63,000.

The legislation includes a $120 reimbursement for low-income persons (based on the cost of the tax for 500 gallons), and funding for conversion to heat pumps.

I heard a lot of support for this legislation. I also heard concern from seniors and low-income residents about the impact of the legislation. OSE estimates that 36% of the oil-heated households are seniors. Of those who participate in the City’s Utility Discount Program, 60% are estimated to be seniors.

I wanted to be sure the legislation does no harm to seniors and low-income persons, for both the conversion proposal and the tax proposal; I also was concerned that the funds projected for fully funding conversion are inadequate. I proposed amendments to address these concerns.

First of all, I proposed an amendment to say the amend CB 119607 to add that the proposed implementation plan due on July 1, 2020 should consider: (1) exempting residents over the age of 65 from the proposed requirement that all heating oil storage tanks in Seattle be decommissioned or replaced with a modern tank by December 31, 2028; and (2) a plan to fully fund conversions from oil heating systems to electric systems for households at or below 80 percent area median income (this is roughly $70,000 for a family of two).

While OSE has noted that the cost of operating a heat pump is lower than an oil furnace, and will cover the cost of conversion over time, seniors may not have the longevity to enjoy a benefit. Seniors are also more likely to be low income, or on a fixed income.

Secondly, while the legislation includes the $120 discount to low-income persons, it did not define low-income. I proposed an amendment asking that the report include an analysis of the viability to extend the heating oil tax reimbursement to households whose income is between 70% state median income and 80% area median income.

The City’s Utility Discount Program uses the threshold of 70% of state income; as noted above, the threshold for funding conversions is 80% of Seattle-area median income, which is significantly higher.

Third, the funding for conversion doesn’t appear to add up at this point. It provides funding for 1,100 conversions; that is based on the number of residents with heating oil who participate in the City Light Utility Discount Program. Citywide, however, participation is around 30% of those eligible, according to the report developed by the utilities that I requested through last year’s budget process.

I suspect it will likely be significantly higher than 1,100 out of the 18,000 homes with heating oil (7%), due to the cost of conversions, compared to an electricity bill, which provides a discount every two months. OSE estimates $15,000 per conversion; estimates are significantly higher for some homes.

Also, the Utility Discount Program is set at 70% of median household income for the state, whereas this legislation provides assistance for those at 80% of the media Seattle area household income, so more people will be eligible based on income.

If, for example, 3,000 households participate in the conversion program, it would require an additional $10 million; for the rebate program, it would require $1 million or so (the tax funds conversions).

Consequently, it’s important to ensure the Council can assess whether the math adds up before the tax goes into effect. The legislation as proposed included an effective date of July 1, 2020; I amended it September 1, 2020, to allow for two months of review by the Council.

With the creation of the Green New Deal Oversight Board, I anticipate these kinds of issues will be worked out before legislation is sent to the Council.

These amendments were adopted by the Council, along with an amendment I proposed to note the global warming impacts of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigerants used in consumer appliances, such as heat pumps, and the Council’s commitment to advocate for statewide legislation to expedite the reduction of HFCs with high global warming potential.

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