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Roxhill Wetland Update; Seattle/King County Clinic; Transitional Encampment Legislation; Letter re: HB 2907; Council Passes Winter Evictions Defense; West Seattle Chamber Luncheon; In-District Office Hours

Roxhill Wetland Update

The Roxhill Bog Committee has been working on this issue for many years attempting to save this important wetland. You can read a detailed timeline and history compiled by the Committee here.

Roxhill bog, at the Longfellow Creek headwaters, is actually a fen, defined as “open wetland systems that generally receive some drainage from surrounding mineral soils and are often covered by grasses, sedges or reeds.”

The importance of this effort is best described as the advocates have themselves: “to provide the community with a safe and engaging natural area for recreation and education… the health of Longfellow Creek, its salmon. and saving of one of the last peat fens in Seattle. Climate change and urbanization have caused Roxhill Bog to degrade to a critical tipping point if not addressed now, restoration of its natural functions may no longer be feasible.”

King County prepared a report in 2000 for Seattle Parks and Recreation which revealed that after the park was replanted the fen was no longer retaining sufficient water and recommended that a hydrological study be conducted to understand why the water was not being retained and how to engineer a solution. Seattle Parks and Recreation did not seek a hydrological study.

In 2015, SPU used CCTV to try and determine where the loss of water was occurring, with inconclusive results.

Since taking office in 2016 I have worked with the community on this issue including getting the Seattle Public Utilities and the Department of Parks and Recreation to attend a meeting at the Fen with the community. I’ve provided letters of support to both the American Rivers Association and King County to assist with grant applications. With King County Councilmember Joe McDermott’s support, the community recently received the WaterWorks grant from King Council which will allow the community to proceed with their own hydrological study.

Preservation and rehydration of the fen is so important because the future of salmon species that spawn and rear in Longfellow Creek is at a critical point.  Their numbers have diminished.  Improving the water quality in the creek is critical to their long-term survivability because of the effects of stormwater pollution on the health of the salmon. A natural hydrologic system that filters stormwater before it reaches the creek will improve water quality and save salmon.

Seattle/King County Clinic

In need of free medical, dental, or vision care?  Mark your calendar for the Seattle/King County Clinic, hosted at Seattle Center through Sunday 2/16.   The Clinic provides free services on a first come-first served basis for anyone who shows up – even if you have health insurance.

  • All are welcome regardless of income, insurance, housing or immigration status
  • Patients will not be asked for ID or documentation of any type
  • Free parking is available

Learn more, access flyers in multiple languages, and have your questions answered here.  Please help spread the word!

Transitional Encampment Legislation

I wrote about this topic a couple weeks ago and wanted to provide an update since the Committee voted this week at a special meeting of the Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments.  Councilmembers in attendance approved legislation allowing for more transitional encampment permits; Tiny House Villages are one type of transitional encampment.  The legislation was needed because the current permitting ordinance was scheduled to sunset in March – and transitional encampments are an important tool for the City to help people stay safe while finding homes.

Data shows that Tiny House Villages are the most effective type of temporary shelter in helping their residents find permanent housing.  In the first six months of 2019, 37% of encampment residents found their own homes, compared to 23% of people in enhanced shelter and just 4% of people in basic shelter.  Tiny House Villages are continually improving this important work, more than doubling their success rate from 2018 to the first half of 2019.

Councilmember Sawant’s bill, CB 119656, would make changes to encampment permitting procedures, including:

  • allowing the City to issue up to 40 permits for interim use encampments;
  • permitting encampments on a wider variety of sites including publicly owned land and residential zones; and
  • allowing unlimited renewals of one-year interim use permits, subject to compliance with all applicable regulations.

I sponsored two amendments that were approved by committee members:

  • Geographic dispersion – This requires that new encampments are equally distributed among Council districts, so that communities that are already generously hosting encampments will not be overburdened with additional sites.
  • Setbacks – This ensures that encampments are modestly set back from the property lot line in residential areas, allowing some distance from neighbors while still giving encampments plenty of room for living areas.

Additional amendments may be offered.  Councilmember Lewis has an amendment to require case management and security at interim use encampments and to clarify that the definition of transitional encampment includes modular structures as a type of shelter.

It’s important to note that this bill only changes the permitting process for transitional encampments; it does not allocate any additional funding to establish additional encampments.  The 2020 budget passed last fall included ongoing funding for the operation of the current eight transitional encampments, as well as Council-added funding to site and support two additional transitional encampments in 2020, which would prioritize referrals from the City’s Navigation Team and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.  That funding remains unchanged.

This legislation will be discussed and voted on during the next full Council meeting on Tuesday, February 18th.   You can learn more about city-permitted villages here.

Letter re: HB 2907

You may have heard that the state legislature in Olympia is considering a bill that would give King County the option to levy a new tax on large businesses, and that the revenue would help address our region’s homelessness and affordable housing crises.  Here are the basics:

  • 1% to 0.2% tax on businesses with more than 50 employees
  • The tax is levied on compensation that businesses pay to employees making at least $150,000.
  • Small businesses are exempted from paying the tax.
  • It’s estimated the tax could raise up to an additional $121 million a year.
  • The revenue would be required to be spent on homelessness and housing.

Sounds good so far, and it appropriately asks our neighbors who are benefiting the most from Seattle’s prosperity to pay their fair share towards solving some of the problems that result from a booming economy and competitive housing market.

But under pressure from big business lobbyists, state legislators are considering adding a “pre-emption” clause.  If they are successful, and the legislation passes, that would mean that Seattle would be prohibited from using its own, very limited revenue authority to raise any additional funds beyond the $121 million.

A new report from McKinsey estimates our region will need an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion annually to build the affordable housing we need for people currently experiencing homelessness and those struggling on the very lowest incomes (around $33,000 annually for a family of four).  The $121 million raised would be welcome, but insufficient to meet the region’s need.  Seattle, last year, provided about $128 million in funding to build more affordable housing.  In 2019 King County provided about $134 million in funding to build more affordable housing.

At the Seattle City Council meeting this Monday, Councilmembers signed a letter to the legislation’s sponsors, thanking them for their efforts to increase our region’s revenue options, and asking them to:

  • Increase the amount of revenue that can be raised through their legislation
  • Not pre-empt Seattle from using its own revenue authority.

Council Passes Winter Evictions Defense

The Winter Eviction legislation was introduced by Councilmember Kshama Sawant in December.  It was heard in her committee, Sustainability and Renters’ Rights, in January when it passed out of committee with Councilmembers Sawant, Lewis, and Morales voting in favor and Councilmember Pederson abstaining. At Monday’s Full Council meeting we unanimously passed an amended version of the legislation.

The intent of the legislation is to help prevent evictions which may lead to homelessness during the coldest and wettest months of the year. The legislation builds on the City’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance which was passed in 1980 and prevents landlords from arbitrarily ending rental agreements. The legislation states that in order to end month-to-month lease agreements, a landlord must use one of the 18 listed reasons. Some examples of Just Cause Evictions are:

  • Failure to pay rent after receiving a pay or vacate notice
  • Owner wishes to sell the property (must give 90-day notice to tenant)
  • Owner wishes to move into the property or have immediate family move into the property (must give 90-day notice to tenant)
  • Owner wishes to demolish or substantially rehabilitate the property (must go through the Tenant Relocation Assistance licensing process first)

The newly passed Winter Eviction legislation amends the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance by providing another defense to an eviction.  The tenant, once before a judge would need to say that the Winter Evictions legislation is their defense, and the eviction would likely be delayed until the end of February. However, a tenant can still be evicted in the winter months for eight of the 18 causes listed in the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance.

During the Full Council meeting on Monday several amendments were passed including an amendment I sponsored. My amendment ensured that landlords could still have the possibility of evicting a tenant for not only criminal activity, but also for activity that threatens the health or safety of other tenants or the owner. Other amendments which passed include:

  1. Exemption of small landlords who own four or fewer rental units.
  2. Reducing the no-eviction period from 5 months to 3 months, or December 1 through March 1.
  3. Making the winter defense available only to moderate-income tenant households, defined as households whose income does not exceed 100% of Area Median Income.

  4. Establishment of a mitigation fund for low-income tenants who utilize this defense and cannot access funds through other assistance programs, or to  affordable housing providers who demonstrate that (1) an eviction was delayed during this period because the tenant raised this defense and (2) the tenant is unable to pay rent during that period independently.

Council staff estimates that this mitigation fund would need just over $500,000 to ensure all landlords of households likely to be otherwise evicted are reimbursed for unpaid rent over the winter months.  This estimate is derived from households that could not take advantage of other mitigation funds and that rental assistance would be needed for all three months covered by the legislation.  This estimate is based upon the number of tenants evicted in the three winter months in the Losing Home Report, or 187 evictions for non-payment of rent for the time period.  Last year existing rent assistance funds were able to help 32 households a month, or about 96 tenants over the three winter months.  This means about to fully assist the number of renters likely to owe money for failure to pay rent over the winter months, we’d have to provide funding sufficient for 95 additional renter households at an average of $1900 per renter, or the average assistance provided by Home Base in 2019.

West Seattle Chamber Luncheon

I appreciated having the opportunity on Thursday to address the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce at their February luncheon.  I was asked to speak to my 2020 plan for District 1 work.  As Chair of the new Public Safety and Human Services Committee my focus this year include SPD hiring goals including implementation of a hiring and retention plan that the Council funded in last year’s budget (we’ll get a staffing report at me February 25th committee meeting).   Other Committee priorities for District 1 include:

For more about my District 1 plans for work being done in other committees on which I am a member (Finance and Housing, Select Committee on Homelessness Investments and Strategies Vice Chair, Public Assets and Native Communities Committee member, Transportation and Utilities Committee, member), you can see the PowerPoint presentation at this link here.

In-District Office Hours

My next in-district office hours will be on Friday, February 28 at Senior Center of West Seattle (4217 SW Oregon St) from 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.  The final meeting of the day will begin at 6:30 p.m.

These hours are walk-in friendly, but if you would like to let me know you’re coming in advance and receive a confirmed appointment (rather than first come first served for the walk in folks) you can email my scheduler Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov).

Additionally, here is a list of my tentatively scheduled office hours. These are subject to change.

  • Friday, March 27, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, April 24, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, May 29, 2020
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, June 26, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, July 31, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, August 21, 2020
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, September 25, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, October 30, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
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