Budget 2015

November 20th, 2014

We’re just about to end our work adopting a City budget for 2015. Each year we go through hours of review and discussion about available revenue, efficiency, effectiveness and values. This year’s review, wrapping with a Full Council vote Monday, Nov. 24, like most others I’ve had the privilege to be part of, has focused greatly on how our spending can improve the safety and well-being of those around us who are homeless, food-less and, too often, feeling hopeless.

As the chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency, I put forward and gained support for a number of additions to Mayor Murray’s proposed 2015 spending plan:

$200,000 to address recommendations from the Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness– We’ll set this money aside because the task force won’t wrap up until the middle of December. For a variety of reasons we have more people living outside in Seattle than ever before. I hope to see new ideas from the task force on ways to keep homeless people safe now and better ways to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.

$175,000 to incentivize regional partners to develop homeless shelters. The Committee to End Homelessness advocates a regional approach to ending homelessness and I serve with Mayor Murray on the Governing Board. At this point, the City of Seattle shelters constitute 91% of the cot and mat space in King County. That means that when someone becomes homeless outside the city they may have to travel to Seattle for help, making it harder to maintain contact with services and jobs in their home community. I put forward this first-ever fund as a way to have Seattle more fully support regional help for people experiencing homelessness. The fund will match funding put forward by regional partners to create shelter beds in their communities.

$150,000 for homeless youth street outreach. Organizations like YouthCare reach out to young people living on the streets to connect to case management, health care, education and employment training, and move them toward housing. You might see these outreach and case management staff at Westlake Park. YouthCare told me a few weeks ago that federal funding for this outreach is being cut. So, we’ll backfill this funding. I had hoped to propose new funding for outreach to places like Cal Anderson Park, but I’ll have to look for that money next year.

A Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) to Investigate City Owned Property for Shelter Space. At the same time we help regional partners open up more shelter beds we need to explore what City-owned buildings might be used for more shelter. Already City Hall shelters 40-50 men and women every night. When the thermometer goes down below 36 degrees, Seattle center opens up emergency shelter in the Northwest Rooms. This SLI asks the City’s Human Services Department to look at other City properties (for instance, community centers) to identify possible locations for shelter.

$250,000 for the soon to be new and improved University District Food Bank. The University District Food Bank serves hundreds of individuals and families living in the greater U-District and North Seattle in need of help to get them through the month. They’ve been doing all of this out of a small, cramped space. This funding will help complete fundraising for a new, larger space on the ground floor of a low-income housing project. I proposed this because, having worked at Chicken Soup Brigade and seeing CSB move into its new home earlier this year, I know that better space can make a huge difference for agency efficiency and client access.

This is a small subset of the changes the Council made for 2015. I haven’t touched on the other adds in human services (domestic violence case management and support, covering minimum wage changes for providers with City contracts, support for encampments and more low-barrier women’s shelter), economic development (support for small manufacturing), and pedestrian safety (more sidewalks and crosswalks).

Unfortunately, these additions still aren’t sufficient when you look at the level of need in our city and region. We’re still working to meet basic survival needs when no one should become homeless in the first place.


Field trips during 2015 budget review

November 12th, 2014

Councilmembers have been locked in 2015 city budget review for the past few weeks on our way to a final vote the Monday before Thanksgiving. It’s a little difficult to schedule other work during this time because we’re in three-hour sessions morning and afternoon, but breaks do come up to give staff time to research questions and build proposed adds and subtractions.

In those breaks I’ve managed three recent “field trips” that have served to further illustrate for me the strange combination of growing wealth and growing disparity in our city, and to remind me that the budget we talk about in Council Chambers has real impact out in the world.

Nickelsville and Northacres – On a rainy Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago my legislative aide Jesse Gilliam and I met up with Alison Eisinger from the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness at Nickelsville’s new site on Dearborn just east of I-5. Approximately 40-50 people live at Nickelsville currently, some in small pink shacks and some in tents pitched on platforms or the ground. The site, for which the group has permission from the owner, slopes and now that the Fall rains have started, the site is muddy and slippery. Some residents are new to homelessness and a few have been with Nickelsville for many years, finding at Nickelsville safety, community and a sense of purpose in the management of the camp. For one reason or another, including a lack of space, the residents have eschewed the shelter system. In the past month many families with children have shown up at Nickelsville either staying or getting connected to a shelter or other help.

We then drove to Northacres Park, the park in north Seattle that you likely have never visited. It’s a great park, though. Great trees. And, for the past few weeks, home to a small encampment that splintered from Tent City 3 when TC3 decided to leave its Haller Lake site. Disagreements over decision-making prompted a group of approximately 20 people now known as United We Stand to strike out on their own and seek a new spot. They set up originally at Licton Springs, but then moved to Northacres where they’re set back from the street and parking lot, but still prompting complaints from neighbors and other park users. We met one family with kids and multiple people with jobs, but not enough to put together first, last and a deposit. The group welcomed us and ran through the work they’re doing to find a church host somewhere in Seattle or King County. At that point, as a dozen of us stood in the creeping darkness under a couple of tarps at a picnic table with camp stoves, coffee pots, plastic boxes of supplies and rain splattering a small fire in a barbecue stand, they’d been told no almost 30 times.   

Career Bridge Cohort 13 Graduation – Through Career Bridge, started two years ago by the City’s Human Services Department, formerly incarcerated men, predominantly African-American, go through a two-week intensive confidence and job search skills building program. This year the program has been picked up and stabilized by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. They’ve done a great job structuring the curriculum, the intake, the support and the job connections needed for these men to get jobs and earn the income they need to support themselves and their families. I was glad to be able to help celebrate at the recent graduation for Cohort 13. Held Tues., Nov. 4, at a church in Rainier Valley, the men stood before friends and family as Career Bridge graduates, speaking of self-worth, who they want to be and that they want not just jobs, but careers.

Casa Latina – When Casa Latina had to move from their original spot in Belltown they had a tough time finding a new home. They finally landed on S. Jackson where they have a dispatch hall, classrooms and offices. My other legislative aide LaTonya Brown and I visited Wed., Nov. 5, to see the dispatch system (with rules devised by the workers themselves) and to talk about Casa Latina’s wage theft work recovering wages for workers shorted by their employers. Unfortunately, this happens far more often in this region than it should. Casa Latina works through communication with employers, sometimes though direct action drawing attention to disreputable businesses and through legal action to recover wages.

Projects like these have changed the lives of many of the families and individuals that I had the opportunity to meet over the past few weeks, and they have also been priorities in the City’s budget. Shelter expansion has been a part of almost every budget on which I’ve voted. Career Bridge funds are in the 2015 proposed city spending plan with possible expansion on the horizon. Casa Latina received capital funds from the City when they built on S. Jackson in return for the public benefit of the agency’s work.

Although government budgets are political documents full of compromises large and small, they’re also maps showing if our tax payer money flows to our priorities.


Linkage Fees

October 17th, 2014

Councilmember O’Brien and I submitted a guest opinion piece to the Seattle Times about linkage fees.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here:

 

Guest: Seattle needs a linkage fee to make housing more affordable for lower-income residents


Home, it’s where I want to be.

September 23rd, 2014

Just got back from the official launch for our new housing affordability and livability plan. The plan, outlined in this resolution, convenes an advisory committee to establish a Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, due to Council and the Mayor in May. There’s more information in the Mayor’s press release. Below are my comments as prepared.

housing

Home is where the heart is. Home sweet home. And in the words of David Byrne, home, it’s where I want to be.

Housing is the wonkier word for homes and I’m thankful for the Mayor’s collaboration so we as a city will focus our work on a plan for housing affordability and livability – so we can plan for what we want and need. The price point, the style, the size, the locations. We are a city of booms and busts, but all indications point to continued long-term influx of people wanting to make Seattle their home. We need this plan so we can chart a course to ensuring housing meets the needs of our whole community and does it in a way that helps our environment and keeps our neighborhoods the great, interesting places they are.

Last week I toured Bianca’s place, that’s the congregate family shelter run by Mary’s Place. The families at Bianca’s Place, and the families in Seattle’s future who will need a Bianca’s Place, are just one reason we need this effort, this sharpened focus and blueprint for housing.

I met several parents doing what it takes to keep their families safe and together. In particular I met one woman, an East African woman, who had found Bianca’s Place and spent some time there, but last Thursday was a big day – she showed me the keys to her new house. Her smile was bigger than the room. Her family would have a place to call their own.

I want to thank the advisory committee members and City staff who will work on this plan.

 


The Rise of Microhousing

September 18th, 2014

First we called them aPodments, but that soon switched to micros. Whatever you call them, they inspire either horror at the resurgence of the old-time single-room-occupancy hotel or they look to be the latest and greatest in affordable urban living.

After Tuesday’s Planning, Land Use & Sustainability meeting they’re also the subject of a possible mayoral veto, but for reasons that are unclear.

I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t know what a micro unit is at this point, but just in case…. Micros started appearing as a variation on the townhome. We saw four-packs or six-packs appear in parts of town (first Capitol Hill and the U-District), but instead of a typical two-bedroom configuration, we saw a full eight sleeping rooms connected to the core kitchen.

Many neighbors came out opposed to the projects because they feared the impacts of so many people living in the buildings. In a standard four-pack townhouse development, maybe you have two people per unit for eight total. In a four-pack of aPodments, you’ll have at least one person per sleeping room for a minimum total of 32 people.

On the good side, these buildings have generally been constructed near frequent transit and most residents are trying to live in the city car-free. On the bad side many micro developers were skirting design review thresholds by counting the eight sleeping units as one dwelling unit.

I think micros are a good addition to housing choice in our city. The late developer Jim Potter was a great, irascible proponent of City government figuring out how to help the private market produce affordability without direct subsidy. He toured me through one of his micro projects on Capitol Hill a few years ago and it was impressive. It’s not where I want to live at this stage of my life, but that’s not important in policy development. What’s important to me is that micros are available, safe and regulated for “fit” in a neighborhood the same way similarly-scaled buildings for full-size apartments are.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien did the hard work of assembling a stakeholder group of developers, architects and neighborhood advocates to review the micro regulations sent to Council by Mayor Murray earlier this year. After a series of difficult meetings the group came to some agreements and remained in fierce disagreement on others.

The result is the bill we voted out of committee Tuesday along with a series of amendments. Within the base bill the City now defines “small efficiency dwelling units” (SEDU) for the first time in code. The intent of this change is to replace the current form of micro-housing, with multiple sleeping rooms arranged around a core kitchen, with individual, self-contained, small apartments that are regulated as such. The legislation also sets thresholds for different intensities of design review depending upon the size of the building. The new rules limit the number of residential parking zone passes to one per SEDU rather than the four allowed other homes inside an RPZ boundary. The bill, also, better defines congregate housing so that’s a less attractive work-around for some developers.

This definition of SEDU and the design review thresholds are a big improvement over our current situation, though the contents of the bill remain controversial, especially with some developers. The amendments acted on in Tuesday’s meeting seem to be the focus of ire now by some who think the changes go too far. (Jim Potter would probably agree.) I might agree on one of them (minimum size), but I think we struck a good balance in the exchanges represented by the others.

Minimum SEDU size – I would prefer to allow architects flexibility down to 180 square feet, but the votes weren’t there for that. I think there are great examples of smaller spaces and I don’t think all renters want more space. Councilmember O’Brien and I attempted a minimum average across all units of 220 square feet and an absolute minimum of 180 square feet, but that failed. The majority of the committee voted to make 220 square feet the minimum for SEDUs arguing that peer cities like San Francisco and New York don’t allow units smaller than 220 square feet.

Bike parking – Councilmembers in the previous meeting advocated for enough storage to ensure bikes don’t have to be kept inside SEDUs or congregate residence sleeping rooms, so we increased the required bike parking to .75 per unit and also specified this has to be a covered area. Thanks to the suggestion of a smart architect, Councilmember O’Brien proposed not counting this bike parking space in the FAR (developable people space). That amendment passed and I think was a good way to ensure we’re not trading bike parking for residential units.

Common space in congregate housing – OK, congregates are a little different from SEDUs. They’re more like dorms and play an important role in affordable housing and housing for people with special needs. Councilmember Licata proposed increasing the required common area space from 10 percent of the building to 15 percent of the building. Laundry space will count, though, I worry too many of the spaces will be less about social interaction and more about just getting the wash done.

Sinks – The draft legislation required a minimum of one sink per SEDU and that if the SEDU has only one sink that the sink be located in the kitchen area. I was OK with this until King County Public Health weighed in with advice that living units have at least two sinks, one in the bathroom and one elsewhere, as a “best practice” in disease control. Developers have argued the second sink is superfluous and just a means for project-opponents to weigh down projects with unneeded fixtures and costs. In the end I sided with Public Health. If these are now stand-alone living spaces, no longer predicated on availability of a separate kitchen, and if there may be multiple people living in the units, then units should have two sinks, however small they might be.

Parking – This may be the issue neighbors of new micro buildings bring up the most. Most of the micro projects developed to date don’t provide parking for even the majority of units in the building and, to my mind, that’s OK. Most likely at least a few of the tenants own cars and park them in the neighborhood. That’s anyone’s right to do, but neighbors see the possibility of lots of new cars clogging up parking. Personally, I think it’s good that the City got out of the business of parking minimums in urban centers, our densest neighborhoods. I think it’s worth reviewing parking rules and what we’re seeing developed further out from the core of the urban villages and near frequent transit in other areas. We amended the bill with a request for the Seattle Department of Planning & Development to conduct a review of Seattle’s current car and bike parking requirements for new development. The results of that review will come back to the Council in late March of next year.

Overall, the bill defines SEDUs in Seattle’s code for the first time, lays out development standards and sets appropriate design review thresholds. I’m not happy about where the majority of the committee landed for minimum square footage per unit, but I want to get the other standards in place as soon as possible.

The amended bill now awaits Full Council consideration. That’s set to occur on Mon., Oct. 6. Regulations would take effect 30 days after the Mayor signs the bill.

Unless….


Momentum building for a housing strategy

September 4th, 2014

One of my top priorities when I took over the Council’s housing committee this year has been to ignite development of a housing strategy for Seattle. We have master plans for pedestrian and bicycling improvements. We have a comprehensive growth strategy. We have neighborhood-level growth plans. We have a transit plan. We, also, have rising rents, concerns about the loss of affordable housing and strife about whether the apartment sizes being built are the sizes we need in the long-term. However, we don’t have a plan for how we, as a city, want to see housing grow.

That’s about to change.

Today in the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency we’ll have a first review of a resolution that sets out our intentions and a timeframe for developing a housing plan for the city. The Mayor has done a great job keeping housing affordability front and center in his priorities and his public statements. He has welcomed the idea of a housing plan and the work will be spearheaded by staff in the City’s Office of Housing and Office for Policy and Innovation with help from a stakeholder group to be assembled this fall.

My goal is for the plan to look at the entire spectrum of housing development and affordability issues. I don’t think we can fully understand the pressures on renters, buyers, developers and others without understanding what the whole spectrum of housing in our city looks like now. For instance, we’ll need to understand the future of high-income housing in order to understand how the search for buildable land in our built-out city will affect existing housing stock.

If we’re going to stay true to our rhetoric about wanting affordability for low income and middle income people in our city, we have to be sharper than we’ve been in the past and plan for what we want.

After today’s discussion we’ll take more feedback, edit and then edit some more. I anticipate the committee will vote on the resolution establishing our work toward the plan on September 18.


Why I love being on the Beacon Alliance of Neighbors email list

June 30th, 2014

The Beacon Alliance of Neighbors list, like many neighborhood lists in the city, provides great information sharing opportunities about neighborhood clean-ups, crime news, new businesses in the area and more. They’re the modern equivalent of the photocopied newsletter on the porch or the bulletin board at the corner store. I learn a lot from these lists. From a string on the BAN list last Friday:

—-

On Friday, June 76, 2014 , Lawrence H > <xxxxxxxxx@xxxx.seattle.xxx>

Lost bird and owners have been reunited!  They just came to pick it up.

Thanks to everyone who gave good suggestions and to Craig for offering to provide shelter for the bird. One of the people in the group knew their neighbor has a bird and it turned out it was them. It’s actually a parakeet, not a canary (obviously I don’t know birds).

I did call the Seattle Animal Shelter and reported the found bird so that if someone did end up calling them to find their bird, it would show up as a found bird with info on who to contact to get it.  (Thanks Pete)

Larry

 

On Friday, June 27, 2014 1:10 PM, Craig T <caxxxx@xxxxx.com> wrote:

I just spoke with someone at the Seattle Animal Shelter. She suggested that we go down to the shelter and list the canary as a found bird, give our contact info, yet if we have a setup for the canary, to go ahead and foster it. That way the owner will have a chance to find his/her pet, and the canary will not have to go through any more stress of being handled. So, Ariel and I are open to foster the bird, if it’s a canary. If it’s a lovebird, well, that’s another story, as lovebirds can be extremely aggressive (except to other lovebirds).

Please take it to the Seattle Animal Shelter. Someone may be looking for  it and they will attempt to connect to an owner before putting it up for adoption.

thanks

Pete

On Thursday, June 26, 2014 9:32 PM, Lawrence H <xxxxxxxxx@xxxx.seattle.xxx> wrote:

 

I found a little bird (maybe a canary?) on my front porch just about 15 minutes ago. I put it in a shoe box and will keep it until mid day tomorrow. If no one claims it, I’ll take it to the pet store and let them have it. Nothing seems to be wrong with it. I think it’s just lost.mIt’s very cute and seems quite tame. I fed it some millet (hope that’s ok) which it seemed to enjoy.  If you or someone you know lost a bird today, let me know what color it is  and it’s yours. If it’s not yours and you want it, let me know also and it the owner  doesn’t claim it, you can have it.

Larry


Why We Raised The Minimum Wage

June 3rd, 2014

I just wrote an article for CNN about why we raised our minimum wage in Seattle.  Take a look:

 

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/03/opinion/clark-seattle-wage/index.html


Seattle is raising its minimum wage

May 29th, 2014

Over the past several months of minimum wage debate I’ve been told to adopt $15 now “because the rent won’t wait.”

I’ve been told raising the minimum wage will cost jobs.

In meetings I’ve heard questions, positions, opinions, pleadings, demands and accusations.

I’ve heard about what was compromised, what was horse-traded and what was a bait-and-switch.

I’ve heard heartfelt stories about small businesses and their “family” of workers.

I’ve heard ghastly stories of exploitation and manipulation.

I’ve heard compelling stories about small manufacturers and international cost competitiveness.

I’ve heard this is not an issue a city on its own can solve.

I’ve heard change must start in the cities.

I’ve heard pleas for an hour’s pay for an hour worked, nothing more nothing less.

I’ve heard compensation includes everything in box 1 of the W2, including tips.

I’ve heard raising the minimum wage will erase poverty and I’ve heard it will do nothing but move us toward being another San Francisco (a code term now for a pretty, expensive place imbued with nostalgia for a simpler, less expensive time).

I’ve heard we should “do the right thing” from every side.

When I try to apply the “do no harm” principle I’m left without knowing exactly what that means in this case. We voted today to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to a greater level than any other city in the country. That committee recommendation goes to the Full Council this coming Monday, June 2.

While it’s too soon to tell if we did the “right thing” what I do know is this: someone has to work the counter at the dry cleaners, someone has to learn to be a mechanic, and someone has to bus tables. People in these jobs have an increasingly tougher time making a life in Seattle. And after today, those someones will have more money to make everyday living just a little easier.


Small lot rules

May 21st, 2014

We adopted new rules on small lot infill houses Monday, rules I believe will stop the terrible “grain silo” and “alley skyscraper” houses that popped up on previously unrecognized lots all over the city. More on these new rules in a moment, though. First, context setting.

At a breakfast Monday someone asked me “what’s hot” in Seattle right now besides minimum wage and the nomination of a new chief of police. I almost always reply solving homelessness, but this morning I said “development.” Reaction (most often negative) to development in neighborhoods all over the city; the concern for trees as we densify; the desire for jobs in outer neighborhoods; the desire for affordability; the demand for good, respectful design – all of these fill and refill my inbox these days.

We live today in another development boom. The pace and scale can make you dizzy — and angry – depending upon where you stand. I hear from people in Capitol Hill, Wallingford, West Seattle, Ballard and elsewhere about quaint, older houses coming down and new apartments or micros going in; about poor transitions in the low-rise areas, view blockage and jagged height differences between old and new.

I also hear about the difficulty in finding a reasonably affordable place to live in Seattle, and about having great rhetoric about growth, but then not having the stomach for it.

Maybe I should have replied that the rhetoric about development is hot. Most Seattle-ites I talk with recognize that cities grow and change over time. Most people I talk with say they’re not anti-density; they just want density done right. And quite a few people these days are fed-up, organizing, protesting and lobbying for change. One Home Per Lot is an example of a new group focused on improving development standards and alerting neighbors earlier about neighborhood development.

Those voices helped shape the small lot development rules we put in place today and will help shape the Council’s upcoming action on new development rules for micro apartments and revisions to the low-rise zone regulations adopted in 2010.

Out of various conversations and emails I’ve defined a few guiding principles for this work.

  • Being for good design and neighborhood character isn’t anti-development.
  • Being for infill isn’t the same thing as wanting to destroy what make Wallingford, West Seattle, Ballard and Capitol Hill great.
  • The city’s urban village and urban center-based strategy continues to be the best blueprint for growth.
  • Density doesn’t necessarily lead to affordability.

OK, with those principles in mind, back to the small lot development rules we adopted today. As a reminder, I joined with colleagues in 2012 to severely curtail development on under-sized lots. We’d seen in the preceding year a new way of defining these smaller lots using historic tax records. Houses appeared on property neighbors never thought could accommodate a house. The negative impact on development patterns and the shock to neighbors was “significant” (bureaucrat-speak for really big).

Since the interim development controls were passed in 2012, Department of Planning & Development staff worked with neighborhood advocates and developers on a set of rules to guide development of under-sized lots – including defining how under-sized lots come to be.

Seattle’s single family neighborhoods are comprised of SF 5000, SF 7,200 and SF 9,600 (all square feet). You’d think that means that the lots in these zones are those sizes. Surprise – 45% of the lots in the SF 5000 zone measure less than 5,000 square feet. Plenty of you reading this live in houses on lots measuring less than 5,000 square feet. Many of you live next door to someone with a larger lot, one that could be divided.

There are unscrupulous developers looking for those opportunities and there are great developers looking for those opportunities. There are also perfectly well-meaning property owners who have planned retirement based on gain from an undeveloped small lot. The rules we passed need to yield good scale and “fit,” no matter the intentions of the owner.

The rules we passed today cure the most egregious of the fouls we saw before the 2012 interim controls.

  • New small lot houses will go no higher than 18 feet (plus five feet for a roof peak) or the average of surrounding house wall heights, whichever is higher. I had supported a height limit of 22 feet (plus five feet for a roof peak). I worry that the option to choose the higher of 18 feet (plus five for a roof peak) or the average of surrounding homes may yield some unfortunately tall structures. Seattle is a city of hills. We’ll see how this plays out.
  • No more use of historic tax lines to get a lot recognized. If it wasn’t a legal lot by 1957, it can’t be now.
  • The depth of a new small lot house will be limited to no more than twice the width.
  • We adopted new notice and comment requirements so neighbors know about a new small lot proposal before the backhoes arrive and can appeal the DPD decision to the City Hearing Examiner.

One much debated proposal that was killed at Full Council would have allowed a builder to build a house on a smaller lot at least equal in size to the average size of the surrounding lots. This new proposal would have primarily allowed development on lots in neighborhoods where the existing lot size was between 3,750 and 2,500 square feet. This was called the 100% rule. I supported the idea because, for me, it matched my goal of better scale and fit. If an area is already small-scale, and if we have the hard stop of 2,500 square feet, why not allow development that matches the existing scale? A majority of councilmembers felt differently and the provision was stripped from the final legislation.

That’s it for small lots for now. Get ready for micros. They’re next up for Council review.