June 14, 2015, City Council hopeful David Toledo continued his “Cartooning with the Candidate” speaking-tour of North Seattle’s public libraries with a visit to the Greenwood Library. The family-friendly event has been a big hit with residents of District 5 who are enjoying the creative approach to voter outreach. What makes these meet-and-greets unique is that they are kid friendly; providing free coloring books and art supplies to keep children engaged while parents have the opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts with the candidate.
Lori is a District 5 resident and single mother who attended the June 7th event at Green Lake. Lori says that she would be even more engaged in the political process if she were able to bring her two children to more events. Lori says that it speaks highly of Mr. Toledo that he thought of parents with young children when he organized the function. “I think this is a great indication of how he will govern, putting people first”.
If you’re a resident of District 5 you’ve undoubtedly already had a chuckle at some of the ultra-creative campaign literature put out by the Vote David Toledo campaign. Drive down North 105th and directly across the street from the historic Rickshaw Restaurant you’ll see a large Vote Toledo billboard featuring Toledo and his daughter, enjoying a hamburger while standing in front of a wall of very artistically designed David Toledo caricatures in various styles.
Additionally, Toledo’s campaign has also released a web based trivia challenge and several fully animated cartoon commercials.
In accompaniment to Toledo’s artistic side is a wealth of experience dealing with real-world issues. Toledo is a Housing Specialist competent in all areas of affordable housing; working in the field for nearly a decade who says he “knows what’s needed to stabilize rent and increase housing options without rent control or rezoning of residential neighborhoods.”
Toledo is also one of the co-founders of Unified Outreach which provides free volunteer services to elder care centers, transitional housing facilities, and youth mentoring programs. But Toledo says the most important thing he brings to the table is a 40 year history of living in North Seattle. “Community roots matter. I have a responsibility to you based on neighborhood loyalty and shared history. When I make promises I will keep them. Sidewalks for North Seattle, expanded public safety funding, affordable housing solutions, small businesses growth and a job training wage, improved roadways for commuters and commerce, and best of all a clean and swimmable Green Lake!”
Toledo’s Cartooning with the Candidate meet-and-greets began in April and are scheduled to run through the month of July.
Lake City – June 21st (2pm – 4pm)
Broadview – June 28th (2pm – 4pm)
Green Lake – July 12th (2pm – 4pm)
Toledo is facing a number of challengers in the race including long time residents such as Hugh H. Russell and Debaduta Dash; as well as new residents to the area such as Halei Watkins and Sandy Brown.
THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING BUZZ. UNDERSTANDING WHAT EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT.
Seattle loves our buzz-words and bumper sticker slogans; and who can’t get behind something like “Affordable Housing, Now!” Especially when the annual night-out homeless count found 2,813 people sleeping on the Seattle streets (and another 1,000 on the outskirts of town).
But ask the average person on the street to define affordable housing and you might be surprised with the answer (or lack of). Terms like affordable housing, rental subsidies, transitional housing, shelters, Section-8, and low income housing all run together in a hodge-podge of confusing buzz words and political jargon.
If we want to solve these problems we need to all start speaking the same language.
The first step in addressing the very different, yet sometimes linked problems of affordable housing and homelessness will lie in our ability to clearly communicate what we see as the genesis of each problem. Once we are clear with what problems we are trying to correct we can begin identifying existing programs along with their strengths and weaknesses. We need to communicate in clear, easy to understand terms what at the challenges and what is the goal as we move forward in address our housing problems.
The term affordable housing is connected to median income. Once the median income for an area is established then rentals over 30% of a renter’s income is considered cost burdened or unaffordable. So what is median income? Median income is the middle point of a climbing income chart. At one end you have zero income, the other end you have the highest earner in the given area. All earners are put on a chart from lowest to highest in chronological order. Then, the chart is split right down the middle and that point is the median, the exact center of the chart. Median is not the average income of an area, nor is it a bell-curve (majority income). Here’s an example- if the market consists of only 9 people, with the first 3 all making $3 each, then all others earning income that climbs in $5 increments, the median in this case would be $13 (the middle point), and 30% of that would be $3.90 (affordable housing). Now, if all landlords in the area rented at that rate, it would make it very hard for tenants at the lower end of the spectrum to find housing; which is what has been the topic of discussion for those advocating for “affordable” housing.
The confusion comes when using the term “affordable” housing in broad terms. In markets with heavy ends of the spectrum landlords who may in fact be pricing their units at 30% of median income may appear to be price gouging when that is not always the case. Median income for a 2-person household in Seattle for 2014 is approximately 64K. So a 1-bedroom apartment priced at $1600.00 is considered affordable housing by HUD standards, even though this rate would not be considered affordable by someone living in the lower end of the chart.
We need a clear distinction between advocating for rent control, subsidized housing, or homeless shelters and services. All are important discussions and deserve to receive consideration from our city leaders and community stakeholders.
If we are talking about rent controlled areas then we must be clear that rent control legislation is what we are seeking. However, as RCW 35.21.830 currently prohibits rent control in Seattle we need to look at other ways to provide relief to renters.
If we are talking about increased subsidy programs we need to look at the pros and cons of existing subsidized housing in Seattle to see how to best develop any new funding programs.
SUBSIDIZING TENT CITIES AND SHELTERS:
Currently the City is looking at providing 50 new shelter beds and proposing a bill to allow three tent encampments in the city. Funding of new and expanding shelters and tenant cities must be a priority for our legislators. If Seattle moves forward with linkage fees on new construction this should be one of the areas that we use the collected revenue.
As these programs are expanded we must understand that there is no one-size-fits-all regarding our shelter system. Many seniors won’t stay in a shelter because they fear the youth violence, whereas some veterans won’t take a bed that could go to someone else because they are still holding to their idea of honor and service to their fellow man. We need to look at targeted funding/special programs for our seniors and our veterans, as well as growing our teen, single mothers, and family shelters.
The proposed 3 tent cities modeled after the Nickelsville camp can provide community structure that is much safer than the streets would be for a family trying to survive on their own. However, the city still needs to develop a structure for how to best partner with these programs, and provide access to essential services such as one-stop help complexes to give access to city services and help with personal economic recovery. Additionally, some activists are working towards establishing tent-cities in residential areas; whereas currently they are limited to mixed use and commercial zones. The concern that tent cities may permanently change the personality of a given neighborhood is something that city leaders must consider when engaging this issue. We must resist the urge to fix-it-quick and instead find a long-term solution that meets the needs of those facing homelessness while still respecting the property rights of our neighbors.
Voucher Programs: Voucher programs are generally HUD funded programs that involve HUD paying a portion of said rent. The “Section 8/Housing Choice Voucher” program is a voucher that is given to a tenant to use at ANY rental property that falls within the voucher limits (a 1-bedroom voucher is $879).
The Section 8 voucher holder is considered a “protected class” in Seattle which means landlords cannot discriminate or refuse tenancy just because they don’t want the Section-8 check. It has become increasingly harder to use Section 8 vouchers in the Seattle area because of the recent rise in rental amounts, but the voucher is still valued for its portability.
The second type of voucher is called “Project Based” which ties the subsidy to the apartment itself. The Project Based program partners with a given apartment building (these apartment owners are community partners working directly with HUD or with a Housing Authority). This means the tenant pays a reduced rent on the apartment. If the subsidized tenant decides to move from the apartment they lose the assistance and the next person moving into that apartment gets the subsidy. As long as the voucher holder stays under 80% of median income they will receive some portion of assistance. If the tenant income surpasses that 80% of median income the tenant loses their voucher. However, in both cases the vouchers are also transferable between household members, and can be given to other family members or even friends as long as they are listed in the household. The vouchers are transferred by promoting a current household member to Head of Household prior to the original voucher holding tenant moving out. Some subsidy vouchers have been known to be handed down through several generations.
It is not uncommon for developers to receive tax-breaks in exchange for a low-income annex to new construction. Contracts usually stipulate that a portion of the new rental space be subsidized for an average of 40-years before moving to market rate.
LIPH: Another type of subsidy is Low Income Public Housing (LIPH). This is housing which is usually owned and operated by the government or a non-profit, although some public housing projects are managed by subcontracted private agencies. Seattle Housing Authority owns some 600 properties in Seattle including single resident homes, duplexes, high rise buildings, and major housing properties such as Yesler Terrace, High Point, Rainier Vista, and New Holly.
Seattle Housing Authority provides subsidy assistance to over 28,000 people in the Seattle area alone each year. This includes over 5,300 Low Income Public Housing (LIPH) units in major apartment complexes, 1,600 town homes, duplexes, single family units, and another 8,500 Section-8 vouchers. King County Housing assists another 7,800 apartments and 11,000 Section-8 vouchers, and smaller programs house thousands more in the Greater Seattle area.
Although some programs such as Senior Housing have a minimum income requirement with rent portion based on a step-program, the majority of LIPH programs do not have such a requirement and ask only a $50 monthly payment for tenants with very low or zero income. This is where the biggest drain is on the Housing Authority’s budget and something we will look at in the next section.
SAVING THE SUBSIDIZED HOUSING WE ALREADY HAVE
In 2014 Seattle Housing Authority presented their Step Forward Proposal. Under the proposal current households with “work-able” tenants would be required to move to a step increase rental program. Unfortunately the program met with fierce resistance and was shelved, possible permanently. But I would like to examine the proposal as well as the circumstances that led to its inception.
Their proposal simply put operated like this: LIPH households that had someone “work-able” between the ages of 24 and 61 and who does not have a disability would move to a step-rental program. Let’s look at a 1-bedroom example of how the program would work: A family in a one-bedroom apartment would pay $140 monthly rent for the first year (four bedroom homes start at $180), rent increased the second year to $340, and so on until it peaked at $720 in the 7th year. The program is easily affordable for even someone working part-time at minimum wage and is in-step with the increased minimum wage law that is currently being applied in Seattle.
Some Seattle City Council members not only refused to engage in discussion of the proposal, but actively encouraged the disruption of town hall meetings that were designed to foster dialogue between the Housing Authority and its tenants.
But what events inspired the proposal in the first place?
In 2011-2012 Seattle Housing lost 11% of its annual budget when HUD announced that it was cutting funding to Seattle Housing Authority. This resulted in massive staffing cuts, but left the tenant subsidies untouched. In other words, Seattle Housing Authority did everything they could in order to keep the tenant programs running as they had always been.
Now, imagine you are the property owner of one of the 4-bedroom homes that SHA owns. The renters are a zero income family paying the standard $50 minimum rental bill each month. This year the roof starts leaking, and someone kicks a hole in the wall, the window gets broken, and the refrigerator needs replacing. Plumbing issues, electrical issues, bedbugs, vandalism, and more. How do you cover the costs of these types of repairs when you’ve only brought in a total of $600 in rent for the entire year? Even the best of tenants will require maintenance now and again; and SHA pays union wages, so the repair job is always quality; but the bills aren’t cheap.
But the biggest source of destruction in many zero-income homes is mold. One of the biggest problems facing a zero-income family is how to pay for electricity. If a family cannot pay their electric bill or intentionally keeps their heat turned off to save money, the result is often mold. Mold can destroy insulation, fixtures, interior and exterior walls, and more.
So we have to ask ourselves is the current model sustainable? Can Seattle Housing continue to meet the needs of current and future residents with funding being cut and with a City Council that fails to act as an honest broker between the Housing Authority and Tenant Advocates?
I’m not here to debate the merits of the Step Forward proposal. But I will ask if you had previously heard any of the information I just presented? In order to solve our housing problems voters and advocates need to be presented with all the facts and we need city leaders that are able to examine all ideas without giving in to their own hubris and political grandstanding. Don’t like the proposal? Have concerns with certain areas and need more information on exemptions? Bring them to the table and let’s talk about them. I understand and agree that nothing should be rubber stamped. We see the results of failed due diligence in the matter of the tunnel fiasco and we want city leadership that asks questions and is engaged. We need city leaders that encourage honest conversations and debates in an effort to find positive solutions to our housing problems. However, what we’ve seen instead is a city council that encourages shouting down opponents and the obfuscation of facts, and that is doing our city a great disservice. We must be careful about our focus on what other programs the city should fund or expand even as the largest housing program in our region is sinking beneath us.
EXPANDING SUBSIDIZED HOUSING IN THE SEATTLE AREA
There have been a number of proposals for expanding subsidized housing in the Seattle area. Ideas range new construction “linkage fees” assigned to contractors and used to fund smaller low-income housing programs. Others have suggested more flexibility with micro-housing and congregate housing standards, encouraging the building of apartments that trade the comfort of spacious living for a lower rental costs.
However, we as a city also need to look at external forces that hinder low-income housing from being successful. We talked earlier about the issue of mold being rampant in low-income housing units; causing structural damage as well as health issues for tenants. This problem is often overlooked by those that advocate for free homes/housing for the homeless. Although their hearts are in the right place, it is almost certain that any shelter in the northwest will fall into disarray if the person being housed is unable to keep the electricity on.
Educational opportunity, work training programs, economic growth, and addressing Seattle’s perilous relationship with one of the country’s most regressive tax systems are all steps our city leaders must take if we are to ever see a decrease in our need for emergency shelter and subsidized housing services.
For those of us that advocate for our brothers and sisters that are at-risk of losing housing, or that are already living in transitional housing, shelters, tent-cities, or on the street; we must be clear in our message. We must not be afraid to discuss ideas and we must never let “perfect” be the enemy of “good”. We can overcome even the most mountainous of problems one step at a time; unified, armed with knowledge and a willingness to hear all ideas.
GRASS-ROOTS YOUTH ARTS PROGRAM UNIFIED OUTREACH AND STREET-WISE COMMUNITY LEADERS FROM SEATTLE’S CENTRAL DISTRICT AND RAINIER VALLEY PROPOSE A NEW “DEPARTMENT OF INNER CITY AFFAIRS” BE ESTABLISHED IN THE MAYORS OFFICE TO ADDRESS ISSUES SPECIFIC TO INNER-CITY YOUTH WITH “OUTSIDE THE BOX” THINKING.
June 20, 2014 – Youth Arts program Unified Outreach has put forth an ambitious proposal for the creation of a new department within the Mayor’s office. The new Department of Inner-City Affairs would address issues specific to Seattle’s Central District and Rainier Valley in order to assist in reducing the amount of criminal activity in Seattle with the use of “outside the box” youth programming and community liaisons that will be proactive in preventing violence, advancing race & social justice issues, and providing a mutually-beneficial partnership with Seattle’s public safety officers to provide previously unattainable neighborhood resources when crimes do occur.
This coalition has dedicated themselves to finding a solution to the violence. With 7 youths dead at the hands of other kids, 15 overall killings, and nearly 50 reports of gunshots in the CD and Rainier Valley since spring began this is something most in Seattle have never experienced; and certainly not expected in our peaceful Northwest Mecca.
However, for most of the untouched areas of Seattle business goes on as usual; with a Seattle media seemingly out of touch with what is happening (one paper referring to the recent epidemic of shootings as “few injuries reported” despite the 7 dead kids), and city leadership that ranges from oblivious to the problem to disgustingly opportunistic. As for the few city leaders who have shown attention, their ideas for solving the problems are the typical sound bites you’d expect; pre-K education, increase minimum wage, more jobs, and so on. As well intentioned as they are, the ideas are woefully out of touch with the thoughts and minds of those responsible for inciting the violence.
The strange thing is Seattle is no Los Angeles or Chicago; Seattle isn’t a giant metropolis where the hotspots of violence can span a hundred miles; no, our hotspots are along 23rd Avenue South and Rainier Ave S., really just a few square miles. Sadly, and without doubt the same mothers and father who have lost children to this violence work in and around city hall, frequent the same coffee shops and sandwich stores; yet city business goes on as though nothing is out of the ordinary. This is why a Department of Inner-City Affairs is needed!
The proposed idea works like this;
Within every youth community there are “networks” operating; kids who have formed communities-within-communities based on common interests. Within urban communities we see an even closer kinship between youth who bond over artistic interests; kids who envision a career selling millions of albums rapping know the other kids in the city who share that dream. The break-dancers know who the other break-dancers are; the graffiti artists know who the graffiti artists are. These communal groups can be a great resource if we have the right liaison between the youth and our community leaders/authorities.
One thing about youth crime and violence is that SOMEONE knows something. The kids know who is doing what in the community; so the question is how does that information come to light?
Obtaining information from kids can be a complicated task. There is no doubt that the knowledge of who has committed the crime (violent or otherwise) is generally known in the community. But because of community loyalty, the mistrust of those in authority, or the fear of reprisal, many witnesses are afraid to come forward.
Unified Outreach, along with the community elders involved in the proposal have put their experience growing up in these communities and continuing to work with low income and at-risk youth to work; believing many low income and at-risk youth are more responsive to those in the (shared) artistic body, and those seen as old school/OG’s (original gangsters) who have established themselves in the neighborhood.
The same kid that is hesitant to share knowledge of a known criminal act with a parent, teacher, or police officer will easily share that information in casual conversation with their breakdance instructor or one of the OG’s at a neighborhood picnic.
The proposals idea is that those OG’s that are also active in the artistic field be recruited to act as liaisons between the city’s at-risk youth and the city community leaders/authorities. Community leaders such as Pastor Ray Rogers, Dr. James Croone, Tyrone Dumas, and many more who have a 20/30+ year history in these neighborhoods and are “neighborhood famous” in Seattle’s CD and South-end of Seattle are needed. These are respected elders you can find at neighborhood barbeques and community events and when they speak the kids listen.
These community elders are artists and arts administrators in their own right; hosting musical performances, parties, and community events where youth engagement occurs. Events where troubled youth are recognized, conflicts resolved, lives set straight; yet these events will never be approved for a Department of Neighborhoods or Office of Arts & Culture Youth Arts grant because they don’t fit the Arts Commission’s idea of what an artist looks or sounds like. The same type-A personality, the direct speaking style, the same REALNESS that makes these people attractive to our youth are seen as negatives by Seattle’s artistic gate-keepers and turned away from receiving artistic and community grants. So the key is to design program partnerships that recruit these OG’s and back their programs; with the understanding that there is an open communication and true working partnership with the select branches of law enforcement, courts, and other areas of public safety. There is confidence that Unified Outreach has a blueprint for such a partnership; an achievable plan to save lives.
The City of Seattle already spends millions of tax payer dollars each year on youth arts, sports, and technology programs. Many of these programs are already making a difference in the lives of our children; however, in order to meet today’s needs it is obvious we must try something different.
Currently the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs has a budget of $8.5 million, and the Department of Neighborhoods has a budget of $12.4 million (combined nearly $21 million). Not surprisingly, these departments often have a surplus (Large Project Fund is one example). The proposal suggests 20% from each Department be allocated to the Department of Inner City Affairs in order to support a new Department operating under the guidelines that have been provided in this memo.
What is the value of a human life? Are the 7 lives lost worth less because they are kids from the Central District and Rainier Valley? $5.3 million per year towards the DOICA is reasonable and the return each year in the lives saved cannot be measured. If city leaders can put $21 million each year to simply “enrich through art” the lives of those in Seattle, isn’t it worth $5.3 million to actually SAVE those same lives? Would it be a more palatable program if it funded programs in Magnolia? Queen Anne? Lake Union? These are hard questions that deserve answers.
The proposal is a viable solution to reducing crime and providing safer streets. However, because it is a new and unique approach to solving the problem it is bound to encounter pushback from the status quo; and as such will need visionary leaders to champion this as we move forward. Seattle’s leadership must get out of its comfort zone and begin engaging in a more indigenous form of youth outreach, which requires bringing in oversight that understands the working relationship between this new style of community leader (OG’s), and at-risk youth.
Unified Outreach believes the program can be a success; if city leaders take care to avoid the common mistake of just throwing money at the problem. City leaders have to resist the urge to simply throw money at “established youth, arts, and community programs” in the area who may produce fine programming but do not know how to reach our target audience; and who (once they have received the special funding) will simply hire the same old friends & family and list them as “Special Consultants”. Not every person living in the CD and Rainier Valley for decades is respected by the community. Also, there are many artists and arts/programs already operating that don’t reach the kids we are talking about. We need to recruit REAL community-leader OG’s that have a PROVEN history of working with our YOUTH. The people living in the neighborhoods that are being affected by this wave of violence KNOW who the people are that are working to make a difference. The creation of a Department of Inner-City Affairs (DOICA) within the City of Seattle Mayor’s office, with the RIGHT people in leadership roles CAN and WILL save lives.
Proposed Department of Inner-City Affairs Mission Statement
“City of Seattle’s commitment to reducing violence and promoting justice for every community.”
Don’t be fooled; fear can inspire hatred. Teaching children (who are born with no bias) that they have to be worried that certain groups “might” not like them, “might” treat them unfairly, “might” hate them… Plants in our children an unintended bias, paranoia, and insecurity. As a nation we must allow our children to live unhindered… Free to live and love without fear. And to deal with issues…. as (or “if”) they arise with confidence knowing that the experience does not define the child nor does it define the entire race of the person who offends them. We must not place our insecurities on the child’s shoulders. Nothing sadder than unintentionally teaching our children to preemptively hate others under the false notion that they have to be “aware” that at some point in life they may be treated unfairly. The universal truth is that no one goes through life without experiencing some sort of prejudice, discrimination, or unfair treatment – But don’t let that possibility stop our children from being kids.