City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative:
New report assesses progress, charts future action
The Seattle Office for Civil Rights has released a new report that describes the City of Seattle's Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI).
The report, which is now available on SOCR's web site, assesses the progress of RSJI and offers a roadmap
for the Initiative's future work.
Entitled "Looking Back, Moving Forward," the report explains why the City of Seattle has undertaken an
anti-racism initiative and describes the City's work so far to address systemic
disparities within City government and services. Mayor Greg Nickels called for the
Initiative in his first term; in 2004 he asked the Seattle Office for Civil Rights to
coordinate the City's ongoing efforts.
"We focused on City government because the Mayor believed it was critical
that we first begin to get our own house in order," said SOCR director Julie Nelson.
"We need to demonstrate our commitment to end racism within our own institution before
we can work with the wider community on critical race issues."
According to the report, a recent independent assessment of RSJI found that most
City departments have embraced the Initiative, and that the Initiative has resulted
in significant policy and program changes, including a doubling of the percentage of
contracting for non-construction goods and services with women and minority owned businesses.
The assessment identified several areas to strengthen, including holding departments more
accountable for outcomes and enforcing expectations across all departments.
The report also describes the next phase of the Race and Social Justice Initiative.
RSJI will work to eliminate race-based community disparities in areas such as economic
equity, environmental justice, criminal justice, health and education. In addition, RSJI
will continue to work within City government and to improve public engagement between
Seattle residents and City government.
"Our goal is to create a shared vision and active commitment to Race and Social
Justice throughout our city in order to achieve genuine, long-term social change,"
said Glenn Harris, RSJI Manager. "The RSJ Initiative represents an ongoing commitment
to a new way of doing business."
For more information about the Initiative or to view a copy of the RSJI report, visit www.seattle.gov/civilrights/rsji.htm
Enforcement Update: Settlement results in awards totaling $16,000
The City of Seattle's Law Department recently negotiated settlements in a pair of housing discrimination cases that were scheduled to go before
Seattle's Hearing Examiner in early 2009. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) had issued reasonable cause findings in both cases, which
charged the same property owner with housing discrimination based on familial status and retaliation. In the final settlement, the owner
agreed to pay one pair of charging parties $10,000, plus a $1,000 civilpenalty to SOCR. (The other couple received $5,000.)The settlement also
requires the owner to hire a professional company to provide property management services.
In one of the cases, the landlord increased the rent and utility payment on a couple's apartment after they had a baby. The couple negotiated a
smaller increase than had been originally proposed but when they requested a formal lease agreement, the landlord refused. After the couple told the
apartment manager they planned to take the issue to the Fair Housing Center of Washington, the manager reported it to the owner, who stated
she did not want to "rent to people like that" and refused to sign the new lease.
SOCR referred the cases on to the Law Department after the owner did not respond to our requests to settle the cases. SOCR tries very hard to
convince respondents to settle directly with us after we issue reasonablecause findings, which are designed to stand up in court. Once cases are
transferred to the Law Department, respondents' legal expenses can - and do - skyrocket. SOCR's Karina Bull investigated the case, and participated
in the negotiations that set the terms of the eventual settlements.
SOCR investigates discrimination complaints that occur within Seattle's city limits. We charge no fees for any of our services,
including investigations, settlement negotiations and interpretation. Most charging parties and respondents participate in the process on
their own, without the involvement of attorneys. If you feel you have been discriminated against in housing, employment or public areas
please call (206) 684-4500.
The staff in SOCR's Administrative Team provides exceptional customer service on a daily basis. They are the first point of contact
for many customers who are seeking information on their rights in employment and housing or in many cases, who are facing a difficult and
sometimes dangerous life situation and are in need of immediate assistance. This was the case in December when Rose Hoskins and Maria Rodriguez
showed their dedication, heart and willingness to take the time necessary
to assist someone in need.
A woman called who spoke limited English. Rose called her back using the Language Line in order to have an interpreter on the line. The woman
and her two daughters transferred here from a California housing program and were told they were confirmed a place to stay. Upon arrival she was
told she could not secure housing because she did not have a social security number. The woman and her daughters stayed with her sister
until a domestic violence situation occurred with her sister's husband and as a result the woman had to file a restraining order against him.
They were staying at a motel on vouchers that were to end that day.The woman's counselor instructed her to call around to find a shelter,
but she had been unsuccessful.
Rose called several shelters to find the family a room but was told rooms were not available and in some cases agencies were out of funding
to provide housing. Rose and Maria put several calls in to 211 and three other agencies for advocacy, but without success.
Rose then contacted the YWCA where a staff person said she had a room for them and could hold it for 1 hour. Rose contacted the family
and put them in touch with the staff person at the YWCA to secure their room.
Huge kudos to Rose and Maria for their work in assisting this family and for consistently providing staff and clients of SOCR with the best in customer service!!