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Seattle View
April, 2014 E-News

Current Issues

Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency

Random Thoughts

Current Issues

Minimum Wage: Mid-way to a decision

President Obama wants the nation's minimum wage raised to $10.10 an hour. Governor Inslee supports a higher minimum for Washington's (workers who currently work for no less than $9.32 an hour). The citizens of SeaTac blew up the minimum wage ceiling last fall by a slim vote margin when they approved jumping to $15 an hour for hospitality related jobs.

On the heels of the Occupy movement, the Great Recession and the wave of last year's fast food worker strikes, minimum wage is the topic of the day and Seattle is the crucible for our country's anxious debate involving economic justice, business vitality, hiring, competitiveness and something called fairness.

There are two parallel and collaborating groups working on this formally for the City. The Mayor appointed a 26-member task force of business, labor and other advocates to make recommendations to him. That group is on track to make recommendations to the Mayor in April so the Mayor can make recommendation to the Council soon after.

I chair the Council's Select Committee on Minimum Wage and Income Inequality. That means I ensure we have a clear path of meetings and hearings to our decision target in June. We began meetings earlier this year in order to get grounded in the law governing minimum wage and to understand what other cities have done. We're also working with the Mayor's group on a set of reports about who earns minimum wage and what a rise in the minimum might mean for our area. You can find the reports here.

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Upcoming Seattle Events:

Committee on Minimum Wage and Income Inequality
April 12
Northgate Community Center
Free

Get Your Taxes Done For Free
Through April 15
El Centro de La Raza
Free

Drop-In Bridge
April 23
Rainier Community Center
$2 per senior

Bicycle Advisory Board
May 7
City Hall
Free

Manage Household Utilities Before and After a Disaster
May 20
Central Branch Library
Free

Memorial Day celebration at Me-Kwa-Mooks Park
May 31
Me-Kwa-Mooks Park
Free


For a complete list of events, check out the City Events Calendar!

I've been meeting with workers, business owners, labor advocates and others on the subject of minimum wage for several months now. On the whole, I hear almost everyone say they believe people should earn a decent wage and that the current minimum can be increased. After that, paths diverge. Earnest, hard-working employees argue that an economy predicated on low wages can't be acceptable. Earnest, hard-working business owners (particularly restaurant owners) argue their margins are already thin; that there's only so much you can up-price a latte and a waffle, for instance.


Minimum Wage Discussions

Lots of coffee discussions about how to make minimum wage work for Seattle. Thanks to Red Door for hosting this one in Fremont.

If you're watching this debate, you know there are at least four challenges to raising the minimum wage to $15 or any other number:

Exemptions
Should any business or type of employee be treated differently? Should a tiny "mom & pop" be exempted? Some say yes because their profit margins may be thinner, but others argue that the "mom & pops" will have to raise wages anyway in order to attract better job applicants. And, if you want to raise the wages of the most employees, you have to include small business. Small businesses are the hiring power in Seattle and most cities.

Total Compensation
Restaurateurs note that servers and other workers collect tips, so their hourly earnings may already be more than $15. Should benefits count in some way? If a business offers health care or a retirement program, should those count? If not, will employers stop offering these benefits as they seek ways to pay for the minimum wage increase?

Phasing
We want people to earn more so they can survive better in our city and we want our local businesses to thrive. Is it best to raise the minimum wage to $15 on January 1, 2015? Should we raise it incrementally over years? Should small businesses and big businesses phase in differently?

I agree with Mayor Murray and others that we are better off if we can come to an agreement together and avoid expensive, competing ballot measures in November. The eyes of many in the country are upon us. We should get this right.


GM Nameplate Tour

Taking a tour of GM Nameplate with company president Greg Root. Located in Interbay, GM Nameplate provides manufacturing jobs producing metal work and circuitry for items from medical devices to airplanes.

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Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency

Foreclosure Prevention - Keeping Families in their Homes

A quick look at media referencing home foreclosures would make it seem like we're out of the worst of the foreclosure crisis. A recent Seattle Times article shows foreclosures in the United States are down to the lowest level in more than six years.

I'm reassured by this overall trend, but it doesn't mean much to people in our community still facing foreclosure. And there are too many. Mortgage foreclosure in Seattle hits disproportionately on people of color, immigrants and older homeowners trapped by predatory lenders, medical crisis or unemployment.

Councilmember Licata took the lead on addressing this issue last year by sponsoring a resolution to explore foreclosure prevention programs, including loan principal reduction, to see what helps in-trouble homeowners most effectively. The resolution established an interdepartmental team of City staff and their final report comes to Council this June. Taking over the Council's housing policy portfolio I'm committed to helping more people and helping them faster.

The staff team has spent the past few months meeting with stakeholders, researching case law and model programs, and poring over statistics from existing foreclosure prevention programs in Washington (and there are many) to see what works, what doesn't, and what could be scaled up to help more in-trouble Seattle home owners stay in their homes.

One big challenge facing homeowners (and those of us trying to help) is that the circumstances of every foreclosure are a little different and the requirements of the local, state and federal assistance programs are different depending upon the type of foreclosure they were built to address.

Underwater (meaning your home is worth less than what you owe the bank but still current in payments)? Programs Green, Blue and Purple could help.

Fell behind because of a medical crisis or the death of your spouse? Program Red might be able to step in and get you on track.

Underwater and you've received a trusteeship notice from the bank? Program Orange might be for you. Oh, except that you stopped paying (because the bank told you only people 90 days off their payments could be considered for a loan adjustment) and you are now more than 90 days delinquent. Program Orange is prohibited from helping you.

Worse, have you been given the run-around by a faceless voice on the phone; been told "no" without a real hearing?

Fundamentally, we need to get people connected to programs that will be effective for their situation. Many people have advocated for the City to use its power of eminent domain to condemn the in-trouble mortgages and then refinance for the people to be able to stay in their home. This sounds attractive at a gut-level, but at a legal level the approach promises to help only law firms hired to litigate the question for years.

The stories people have told in committee about their experiences speaking with banks, dialing for help and literally begging to stay in their homes are wrenching. The biggest immediate takeaway for me is that no one should attempt to go through any of this without a professional advocate. If you or someone you know is experiencing the threat of foreclosure, please contact the Seattle Office of Housing to get connected with the right foreclosure prevention programs. Counselors and lawyers can help you renegotiate mortgage payments with lenders, provide stabilization loans of up to $5,000, in some cases reduce the total loan amount, and be a great advocate for you through the whole process.

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Market Luncheon

Ringing the bell to signal the start of the Care for the Market Luncheon. The event raises money to support housing, health care, education, and meal programs around Pike Place Market.

YouthCare update

Every year the Seattle/King County Coalition to End Homelessness holds a Youth Advocacy Summit. Every year a group of homeless young people sits with me and presents their ideas and dreams for better services and a better life. One of things I hear consistently is the need for safe, supportive youth-only space; space that provides a safe place to sleep, showers, somewhere to store belongings, connections to job training, help navigating a complicated social services system, and a chance to start to trust other people again. For some the only alternative is the street and the risk of predation that comes with that.

YouthCare's James W. Ray Orion Center on Denny Way might be the best known of the safe youth places in Seattle. When they were at risk of cutting back shelter nights for young adults last year (they would have dropped from seven nights a week to five and served fewer young people each night because of an expiring grant), Councilmembers stepped up to maintain safe youth shelter in the 2014 budget.


Youth Center

Photo courtesy of YouthCare.

 

I checked in recently with YouthCare to see how the shelter is operating as a result of this funding. Jody Waits, YouthCare's director of Development and Communications, told us that in addition to keeping the shelter open "leadership from the City helped to leverage additional significant support from King County. This combined investment also helped to galvanize private citizens who were worried about the youth of our community if the shelter closed operations." (A shout out to John Pehrson and the great residents of Mirabella in South Lake Union who have taken on YouthCare as one of their causes.)

Jody shared two stories of young people who benefited from the shelter.

Kelly was seven months pregnant and sleeping outside, downtown. She had become homeless after aging out of the foster care system three years earlier. She was leery of committing to transitional housing options because the environment brought up traumatizing memories of her teen years. As her due-date came closer, the team supporting her and her unborn child became even more fervent in their efforts to help her get off the street and find security. She confided that she'd felt safe at Orion and would commit to coming to the Young Adult Shelter. Having a consistent and safe bed at Orion also gave Kelly's support team daily, supportive interactions with her and ensured they could help her get to her doctor's appointments. This "test run" at a group living situation gave her the courage to move to transitional housing for young mothers. Her baby was born just a few days later and both are healthy and doing extremely well in their new living environment.

Kevin was struggling with addiction and an untreated psychiatric condition. Three months ago, in the midst of a psychotic break, he damaged property and was facing serious criminal charges. The team at the Young Adult Shelter were able to get Kevin linked to a chemical dependency counselor at Orion and further help him navigate the court system. The court referred Kevin to the King County Center for Alternatives Program. Most important, Kevin discovered his strength and was tapped to serve in the Youth Leadership program while at YAS, guaranteeing him a bed seven nights a week while in the program. He maintained perfect attendance and consistently followed through on meetings with his chemical dependency counselor and psychiatrist and has been clean and sober for over a month.

These are stories of fragility and damage, trust and accountability. There's still so much work to be done. The "Count Us In" Project - King County's Point-in-time Count of Homeless and Unstably Housed Young People -- counted 779 "unstably housed" young people in January of this year: 303 in transitional housing; 193 at risk of losing housing; 159 in shelters; and 124 unsheltered. Fifty one percent were young people of color, and 22% identified as LGBTQ. We need to continue to fund programs like YouthCare that provide shelter and we also need to continue to invest in coordinated systems of support that make sure a young person isn't lost in the larger adult system.

Thank you to all of you who step up for young people in our city every day.

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Random thoughts

Better luck next season -- End of the State Session

For the first time in the past couple of years the State Legislature ended the session on time, March 14. And that might be the best we can say about this past session.

The results of the 2014 session are mixed, at best. I was down in Olympia four times during session and on the phone and e-mail with legislators several times to advocate for city needs. My sense of the mood - no one on either side of the partisan aisle expected much of the other side, and so that's pretty much what we got (with the exception of the DREAM Act).

I think State lawmakers have the toughest job of any electeds. This session seemed to prove that day after day. A few of the subjects where we had hoped for better:

Transportation
Another session, another failed attempt at a transportation package. No new money for big capital projects and no State help with public transportation in King County. That's a big loss for those of us who use the buses regularly.

Funding for Homeless Services
When you purchase or refinance a home, you pay "document recording fees," specifically $40 to fund services that work to prevent and end homelessness. Those fees were set to expire this year and things looked bad after a Senate side committee chair quickly closed a meeting intentionally leaving the bill extending the life of the fees dead. In the final hour of the session, the Legislature extended these fees for another four years and required a portion of the money collected be spent on private sector projects. We'll see if this truly helps with the production of truly affordable housing.

Rental Screening Fees
Anyone looking for a place to rent in a competitive rental market knows that the cost of even applying for an apartment can add up quickly. This legislation would have allowed tenants to pay for just one screening report and provide that report to multiple prospective landlords. This would have saved everyone money and time. Unfortunately, the bill died.

Marijuana
We were hoping that Olympia would come up with a way to make sure the medical and recreational marijuana programs work together so that patients will have legal access to affordable medicine. Despite a number of good-start bills, deep conversations, and committed advocates, the legislature did not pass a bill reconciling the two systems. This means we'll likely to have to revisit the legislation Seattle passed requiring medical marijuana producers and providers to get licensed by the state.

Eight months until next session.


State House

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