Point of View
December 2005 - Issue No. 17
2005 Year in Review
from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen
At the end of this month, I will reach the mid-point of my first term on the City Council. It is hard to believe it has already been two years! I have enjoyed visiting every part of the city, listening to you and working on many of your priorities. This past year has been productive and I will share a few highlights.
In 2004, when we were mired in a recession, I focused on protecting our low-income and working families who were harmed the most by the downturn in the economy. I rejected proposed cuts to health clinics, homeless youth programs and services for elderly people living in public housing. I led the passage of a bill protecting consumers from misleading and costly tax refund loans; co-sponsored legislation repealing the car-impound ordinance that disproportionately impacted low-income people; and opposed the closure of the downtown outdoor meals program.
This year, with the first signs of economic recovery, I focused on three key areas: strengthening services that allow seniors to live with dignity and independence; implementing innovative programs to reduce homelessness; and making health care affordable for Seattle's residents. My colleagues and I made progress on these goals and I intend to keep these priorities at the forefront of the Council's agenda.
The last several months have been consumed with reviewing the 2006 City Budget. With significant cuts in City services made in previous years, I sought to restore funding for critical programs. The budget is where the Council can make the most significant difference in shaping the direction and priorities of Seattle.
Thank you for your continued interest. It has been a privilege to represent you the last two years. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Housing, Human Services and Health Committee
In this issue:
Making Investments to Help Seniors Live in their Homes with Dignity and Independence
One of the first calls I received when I took office in January, 2004 was from an elderly woman who I had met on the campaign. I will call her "Esther". Esther was on the verge of losing her home and asked for help.
She was likely a victim of predatory lending; she was very low income and said she couldn't find work and her family was not able to help her. I immediately called the lending bank to intervene but it was too late. Esther lost her home. She moved out of the City and lives with relatives who themselves are struggling financially.
This was a heart-wrenching experience. If only I had known earlier, maybe I could have found resources to help Esther keep her home in the Central Area. I am working to identify ways Seattle can help seniors remain independent and in their homes. Often it takes only a small amount of assistance.
Many people mistakenly believe that since the federal government significantly funds services for older adults, the responsibility therefore lies only with Congress and the Administration. But federal support is decreasing in critical areas. With the support of my colleagues, I've steadily increased our support and programming for seniors who are struggling to live in Seattle.
The reality is that the increasing number of people who are becoming elderly is significant. In 2000, there were roughly 85,000 seniors (60+) representing 15% of our total population. By 2025, that number is expected to nearly double to 27%. We need to take the necessary steps today for the benefit of older adults in our community tomorrow.
Here are some highlights of where I took the initiative to create or expand needed services for seniors in 2005:
- Added $25,000 to support the Minor Home Repair program which assists seniors with everything from building wheel chair ramps to fixing leaking toilets.
- Required the addition of one police detective for elder abuse investigations. This is a growing problem in Seattle with elder abuse caseloads tripling since 2000.
- Initiated a new Emergency Utility Assistance Program to help low-income seniors and families who have received water shut-off notices.
- Added $75,000 in funding to expand the Age 55+ Employment Resource Center to help older adults obtain livable wage jobs.
- Added $200,000 in the budget for grocery delivery services to homebound seniors and people with disabilities.
- Added $100,000 to support our Senior Centers.
By making these investments today, we will save dollars in the future. Helping seniors stay in their homes and promoting healthy aging helps avoid the costs associated with older adults becoming homeless and expensive health care.
I hope through the work of the Council, we won't have to take many more calls like the one I received from Esther.
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Each year the City invests more than $25 million to prevent homelessness or to help people who are homeless. Emergency shelters, food programs, vocational training and counseling are all offered to help those who are homeless become self-sufficient. Recently, officials, homeless advocates and service providers throughout King County adopted a plan and made a commitment to end homelessness within ten years. This is an ambitious goal. In order to be successful we have to start changing the way we solve this very complex problem.
We have to find ways to help people obtain the supportive services, including health care and financial assistance, they need to get off the streets and move out of our shelters into permanent housing.
Next month, we will break ground on a new comprehensive homeless service center in downtown Seattle. I've been working to build "Connections" (the name of the homeless center) since late last year. It has been a complicated process that has included a lengthy debate over siting the new center, developing the types of services to be offered and working with local residents and business owners to address their concerns.
Once the center opens in April, homeless men will have a place to shower, wash their clothes, get a meal, receive drug and alcohol assistance and be provided assistance to find housing. Creating a homeless services center has been a dream of many City Councilmembers for years. By creating a centralized location for homeless services, we will be taking a giant step forward toward ending homelessness in our community.
If you would like to learn more about the homeless service center, please visit www.desc.org
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Affordable Land Program
More than 91,000 households in Seattle have housing costs greater than 30% of their income. We need new strategies to provide more affordable housing.
One of the biggest barriers is the rising cost of land. Seattle's hot real estate market is making it difficult for all developers, including non-profit housing developers, to secure land for housing.
That's why earlier this year, I met with a representative from the Enterprise Foundation, a national non-profit organization, to discuss creating a program which could make as much as $50 million available for an affordable housing land acquisition program. The Enterprise Foundation has created similar partnerships with the City of Portland and New York City by making low-interest loans to local non-profit organizations to secure land now and develop affordable housing later when the funds become available for construction. This month, the City Council approved legislation requesting that such a program be developed by March 1, 2006. This is an exciting opportunity and I'm looking forward to sharing more details with you next year.
To learn more about this effort and view the legislation I sponsored, visit http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/RESN1.htm and type "30822" in the "Resolution No." field.
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Taking Steps to Improve Health Care
In November, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved (with 70% of the vote) an advisory ballot measure requesting the City take steps to improve access to health care for everyone. This result confirms that the cost and quality of health care is a concern for people throughout the city. Real health care reform needs to happen at the federal level, but the ball has to start rolling locally. My objective in sponsoring the advisory measure was to give Seattle residents a voice in this debate and raise awareness regarding how we can improve the health of our community.
This fall, during our budget process Councilmember Richard Conlin and I advocated for increased funding of our Community Health Clinics. These clinics provide primary and dental care to low income families and individuals. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been cut from our clinics due to budget constraints. This year, we were successful in adding $275,000 to our current $5.3 million investment in these services. With nearly 50,000 people in Seattle without health insurance, it is absolutely critical that we do what we can to meet the needs of these individuals. If we do not fund the clinics, people will go to our much more expensive hospital emergency rooms.
Two health service organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people Gay City Health Project (GCHP) and Verbena have agreed to co-locate office and program space in a building on Capitol Hill. The Council supported my request to appropriate $75,000 for this project which will reduce the costs for both organizations and improve services to the community. The new center will open in April of 2006.
Finally, there is growing disparity in health because of race and income. For instance, while the total adolescent birth rate has declined in Seattle in the last several years, the birth rates are increasing within Hispanic/Latino population. Infant mortality rates are nearly 11% higher for Native Americans than Caucasians. Given the health disparities, I am developing a proposal for a new "healthy communities opportunity fund" next year that could make city dollars available for innovative approaches to closing the gap of some of these health disparities. This could be an opportunity to look at creative new strategies to tackle our local health problems.
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2006 Budget Highlights
Since the last newsletter, the Council has been working on the 2006 City Budget. This was the first year since 2002 that the City saw a favorable revenue projection. The Council was able to restore basic services that were reduced when revenue declined.
I approached the budget with three guiding principles. First, I sought to restore cuts that were made to vital programs reduced in previous years. Then, I sought funding for community organizations which brought compelling cost effective new requests to the Council. And finally I advocated for a sustainable budget should Seattle experience a revenue shortfall in the future.
The results were a 2006 budget, which funds more police officers and firefighters, new sidewalks and street repair, a new hygiene center for the homeless and $18.5 million in transportation priorities. Also, approved were:
- $2 million for social services to fund homeless shelter beds, food delivery, and health clinics;
- $2.5 million to purchase materials and keep the libraries open longer;
- $1 million for planning for transit options between West Seattle and Ballard and for a potential catastrophic failure of State Route 520;
- $400,000 for a pilot project that links people who commit "street crimes" with mental-health, substance-abuse and employment programs;
- $3 million for street paving, bridge maintenance and other transportation priorities;
- $900,000 to the City's Rainy-Day fund that brings the fund's total to $4.5 million;
- $250,000 to build a new skateboard facility in Lower Woodland Park;
This budget responds to requests and recommendations we heard from the public and addresses the basic needs of our city that the were not able to be met in the past few years.
I would like to thank all my colleagues on the Council for their work during the last few months. In particular, I want to acknowledge Councilmember Richard McIver for his leadership as chair of the Budget Committee.
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