Rent & Taxes

Fun fact: I listen to KUOW's Week in Review even when I'm not on the air! I sometimes want to interject, but then remember I'm not in the fishbowl with everyone else. Sigh. 

This last week, the panel included Brier Dudley from the Seattle Times (along with the amazing Sydney Brownstone and C.R. Douglas). Sound Transit 3 came up, and so did the property tax portion. Mr. Dudley got in a "question" about rents going up, the impact on homelessness, and something to the effect of "so don't property taxes cause rents to go up faster?" This was one of those instances where I wanted to interject. But since I couldn't, I decided to talk a little bit about taxes here, WHERE MINE IS THE ONLY VOICE!!!

First and foremost - all renters are paying property taxes. Sure, they're not writing the check, but through rents to the property owners, those property owners are using rents to pay property taxes. 

Now, let's look at some numbers. For good measure, I'm going to use my apartment building as an example. Currently, my building - in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle - is assessed at just over $14,000,000. There are 55 apartment units in my building. Because multi-family rental properties are assessed as commercial properties, there isn't a per-unit assessment (like condos have), so I'm going to just even things out, and say my basement apartment is worth as much as the top-level apartments with a city view. So my unit would be valued at $255,000. 

Earlier this year, three property taxes (beyond the general tax) came online in Seattle - Move Seattle, Honest Elections, and the Seattle Park District. Combined, these tax increases added $5,623.20 to the property tax bill for my building, or $102.24 per unit, per year. Or $8.52 per month. This year, we have already approved the Seattle Housing Levy, adding $1,755.60 to the building's taxes, or $31.92 per year per unit. That's $2.66 per month. Combined with the 2016 taxes, $11.18 of my rent, per month, will be due to tax increases in 2017. 

Bring in Sound Transit 3. Billed as this massive tax, the property tax portion is $0.25 per $1,000 of assessed value. So, assuming ST3 passes, my building will see a tax bill increase, based on current assessment, of about $3,506 per year. $63.75 per year per unit, or $5.31 per month. Combined, property tax levy lid lifts in Seattle will account for an increase of $16.49 per month, cumulative over two years. To me, that is definitely manageable. 

But what will my actual rent increase be? 

Well, in 2016, my rent went up by $100 per month. This followed an increase of $100 per month in 2015, along with a requirement to purchase renter's insurance. So while taxes went up modestly (actually down in 2015), insurance costs actually decreased for my building. Inflationary pressures for landscapers and on-site management should be factored in, but it is highly unlikely that all combined amount to 8% increase in year-over-year costs for the building owner. In fact, assuming all units not occupied by on-site managers went up by $100 per month (that's my understanding), the building saw an increase in revenue from rents of $64,800 this year, and the same the year before. Not bad for a building built in 1994, and last sold in the early 2000's. 

So, Mr. Dudley, to address your concern - ST3 is not going to cause rents to increase and lead to more homelessness. The 2016 levy lid lifts will be responsible, in fact, for just $7.97 per month of a rent increase in my building, which is in a pretty highly assessed neighborhood. (As I understand, the actual average value of a rental unit in Seattle is closer to $200,000). 

What is leading to massive rent increases: housing being treated as a commodity, and subject to market pressures. My building isn't increasing rents by 8% per year because of taxes, but because the market allows it. And mine is one of the nicer ones. We're not getting slapped with $350 per month rent increases to clear out and make room as longer-term renters. I appreciate that. 

The steps we as a city can take to reduce the massive rent increases: allow for more housing, and more housing types, while implementing commercial linkage fees and mandatory housing affordability measures. Ensuring downward pressure on the market through "missing middle" housing, mother-in-law and backyard units being allowed (and support through low-interest loans for conversions from the city), and lifting building height limits near light rail stations - and snagging as much MHA as possible - are all part of the solution. 

Passing Sound Transit 3 - or Regional Prop. 1 - is also crucial. With requirements that air rights go primarily to affordable housing, we can take more steps to ensure a more affordable city and to invest in future infrastructure that is good for transit, livability, and our environment. 

Some landlords will try to tell renters that passage of ST3 (or any property tax measure) will lead to massive rent increases. But that just isn't the case. Lack of enough housing units and types leads to massive rent increases. Increased property taxes just means more investment in our communities, and a marginally decreased profit for landlords. I'll take that investment!

A Tale in Pierce County

Elections matter. But they only matter when people are given the opportunity to participate. Are invited to be part of our electoral process, and provided the resources and education necessary to make an informed decision.

Enter our Secretary of State, and County Auditors (plus the King County Elections Director). As the folks in charge of voting systems, these folks have some jobs to do. Design and mail ballots, provide ballot drop boxes, voter guides, and instructions on how to return a ballot. Hell, there's a controlling RCW on this last point:

The voter must be instructed to either return the ballot to the county auditor no later than 8:00 p.m. the day of the election or primary, or mail the ballot to the county auditor with a postmark no later than the day of the election or primary.

RCW 29A.40.091(4) (emphasis added). 

In fact, this duty is so important, that failure to do so knowingly is a class C felony (RCW 29A.84.720) punishable by a sentence of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000 (RCW 9A.20.021(C)). Additionally, anyone who commits this crime shall forfeit their office (29A.84.720). 

In comes Julie Anderson, the current Pierce County Auditor. And this insert that was sent to voters in Pierce County - the second most populous county in Washington, and a swing county:

As can be seen, something is not right here. While the statute clearly states that the "mail by" deadline to voters is "postmarked by the day of the election," this instructional insert implies to voters that if they don't mail by November 4, their ballots will not be counted. When coupled with the the refusal to provide a ballot drop-box in Tillicum - a community with a large non-white population, and many low-income households, this appears to be voter suppression of people who are more likely to vote a Democratic ticket. 

When confronted with this pretty egregious error, the Pierce County Auditor has dug in. The office is refusing to mail out corrected instructions, continues to refuse to provide ballot drop boxes in many low-income communities that lack adequate transit service, and, as of this moment, has not even provided a correction on the landing page of the office's website. 

Of course, we thankfully have a statewide chief elections officer. Our Secretary of State clearly would be stepping in to call foul, and demand that the Pierce County Auditor do her job pursuant to the law. I mean, c'mon! This is literally a felony. So, being the persistent (or annoying) bugger I am, I asked the Secretary of State's office, via Twitter, their take (they have a very active Twitter account). The response:

That's right. The state's main elections office believes that telling voters mail-in ballots are due in the mail by 11/4 is a "practical deadline," even though it is a blatant violation of the law. 

I mean, I get it. Our current elected Secretary of State is the only statewide elected Republican. As a member of Trump's GOP, she's gotta be watching out for ways to suppress progressive voter turnout. See, in Washington, 50-70% of votes aren't cast until the final weekend of voting. And these late voters tend to be much more progressive and much more likely to vote for Democrats, for sensible gun laws, and for raising the minimum wage. These are things Republicans in Washington don't want. While Kim Wyman's Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is complaining about voter fraud, Kim Wyman is supporting voter suppression. 

Luckily, we have a candidate for Secretary of State who would rather enfranchise voters. Someone who has committed to more ballot drop boxes in low-income communities, on reservations, and college campuses. A candidate who wants to work with Auditors on ways to increase voter participation, not suppress turnout with illegal tactics. Plus a lot of great ideas on how to streamline the LLC and non-profit registration portals in Washington to better serve our small businesses and social justice organizations. 

I was voting for Tina Podlodowski for Secretary of State already. But the voter suppression team of Kim Wyman and Julie Anderson has me even more excited, and has me reminding my friends and family of the importance of firing Kim Wyman, and hiring Tina Podlodowski, who will be a true leader on voter engagement, participation, and activation in Washington State. 


FINALLY - ballots are in the mail, which means we all have a chance to get our ballots turned in, and stop the mail, phone calls, etc. etc. This year is a particularly rough election - a blatant racist leading the Republican ticket, and a strong leader who is trashed because she's a woman crushing it in a man's world is poised to make history. Locally, the SPI race has gotten weird, the local Congressional race is getting hot, and there are five billion ballot measures. 

I've been listening to a lot of Spearhead and Arrested Development recently. Amazing music for reflection and remembering what priorities should be - us, not me. With that, I've more or less come to conclusions on who I'm voting for, and for those who might ask (all four of you), here are my picks on your ballot:

Priority Races

Hillary Clinton & Tim Kaine - President/Vice President. Duh. I admit - I'm super excited to vote for Hillary Clinton. And not because the opposition is a horrible human being, but because Clinton has such an amazing history of public service, with a particular emphasis on access to health care, education, and opportunity for those neglected by the system - kids, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, immigrant communities, and so on. People don't like that she keeps her private life private. Eff that noise. When she's under the weather, that's none of our damn business. She's effective, a proven leader, and is going to be a damn fine President. Let's give her a mandate to totally crush it for her first term, shall we?

Brady Walkinshaw - Congress, CD-7. This race pits two people I greatly respect and like against each other. Never a comfortable place to be. But the opportunity to elect the first LGBTQ member of Congress from Washington, the first Democratic person of color, and someone who would be the youngest Democratic member of Congress - with a solid track record of results on progressive issues makes the choice a little easier. That Brady was bold enough to challenge an incumbent, and has been bold enough to support challengers to incumbents in other races (*ahem* Maddux 2015 *ahem*) before it's the cool thing to do makes it even easier. Bold and effective leadership is what I want from my Congressperson, and I believe that Brady will deliver. 

Tina Podlodowski - Secretary of State. Tina has been a friend and someone always willing to give advice for years, and when she first told me she was considering taking on the Republican incumbent in this race, the first thing I said was: what would you do if elected? And she blew my mind. Expanding access to voting, more drop-boxes, and coordination between the SoS and elections departments across the state to boost turnout? Totally boss. But beyond the most visible part of the job, Tina was prepared to talk about the part of the position that deals with registration and licensing for small businesses across Washington. A desire to make it a less onerous process and to partner with county and municipal governments to foster Washington's entrepreneurial spirit is a good thing. Tina is hella rad, and I'm looking forward to her innovative approach to the office. 

Sound Transit 3 - YES! It's no secret that I am not a fan of regressive taxes. However, our region's failure to pass the transit portions of the Forward Thrust measures in 1968 and 1970 have put us so far behind on transportation infrastructure that we are not meeting the goals we could be on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The cost of this investment isn't going down. A large, bold plan means a better future for ourselves and future generations, and Sound Transit has shown it is an agency able to effectively use taxpayer dollars. 

Nicole Macri - State House, LD 43, Pos. 1. Nicole is a certified badass. She has a strong track record of advocacy for families experiencing poverty, and doing so effectively. She's wicked smart, and will be someone we can all be proud to call our Representative - bold, willing to take a stand, but also able to get good things done. There's a reason pretty much everyone supports her, and a big win for Nicole will be a big win for meaningful solutions to homelessness, and a strong partner for Seattle in Olympia. 

All races are important, and here are the rest of my personal recommendations

U.S. Senate - Patty Murray
U.S. Congress, CD1 - Suzan DelBene
U.S. Congress, CD9 - Adam Smith
Governor - Jay Inslee
Lt. Governor - Cyrus Habib
Superintendent of Public Instruction - No recommendation. I like both candidates. Both have their flaws (real or imagined). Groups and people I respect are on both sides. I haven't made up my mind what I'll do in this race. 
Lands Commissioner - Hillary Franz (Rock. Star.)
Auditor - Pat McCarthy
Treasurer - Duane Davidson. It used to be SoS was the GOP we could all vote for. Now it's the Treasurer!
Insurance Commissioner - Mike Kreidler (Rock. Star.)
Attorney General - Bob Ferguson (Rock. Star.)
WA Supreme Court - Mary Yu, Barbara Madsen, & Charlie Wiggins
1st LD Senate - Guy Palumbo
5th LD Senate - Mark Mullet 
5th LD House - Jason Ritchie & Darcy Burner
30th LD House - Mike Pellicciotti & Kristene Reeves
41st LD Senate - Lisa Wellman (Rock. Star.)
41st LD House - Tana Senn & Judy Clibborn
43rd LD House Pos. 2 - Frank Chopp (Super Duper Rock Star!!!)

King County Superior Court:
Pos. 14 - Nicole Gaines Phelps
Pos. 26 - David Keenan
Pos. 31 - Helen Halpert
Pos. 44 - I'm likely to stick with Eric Newman, but Cathy Moore has really impressed me with her campaign focus on racial equity in the justice system. This is one of those rare win/win situations for a judicial race. 
Pos. 52 - Anthony Gipe
Pos. 53 - Marianne Spearman

*nap time*

The rest of the ballot measures:

I-1433 (minimum wage) - YES!
I-1464 - No recommendation
I-1491 (ERPO) - YES!
I-1501 (Seniors and identity theft) - YES!
I-732 (Carbon tax) - No
I-735 (Citizens United) - Sure, why not!

Advisory Vote 14 + 15 - Maintain (these are so damned dumb)

Seattle I-124 (health, safety, and labor standards for hotel workers) - YES!

King County Charter Amendment #1 (removing Party preference for prosecutor) - NO. All offices are inherently partisan. Removing party preference allows Republicans to hide behind "nonpartisanship," and can be especially bad in down-ballot races. Our incumbent Republican prosecutor may be a moderate, but who knows what we will get when he retires. 

King County Charter Amendment #2 (Gender-neutral language) - YES!


Moving Beyond Encampments (or why Pathways Home is mostly a good move)

I am hopeful that we might be done with talk about encampments for awhile. If everyone is willing to cast aside credit-taking, we are in a good position for a more humane approach to sweeps in Seattle. I'm sure the fight will boil up again after budget season - and whether to codify into the SMC how we treat folks living in tents, but on the whole, the new system is a huge step. 

We still are a city polarized on this issue. There are still folks who seem to think that people choose to be homeless. Folks that ignore the data that shows a completely different reality when we look at initial causes of homelessness. And yes - there remain some folks who are in the throes of addiction, and this may be more prominent among those who are chronically homeless. As I've said before - when I have a bad day, I go home and have a glass or two or wine (or a couple beers). I can't imagine what it's like living without safe shelter, especially during the cold and wet months. But I can empathize with self-medicating. 

BUT - now is the time we get to talk about the next steps we are taking as a city and region to address homelessness. Continuing to spend time arguing about why folks are living in tents is time that could be better spent on moving people from tents to stable housing.

Enter the Pathways Home Initiative. With a focus on identifying and moving folks from homeless to house, adopting Housing First, and recognizing that each person and family requires an individualized approach, Pathways Home is a huge step in the right direction. 

There are some valid concerns about funding priorities, particularly with moving away from transitional housing and toward rapid rehousing. As I read the proposal, there appears to be room to continue transitional housing, but emphasis being placed on identifying individuals and families that would benefit from rapid rehousing vouchers in the private market. Erica C. Barnett has a fantastic write-up on this over at The C Is For Crank. Notably, a major barrier to rapid rehousing being successful in the Seattle area is the cost of housing in the private market. What is working in areas where the average cost for a one-bedroom is less than half of what it is in Seattle is basically the equivalent of an apples to oranges comparison. 

That said, if there are households that don't require the full wrap-around services of transitional housing, this is an opportunity to better target limited funding and serve more individuals and families. While we are facing the possibility of Democrats retaking the U.S. and State Senates, actual funding increases for affordable housing from the Federal and State level are going to take time. 

As noted above, one of the biggest obstacles that we will see for rapid rehousing to be successful in the Puget Sound region is skyrocketing rents. While we hear about this issue loudest in Seattle, it is a regional issue. We are seeing more and more good jobs coming to our region, but we are not keeping pace with housing for folks moving to our region. Unsurprisingly, that is causing what would historically be "naturally" affordable housing - older units - to spike in rent, and home ownership is becoming further and further out of reach for so many.

Displacement is a real risk that we see with significant new development. New construction is not designed to be affordable. In Seattle, we are taking significant steps to get some affordability out of new development. Whether through the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) for workforce housing (80% Area Median Income (AMI)), or commercial linkage plus Mandatory Housing Affordability, combined with public investment, we are creating and in position to preserve homes that are affordable to workers at 60% or below AMI, as well. Our city is taking pretty bold steps to address and mitigate displacement

Displacement is also a real risk we see if we do nothing. It is not just due to new construction. One area where rents are continuing to move up something fierce in the region are existing multi-family units. People are moving to Seattle. That's something that cannot be stopped. Absent housing to cover the influx of new residents, existing units will see their rents go up. As a society, we have decided that housing as a commodity is acceptable, and this is the result. 

While there have been calls for rent control, the reality is that we won't see that happen anytime soon. Instead, we must acknowledge that we need more housing, and more housing types. If we are going to pin more fees on developers (not a bad thing), then we have to be cognizant of Dolan v. City of Tigard, and the series of court rulings regarding the trade-off governments must give when requiring impact fees (and, let's be honest - MHA is an impact fee of a sort). 

The University District is the current ground zero for this potential move. Just this week, the Mayor's office - with support of seven council members - added additional rules and fees associated with the rezoning proposed for the U-District. While there continue to be concerns expressed against allowing for taller buildings right around the Brooklyn Ave light rail station, the fact that the station is opening means, without requirements otherwise or a plan to mitigate displacement, folks are going to be priced out of the U-District. 

With leadership from Council Member Rob Johnson and Mayor Ed Murray, we are actually seeing a plan put into motion that will have a positive mitigation impact. Combining Housing Levy, Housing Trust Fund, linkage fee, and MHA dollars, with a focus on preserving multifamily housing in and near the U-District, we can move forward to build the housing that new residents need, while preserving and growing the affordable stock for low and moderate income folks who are just as important to the fabric of our communities. 

This extends to small businesses, as well. Will commercial rents increase with more people living and working in the U-District? Probably. One of the best ways to counter that is through increased foot traffic. Here we will see a great opportunity for the Office of Economic Development to provide additional support to ensure that the small businesses along the Ave and surrounding streets continue to thrive. 

There remain additional steps that should be taken to ensure livability. Public spaces, design standards that maintain walkability (which may mean taller, skinnier buildings), and personalized support for those most at risk of homelessness during transitional phases of development should be considered in the overall planning of the U-District. 

But what happens if we do nothing? The displacement risk is even greater. Rents will go up. And the landlords that are choosing to not increase - or only increase a little bit year over year - aren't going to live forever. By implementing MHA - which must include height increases - and planning concurrently with MFTE and Housing Levy funds, units that will be affordable for generations will be produced, as opposed to existing units losing their affordability.

Pathways Home is going to require we do something to stabilize rents generally, and create more rent-restricted units of housing. And part of doing something means ensuring that enough homes are being built for new residents, allowing for enough to be built and preserved for low-income residents. 

The next hearing on the U-District proposal is on November 16. Learn more about the proposal, and think about what you think should be part of the plan. Then commit to either attending and testifying, or writing your council member. 

Ultimately, the solution to our homelessness crisis and affordability crisis is so multi-faceted that there is no silver bullet. But there is silver buckshot, and with an eye on social justice and housing justice, the plans our city moves forward with can make a very positive impact on affordability, having a direct impact on homelessness. 

Actually, Yes - Safe Housing is a Human Right

Seattle, we have a problem. A few dozen or so of our housed neighbors - claiming to represent "thousands" of Seattleites - showed up to the City Council Human Services Committee meeting today. "Housing is not a right," a fair amount espoused. We could replace the phrase "the homeless" with "Muslims" in many of the statements made by these folks, and it would have basically been repeating Donald Trump (albeit slightly more coherently). 

The rallying cry this time around: We don't want the homeless camping in any parks! Fanning the flames: Seattle's current administration sending out a map outlining where encampments could not be swept, in their opinion, under one of the current proposals to end inhumane sweeps before Council. The problem: the administration 100% misinformed and stoked fears in the public, and used the media to make it worse. All of that hatred of our neighbors experiencing homelessness falls at the feet of the 7th Floor. Congrats. 

Of course, the legislation in question doesn't actually open up all parks and public spaces to camping. Rather, as amended, it would direct the administration and the various department heads to promulgate rules to determine where there are "acceptable" and "unacceptable" places for people living in tents to exist. The only way that would include parks or park-adjacent locations would be if the administration identified those as "acceptable" places. I imagine that would be highly unlikely - especially given the clear statement from the Mayor that "we can't have people in our parks, we can't have people on our sidewalks." (and by "people," referring to unsheltered people living in tents). 

(Separately - I'm not convinced that non-active use park spaces are in any way ideal for encampments, anyway. Often that means far from services, transit, etc. I think there are places that are better options for this short-term, band-aid measure)

During public comment, there were a fair amount of folks calling for a "real solution" to homelessness. Some even cited to the Pathways Home Initiative - which is going to do some great things. The Mayor should be applauded for this and the Navigation Center that he has been pushing through. But, as Xochitl Mayokovich pointed out during testimony, implementation and capital investment in all of these measures takes time. The Navigation Center is looking at a January opening (and will have 75 beds). Pathways Home is looking at a two year period before full implementation if done right. People without shelter need somewhere safe to sleep in the interim. 

But let's get back to the end game. Personally, I have had lengthy conversations around encampments with Council Members Burgess and Bagshaw. Council Member Johnson and I had a lot of conversations around homelessness throughout 2015. Hell, I've even had solid talks with Mayor Murray about human services and addressing homelessness from a policy perspective. I actually find we are in agreement on a lot of pieces of the overall puzzle. While I am appalled at some of the media tactics we have seen around this policy, I know that all of the players care deeply about this crisis, and want to see folks in housing, not in tents. Impugning the character of our elected officials misses this fact. 

To me, the end game must be getting people into permanent, affordable housing, and with the wrap-around services needed for those who need extra support. I hate the encampment fight because it has led to our City Council having to spend time on this legislation, and bringing up the hatred and vitriol from some members of our city against those experiencing homelessness. As we move forward with Pathways Home, we must end the process of "you can't be here," and instead have a "you can't be here, but you can be there" approach to unsanctioned encampments. And when we have real housing options, whether through vouchers, permanent supportive housing, etc., work to rapidly support helping people transition from tent to roof. 

Because as Council member O'Brien has stated again and again - people are not homeless by choice. There are many factors that are roots for the causes of homelessness that we are addressing in Seattle, from the minimum wage to worker rights that protect those most vulnerable of slipping into homelessness to our affordable housing levy and linkage fees on developers. We are working to end exclusionary zoning practices that drive up the cost of housing, and displace residents as their rents rise due to a lack of adequate housing stock and housing types. We also can't solve all of these issues alone. We are not an island, after all. The Federal and State governments have a lot of work to do. 

But none of the changes we need on any front are happening overnight. I am glad that the Mayor has moved forward with a proposal to adopt much of the ACLU bill into how we conduct sweeps. And I hope that we can move forward with the real, long-term solutions. Because one thing I do believe - having to sleep in a tent is unacceptable, and reflects a failure of us as a society. But until we have realistic housing options, until those are built and the procedures are in place, people need a safe place to sleep, to eat, to shit, and to exist. Because, despite what some folks during public comment said, we all do have a right to exist

About Those Encampments

The Seattle City Council deserves our congratulations. On Tuesday, September 6, they voted to do their job. Granted, this was over the protestations of the current administration, but frankly, this was a good move. 

At the end of 2015, a state of emergency was declared regarding our homelessness crisis in the Seattle area. Since then, we have continued to see more aggressive sweeping of people and their belongings, the million-dollar fence proposal, and much consternation about the process of how we do sweeps (politely referred to as "cleanups"). Time and again, our city council members have clearly stated that the current process - minimal notice and little to no meaningful outreach - is not working. 

But we're still doing it. The Seattle Times produced a great video that shows how these sweeps work, and the impacts they have on all parties involved. So, with no action on this component of the crisis, the ACLU, Columbia Legal Services, and other activist groups, proposed legislation to change the manner in which we conduct sweeps in Seattle. 

At the same time, the administration announced a task force - nearly a year after the emergency declaration - to review sweeps policies. Unsurprisingly, both sides went after the others' proposal. The administration trotted out the department heads to poo-poo on the legislation and demand that it not be considered, and to wait for the task force to make recommendations. The legislation proponents noted that we can't continue to delay while we further destroy people's lives. 

I'm with the proponents on this one. 

Photo Credit - KPLU

Photo Credit - KPLU

Task forces and special committees do not have a track record of completing their work on time in Seattle. Parks Legacy, Minimum Wage, HALA - all ran way past deadlines. Police reform continues to drag on (with the added support of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild doing everything they can to not be held accountable). We are entering the cold and wet season in Seattle, and continued delay on this policy helps nobody. 

The administration's actions against consideration of the ACLU/Columbia proposal is particularly interesting in that they seem to have forgotten how the legislative process works. By stoking fears that consideration and referring this piece of legislation to committee somehow just makes it law does a disservice to our entire city, and serves no purpose other than to advance a political agenda, with those living in tents being the pawns. 

If anything, having this legislation introduced to the committee process should make the task force more likely to complete their work on time. It's going to take time for the bill to come out of committee, and during that time, there will be amendments. By referring to committee, the City Council acknowledged that continued delay will not help people, and will not help neighborhoods. 

We know the current sweep process doesn't work, and I'm glad the City Council is going to get to the legislating portion. Crafting a policy that is humane, that addresses health and safety for all community members, and provides actual services is the right direction, and I look forward to seeing how the legislation will be ushered through the legislative process. 

Of course, encampments are not a solution to homelessness. Housing is. The worst thing that this whole fight could possibly do is distract from that fact, and that is a bigger issue that the council and region need to take up and address. The sooner we implement humane methods to address encampments in unsafe places, the sooner we can get to the more difficult real solutions. 

Post-LD Caucus Hangover?

If you have political friends on Twitter or Facebook in Washington State, then perhaps you heard about the Legislative District Caucuses that happened yesterday. Consensus: It was a mess. 

Having been the Area Coordinator for Eastlake, I felt particularly bad for the delegates elected from my area. In Eastlake, we started on time, on the dot, and ended after about a half hour. We were there to determine the proportion of delegates, and then elect delegates. We dispensed with the pomp and circumstance, began organizing by candidate early so that each side could reach out to undecideds, and limited speeches to two minutes per side. There are some people who are cool with an all-day event, but they (we) are in the minority, and should never force those who are first-time caucus-goers to a process laden caucus. On the whole, the 43rd went by pretty damn well. But with the demands from the State Party, the leadership was constrained in steps that could be taken to make it a more efficient experience for first-time caucus-goers.

43rd LD Caucus (not including Alternates and people waiting in the lobby) - Photo Credit: Colin Maloney

43rd LD Caucus (not including Alternates and people waiting in the lobby) - Photo Credit: Colin Maloney

The same could be said about the Legislative District Caucus. This is, frankly, a massive undertaking for LDs, and can always be expected to be messy. However, what happened yesterday across the state is something I have never seen (this is my third contested presidential caucus cycle). 

What doesn't help: the lack of support from the Washington State Democratic Party. Reports from all over the state that the State Party provided wrong information about delegates elected at the precinct level; provided no information about folks who pre-registered to run for delegate; provided no financial support to the LD organizations; provided no education for delegates about what to actually expect at the next level. 

In 2004, when I was a Dean delegate to the LD caucus in the 38th, we had a well run caucus and support from the State Party. 2008 I was a Clinton delegate to the LD caucus in the 37th. It took awhile, but the chaos didn't match what we saw yesterday (and remember: in 2008, more people caucused than 2016). Then there is this year. Three different State Party Chairs, three radically different experiences. 

So what should we do? Of course, the first response I hear is that we should go to a primary. As I have written before, absent Party registration, this is something I doubt the State Party will take up. Allowing non-Democrats to pick the leader of our Party would be like letting just anyone pick the leader of your local Federation of Eagles chapter, regardless of membership status. But that doesn't mean we can't take steps to improve the process and improve efficiency. What I would do:

  • Staff Up - Number one is staff up. This costs money - and that is something the State Party has that LDs don't. Get people in who are getting paid to process the paperwork coming in from the precinct level; regional folks to work with LDs on planning and executing a successful caucus; taking on tasks to make the lives of the volunteers that run the show easier - not constantly demanding more and more of volunteers. 
  • More Time - The amount of time between the precinct caucuses and the LD caucuses needs to be longer. It's clear that the State Party was ill prepared to make it work smoothly, and the LDs - who are all-volunteer organizations - need time to cool off and get ready. A two-month window would provide so much more support for the LDs than the current compressed schedule between the two biggest caucus events that the LDs have to run. 
  • Streamline the Rules - We are a private organization. Period. Craft rules through the rules committee, allow LDs to make necessary changes to specified areas with their own rules system, and have that be that. No amending the rules or the agenda from the floor. The LD Chair is the Caucus Chair. Period. Arriving at 1:00 and expect to be seated as a delegate? Nope! Candidates wish to address the caucus: better wait for downtime (and if you can't, too bad). 
  • Explain the Rules - Make clear early on to people where the rules are, and have a layman's system that explains how these translate into the process. The process is simple: Delegates arrive, where there are empty delegate seats, they are filled by alternates with the order of priority being (a) candidate support (b) gender (c) precinct. Also - give a primer on Robert's Rules with the most common terms that people will hear, and what that means. I (kind of) know this system, but most people don't. 
  • Explain the Process - Caucus starts at 1:00? Have people arrive by Noon to get registered. Set a cutoff time that allows credentials volunteers to finish signing everyone in so that the caucus can start on time, and allows them to cut off sign-in by, say, 12:30, so they can begin to assess the need for alternates. Making alternates wait for hours is unacceptable - they should have a good idea in advance how many will be needed so they can self-determine if they want to fight for that or head home. Make clear that this is going to be an all-day event - and let people be delighted when they finish early. 
  • Fewer Delegates - It's great that 1,300+ people are willing to come out on a Sunday afternoon to caucus. 650 would be much more manageable. Considering we elected just a small percentage to the next level, it is ridiculous that we have so many delegates elected from the precinct level to the LD level - both of which receive minimal (at best) State Party support. Slash that number in half. 
Sanders and Clinton Supporters working side by side in the 43rd counting delegate selection ballots - Photo credit - James Apa

Sanders and Clinton Supporters working side by side in the 43rd counting delegate selection ballots - Photo credit - James Apa

These are just some suggestions, compiled from things I heard from caucus-goers at the 43rd and 34th, as well as on social media. These are simple changes that would make the LD caucuses run more smoothly, provide support for the all-volunteer LD organizations, and make the caucuses less of the shit-show that we saw yesterday. Reports of caucus-goers booing candidates, repeatedly attempting to oust caucus chairs, and the long delay to get credentials is not Party building. 

I started my caucus day in the 43rd, as a Clinton delegate volunteering alongside Sanders delegates (and wrapping up around 6:00 p.m.). I ended in the 34th, and a Clinton delegate to the CD 7 caucus working alongside a Sanders staffer counting delegate selection ballots until 1:30 in the morning. We're all in this together, but absent meaningful change in the process, I can't guarantee we'll be around next time.