Week in Review: April 14, 2023 - with Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: April 14, 2023 - with Robert Cruickshank

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank! They start with updates on legislation covering housing, education funding, repeals of Eyman initiatives, and gender affirming care and the budget.

They continue with a chat about the upcoming end of the Department of Justice consent decree with the Seattle Police Department and the context surrounding it, as well as contention between Seattle City Council members over a proposal to limit late fees to $10.

Crystal and Robert finish with a discussion of how confusion and contention within and between organizations and a mismanaged budget may lead to hundreds of people being ousted from shelter.

About the Guest

Robert Cruickshank

Robert Cruickshank is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time communications & political strategist.

Find Robert Cruickshank on Twitter/X at @cruickshank.


Standing Up to the Status Quo with Bothell Mayor Mason Thompson from Hacks & Wonks

Final steps for Washington state's middle housing bill” by Joshua McNichols from KUOW

Proposed property tax cap hike angers Washington Senate GOP” by Spencer Pauley from The Center Square

VICTORY! Washington State House passes NPI's bill to repeal Tim Eyman's push polls” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate

Washington lawmakers buck trend of anti-trans bills” by Melissa Santos from Axios

Abolitionists and Reformers Agree on Something!” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

Council Committee Waters Down Bill to Cap Late Fees at $10 for Renters” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

As Homeless Agencies Bicker Over Blame, Time Runs Out for Hundreds Living in Hotels” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

No Clear Solution for Hotel Evictions After Chaotic Homelessness Board Meeting; Budget Decision Postponed” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed our Tuesday midweek show, I chatted with Bothell Mayor Mason Thompson about what got him engaged in public service, what issues are top of mind in Bothell, and how he approaches making meaningful change when the system is biased to keep things the same. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, today's co-host: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.

[00:01:22] Robert Cruickshank: Thank you Crystal for having me back - it's always a pleasure to review the week in Seattle with you.

[00:01:28] Crystal Fincher: Always a pleasure to have you on - very insightful and always on it. So we have a number of developments in the Legislature this week. We just passed another major cutoff. There are a lot of bills that survived, a lot of them that died - but we do have major news in a lot of different areas, including housing. What are the housing bill updates for the week?

[00:01:50] Robert Cruickshank: I think the big news this week is the Senate passed the missing middle housing bill, HB 1110. This is the bill that notoriously died last year, thanks in large part to the work of Representative Gerry Pollet. But ahead of this year's session, a pretty big coalition came together led by Representative Jessica Bateman in the House and Senator Yasmin Trudeau over on the State Senate side. They brought together a big coalition of people - from Amazon to the State Labor council, from builders to the Sierra Club, and a lot of people in between - to get this bill done. And focusing on the missing middle bill, it made it out of both chambers - House and Senate. They're gonna have to reconcile the versions, which aren't that different. It only took a few amendments that whittled down some of the scope, but not in any dramatic way. And so getting the missing middle housing bill out, which will allow duplexes, quadplexes, even more to be built around the Puget Sound region and around the state is a huge win for housing because it'll help address the housing shortage. It also helps begin to roll back the exclusionary racist zoning policies that have been created over the decades in the state. They create a lot of residential segregation and have fueled gentrification and displacement across the state. So getting HB 1110 out of the Senate is a big deal. There's hopefulness that it will sail through the concurrence process in the House and get signed by the governor soon.

So that's the good news on housing. But there's other news that is maybe less - anytime you deal with the Legislature, you get half a loaf at best, unfortunately. And Democrats started the session by talking about what they call the three S's of housing - supply, stability, and subsidy. So supply - building new housing - they've done some of that. HB 1110, like we talked about, passing out of the House and Senate is good news. But some other bills got whittled down. The House Housing Committee, for example, loaded down a transit-oriented development bill with a bunch of poison pill amendments to the point where that bill's probably not gonna pass. It might, but if it did, it would be under very weakened circumstances. But at least supply is moving forward in some degree. Stability - the ability to make sure people don't lose their housing due to rent increases - that's gone. California and Oregon in the last few years have both passed statewide caps on rent increases, but once again that bill died in Washington. And then subsidy. In order to get the most affordable housing, you have to subsidize it and you need government to do that. And Jay Inslee, the governor, came in at the beginning of the session with a bold proposal - a smart one - to have voters approve a $4 billion bond for affordable housing. Senate Democrats have said - No, we don't wanna do that. And they're left with a couple hundred million to build affordable homes, which is better than nothing, but in a era of high inflation and high land values, labor shortages - that's not gonna buy as much as $4 billion would. So while there was a lot to celebrate in this session around housing, especially the missing middle bill, there's also a lot to look at and say - It should have been even better and the promises made at the beginning of the session, especially around stability and subsidy, were broken. And that's gonna hurt a lot of people. And so we need this Legislature to do better when they come back next year.

[00:04:59] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely - completely agree with everything you just said. And I guess I am holding out a little bit of hope that there's still action that will be taken. You mention that $4 billion proposal, which would really accelerate the building of housing - really badly needed housing - to help us catch up on the units that we're behind to help keep housing affordable. Both kind of a housing and revenue issue with - the Real Estate Excise Tax is still up in the air, having a bit of a tough time, but they're still battling through that. So two opportunities where they can still take action, I hope. And certainly middle housing is worthy of celebrating it passing - this has been a long road bringing together big broad coalition - we've spoken with Representative Bateman on this show about this before. Your point about there being disappointment, about there not being more done - certainly missing middle housing was necessary, needed to happen, but so are these other things. And so is catching up on our housing supply, and on these protections, and on really feeling like we not only have the technical ability to build these units, but there's the funding and the resources there available to do that. That is a piece we are still missing. And if we do really consider housing to be a crisis, if we do really want to say we have taken action that matches the scale and scope of this crisis, there's gotta be more. We're not done yet. And there is the opportunity more this session that I hope they take advantage of.

[00:06:41] Robert Cruickshank: I agree. And I think it's going to be interesting to see what the governor decides to do. Jay Inslee, in his 10+ years in office, has usually not been willing to confront the Legislature. He rarely vetoes anything. But I think this is a situation where he's gonna have to make a decision. Does he allow the Senate Democratic Caucus to basically abandon his $4 billion housing bond? Or does he make them do it? Does he veto a capital budget? Does he veto the operating budget? Does he say - I am the final voice here with my veto pen and I will use it if we don't get these things - we may need to see something like that. Inslee hasn't issued exactly a veto threat, but he has issued a very strongly worded public statement criticizing the Senate Democrats for rejecting his affordable housing bond. So I think you're right that that's not dead yet, but it's going to come down to a question of - what is Inslee willing to do to try to get it done? Is he willing to really put the screws to the Legislature in a way he hasn't traditionally done to try to get this through?

And I think the rest of us who are advocates have to look at this overall session and ask ourselves - why did it turn out this way? We have some wins and we should celebrate those. But we also had, as you mentioned, things that didn't get through - whether it's transit oriented development, whether it's rent stabilization, and of course, a question about the affordable housing bond. This is a Legislature with strong, stable, large Democratic majorities. They don't have two-thirds majorities, but they've got pretty sizable majorities - they're not in any danger of losing those anytime soon. So this isn't a matter of having to cut deals with the Republicans. It's a matter of having divisions and dissensions within the Democratic caucus. And this is where one of the reasons we wish we had more of a journalism core in Olympia - it's all been whittled down over the last few decades - we don't have great insight as to what exactly goes on in these caucuses. We don't really know where things stand and who - we have a sense of who the power players are, we have a sense of who the movers and shakers are, but we don't have as much as we would like. We certainly don't have as much as we do, for example, insight into Congress. We don't really have it here in the Legislature. And so those of us who are the advocates and observers, we need to sit down after the session and figure out - okay, why did it turn out this way? How do we get better outcomes next time? Just as we did after 2022 - the reason why a missing middle bill looks set to pass and be signed into law is because that work was done. People evaluated where pressure needed to be put and did it. Now I think we need to do that more systematically, especially when it comes to stability and subsidy - those two legs of the housing stool.

[00:09:22] Crystal Fincher: Now what's happening when it comes to education funding?

[00:09:26] Robert Cruickshank: Something very interesting has happened this week and so far it's only the right wing that's noticed this - and the Republicans - it hasn't made it through anywhere else. But Senate Democrats proposed this week, SB 5770, which would eliminate one of Tim Eyman's signature initiatives, which is a 1% property tax cap. Now let's go back to the mid-2000s when Bush was president - voters approved this initiative, the Supreme Court of Washington threw it out - said it's unconstitutional - but led by Frank Chopp, a panicky Democratic majority put it into law themselves. They were afraid that if the court's ruling were to stand, Democrats would lose seats at the 2008 election - which we can look back and see that was a pretty ridiculous fear, but they did it. So Democrats put into place Tim Eyman's 1% property tax cap and that's gutted funding for schools, it's gutted funding for cities and counties. And there's been pressure ever since to try to relax that. There's also been a lot of pressure over the years - and one of the hats I wear is President of Washington's Paramount Duty - we try to advocate for education funding using new progressive revenue rather than rely on a property tax, which is regressive. And the state has a regressive system anyway - let's use a wealth tax. And we know that Senator Noel Frame and others have been pushing a wealth tax in the Legislature to fund education.

This week, State Senator Jamie Pedersen and a group of Senate Democrats come out with a bill, 5770, that would help address education funding by eliminating Eyman's property tax cap. And say instead of a 1% cap, there'll be a 3% cap on annual property tax growth year-to-year. What they're essentially saying is - Yes, we recognize we aren't doing enough to fund public education. Yes, we need to do more. Yes, we need a new revenue source. But rather than tax the rich, we're gonna raise the property taxes again. And it puts education advocates in a really interesting spot because at least 50 districts across the state - large and small, urban and rural, east and west - are facing enormous budget cuts, even school closures. And these are really dire cuts that will significantly undermine the quality of public education in our state. And now we have Senate Democrats saying - Here's your funding, it's a property tax. Are you going to accept it or not? And that's a tough call. In 2017, to address the McCleary case, the Legislature passed the largest property tax increase in state history and it still wasn't enough. And coming out of that, we said - we need a capital gains tax and we need a wealth tax. Capital gains tax, of course, upheld by the Supreme Court. The wealth tax proposal would have essentially restored taxes on intangible property, which we used to have until the 1990s. So that's a pretty straightforward thing - 70% public support, widespread support in both caucuses. But this is an interesting move by some more centrist Democrats to say - Let's not do a wealth tax, let's go back to the property tax one more time for schools.

[00:12:20] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and in this conversation about how regressive our state is overall when it comes to taxation, there were certainly a lot of people hoping that we would move closer to a wealth tax, especially with the bill that Representative Frame has in the Legislature ready to go. This was a great opportunity that they didn't take advantage of. And so we'll see how this turns out.

But interesting to note that - we're talking about the repeal of one Tim Eyman initiative - he had a hard enough time getting them just to stand. So many of the initiatives that he passed were ultimately ruled unconstitutional. But one that did pass and that we've been living with the results of on every ballot is the Advisory Vote initiative that he ran, where we see all these votes on our ballots that don't count. And really just - if the Legislature basically authorizes any revenue, it lands on our ballots as a referendum Advisory Vote - hey, would you want this upheld or not? It's really just a poll, but a really wasteful and really poorly done poll that really makes our ballot a lot longer, more confusing. And especially with long ballots, there's a lot of people who don't flip the ballot over. So if the first page is dominated by these questions that don't have anything to do with the current election, we are actually hurting ourselves voting-wise because we know people are just going to miss votes that actually matter because we're putting votes that don't matter on the front of the ballot. So happy to see that being overturned.

[00:14:07] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, that's great news that the Advisory Votes appear to be gone - that bill still needs to be signed by the governor but that's, I think, a foregone conclusion. And kudos to folks at the Northwest Progressive Institute who've been working on this for years. And what that shows me - along with the repeal of the Advisory Votes and repealing potentially 747, which is the initiative that did the 1% property tax cap - it reminds us that we blame Tim Eyman for a lot of this, but his enabler all along - his biggest enabler - has been the Democratic majority in the State Legislature. Way back in 2000 when his first initiative, the $30 car tabs, which gutted funding for transit and the ferry system - Supreme Court threw that out too. And it was a Democratic Legislature who said - No, actually we're going to put that back in ourselves. And a governor, Gary Locke, who - probably worried about reelection that year, though he didn't need to - put it back into place. Same thing with a 1% property tax cap. The Advisory Votes - the Democratic majority could have repealed that at any time, but only this year were they willing to do so.

But I think the biggest way in which the Legislature has enabled Tim Eyman is by failing to fix the overall tax system. And while Eyman himself is a shady character at best and while his initiatives are appalling, he taps into a very real anger in the electorate with our regressive tax system. And that is the thing that has kept him going all this way - finally, he seems to be genuinely out of business - bankrupt, done, a spent political force. And that's partly because of his own mistakes. It's also partly because progressives in the state and in the Legislature finally have figured out how to push the caucus in a better direction on taxes. There's still a long way to go. And I think if Democrats say no to a wealth tax and yes to another property tax increase - I'm shocked that they would do that, worrying about swing seats in the 2024 election, but we'll see what they decide to do. But hopefully we see a Democratic majority start to take tax reform even more seriously and the ruling on the capital gains tax last month should give them a green light to go quite a lot further.

[00:16:17] Crystal Fincher: I certainly hope so. Now there is definitely a bright spot this year in my view and a lot of people's view - especially with the backdrop in this country, with all of the hate-fueled bills, the anti-trans bills banning gender-affirming care, essentially banning gender-affirming care - there've been over a hundred bills passed in legislatures across the country that have been tearing apart, taking away rights for gender-affirming care, rights for trans people to exist basically. But we've done better here in Washington state and I'm actually proud of this. I wanna see more of this and I'm glad that we are showing that we can move in the other direction and that we're codifying protections. What did we see this year in the Legislature?

[00:17:11] Robert Cruickshank: This year, the State Legislature - both houses have passed a bill SB5599, which would provide significant new protections for kids who are questioning changing their gender identity, who can do that and receive services and treatment and housing without having to notify their parents from a certain age - I believe it's 13 or 14. And this is a really important bill because what it does - it provides protections for these kids from families who may be hostile or unwelcoming to their very existence. And it's an excellent response and a necessary response to problems we see - even before the right wing decided that they're going to wage war on trans people - there's many stories that many of us know of young kids or teenagers who have questioned their gender identity, changed their gender identity, recognize that they were misassigned all along, and families either not responding well or being outright abusive. So there's been pressure for a while for the Legislature to do something about that. And now as we're seeing right wing states, red states, pass all sorts of awful bills restricting healthy care for trans people - Missouri just yesterday passed a bill making it extremely difficult to give proper care to trans kids - Washington's Legislature has gone in the right direction and withstood a barrage of awful hateful attacks coming from Republican legislators and coming from right wing media outlets. And they've stayed the course on that.

One thing I notice about this Democratic majority in the Legislature - whenever it comes to finances or economics, they can be unreliable. But when it comes to our basic human rights, they're pretty strong. And I think the passage of this bill to protect trans kids is another example of when the Legislature gets it right. And they have to withstand a lot to get it right. I look forward to this bill making it out of the Legislature for good - it's pretty much there - and getting signed by the governor because I think this will be a big win.

[00:19:11] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely a big win. Another big win that I just really learned about over the past year is another bill that allows trans people, or refugees, victims of intimate partner violence to be able to change their name while protecting their privacy and safety. The regulations for doing that in many places, including here before, were really onerous. Oftentimes you had to publicly publish in a paper that you intended to do that, there are lots of fees, jumping through hoops, going to court - just really unnecessary for what essentially is just some paperwork that needs to be filed. And so we did that. This is on top of a law passed a couple of years ago that requires insurers to cover gender affirming surgeries that are prescribed by a person's doctor and deemed medically necessary. You just talked about that Missouri bill - and they're not just going after kids - that law that was just signed - have a friend who is trans - trans adults who - they would not be able to get gender affirming care under that law now. They're really going after the right of trans people to exist. This is genocidal activity that we're seeing, and it's really important for everyone to speak up no matter where we are, especially in our own spheres. And when we come up against transphobia or any kind of bigotry, really, including, especially transphobia. But it's important to show that we can move in the other direction, that we're not putting up with this hate, that we don't have to go along with it, that we can hold leaders accountable, that we can hold corporations accountable. And even with Governor Inslee purchasing our own stash of mifepristone, which was a great move by the way - thank you, Governor Inslee for that. And when we talk about - hey, we wanna see some action taken in the face of this fascist march against women, against trans people, against everyone who's not a Christian straight white male almost - we have to have more of this. We have to keep doing this. And I'm glad we're doing it. I appreciate our Legislature and Governor Inslee for doing this, and I just wanna continue to see more.

[00:21:34] Robert Cruickshank: Absolutely. I think Inslee's leadership on this has been significant and going out and buying a supply of the abortion pill was a huge deal. And I saw people in California asking Gavin Newsom, the governor there - Why aren't you doing the same thing? He announced that now he will. And so it's great to see Inslee leading on that. I think it comes back, also in my head, to the housing question earlier. We are recognizing that we're in a moment right now where it is becoming difficult to live in a lot of these red states - where people's rights to exist are under significant threat and we're starting to build out here on the West Coast, and especially here in Washington, a haven - where you can get the abortion pill, where your right to exist as a trans person is protected under state law. We should be inviting people to come move here, come live here, come join us - and that's hard to do if housing is hard to find and expensive. So I think it should all be connected. We are unfortunately in this place in American history right now where we need to build havens for a lot of people, and the West Coast should be a haven and we need to take every step we can - whether it's passing legislation to protect trans kids, buying up stockpiles of the abortion pill, and making it easy for people to live and afford to stay here. I think these are all connected things that we need to be doing.

[00:22:52] Crystal Fincher: All right - we will continue to follow what is happening in the Legislature in these final weeks of the session. Big event happening in the City of Seattle that is going to change the status quo of things over the past 10 years - and that is the DOJ saying they're ready to move to end the consent decree with the Seattle Police Department. What's happening? What's the background and context around this?

[00:23:18] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, so 2012 is when the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice entered into a consent decree to allow a federal judge to oversee badly needed reforms to the Seattle Police Department. And so fast forward to 2023, and I think a lot of people quite understandably react to news about ending a consent decree with - Well now, wait a minute. Why would we do that? The department hasn't been reformed. And I think there's a great article in The Stranger yesterday by Ashley Nerbovig who explains why. A lot of advocates who are strong police reformers have all along understood that bringing in the Department of Justice is a double-edged sword. You bring in the Department of Justice to get reforms done that couldn't be done at the local level, but at the same time you lose community control over the department. And we saw that, I think, most clearly in 2020 when the federal judge who oversees the case came in and told the City that they could not ban the use of pepper spray or blast balls in protest management, which we saw SPD doing regularly in the Black Lives Matter protests on Capitol Hill - including City councilmembers getting pepper sprayed, people in their homes with babies getting pepper sprayed, blast balls injuring people left and right. And the City said - We don't want this anymore. We're passing an ordinance. And the judge came in and said - You can't do that. Efforts to defund the police department in 2020, which obviously have faded for political reasons, but the judge also said - You can't do that. And I think those are two examples that really brought home to people the other edge of the sword with a consent decree, which is that you lose a lot of that community control.

And so what's happening now is a recognition that the legal boxes have been checked in terms of reforming SPD. This isn't to say that SPD is fixed by any means, 'cause it's not - but that the Department of Justice has done about all it can do. And that the work of lasting, substantial, and fundamental reforms to the police department have to come from us in the community. It has to be led by the community. It has to be led by the people of Seattle for it to stick and for it to work. And that's what the advocates have been saying for a while. And now there's consensus that we need to move beyond the consent decree. And what I liked about Ashley's article is she really did a good job of explaining that and quoting the advocates who talk about why we need to move beyond it. And I think what that does is hopefully shows to people that the end of the consent decree should not and cannot be the end of police reform in Seattle. I mentioned defund earlier - we're almost three years out now from the George Floyd protests, three years out from the summer of 2020, where it looked like we might actually defund the police. I think that the - while there may be still be people in Seattle who want that, I think the political momentum for that is gone.

What that means now is to fix this police department, which still has many problems, we have to turn to other solutions. So they're gonna have to come from the community and we're gonna need an ordinance over how the police are managed. We're going to need a new SPOG contract. And without the Department of Justice and without a federal judge, which is the key piece involved, maybe we do better than we did in 2018. Because in 2018, the contract that the City did with SPOG was terrible. It's up to us now - and it always has been really - to make sure that we're doing the work to fix this police department. Because there's a lot of people out there and there'll be a lot of candidates running for city council who are already saying - the answer to whatever problems we have in the City is let the police off the hook, let the police off the leash, step back from reform. And that's of course what SPOG wants all along. And we have to fight that, we have to resist that. And I think not being able to rely on a federal judge means we have to do it ourselves, which hopefully makes reform more lasting.

[00:27:05] Crystal Fincher: I hope so. I think the way you worded it - really this is about the DOJ has done all they can do. Does it mean that the issue is fixed? Does it mean that this is a mission accomplished moment? It means that, as you said, there were boxes checked, the list was all checked off, and they have done all they can do - which in many situations that we've seen with consent decrees across the country, ultimately doesn't really amount to much. And that is a lesson I think a lot of people are taking away from this too - this external federal oversight that is removed from the community is problematic. The Community Police Commission was meant from the outset to have much more power and authority than it currently has, than it wound up having. There were lots of people who did not want a voice from the community really impacting policing, and there were definitely moves made to neuter the CPC throughout this process. So I think that we do have to, at minimum, demand that there is a process put into place to where there is true accountability to the community and input from the community in this.

And what's gonna be possible will largely depend on the council that we wind up with, but you named some really significant markers that are coming up, including this SPOG contract - that is currently being negotiated that'll have to come before the council to be approved - that's going to lay the foundation for any kind of change that's going to be able to happen in the future. There are so many times where we talk about something happening and really it boils down to - well, it's in the contract. The police chief says his hands are tied so often by the contract. The mayor - well, the contract. So we really do have to hold those leaders accountable to negotiating a good and accountable contract, and see what happens from there. But this is a definite step in the progression of public safety in Seattle. And it'll be interesting to see what happens from here.

[00:29:17] Robert Cruickshank: It will. And with that SPOG contract, we have to keep in mind that the contract that was approved in 2018 - even some of the progressive folks on the city council voted for that contract and they got a lot of pressure from the County Labor Council to do it. Of course, two years later, the County Labor Council did the right thing and ejected SPOG from their membership ranks. And so hopefully a discussion about approving the contract goes differently this time. That's a reminder that even if we elect what we think are the right people to the city council, there's no guarantee that they'll do the right thing with a SPOG contract. It's gonna take a lot of public organizing, mobilization, and advocacy to make sure that City Hall knows this has to be a strong contract and that we expect City Hall to stand up to SPOG on this - to not just roll over for whatever demands they make.

[00:30:02] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also wanna talk about an issue this week at the Seattle City Council about late fees for late rent from renters. What is happening with this?

[00:30:15] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah so Kshama Sawant who - champion of workers and renters - came out with an ordinance that would cap late fees on paying your rent at $10. So if you're paying your rent late, you get charged a $10 fee - no more. And people who are renting in the City will pay much more than that in late fees - we've heard stories of $100 fees, $500 fees, just absurd. And a committee that heard this at the City Council whittled that down and said - well, we'll base it on a percentage of your rent, but it could - you might be charged a minimum of $50 late fee or higher, basically to neuter the effect of what Sawant had proposed. And at a time when rent continues to be high in the City, rising inflation, and more and more people losing their jobs as maybe recession looms - it definitely seems like a moment to do all we can to ensure that we have affordable housing and to prevent people from getting evicted. And missing a rent payment and not paying a late fee are often things landlords use to evict people. So there's plenty of reasons why we should make it easy to pay your rent and make it hard to get to lose your home because of rent. And so to watch members of the City Council whittle this down was really disappointing and frustrating.

Sawant isn't giving up - she's putting a lot of pressure on the rest of the City Council to go back to $10 an hour - or sorry - to go back to $10 cap on late fees. And I think it's a sensible thing to do. The Stranger article on this singled out Andrew Lewis, someone who is running for reelection, and he may be making a political calculation that he needs to keep landlords happy, but you're not gonna get reelected by keeping landlords happy. Nobody gets reelected by keeping landlords happy. You have a ton of renters in the 7th Council District. You have a ton of renters across the City. It's not only the right thing to do in terms of preventing homelessness and keeping people in their homes, it's also the right thing to do politically. There's no upside to undermining this bill for capping late fees on rent at $10. So we'll see what the council does. We'll see if they take what I think is a sensible thing to do from a policy and political perspective, or whether they are terrified of cranky landlords picketing their offices - I don't know - but we'll see what happens.

[00:32:36] Crystal Fincher: We will see what happens. This is yet another issue where, really, the concerns of landlords and tenants are at odds and the council is having to make a call here. And once again, if we are really serious about calling our housing crisis a crisis, our homelessness crisis a crisis, and understanding that preventing people from getting evicted and keeping people in their homes is absolutely critical to addressing - we have to do that if we're gonna address homelessness. It is the most effective way to address homelessness - is to prevent people from becoming, from losing their housing in the first place. And so needing to intervene in these situations is there. And you have some landlords basically just making a market argument - let the market sort it - we can charge, we can charge. If they can't afford it, other people can - the law allows this, so we should be able to do it. And what the law has allowed is what has landed us in this crisis. It has created this crisis. There is too much of an imbalance and we need to bring that back into alignment. And this seems like a reasonable way to do it. And really we're here because we have endured so many fights and so much opposition towards everything else that has also been suggested, while facing limitations on what's possible overall. So there aren't that many levers that we can use. And I do think it's important to use the ones that we have.

[00:34:06] Robert Cruickshank: Yep, I fully agree. I just wanna add one thing - that this is one of the things I'm gonna miss about Kshama Sawant. She has a reputation of being this dogmatic ideologue and she cares very deeply about her socialist values, as well as she should. She's also really clever and keeps coming up with different ways to achieve the goals she wants to achieve - fighting for rent control has been one of her core political values ever since she got elected in 2013. We all know that the State Legislature prevents local governments from enacting rent control, and so what she's systematically done is tried to find every possible way to limit the amount that landlords can charge renters - to limit those increases, to protect renters any way she can. And I think that that's something that not enough people understand - certainly the media's not gonna tell that story. But I think it's one thing that I'm really gonna miss when she's not on the council - is that really clever persistence that she has to find yet another way to protect renters. And you don't have to be Kshama Sawant to do that - any democratic elected official can champion renters' rights. And not only are you doing the right thing for renters and the right thing to fight homelessness, you're also doing something that's politically popular. So I would love to see more people follow that lead.

[00:35:25] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And unfortunately we got some weird bad news in the realm of homelessness policy and implementation this week - in there is currently a situation with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and other agencies bickering over a million-plus dollars shortfall to fund temporary housing for homeless people. What is going on?

[00:35:57] Robert Cruickshank: So as a result of federal stimulus funds during the height of the pandemic, a group called the Lived Experience Coalition was able to get a one-year federal grant to house people who were living on the streets in hotels. Smart policy - get people off the streets and into safe, secure housing with a door that locks, with a roof over your head, with heat and running water - it's exactly what we need and what we want. But that grant is running out. There's questions about how the grant has been administered and where the money is. And if money isn't found - at least a million dollars - to keep this going, then nearly 250 people who are currently housed in these hotels will be evicted and most likely go back out on the streets. And this is something nobody should want to see happen. And yet there's a bunch of bickering and finger pointing over who's responsible for this rather than solutions. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority had a meeting earlier this week where they basically said - Well, this isn't really our thing. It's not our fault. It's not our responsibility. We don't want to spend a million dollars on this because then that takes away from other things we want to do. City council, King County Council are pointing fingers at other people saying - It's not our responsibility.

And it's just sad to see that bureaucratic bickering is leaving nearly 250 people hanging in the balance who might lose their home, might get put back out on the streets again. And that's something that theoretically this authority was created to prevent from happening - the whole argument about creating a regional homelessness authority was to provide coordination at a regional level. And instead they seem to be heading down the same path of bureaucratic inertia and bureaucratic turf defense - and it's exactly what this was all designed to prevent, and yet that's right where we are again. And so it's pretty frustrating to see this happen and a lack of leadership at all levels of government to come in and ensure that these people and others can stay in the housing that's been found for them.

Because I think this is one of the things that makes it hard to get people into housing in the first place is - a sense that it's temporary, a sense that it's uncertain. We want to offer people housing and many people who live on the streets want housing. They want to be housed. This right wing narrative that people are out there by choice and refusing all offers of shelter is absurd, but they want quality shelter - no one wants to live in a place that's unsafe. And so putting folks in a hotel room is a really smart thing to do, it makes a ton of sense. You'd think that would be something that we would want to continue and promote. When that becomes unstable - another form of unstable housing - when people living there are like - Well, I don't know if I'm going to be here next month. That's not great. That doesn't help anyone. That doesn't help people hold down a job. It doesn't help people stay in a treatment program. And so we need leadership, whether it's from the Regional Homelessness Authority or from the City or County Council to come in and say - No, we're going to fund this. We're going to make sure these people stay in a hotel with a roof over their head and a door that locks.

[00:38:49] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think I have a meta-takeaway on this. This is such a dysfunctional situation. I think you diagnosed it correctly as a turf defense situation. There does seem to be some - and not just from the three parties named in this thing, but also from the mayor's office is involved in this and others - and each seeming to want their own kind of stake and - Hey, leave the Lived Experience Coalition alone, you worry about other stuff, they can worry about this kind of thing going on - which is weird. But the nature of a lot of service work in government is they're contracting organizations. It's not like government is standing this up themselves and these are people directly employed and paid by the City or County. They contract with a lot of nonprofit organizations, service providers who have various levels of experience and expertise, who have different - some lived experience, some professional experience - obviously lived experience is absolutely necessary to serve any population correctly, a familiarity with them in the system. But it feels like sometimes we set ourselves up for these disasters by not doing a good job in the implementation of policy to deliver on what its true and original intention was. And if we don't clearly define and help manage and implement these contracts, these arrangements, then it can get away from you like this. If you aren't paying attention to, or overseeing, or staying in contact with, or whatever the case may be - these situations - you can wind up with a million dollar plus hole in your budget because you just weren't paying attention.

And we still aren't sure exactly what happened to those funds. And that is a question I think many people are working on getting answers to and really clear answers on how we wound up in this situation - 'cause it seemed like there were red flags there throughout the process and things kept getting worse. But I do think that as progressives, as Democrats, we have to pay as much attention to the implementation as we do with the passage. The victory is not in the signing of legislation, the passage of a bill or law - the victory is in it delivering on its promise and helping people in the community. And so the work really begins when a law is passed - and there's administration that needs to be built and stood up and funds that need to be dispersed - you're building little organizations, sometimes big mega-organizations. It's like a startup and you have lots of these organizations doing this at the same time. And you have to pay attention to the coordination, to the implementation, to the contracts, to the management. We have to do a better job with that across the board, so we don't have situations like this where this is a - they're actually using evidence-based practices that are best practices, but risking everything going wrong because of a lack of oversight and management. That just makes the policy look like it's not working. That gives ammunition to Republicans, to reactionaries who just say that - Oh, these policies failed, it was always gonna fail. These people are irresponsible, they don't know how to run this. We have to be responsible for this too. We have to prioritize this. And I think sometimes there is an inclination to be - Okay, we meant well. No, it's not going well. We're just gonna ignore it, cover it up. Let's not talk about that. Let's not make it look bad. And we really need to get away from it not looking bad. And really this is not delivering on what we need it to do to help the residents. This is not addressing the problem we passed this and funded this to address. We have to pay more attention, get more focused on, and demand more when it comes to implementation and management and accountability for these projects.

[00:43:11] Robert Cruickshank: I agree. And I think you made a really good point about the fact that there are consequences to failure. And one of the consequences obviously is more people living out on the streets, which we don't want. These are our neighbors. We want our neighbors to be housed and taken care of. The other consequence is it just provides ammunition to reactionaries. They are out there and there are some of these people running for City Council who are saying - We need to just scoop everybody up and put them in Auburn. KOMO's idea from right before the pandemic started of Homeless Island - they want to take Anderson Island, which used to house sex offenders and house homeless people there. This is - it's what they want. They're very adamant that they think the solution is not housing. The solution is basically prison-style treatment. And if we, who are more progressive and actually care about the wellbeing of people who are unhoused, are unable to get good policy passed and implemented, then the answer isn't that folks are going to be out on the streets for awhile. The answer is a much worse solution will come from the right. And so I think that should provide a spur to action along with the desire to help our neighbors. And I think it's really important to emphasize these folks are our neighbors. I once heard the head of DESC point out that most of the people they serve were born within 10 miles of their facility in downtown Seattle. These are our neighbors. And even if they weren't, we should be helping them. But they are our neighbors and we absolutely should be helping them.

[00:44:45] Crystal Fincher: Couldn't say that any better. Absolutely agree. And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, April 14th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter @cruickshank - that's C-R-U-I-C-K S-H-A-N-K. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks and find me on Twitter @finchfrii, with two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live week-in-review and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.