Lots of talk about homelessness today, and a fair amount of sound and fury from Sawant. Here’s what went down.
This afternoon, the Council passed an ordinance allocating $1.4 million of federal funding toward “de-densifying” the city’s congregate homeless shelters to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. The amount had been pulled out of a larger appropriations bill two weeks ago as the city debated whether to apply it to this purpose or toward increasing the funding for rent assistance. Both are priorities, but under the state Constitution, the city may not give or loan its own funds other than to the poor or infirm — but it may give or loan federal funding, which makes it a precious source of funding for rent assistance programs. However, according the Council member Mosqueda the issue became moot when the city was recently informed that money it expects to receive in the near future from the Coronavirus Relief Fund can be used for either purpose as well. According to Mosqueda, shelters that have yet to be de-densified currently house about 500 individuals.
The Council also passed a resolution requesting Governor Inslee and the state legislature to create a Washington Worker Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to undocumented workers in the state. According to Council President Gonzalez, the sponsor of the resolution, many undocumented workers have been deemed “essential workers” and are still expected to go to work, but they have been excluded from federal relief assistance programs. Across the country, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, in part because many of the “essential” jobs in our economy are held by them.
This morning, Council member Lewis announced that he and Council member Mosqueda will participate tomorrow in a press event held by the Third Door Coalition to announce a proposal for a public-private partnership to solve chronic homelessness. Lewis said that the the core of their proposal is an expansion of permanent supportive housing to match the local demand. “I really do expect this will be a game-changer,” Lewis said.
As expected, this afternoon Council member Morales introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Council members Mosqueda and Sawant that would further restrict the removal of unsanctioned homeless encampments during the COVID-19 crisis. This morning Morales explained that the intent is to align the city’s practices with guidance from the CDC, which has warned that removing encampments can disperse homeless people into the larger community and potentially increase transmission of COVID-19.
Council member Herbold noted that in the past she has been hesitant to pass such legislation given that she believes it’s the executive branch’s responsibility to manage the city’s land, but since the executive has not responded to a letter that she and several of her colleagues sent at the beginning of April, and in her view there is a “divergence” between the city’s stated policy and the actions of the Navigation Team, Herbold is looking forward to working on Morales’s bill.
Council member Pedersen expressed concerns that language in the bill might inadvertently authorize encampments in city parks.
The bill has been referred to the Committee on homeless Strategies and Investments. Committee chair Lewis has not yet set a schedule for deliberations.
Council member Mosqueda will be holding an “economic forum” tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 11am to discuss the “realities of inequities created and worsened by COVID-19.” You can watch the event live here.
Council member Sawant announced this morning that her office will be bringing forward legislation to allow for electronic signature-gathering for voter petitions such as the one her “Tax Amazon” campaign is currently trying to get on the November ballot. She didn’t provide details on the form in which that legislation would take. As I’ve written previously, changing this will require an amendment to the City Charter, which requires voter approval.
Sawant also reiterated her announcement last Friday that she will be scheduling a meeting of her committee this Thursday to discuss her proposed payroll tax, in defiance of the Governor’s emergency proclamation. Council member Lewis, one of the five members of her committee, made it clear that he would not be attending the meeting as it would open him up to legal liability for violating the Open Public Meetings Act. Lewis also said that he doesn’t find compelling the legal argument that Sawant’s attorney, Dmitri Iglitzin, made last Friday that the Governor’s proclamation exceeds his emergency powers — versus the consensus among the state Attorney General, the City Attorney, and the lawyers on the Council (Gonzalez, Juarez, and himself) that the proclamation is legal and enforceable.
Gonzalez took a moment to clarify a misstatement by Sawant to her colleagues in which she claimed that she could achieve a quorum for her committee meeting by inviting other Council members. Gonzalez corrected her in that the Council’s rules state that only the official committee members count for quorum. Sawant denied that she had provided misinformation about quorum, and reasserted her disagreement with the City Attorney’s legal analysis. She said that for her it was a “political questions,” not a question of the Council’s rules, and “not allowing the movement to be stalled is important.”