On Nov. 24, the Seattle City Council voted on a final
$2 billion budget for the city’s 2015-16 general fund. In doing so, the council added $14 million to Mayor Ed Murray’s earlier budget proposal. While $14 million is a small percentage of the larger city budget, those dollars will make a big difference for some people. At the end of the budget process, the city’s top four general-fund expenditures are:
1) $1.2 billion for police and fire
2) $329 million for parks and libraries
3) $258 million for administration
4) $140 million for health and human services.
Councilmembers diverged on the success of the changes that they made. Council Budget Chair Nick Licata said, “Public involvement resulted in a more responsive city budget that emphasizes human services, social justice and labor standards.” Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the only councilmember to vote against the budget, said,
“[T]he positive amendments introduced by the city council only marginally change a … business-as-usual budget. I cannot endorse a fundamentally unjust budget, which fails to address Seattle’s housing crisis, underfunded social services, inadequate mass transit and gridlocked traffic, and growing inequality across class, racial and gender lines.”
In regards to assisting homeless people, the city council made a radical policy change.
In a first-time departure from decades of bureaucratic resistance to tent cities, city officials funded $200,000 in financial assistance for encampments.
It is against this backdrop that we present 10 significant city council additions to the budget. We favored items that paid for direct services for poor and vulnerable residents — whether providing showers and washing machines for people living on the street or paying for more advocates for those struggling to survive domestic violence.
Low-barrier women’s shelter, $240,000
For 14 years, WHEEL has operated a self-managed, low-barrier shelter for close to 65 women. “Low barrier” means residents have few bureaucratic hoops to jump through in order to sleep at the shelter. Unfortunately over its history, the shelter has never had adequate funding. WHEEL can now apply for this funding and stabilize its operations. As Maria Villa, 44, who stays periodically at the shelter, said, “Women like me find themselves out on the street, and it’s cold and it’s scary and — boom — there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Prime sponsor: Sawant
Supporting sponsors: Mike O’Brien, Tom Rasmussen.
University District Food Bank, $250,000
One of Seattle’s busiest food banks operates in an inadequate 800-square-foot facility. Last year 5,300 people made 54,000 visits to the food bank. The organization gave away 2.3 million pounds of food, but actually had to turn away donations due to lack of storage space for perishable items. Now the food bank is planning to move into a new $3 million facility with 6,000 square feet of office and service space and a 3,000-square-foot rooftop garden. The food bank has raised $2.48 million to date, and the city council just contributed a quarter million.
Prime sponsor: Sally Clark
Supporting sponsors: Jean Godden
Domestic and sexual violence responders, $600,000
The King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence noted that last year 5,500 survivors of domestic and sexual violence received help from Seattle agencies. The coalition goes on to state that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fewer than 50 percent of survivors who need services get access to them. That means thousands of Seattle’s survivors lack the services they need. This money would fund three new mobile advocates for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Each advocate can serve 50 people annually. It will keep Seattle from falling further behind in its effort to help survivors.
Prime sponsor: Bruce Harrell
Supporting sponsors: Clark and
$15-an-hour minimum wage for city workers, $1.5 million
The city council turned Seattle City Hall into a more equitable employer by supplying the necessary money to pay all of the city’s 10,000 workers at least $15 an hour. When Ian Gordon, business manager of Laborers’ Local 1239, heard the news, he shouted, “Hallelujah! I am going to have a lot of happy members.” Gordon, who represents around 100 of the city’s lowest-wage workers, said the change will affect people who make less than $15 an hour, including some golf-course groundskeepers, parks-maintenance aides, dining room attendants at Seattle Center and cashiers. Overall the change will affect between 600 to 800 workers.
Prime sponsor: Sawant
Support sponsor: O’Brien
$15-an-hour minimum wage for human-service providers, $1.7 million
When the city passed the new minimum-wage law, it put a heavy burden on human-service providers. Many of the city’s social-service agencies are not paying their workers $15 an hour. Since the providers are now required to raise their workers’ wages, they face a tough choice: Raise more money or cut services. The Seattle Human Services Coalition, made up of 162 agencies and programs, estimates that for providers to raise their workers’ wages it will cost agencies $3 million to $4 million. The city council made a start by providing $1.7 million.
Prime sponsor: Clark
Support sponsors: Tim Burgess and O’Brien.
Funding for the mayor’s Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homeless, $200,000
Murray appointed a task force of 24 people to come up with quick solutions to move unsheltered people indoors. He recommended doing it with minimal-to-no impact to the budget, but real solutions don’t come cheaply. Some task force members suggested they would need as much as $500,000 to implement their recommendations. The city council agreed that some funding was necessary and allocated $200,000.
Prime sponsor: Clark
Supporting sponsors: Sally Bagshaw
Funding self-managed tent encampments, $200,000
Last year, the city council allocated $500,000 to help residents of Nickelsville find housing prior to the camp’s eviction from city-owned land near West Marginal Way.
Now, for the first time, the city council is providing money to support tent encampments and improve the quality of life for residents.
The funding is intended to help encampments comply with safety and health standards and provide various amenities, such as toilets, electricity, cooking facilities, tents, shelters or other items that maintain quality of life. “The last time they put money into encampments, it was to disband [Nickelsville],” said Jarvis Capucion, a board member of Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, which operates tent encampments. “Now they’re spending money to support it. … There’s a shift going on, and it’s positive.”
Prime sponsor: Sawant
Supporting sponsors: Licata and O’Brien
Funding for Urban Rest Stop and hygiene services, $400,000
Last year, homeless people used Urban Rest Stop 5,000 times to wash clothes, take a shower and even get haircuts. To operate at that level next year, Urban Rest Stop needed $200,000 above what was in the mayor’s budget proposal. After visiting Urban Rest Stop, Bagshaw led the successful effort to provide the additional funding. Hygiene centers can compete for another $200,000 allocated for 2016.
Prime sponsor: Bagshaw
Supporting sponsors: Harrell, Godden, O’Brien and Sawant
Funding to encourage regional partners to develop shelters, $175,000
The Committee to End Homelessness – King County (CEHKC) reported in 2014 that the region needed more shelter capacity, particularly outside Seattle.
According to CEHKC, 91 percent of shelter beds for single adults are located in the city.
To shift the trend, the council allocated money to help fund groups outside of the city to increase shelter capacity.
Prime sponsor: Clark
Supporting sponsors: Bagshaw, Burgess and Rasmussen
Office of Labor Standards outreach and education, $1 million
The mayor’s budget proposal contained funding for the new city Office of Labor Standards (OLS) that would enforce all of Seattle’s labor laws. Currently, several departments enforce the city’s employment laws, which include laws against wage theft, wage rules for city contracts, a criminal screening ban and the new city-based minimum wage — expected to affect 100,000 workers. “Good legislation often gets passed, and unfortunately it often gets ignored or lost,” Licata said.
The city council approved the mayor’s proposal but also added $1 million for community-based organizations to do outreach and education on Seattle’s labor standards, particularly the new minimum-wage law.
City council staff stated community-based organizations can help educate and inform workers of their rights in Seattle, particularly low-wage workers, workers of color and immigrant and refugee workers who are more likely to experience substandard working conditions.
Prime sponsor: O’Brien
Supporting sponsors: Sawant, Harrell and O’Brien