Last week, the Seattle City Council began deliberations over the new budget. The budget, which was first drafted and released by the Mayor’s Office, outlined how the City of Seattle can spend $5.9 billion over the next year.
Included in the document is a plan to continue to fund homelessness programs previously funded through one-time sources and some allocations for other programs, such as the Women’s Referral Center and a program that directly helps people living in their cars.
The budget is an exercise in trying to strike a balance. It reflects Mayor Jenny Durkan’s stated concerns about a potential economic downturn, which she has tried to protect the city against through cost-cutting measures, like paring back the city vehicle fleet or reducing money for legal representation for domestic violence victims, although the city will pay for domestic violence prevention services.
At the same time, the budget also makes permanent several pilot programs and those that were funded by nonrepeating grants or allocations.
In her statement, Durkan said that the budget would focus on the basics.
“Those values have guided us for nine months, and this budget invests in those promises and commitments and does it while living within our means,” Durkan said.
Ultimately, the mayor’s proposed budget will likely prove controversial — largely because “basic” needs are subjective.
The budget maintains cuts made in 2017 to the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), meaning as many as 217 shelter beds may disappear next spring unless another source of funding is found. The City Council intervened to rescue the beds with one-time funding that was not continued in this budget.
This isn’t a new development, though; SHARE has been a source of frustration for elected officials for years. The organization backs self-managed shelters and has partnered with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) on three tiny house villages. However, SHARE has come under fire for not providing metrics to the city regarding the number of people that have moved into permanent housing. The most recent example is the Licton Springs Village, a tiny house encampment managed by SHARE that the city plans to close by March. Of the 53 residents, 39 have lived at the encampment for more than one year.
The model that SHARE prioritizes offers a contrast to the one that the Mayor’s Office has typically favored. Durkan has increased the amount of emergency shelter and bridge housing by 25 percent, and plans to fund 2,300 shelter beds through the new budget. Many of these beds will be “enhanced” shelter beds, which come with some form of case management, because, according to the budgetary document, “21% of exits from enhanced shelter were exits to permanent housing while only 4% of exits from basic shelter were exits to permanent housing.”
The budget also includes plans to expand the Navigation Team, a much-lauded group of hands-on service providers and police officers who offer assistance to those living outside. The Navigation Team revenue also includes earmarks for “clean-up contracts,” a murky expenditure that typically covers encampment sweeps and the removal of personal property.
The mayor’s budget may also disappoint service providers who have recently petitioned City Hall for raises, citing increasing cost of living in the Seattle area and a housing market that has seen rents double in just five years. The budget charts a plan to increase money set aside for service provider salaries by 2 percent. According to the Census Bureau, the increase in the Consumer Price Index, a measure of the price of a given basket of goods, went up by 3.1 percent this year.
The budget does include funding that many people in the homelessness services sector consider basic, such as money for outreach to people living in their cars. This additional revenue is based on an increasing need; a census of people experiencing homelessness conducted in January 2018 found a 46 percent increase in the number of homeless people living in their vehicles.
The news was mixed for Bill Kirlin-Hackett. Kirlin-Hackett is one of three people involved in the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, a group that intervenes when people living in their cars run afoul of Parking Enforcement.
In the last year, while the city was funding outreach to those populations as part of a pilot project, it was also continuing to spend money to ticket and tow the vehicles. So far, outreach to folks in vehicles just isn’t sufficient, Kirlin-Hackett said.
“The problem is really escalating,” Kirlin-Hackett said.
The mayor’s budget also includes money to hire at least 40 additional police officers and $65 million in retroactive salary for existing officers.
Though the budget does not include revenue for the City Center Connector, it does include some bright spots for transit advocates.
Durkan bumped spending on transit to $609.4 million in 2019, a significant increase for a mayor who has been criticized by transit boosters who believe she was wrong to stall the new streetcar line. Under the proposed budget, Durkan would ask King County Metro to increase the number of bus hours by 30 percent over two years. She also proposes to add new bike and transit lanes.
The City Council will continue to deliberate over the finer points of the budget until making a final determination by the end of October. Included in that process is time for public comment; those who wish to testify about the budget’s inclusions or exclusions are invited to do so at one of several meetings listed on the city’s website. The mayor typically adopts the new budget in November.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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