#SeaHomeless: seven months after Seattle declared a homeless state of emergency

Seven months into Seattle’s declared state of emergency on homelessness, advocates, public officials, and people living on the streets focused Wednesday on the major hurdles that continue to face the city and highlighted some of the more promising solutions.

Sleeping between graffiti

To alleviate the cycles of crisis that frequently trap people on the street, experts often tout the importance of housing first policies. Mayor Ed Murray said a project now getting underway on First Hill would do just that. On Wednesday, Murray celebrated the groundbreaking of Plymouth Housing Group’s 7th and Cherry building.

“Time and again, when we are able to get people into permanent supportive housing like this, it is the most effective way to help them overcome the underlying causes of homelessness,” Murray said.

Early intervention, prevention, and housing first were common themes also heard Wednesday inside the chambers of the King County Council. City Council member Sally Bagshaw and King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles convened a special joint committee meeting to discuss homelessness and opioid addiction across the region. Continue reading

‘Chatbot lawyer’ could get you out of your next Capitol Hill parking ticket

(Image: City of Seattle)

(Image: City of Seattle)

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.37.04 AM

The whole thing about parking on Capitol Hill being impossible is dumb. Paid parking zones have made open spaces mostly guaranteed during pay to park hours. Overnight parking and the insatiable human urge to not pay for parking that leads drivers to explore Capitol Hill’s more ticket-risky parking strategies — those problems are real.

City living (and city news reporting!) with a motor vehicle pretty much guarantees parking tickets. It is the cost of doing business.

But here is some good news for the Capitol Hill parking ticket-plagued. A young genius has found a way to put the artificial intelligence of chatbots to work for something more than customer service or tricking people on dating sites. And the new “chatbot lawyer” is coming to Seattle — as soon as the system’s inventor takes on some small issues like “flight delay compensation, as well as helping the HIV positive understand their rights and acting as a guide for refugees navigating foreign legal systems” — The Guardian reports:

Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface. The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process. The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

Makes you wonder what other repetitive, mundane tasks could be taken on by a chatbot, no?

In the meantime, there are other parking problems — and opportunities — on Capitol Hill to solve.

Hat tip to @sleepylemur for sharing the news.

Seattle Parks says 2016 Cal Anderson Independence Day Picnic a go

The route to saving Capitol Hill’s Independence Day picnic wasn’t pretty but it was apparently successful. Seattle Parks has announced that the 14th edition of the free community event will go on.

July 4th in Cal Anderson from noon to 4 PM, Parks and Rec has rallied to pull together free hot dogs for the first 500 people, a David Bowie Look-A-Like Contest, drag performance by Ms. Ryannah Doll, a Space Oddity Kids Costume Parade (“come dressed in your best outer space look”), face painting for kids, “and more!” Continue reading

Seattle mayor to activate emergency operations center for Pride along with stepped up patrols

Mayor Ed Murray said his increased public presence on Capitol Hill over the past week was intended to send a clear message: “We can’t be afraid.” As a longtime Capitol Hill resident and Seattle’s first openly gay mayor, Murray has struck a cautious but defiant tone as the city heads into this weekend’s Pride celebration in the wake of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

“There is a lot of grief and a certain amount of fear out there,” Murray told CHS “I thought it was important to be with folks in LGBT bars.”

In a first for Seattle Pride, Murray will activate the city’s Emergency Operations Center, which allows increased coordination between city agencies. Murray said it was part of the extra precautions the city is taking in the wake of the Orlando tragedy that left 50 dead. 

(Image: Kate Clark)

(Image: Kate Clark)

Continue reading

Mandatory Housing Affordability in Seattle? Sign us up

From the Mandatory Housing Affordability presentation planned to be part of Tuesday's committee meeting

From the Mandatory Housing Affordability presentation planned to be part of Tuesday’s committee meeting

Seattle affordable housing proponents — there seem to be more and more even if Capitol Hill rents aren’t exactly dropping — say legislation coming before the City Council’s planning committee starting Tuesday morning could be the key to unlocking the lion’s share of the 20,000 units of affordable housing Mayor Ed Murray has called for.

Mandatory Housing Affordability — part of Seattle’s “Grand Bargain” — will link the creation of affordable housing with market-rate development by requiring all new multifamily buildings to make 5-8% of their units affordable to those making 60% of the area median income — or require developers to pay into an affordable housing fund.

Here is the call to arms from Brock Howell of Seattle for Everyone:

If passed, MHA would unlock 6,100 much needed affordable homes across Seattle – that’s fully 30% of the 20,000 affordable homes that Mayor Murray plans to build in the next 10 years through HALA and the Housing Levy. MHA leverages development of new, market-rate housing to fuel affordable homes – it’s the HALA model writ large, and it’s an incredible opportunity for the city to put roofs over the heads of more people who need them.

Howell and others are hoping the turnout at City Hall Tuesday morning is strong. If you aren’t planning to be in City Council chambers, the easier way to participate is to email the committee’s chair, Rob Johnson, at rob.johnson@seattle.gov.

Tuesday’s committee discussion and public hearing will build on the resolution passed last fall as the Council members consider the legislation to update the Seattle Municipal Code. Rezoning and upzones in certain key areas like 23rd and Union are also part of the proposal: Continue reading

17+ things CHS heard at the Pike/Pine pedestrian zone meeting

City officials have made it clear: They want to continue last year’s experiment of using Pike/Pine’s streets in new and creative ways. Funding is available — albeit still not secured — and eager public right-of-way wonks and private consultants are at the ready to make your wildest street and sidewalk use dreams come true. What they need is direction.

With the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict taking a sideline role after leading last year’s pedestrian zone pilot, city officials say they are listening for a unified neighborhood voice to steer the next round of street use projects.

On Tuesday evening, officials from the Seattle Department of Transportation held a community feedback session at the 11th Ave V2 art space to take another wide survey of what residents and business owners want. It was also an invitation for people to get organized.

“Maybe if there was some ‘Friends of E Pike’ that wanted to come forward,” SDOT’s Seth Geiser told CHS. Continue reading

Seattle looks at fee on businesses to fund minimum wage and labor law enforcement

The office responsible for enforcing Seattle’s expanding labor laws needs $6 million in 2017 to cover its operations. On Wednesday, Seattle City Council members will be considering a new fee on businesses to fund it.

Under a proposal by City Council member Lisa Herbold, the city would levy a new annual fee on businesses specifically for funding the Office of Labor Standards — currently paid for through the city’s general fund. City Council’s District 3 rep Kshama Sawant and others have repeatedly called for OLS to receive more funding to better enforce and educate the public on Seattle’s minimum wage law. Continue reading

Queen Anne appeal delays Seattle ‘backyard cottage’ plan

(Images: The backyard cottage blog)

(Images: The backyard cottage blog)

That plan to make it easier to turn the backyard of Capitol Hill and Seattle single family homes into new housing to help ease the city’s crunch…

“No one needs to be told that we’re in a housing crisis right now,” Mike O’Brien said. “Backyard cottages are a great place to add more capacity. They could happen in our single family neighborhoods, which cover the majority of our real estate, and [they] can be done in a way without having some of the visual impacts that some neighbors are concerned about.”

has hit a speed bump in Queen Anne:

The legislation encouraging more backyard cottages has been delayed due to an appeal filed by Marty Kaplan of the Queen Anne Community Council. We are now hoping to vote on the legislation by the end of the year. On May 19th, when the legislation was made public, the Office of Planning and Community Development for the City of Seattle issued a determination that the legislation would not have significant adverse environmental impacts. The Queen Anne Community Council is challenging that determination and will appeal to the Hearing Examiner. The process of being heard by the Hearing Examiner can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and we should have a better understanding of the timeline in the next few weeks as the hearing date is scheduled.

An email from Council member Mike O’Brien’s staff revealed the filing Friday afternoon. The appeal document is embedded below.

The staffer email says O’Brien “will continue to pursue non-regulatory strategies to make both backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments more affordable for homeowners” including “trying to work with the County on reducing or subsidizing the sewer capacity charge, looking into establishing a series of ‘pre-permitted’ designs, creating a guide for homeowners interested in building a backyard cottage, and working with lenders on creative financing tools.”

The appeal comes as Seattle looks for way to increase its housing stock even in areas where single family homes still dominate and amid debate about the role community councils should play in determining city policy and how much clout the groups should hold at City Hall. Continue reading

Sawant calls for support of Seattle ‘slumlord’ legislation

(Image: Council member Sawant via Facebook)

(Image: Council member Sawant via Facebook)

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant is rallying the troops Monday afternoon to celebrate what should be City Council approval of a new Seattle “slumlord” law that will stop landlords from jacking up rents in poorly maintained buildings while also protecting tenants from surprise rent increases. The City Hall scrapper is calling for support of what she says is a key amendment passed out of committee but still vulnerable in Monday’s final vote:

An amendment was also passed to strengthen the bill by giving tenants more time to report violations, but it wasn’t unanimous. So we need to turn out and defend it. By speaking out and showing up, you can help ensure that we have the strongest ordinance possible.

UPDATE: The City Council passed the bill in an 8-0 vote on Monday. “We will use it to organize for a far larger tenants bill of rights,” Sawant said.

The new rules will restrict landlords from raising rents in properties that don’t meet required standards and will transfer enforcement from Seattle Police to the Department of Construction and Inspections. The rules would also require landlords provide at least 60-day notice on rent increases of 10% or more. The bill is sponsored by Sawant and is her first legislation in 2016 outside the Energy and Environment committee she chairs.

Sawant’s office says more pro-tenant legislation is moving forward including a bill “to massively expand relocation assistance for tenants forcibly evicted by dramatic rent increases” and a bill to cap “the exorbitant move-in fees that are found all over this city.” “Tenant protection laws are effective only to the extent that tenants are informed of their rights, are aware of their legal options, and are able to report violations,” a Sawant statement on the legislation reads. “We need to organize.”

Meanwhile, Wednesday night will bring a meeting of the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative:

Capitol Hill Renter Initiative June Meeting
Wednesday at 6 PM – 7 PM
12th Avenue Arts 1620 12th Ave, Seattle
We have a very special guest this month. Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez will be joining us! This is a rare opportunity to have a Councilmember in a small room. Bring your questions and thoughts you’d like to share with her. We’ll be ordering food. RSVP here to let us know if you are coming so we can get an accurate head count. See you there!

6pm – Welcome and Introductions
6:15pm – Conversation with Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez
6:35pm – Updates, Announcements, Next Steps (think about any information you want to share with the group)
6:45pm – Social Activity
7pm – End of Formal Meeting
7-7:30pm – We’ll stick around if folks want to hang out and/or work on special projects

You can learn more about the initiative in this CHS Community Post.

Seattle City Council passes resolution limiting Jungle sweep

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.04.03 PMA resolution that will slow the clearing of The Jungle area of homeless camps beneath Seattle’s freeway and set parameters of outreach and human services for the process was passed by the Seattle City Council Tuesday.

The legislation sponsored by Sally Bagshaw is not an ordinance changing or adding to the city’s laws around sweeps of homeless camps but instead will change the way city workers and aid organizations must go about the process of clearing the I-5 East Duwamish Greenbelt.

“Neither residents of the Greenbelt, nor their possessions, will be removed from the Greenbelt until meaningful offers of appropriate shelter, housing, or alternative spaces in authorized encampments and services are made,” one section of the resolution reads.

It continues:

Outreach workers will make contact with each individual living in the Greenbelt. The goals of outreach workers are to use religiously and culturally appropriate practices to reduce harm for individuals living in the Greenbelt and promote public health within the Greenbelt and adjoining neighborhoods.

Last month, CHS reported on steps being taken by the city and state to prepare to clear The Jungle in response to growing concerns after decades of use of the area by homeless campers.

The Council’s resolution won’t stop the sweep from occurring. The relocation and cleanup effort will be funded through a $1 million state budget supplement passed earlier this year.

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant said Tuesday that it would be more important for Seattle to pass a law against homeless camp sweeps than a resolution shaping how the campers should be removed. Still, Bagshaw’s resolution passed unanimously. You can read the full document, below.

Continue reading