Sa(you)want Rent Control?

Sa(you)want Rent Control?

Last week, nearly a thousand people gathered in Town Hall to witness the debate on rent control. The atmosphere was tense and the crowds were restless, highlighting how pressing the issue of housing affordability in Seattle has become.

Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata led the argument in favor of rent control. Both Sawant and Licata described the severe burden that the increasing rent prices are placing on low-income households, and called for the need to limit these large price hikes through the rent control policy.

“The housing market is broken, and needs to be fixed,” Licata stated, “Without rent control, there is no answer to these skyrocketing rents.”

State Rep. Matt Manweller and Roger Valdez, a developer lobbyist, painted a far more negative side of rent control. They explored rent control in cities such as San Francisco and New York, linking the policy with the rise of dilapidated housing and the lack of housing growth in these areas. For them, the problem is centered on the widening disparity between supply and demand, and rent control does not address this.

“Rent control does not work,” Valdez asserted, “Build more housing – it’s that simple.”

However, addressing housing affordable is never that simple. Housing affordability has been a growing problem in Seattle since the late-1970s, and is only getting worse. Even so, history and experts are not on the side of rent control.

The debate was held in a very crowded Town Hall on July 20th, 2015.

In a rare consensus, nearly 93 percent of economists agree that rent control creates more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, Sawant and Licata are convinced that it can work.

“At end of the day, we can recite all facts, but this is about vision,” Sawant concluded, “if you want Seattle to be a vibrant, dynamic, and culturally diverse city, then we will need policies like rent control.”

Each city is unique, and it is impossible to predict whether such a policy would work. However, if any city could break the pattern, my bet is on Seattle.

This blog post was written by Allen, a rising senior at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

Plymouth Housing: A Landing Site for the Homeless

Plymouth Housing: A Landing Site for the Homeless

Last Saturday, we had the opportunity to visit Plymouth Housing Group, an organization that serves some of the most disadvantaged homeless adults in Seattle. During this visit, we learned about the organization’s unique approach towards tackling homelessness.

Plymouth operates under a “housing first” philosophy, which focuses first on bringing people off the streets and into stable and permanent homes. This means that individuals who often have no other options for housing – drug addicts, the chronically ill, and the disabled – can find a home at Plymouth. By lowering the barriers to housing, and accepting those who are struggling the most, Plymouth acknowledges the challenges that come with homelessness and aims to tackle the issue at its core.

What struck me the most was the extent to which Plymouth went to try to make their tenants feel at home. As part of our visit, we helped make welcome posters and calendars for new residents, to provide a more welcoming and comfortable touch to their new homes. The idea is that by prolonging their stay, tenants will have greater opportunities to seek the supportive services that they need and build towards a better and more stable life.

Image taken from www.plymouthhousing.org

So far, the hard work seems to have paid off. According to Winona Caruthers, the Community Engagement & Housing Stability Coordinator, nearly 98% of tenants remain with Plymouth after one year. Today, Plymouth is serving more than 1000 formerly-homeless people in its facilities.

However, there is still much work to be done. The problem of homelessness remains rampant in Seattle, with nearly 4000 people still living on the streets – a 20% increase from 2014. At Plymouth, waitlists extend through several years, and have even closed. This poses many questions: Are we taking the right approach? Are we tackling homelessness at its source? What is the source? The city and non-profits certainly have a complex problem to address. Whatever the answer may be, volunteering at Plymouth has shown me the value of incorporating kindness and humanity into this solution.

This blog post was written by Allen, a rising senior at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

O’Toole Is O’Cool, Harrell Go To He…The Park

O’Toole Is O’Cool, Harrell Go To He…The Park

Recently, I attended a City Council Committee Meeting on public safety, civil rights, and technology. There were some 60 attendees in addition to Committee Chair, Bruce Harrell, council member, Jean Godden, and Chief of Police, Kathleen O’Toole.

Harrell began by addressing a group of middle school students in the audience, stating, “we have the Chief of Police here today, the highest ranking police official in the city, AND, she is a woman…We are very proud that gender doesn’t make a difference, at least not here in this city.”

What?

Last time I checked, gender makes a difference everywhere – even in a city as comparatively progressive and proactive as Seattle. Harrell, are you familiar with the host of LGBTQ hate crimes happening in and around The Hill these days? Unequal wage gaps? Apparently, you aren’t.

(I’ll revisit later on).

For now, allow me to debrief on a few of O’Toole’s main points on the SPD’s efforts to augment police accountability.

  1. So far in 2015, the SPD has not been involved in officer shootings and other violent disputes (phew).
  2. The SPD has implemented an Early Intervention System (EIS) to enhance officer accountability. O’Toole stated, “[the EIS] is a way to identify an officer’s abnormalities before he/she becomes problematic.” And yes, we’ve seen “problematic” from sea to shining sea.
  3. The SPD mandates de-escalation training as a part of its police academy, in efforts to “use deathly force [only] as a last resort so that officers have the tools to effectively de-escalate a dangerous situation.” While reminiscent of the “talk a man off the ledge” strategy, popularized in films and literary account of sorts, O’Toole argues that de-escalation has been largely successful to date.
  4. The SPD is going #Social #WorldWideWeb, via “trying to get better at telling [its] story,” says O’Toole. She is proud of the SPD’s new social media presence (FB, Twitter, etc.). Personally, I’d like to see an Instagram account titled, “TheCopCar98105,” but we’re not there yet.
  5. The SPD is working to align its statistical data with Seattle’s 57 distinct micro-communities. Each neighborhood has its own set of diverse challenges, that O’Toole and fellow officers believe should be uniquely addressed. Kudos!
  6. A new (mysterious ghost) IT man is working to develop “agile policing,” or the use of data from previous events to render new protocols. O’Toole says that this will help to “rapidly deploy resources through the use of technology” (like drones, but not).
  7. Community outreach is in. So is police recruitment. The SPD has the most “…diverse police explorer program in the state” for young people (like, 4th graders) to “…learn about policing… and to see if it’s right for them.” Forest Fire Fighting (yes, the FFF) was “right for me” when I was that age, but unfortunately, things change. Anyways, the program is diverse, and “targets historically underrepresented groups,” says O’Toole.
  8. O’Toole signed off (kind of) with these inspirational words, to soon be etched upon the back of a Pottery Barnes pillow – “I like to emphasize that prevention and intervention are always more important than enforcement.” #True.

Long live O’Toole!

This blog post was written by Natalie, a Public Policy major at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

Youth Homelessness Training @ New Horizons

Youth Homelessness Training @ New Horizons

On the night of July 1st, I attended Ropes, a homeless youth training program run by New Horizons’ staff, Joseph Seia and Tristan Herman.

The training was both intensive and interactive. At first, we were asked to name the various causes and characteristics (both stereotypes and realities) associated with youth homelessness. Then, we were taught to analyze ways in which volunteers can appropriately support these populations to minimize power differentials and transactional relationships. We participated in a role playing exercise, in which we were given identification cards of respective homeless youths, and asked to achieve a set of goals (i.e. SSI, transitional housing, a bed for the night, medical care, etc.) from service organizations played by other training attendees.

I played the character of 25 year-old Sage, an African-American transgendered female, who had recently escaped the confines of an abusive relationship, and had no financial backing. In our role play, Sage was denied SSI from DHHS because her illiteracy prevented her from filling out the right forms, denied transitional housing because of her anxiety during her housing interview, and was sent to jail for not being able to pay two tickets for jaywalking (is that even a real crime?).

Throughout the exercise, the police did little to help Sage and the other youth—rather, they were stifling.  Right before the exercise was over, Sage received a change card, detailing a hate crime incident that left her in the hospital. She could not afford to pay the $1200 medical bill, and she was sent to jail. Again.

The exercise was difficult for everyone involved—service organizers were torn between wanting to do what was humane (denying no one) versus what they were told to do (stick to bureaucratic routines, rules, etc.). The exercise helped me to realize how readily the homeless are dehumanized or victimized by not only the public, but by government and law enforcement officials as well. Playing the role of Sage was especially difficult given her gender identity—in almost every scenario, she had a significantly harder time achieving her goals than did cisgender youths participating in the same exercise.

Joseph stated, “How you receive [trans youths] at the door [of any organization] will determine whether or not they continue to come back,” highlighting the importance of LGBTQ education in his work. As hate crimes increase on the streets, the world becomes infinitely more cruel towards LGBTQ homeless youth. Violence aside, Joseph and Tristan explained how internalized oppression is one of the most lasting and dangerous effects of youth homelessness. Tristan argued that one of the biggest obstacles New Horizons faces is “young folks’ really low self-worth… this unshakable sense of inferiority.” Internalized oppression drastically increases drug and alcohol abuse on the streets, as well, making it even harder to reach out for support.

This training was super helpful (thanks Joseph and Tristan!) and informative. I’d strongly recommend attending—you won’t be the same person when you leave.

This blog post was written by Natalie, a Public Policy major at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

Pride 2015

Pride 2015

This weekend, Allen and I attended our first Seattle Pride. On Friday, we attended the TransPride festival in Capitol Hill, and on Sunday, we attended the larger parade in the city’s center.

The Bus has been attending TransPride for two years, and the festival itself has existed for three. It is organized by the Gender Justice League and depends on donations from a number of  organizations, such as the Social Justice Fund Northwest (SJFN) and the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA).

Karter Booher, The Bus’ Fellowship Coordinator, stated that TransPride 2015 seemed to be about twice as large as it was the previous year, highlighting the festival’s substantial growth.

The Bus had four fellows involved in TransPride this year, whose primary responsibility was to register voters and engage people in The Bus’ youth agenda (police accountability, youth employment, housing accessibility, specifically) in regards to issues within and around Seattle’s trans community. Namely, there has been a recent increase in trans related hate crimes and violence, the necessity for protection against discrimination in the workplace, and the need for safe and affordable housing. This past year, Seattle had the third-highest rate of LGBTQ-related hate crimes in the United States.

Karter believes that education around these issues is crucial to lessening tensions. Theo Savini, a 2015 fellow, stated that The Bus’ involvement at TransPride is crucial because it urges people to vote and organize in spite of being made to feel invisible or silenced.

In attending Seattle’s Pride Parade on Sunday, the Bus teamed up with Equal Rights Washington in marching. The march was nearly two miles long, and endless lines of supporters filed along sidewalks. At the end of the parade, we saw the rainbow flag hanging atop the Space Needle, evidencing Seattle’s (and America’s) recent legislative and judicial success and fight for social justice. We’ve undoubtedly come a long way, and  the fact that #LoveWon this weekend is no small feat. However, there is still so much progress to be made, and as young folks, we’re lucky to have both a hand and a say in where we go from here.

This blog post was written by Natalie, a Public Policy major at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

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