The Homeless Authority was on the lookout for a shelter supplier in the course of the winter storm; Formers of the Displacement Coalition argue in opposition to the social housing initiative

1. During the freezing weather earlier this month, as the city’s two downtown shelters filled up, the King County Regional Homeless Authority found itself looking for a homeless service provider who could open a replacement shelter at City Hall.

The Salvation Army, Urban League, and Low-Income Housing Institute were all busy running full or nearly full shelters at Seattle Center, Pioneer Square, and North Seattle, and could not spare workers to fill City Hall. So the KCRHA landed on an unlikely replacement: Tender Angels, a Bellevue-based home health care and senior living operator with no experience running emergency shelters or working with the homeless.

According to agency spokeswoman Lisa Edge, Tender Angels is “uniquely qualified to meet the needs of people seeking shelter from … cold temperatures,” despite their lack of experience working with homeless clients. “Your staff are experienced in providing night care and maintaining public health guidance in community settings,” Edge said. “You will be trained in trauma-informed nursing practices, de-escalation, and conflict mitigation/resolution.”

KCRHA employees were on site at City Hall while it was open, Edge said. However, staff availability was limited by the fact that the agency was essentially closed for two weeks and severe weather response remained in the hands of “about 20 people,” including a 24-hour duty officer, according to Marc Dones, CEO of KCRHA. On Dec. 20, Dones told PubliCola that “KCRHA’s offices are closed to allow employees to recharge the leadership team and that the 24/7 Duty Officer will be available for any emergencies.”

The Salvation Army, Urban League and Low-Income Housing Institute could not spare workers for City Hall staffing, so the KCRHA landed on an unlikely replacement: Tender Angels, a Bellevue-based home health care and senior living operator with no operational experience emergency shelters or working with the homeless.

In the past, The Salvation Army has operated an emergency shelter at City Hall every night during the winter months. Last year, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan abolished all of the city’s winter night shelters, arguing that turning several shelters into 24/7 operations was a reasonable replacement for shelters like the one at City Hall, which now only open during weather emergencies. This caused chaos last year when KCRHA dispatched its own staff to handle transportation away from City Hall and other logistics during a snow storm in late December.

KCRHA has lowered the threshold for opening winter shelters so they open more frequently, but virtually all of the city’s winter shelters are downtown, making them inaccessible to people who live in most parts of the city without shelter. As PubliCola noted earlier this year, opening shelters downtown is not helping people living in areas without easy access to bus services (usually limited or nonexistent during ice and snow) or other transportation options.

2. Several long-time advocates against market pricing have joined forces to write the King County Voter’s Guide statement against Initiative 135, a February ballot measure that would set up a new public development agency to build sustainable affordable public housing.

The “No” statement, written by John Fox, David Bloom and Alice Woldt, claims that I-135 would build housing for “mixed incomes” and that the measure “steers attention away from the need” next for a robust housing tax in Seattle to say goodbye year.

“There is no point in starting another agency competing for scarce housing dollars that costs several millions to set up before a housing unit is produced,” opponents wrote. “The city’s housing priority must be the 50,000 people under 50% of the median [income] and 12,000 homeless people with little or no income – non-prioritized mixed-income housing, including housing at 120% of the median.”

Fox and Bloom co-founded the Seattle Displacement Coalition in 1979; Woldt is a longtime ally of both men and Bloom’s former colleague on the Greater Seattle Church Council.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Displacement Coalition spent much of its time fighting publicly funded mixed-income projects like the Seattle Housing Authority’s redevelopment of New Holly, arguing that such projects deprioritized very low-income residents while promoting the neoliberal idea that those with incomes are uplifted by proximity to wealthier neighbors. However, the group’s anti-new-build advocacy has often dovetailed with NIMBY’s concerns about “protecting” single-family home exclusion zones by banning new multi-family homes almost everywhere in the city.

I-135 aims to create “cross-class communities” in sustainable affordable public housing, including some units affordable to people with up to 120 percent of the median income, currently about $110,000 for an individual, or about $155,000 for a family of four. However, unlike the Seattle Housing Authority’s controversial redevelopments, the new public housing would not include standard market housing.

Seattle voters will decide the fate of I-135 in a special election on February 14th.

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