Update/analysis of vote on (click on each topic to jump to story or scan down):

"TIF"(Tax Increment Financing)

Car Impound Law

City Budget

Quick Stories on each issue cited above: 

        1. Tax Increment Financing (TIF): Tool to funnel millions in tax subsidies into the hands of Paul Allen, Boeing, Wal-Mart, and other large developers is turned back in Olympia this legislative session - but Sharon Tomiko-Santos's staunch effort to turn TIF into positive tool for economic development exclusively in low income areas and for low income housing is blocked by Republicans and the Governor's Office.

More Details:
       Down in Olympia last session, the Governor's office, Republicans, and, unfortunately quite a few "liberal" Seattle Democrats joined forces to try and pass a very bad tax increment financing (TIF) bill. This tool would have allowed local governments to draw boundaries around an area and then redirect all increased property and sales taxes from that area for years to big ticket redevelopment projects serving special interests. Vulcan, Boeing, Wal-Mart other special interests were licking their chopps over this. Monies destined for the general fund of Counties and Cities could have been raided to serve these special interests at the expense of dollars desperately needed for our neighborhoods and low income communities.             

       In response, we were able to mount a successful effort that prevented this bill from becoming law. However, we were not able to pass an alternative law so that TIF could only be used in a very limited way, exclusively in low income neighborhoods for low income housing and economic development strategies serving truly needy areas. This effort was thwarted not only by the "R"s but also and primarily by the Governor's office. There will no doubt be an effort next year by big business and its lobbyists to secure passage of another bad TIF bill, but rest assured we will be down there again to oppose it and we hope to make a more concerted effort to secure passage of a positive TIF bill that only could be used in needy communities.

       Thanks must be conveyed to a few key legislators who helped us on this effort, including Representatives Maralyn Chase and Velma Veloria. (Also note that five City Councilmembers wrote a letter supporting our alternative TIF proposal - Rasmussen, Licata, Steinbrueck, Della, and Conlin). House Speaker Frank Chopp's leadership was absolutely critical and deserves high praise. And, last but not least, a very special thank you must be conveyed to Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos. As majority whip and a member of the House Finance Committee, she had to absorb incredible pressure from the Governors office, R's and even some D's, but she stood up to them all and held the line against passage of a bad TIF bill. She also took our concerns, the concerns of other community-based groups and neighborhood organizations like Inter-Im, and and drafted a truly progressive alternative TIF bill, and fought for amendments to the Gov's bad bill. At one point, important programs serving minority youth and low income needs that Rep. Santos was championing were yanked from the budget in retribution, but she stood firm. Fortunately these cuts were restored and she was able to make sure that a bad TIF bill would not become law. This is the kind of leadership that is a rare thing in politics. I can only say "Wow".
       The bad guys will be back next year to try and ram through another piece of bad TIF legislation so we'll all have to do it again next year - hopefully with broader support from more of our local "D"s and a new Governor.

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2. Car Impound Law:
Councilmember Nick Licata's effort, Monday, to overturn car impound law is blocked by Tom Carr and Richard McIver. - Our City Attorney sounded like Mark Sidran. Now that he is the critical 5th vote, McIver reverses himself, refers it to Committee, and effectively upholds car impounds. Tom Rasmussen and Jean Godden, intimidated by Carr's rant, back away from supporting Licata's effort but could still come around.

More details:
        All in all, last Monday down at City Hall was a pretty miserable day. Councilmember Licata, the previous week, had worked hard to piece together majority support on the City Council for repeal of the notorious car impound law, adopted some 9 years ago by the Council at Mark Sidran's request. Licata had obtained joint sponsorship for repeal from new councilmembers Rasmussen, Godden, and Della and longtime opponent of the law Councilmember Steinbrueck. Strangely, Richard McIver, who for years voiced opposition to the law was not jumping on board. It was McIver who voted against orginal passage of the measure (along with Charlie Chong) because it so blatantly discriminated against poor people and people of color. Subsequently, he then joined forces with Licata, Steinbrueck and Nicastro in a failed attempt to repeal it three years ago.

        Late last Friday, it looked like car impound was headed for the trashbin. But...out of the woodwork comes Tom Carr - our relatively new City Attorney who campaigned on a platform of promising not to get involved, as Sidran so often did, in matters of public policy. His role, he promised us when he was running, was merely to weigh in on the legality of policy matters. Fat chance. Mr. Carr pretty much freaked out and took a page out of the Mark Sidran handbook on strong-arming fellow electeds. In a lobbying effort that would make Tammany Hall proud, he put the screws to to Councilmembers especially the new ones.

        In an act of inexplicable magnaminity but strategic blunder, Councilmember Steinbrueck also gave Mr. Carr a half-hour at the Council's briefing session Monday morning before the Council was to vote that afternoon. Charging that repeal of the car impound law would force him to jail hundreds of scofflaws at cost to taxpayers in the millions, Carr put the fear of God into especially the two new councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and Jean Godden. There went our long sought repeal of this racist law. 

        Licata and longtime supporters of repeal easily refute Carr's claims. The County unlike Seattle, does not tow the cars of people stopped by police who are driving with a suspended license for failure to pay routine traffic tickets - an inordinate percentage of whom are low income people and people of color. Nor does the County resort to locking these folks up. Prior to prosecution or jail, they offer these folks options - community service, payment plans for low income folks who cannot afford to pay the steep fines all at once, and other approaches to strict punishment. And it works. Most do pay off their fines. And, as County Councilmember Gossett pointed out before the vote, this diversion program pays for itself and even raises money for County government. People stay out of jail and they keep their cars. So much for rationality and compassion.

        Before the matter could even be voted on later that day, McIver got up at the start of the full Council session and moved to refer the matter back to committee. Why did he get such cold feet now that his vote for repeal could really make a difference? Was he scamming us those earlier times he voted against the car impound law when he knew his no vote wouldn't be the fifth and deciding one to really get rid of it? He and Conlin (who'se always been in the pro-Sidran camp), Drago, and Compton all used a "process" argument, saying that it first must go to Committee before going to full Council. Funny, after using this argument, these same councilmembers trampled all over the normal process when they voted to cut funding for homeless women and the Tenants Union and to send defendents all the way to Yakima before trial. 

        After McIver's strange reversal, it came down to the new Councilmembers. Only Della joined Steinbrueck and Licata in voting for repeal. Godden and Rasmussen (who both opposed car impound when running for office) got religion and voted against repeal referring it to Committee. However, they did leave the door open saying that, if convinced there were alternatives to jail or car impounds, they would support repeal. Since the County offers a viable alternative there is still a chance that these two will come around.

        The matter is now in Licata's Public Safety Committee and there still is hope for repeal after it winds its way back through the "process". In the meantime, I'm told that the Minority Directors and other community leaders from the Minority Community who've fought long and hard for repeal and who put a lot of faith in McIver will be having a very long sit-down with him very soon.   

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3. City Budget Cuts: Councilmember Licata offers solution to save human services, shelter programs for women, and Tenant Union funding but only he and Peter Steinbrueck stand up to the cuts. Drago and Mayor push new councilmembers around - they vote to cut these critical programs. As head of Housing and Human Services, Rasmussen ignores Licata's efforts but saves funding for Shalom Zone and Neighborhood House.

More details:
        This Monday was a "bummer" all the way around. After nearly two hours of impassioned testimony, particularly coming from leaders of the minority community fighting to save programs for the Tenant Union, homeless and other minority programs, (who also were calling for repeal fo the car impound law), the Council voted 8-1 to cut these critical social and human service programs out of the budget. While the total package of cuts totaled 9 million dollars, Councilmember Licata had crafted an alternative package that only required a restoration of $400,000 worth of critical human service programs leaving the remainder of Mayor's cuts untouched. Everyone could have gone home happy, but only Councilmember Steinbrueck joined him when he offered amendments to the package to achieve this.    

        After his amendments to restore funding for these critical programs failed, Licata then went ahead and voted with the majority for the total package of nine million dollars in cuts. Councilmember Steinbrueck stood firm on principle and voted against the total package because of the failure to restore funding for these programs. Tom Rasmussen played an unfortunate role in all this. As head of the Housing and Human Service Committee he was in a pivotal position and should have joined Nick and Peter supporting restoration of all of these programs totalling only $400,000 from the total of $9 million in cuts. But instead of speaking in support of Licata's amendments, he pushed for restoration of only two programs - $50,000 for Shalom Zone and Neighborhood House. His amendment passed leaving these other critical programs in the lurch.

        With regard to these cuts that will be disastrous for low income people and people of color, they really could have been prevented. Only $400,000 of the $9 million worth of cuts were in dispute. It only would have cost $400,000 to save these programs. Meanwhile, the City moves ahead with what is quite literally a $700 million plus agenda to accommodate Paul Allen's plans in South Lake Union. Our Mayor and the same councilmembers (especially Drago and Compton) who pushed for these cuts are the ones blindly giving away millions to the Paul Allen agenda in South Lake Union. Several million dollars alone drawn from the 2004 City Budget are being used just to provide the planning for this massive redevelopment plan and millions more are slated to be drawn from the General Fund in coming years for Paul Allen's Street Trolley, Undergrounding of wiring, Mercer Corridor changes, a Parking Garage and Terry Avenue Improvements, a new park, the list goes on - much of it quite literally under the direction of Paul Allen's Vulcan Development Company. 

        Monday truly was a sad day and another reminder of why we need change at City Hall.

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Seattle Housing Authority's Rainier Vista HOPE VI celebration tomorrow hides major problems, possible cost overruns, and violations of court-enforced obligations to low income residents and the Displacement Coalition

 - Changes in project indicate SHA is shortchanging low income households to make up for significant cost overruns in the project. "It jeopardizes public housing and SHA's obligation to low income residents"

 - SHA was obligated to replace, on site, 310 of the 480 public housing units they destroyed and to guarantee comparable units for 310 public housing eligible households at the new HOPE VI project "Instead, SHA has shoved the low income families into dense apartment buildings while the richer folk get courtyards and ground-related units!.  They may also try and relocate more public housing residents off-site!"

 - SHA also has violated the city's memorandum of agreement and a court ordered settlement with the Displacement Coalition and Friends of Rainier Vista by converting these 310 "public housing" units on site into "tax credit" units effectively denying or restricting access to many public housing families!

 - SHA also is balking at providing information or meeting with the Displacement Coalition to explain discrepancies in their obligations under their a court-ordered settlement with the Coalition

The details (further questions contact the Displacement Coalition at 632-0668):

This coming Thurs. August 11th 5PM at Rainier Vista, the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) will celebrate completion of Phase I of their federally financed HOPE VI make-over of the former 481 unit public housing complex.  When completed, there will 1010 low, median, and high income units on the site.  In December of 2002, SHA signed a federal court enforced settlement with the Seattle Displacement Coalition and the Friends of Rainier Vista obligating the Seattle Housing Authority to replace on site 310 of the 480 public housing units they were destroying to make way for their 1010-unit mixed redevelopment.  With the completion of this first phase of the two-phased project, SHA appears to have significantly shortchanged low income families and violated terms of that court-enforced settlement as well as obligations to the City under a city-memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed in October 2001.

Instead of replacing 310 public housing units on site with 310 "public housing units", SHA is converting these public housing units into "tax credit units" with significantly different eligibility and income requirements that effectively deny or restrict access to by public housing (PH) residents.  Further, many of these low income units have been shoved into dense apartment buildings with shared stairwells and cramped barracks-like quarters ill-suited for families and far away from play areas or any open space at all.  Further, residents surrounding the Rainier Vista project tell us that SHA representatives have been scouting the area to buy up properties adjacent to the Rainier Vista site where they will attempt to relocate some of those very low income units - leaving more available space on site for housing for the rich.  These actions by the housing authority indicate to the Coalition that there are serious cost overruns with the project first estimated to cost 135 million dollars.  As costs have escalated in order to make ends meet, they are shortchanging public housing residents and very poor families in order to make ends meet.  All this despite the fact, that the agency's primary mission is to serve this city's poorest households.

Under the City MOA and court enforced settlement with the Displacement Coalition, SHA was required to guarantee returning PH residents the right to comparable units.  That meant that each "public housing" unit would have the same eligibility and income requirements and retain ground related characteristics suitable for families with kids that need access to play areas and open space.  At 'old' Rainier Vista, each family had a yard and access to a common courtyard with gardens and play areas close at hand.  More importantly, SHA was obligated to guarantee that each household would pay no more in rent, and damage deposits and be subject to identical eligibility requirements.  By converting all the 310 "public housing" units into tax credit units, now all these returning tenants must pay more in deposits and other costs, meet all new tenant requirements that disqualify some households, and there is no guarantee that the units will remain affordable for a minimum 40 year term as per the MOA and settlement. 

SHA also has taken public housing operating subsidies to help underwrite the cost and financing of these tax credit units and perhaps other finite subsidies cutting into the pool of federal dollars they need to maintain our city's remaining low income housing stock. Also, the 310 "public housing" units also effectively "privatized" when they were converted to tax credit units.  SHA had to create a "limited partnership", bring in private investors, and then sell off the land - all pre-requisite to obtaining federal tax credits and conversion of the units to "tax credit" buildings. The sites where the tax credit units are now located at the new Rainier Vista are now owned by a private entity and can in the future be converted to market rate.

The Displacement Coalition has submitted a specific public disclosure request to SHA and is insisting on all details related to their budget, cost overruns, and altered eligibility and income standards for the 310 public housing units they are obligated to produce on site.  In addition, the Coalition has been asking for several months now for a meeting with SHA to go over these discrepancies in their obligations under these agreements.  At present SHA appears to be balking at providing information and has been slow to respond to their request for a meeting.  The Coalition is prepared to go back to federal Court if necessary to enforce the original terms and SHA's mandated obligations.  The future of our city's very low income housing stock is at stake.  The City Council won't step in and enforce their own agreements with SHA so I guess it's up to us.

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