I attended the swearing in ceremony for King County Superior Court Judges Jason Poydras and Matthew York today.Â This was a great opportunity to see the lighter side of the judiciary branch.
Will Congress let Mary Klein decide how to die?
Mary Klein hopes the government will hurry up and let her die.
Itâ€™s not that she wants her life to end. To the contrary, she says, she is doing absolutely everything she can to live. That includes surgery to cut the cancer out of her ovaries, uterus, colon, diaphragm and stomach lining, followed by five separate months-long rounds of chemotherapy. But, she says, these life-extending options will stop working one day, and when they do she wants to be able to use a life-ending one, to die on her own terms and by her own hand.
Klein, 69, is a resident of Washington, D.C., the latest locus of the growing debate over laws allowing terminally ill patients to decide when to die. Last year, the district became the seventh jurisdiction in the United States to legalize what here was called Death With Dignity â€” joining Washington state, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado and Oregon.
But D.C. is not a state, and here Congress can override laws passed by the local city government. In the months since the D.C. act was passed, national legislators have been aiming to do exactly that, trying first to vote to nullify it, and, when that failed, attempting to defund it. That puts patients like Klein in the position of fighting not only against their disease and for their cause but also, unexpectedly, for the rights of their hometown to govern itself.
The result is a race literally to the death. City officials including the mayor and the director of public health have said they are determined to implement the law before Congress can cut off the funding to do so.
â€œThey are scrambling to get this done,â€ Klein says. â€œI just hope they do that in time.â€
When the first of these laws went into effect in Oregon in 1997,Â the commonly used term for a doctorâ€™s legally writing a prescription for a fatal dose of medication was â€œphysician-assisted suicide.â€ In the two decades since, proponents have taken to using the term â€œmedical aid in dyingâ€ to emphasize their arguments that it is the patient who acts, not the doctor, and that the act is not actually suicide.c
â€œThis has nothing to do with suicide,â€ says Kim Callinan, chief program officer for Compassion and Choices which was originally called the Hemlock Society when it was founded in 1980 and is now the largest group in the U.S. to advocate for end of life choices. â€œSuicide is a person ending their life when they otherwise would not have died. This is a person who is dying from a disease; the disease is taking their life, and this is a compassionate way toward that inevitable end.â€
The Oregon law, which is the model for the five that came after, has stringent requirements for deciding who qualifies for such assistance. Patients must be older than 18, diagnosed with a terminal condition and have six months or less to live. They must make three separate requests (one written, two oral), prove they are a resident, and have three doctors agree that they are terminal and not making the requests because they are depressed. And they must be able to take the medication on their own, without assistance.
In the decade after Oregon made all of that legal, it was the only state in the nation to do so. Then, in 2008 Washington state voters approved medical aid in dying on a ballot initiative, in 2009 a Montana court declared there was nothing in state law that would make it illegal, and in 2013 the Vermont legislature passed what it called a Death With Dignity Act.
But it wasnâ€™t until 2014 that the issue jumped back into the national spotlight, where it really hadnâ€™t been since Dr. Jack Kevorkian infamously took it upon himself to build a euthanasia machine back in the early 1990s. The face of the latest version of the debate was not an eccentric graying doctor but a vibrant young woman, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved from her home state of California to Oregon when she was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, so she could legally end her own life.
Working with Compassion and Choices, she chronicled her decision in a series if Internet videos and she got the publicâ€™s attention. When she died in November of 2014, a YouGov poll found that 39 percent of Americans knew her story. She also appears to have changed some minds: A Gallup poll from May of last year found that nearly 70 percent of Americans agree that terminally ill patients should be allowed prescriptions that would end their lives, a 10 percent increase over 2015.
Maynardâ€™s husband, Dan Diaz, had promised her he would keep lobbying for an Oregon-like law in California, and one was passed there soon after her death. Similar legislation has been introduced in 26 other states over the past two years, nearly all of which are still pending. Colorado was the first of those to pass a law. Next up was Washington, D.C.
Mary Cheh, a D.C. councilwoman who is also a constitutional law professor, sponsored the D.C. bill with Maynard on her mind. She had thought of introducing assisted-death legislation as far back as 2011, she said in an interview, but decided the timing wasnâ€™t right â€” the council was tackling other major social issues, like same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana, â€œand thereâ€™s only so much change you can push through at any one time.â€
But as an increasing list of states began to consider the subject, and she continued to hear from constituents who â€œwanted to die with dignity, with control,â€ Cheh drafted legislation, which she introduced in January of 2016.
She expected it would be controversial, and it was.
The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying that â€œassisted suicideâ€ violated the â€œsanctity of life.â€ TheÂ president of the Patient Rights Action Fund worried that insurance companies would see assisted death as a more economical option than paying for treatment, and encourage patients, directly or indirectly, to make use of the option. At least one group of physicians protested that â€œassisted suicide â€¦ goes against everything we are as doctors,â€ and advocates for the mentally ill expressed fears that the bill would lead to â€œdoctor shoppingâ€ for a physician willing to declare a depressed patient to be terminal.
There were equally passionate voices in favor of the legislation. At a July hearing,Â 70 D.C. residents signed up to speak, and the event lasted nine hours. Among those heard that night were an elderly couple who vowed they would help each other die one day, two reverends who supported the bill, a breast cancer patient who was stable at the moment but wanted to have the option to act should that fight become futile, and a well-known D.C. restaurant owner with a rare and painful connective tissue disorder, who said he had considered moving to either Oregon or Washington state in order one day to do as Maynard did.
â€œI am fully prepared for the inevitable death that comes to us all,â€ said restaurateur Bill Warrell. â€œIf I know mine is coming, and I believe it will be painful and prolonged, I want to be able to ask my doctor for an aid-in-dying prescription. What I really want to know is that I will be able to do that right here in D.C., in this beautiful and ugly city that I love.â€
Mary Klein was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October of 2014, before the D.C. hearings began, before Cheh had even introduced the bill, and about a week before Maynard was on the cover of People magazine..
Until that diagnosis, her world was â€œbasically perfect,â€ she said during an interview in her comfortable northwest D.C. home, on a leafy street abutting Rock Creek Park, a house filled with dog gates, mud mats and family photos. By way of illustration, she passed her hand around the living room where she sat, pointing first toward Stella Dawson, 63, her partner of 37 years, and then to her two German shepherds, 6-year-old Adina and 7-month-old Eiger, both of whom Klein trains for agility and obedience competitions.
â€œMy life has been one adventure after another,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ve loved my life.â€
â€œFun,â€ Dawson said, holding her hand as they spoke.
â€œFun, great fun,â€ Klein said.
â€œItâ€™s not past tense,â€ Dawson said.
â€œNo, not yet,â€ Klein said. â€œWhen Iâ€™m not terribly sick, and even actually when I am, we laugh a lot together. I am very grateful for that. I have not been afraid to take risks, because what propels me forward is believing in what I do.â€
Much of their life together has been about standing up for their beliefs, Klein and Dawson say, beginning with the way they met â€” sharing a house with other staff members at the feminist news collective where they worked in the early 1980s. After that they lived around the country and the world â€” Chicago, Providence, New York, outside of Frankfurt and London â€” while Dawson worked as a reporter for Reuters and Klein as an artist, photographer and journalist. In 2004 they happened to be visiting relatives in Massachusetts on the day same-sex marriage became legal, so they got themselves a license and became the 13th same-sex couple to be wed in that state.
â€œNow weâ€™re on the frontier again,â€ Dawson says of the fight for the D.C. law.
â€œThereâ€™s better frontiers to be at,â€ Klein says.
They are here after two rough years of treatment, during which it became clear that remission was not a possibility. Klein often lacked the energy to work on her art. She was regularly hospitalized with complications from the chemotherapy. She suffered nerve damage that made her less stable on her feet, and she had to change the competitions for which she trained the shepherds to ones that were less strenuous for both dog and owner. And there was almost always pain. â€œIf I made it through a weekend without having to go to the emergency room, that was a really successful weekend,â€ she says.
As her options became fewer, she says, her determination increased. She had read of Maynard, and the state laws that followed, and when she heard that similar legislation was under consideration by the D.C. City Council, she told Dawson that she planned to use her limited energy to support the cause.
â€œI was not surprised at all,â€ Dawson says of her wifeâ€™s wish to die on her own terms. â€œMary was always a very strong, very courageous, very independent person. I knew that she would want things on her own terms.â€
Klein did not attend the nine-hour meeting on the bill last July, because she was undergoing her third round of chemotherapy â€œand my focus was on just getting through it.â€ By October of last year, though, she was on vacation off the coast of Virginia with Dawson when she read there was to be a first committee vote on the legislation. Cutting their trip short, they returned to D.C. and walked door to door from one council office to the next, telling Kleinâ€™s story.
â€œThe word got out that there was a terminally ill womanâ€¦â€ Klein says.
â€œâ€¦ just prowling the halls,â€ Dawson finishes her sentence.
â€œEvery member, or their staff, took a meeting with us,â€ Klein finishes.
Her message in each office was the same: â€œIâ€™m doing everything I can to extend my life, but when I have a short period of time left and am in intolerable pain, which is very likely, then I want the option to take medication and have a dignified and comfortable death. I donâ€™t want to die totally drugged up, hallucinating, or in a coma unable to say goodbye. Everyone should have the right to decide how they want to die. Whatever their choice is, I respect that, and I only ask that they respect mine.â€
With each hearing, each meeting, each conversation, Cheh tinkered with the text of her proposed bill, D.C. Act 21-577.
When the director of the D.C. Department of Health, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, questioned whether people would be allowed â€œto carry out their deaths in public areas â€¦ to view the sunset over the Lincoln Memorial while taking their last breath,â€Â Cheh added wording that would prohibit patients from taking their final dose of medicine in public.
WhenÂ Councilwoman Anita Bonds asked for a provision recommending that patients of faith might consult a religious adviser before choosing the aid-in-dying path, Cheh added that, too.Â â€œMight help, canâ€™t hurt,â€ Cheh says.
All those changes helped the bill get through the councilâ€™s health committee, although Kleinâ€™s door-to-door lobbying seems to have provided the final push.Â David Grosso,Â an at-large independent member of the council, had been undecided until the Oct. 5 committee vote. He became the deciding vote in the 3-2 tally after some intense conversations with Klein.
â€œAs a matter of principle, I believe that adults should be able to make choices about their own lives and bodies,â€ he said on the night of the committee vote. â€œIt is hard for me to imagine telling a person in the final months of her life that she must continue to fight if she prefers to end things on her own terms.â€
The vote of the full council a month later was similarly emotional. At one point during that Nov. 1 meeting, Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, who called this â€œmy toughest vote in four and a half years in this body,â€ began to talk about his own father’s death.. â€œMy family had to watch him suffer. I wouldnâ€™t wish that on anybody else,â€Â he said, so overcome with tears that he had to leave the room.
The measure passed by a vote of 11-2. It was signed into law by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser on Dec. 3, 2016.
The federal Home Rule Act of 1973Â allows Congress to oversee what the D.C. government does. When Congress disapproves, the act provides two routes by which to undo the city councilâ€™s actions â€” voting to override the bill or to cut off its funding.
Nearly all every time Congress has exercised this power it has been on controversial social issues â€” abortion, needle exchange programs, rights of same-sex couples, decriminalization of marijuana.
The Home Rule Act says Congress must vote to override within 30 days after the law in question is signed, and many in Congress tried to do that with Death With Dignity. In the Senate that effort was led by Sen. James Lankford, but his disapproval resolution didnâ€™t made it out of committee. The House Oversight Committee, chaired by Jason Chaffetz, did vote, 22-14, to overturn the law. â€œRather than facilitate suicides, the governmentâ€™s role should be to prevent them,â€ Chaffetz wrote in a joint opinion piece with former Sen. Jim DeMint. â€œWe should not now or ever take steps to help facilitate, encourage or tacitly accept measures that prematurely end lives.â€
But that House bill never made it to a floor vote, and when the 30-day window closed on Feb. 18 of this year, the D.C. legislation became law.
That was not, however, the end of the fight between Congress and the council. In response to requests from several congressmen, the Trump administrationâ€™s proposed budget specifically prohibits the district from spending any funds to implement the new law. The cost of implementation is minimal, local officials say â€” basically it includes new software for the Department of Health computer system to track requests from patients and count prescriptions from doctors. And since estimates are that only 10 patients each year will request such prescriptions, it is not expected to be an overwhelming bureaucratic burden.
However small the numbers might be, though, the result is a direct confrontation between the two government bodies located in D.C.
â€œThe hypocrisy is extraordinary,â€ says Cheh. â€œThese politicians who preach local control, states as workshops of experimentation, want to tell our local government what to do.â€
Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.â€™s nonvoting representative in Congress, agrees, while also hoping that on this issue momentum is on the districtâ€™s side.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t it get a floor vote?â€ she asked in an interview. â€œBecause this is a rolling stone as more and more Americans are understanding this issue. There are now 24 House Republicans, two of them in the leadership, who are from states where Death With Dignity is the law. To vote against it in D.C. means voting against what their constituents believe in at home. I am optimistic, which is a very difficult and rare word for me to say. We have to fight like the world is coming to an end for each and every thing weâ€™ve saved, but I think we might be able to save this.â€
Call it cautious optimism. In case the funding restrictions do pass, Mayor Bowser and Health Director Nesbitt have assured the council that they are scrambling to beat the clock and to fund the necessary implementation before the next budget takes effect on Sept. 30.
For Klein, though, that date feels very far away.
It might surprise some, but sheÂ is not at all sure she will actually exercise the right she is fighting so hard to have. â€œI canâ€™t tell you with 100 percent certainty that if I had the medication I would take it,â€ she says. â€œBut I do know that it would bring great comfort to me to know this is a possibility.â€
Statistically, many others feel the same way. In the 20 years medical aid in dying has been legal in Oregon, 1,327 patients have been granted prescriptions but only 859 have actually used them. Some quickly became too ill to act on their own, but for many, just knowing the choice was theirs was the reassurance they needed.
Before she makes that choice, Klein is making others â€” all of which add up to a resolution to live life as completely as she can for as long as she can.Â She and Stella are planning to head back to the beach where their vacation was interrupted last summer. There she will work on training their new puppy, a rambunctious energetic dynamo who seems blessedly unaware that his human is not as steady on her feet as she once was, not as able to roughhouse back.
Why get a new dog when you might soon be too fragile to even walk him?
â€œSo I can live my life exactly as I want, until I decide to stop,â€ Klein says.
The Housing Recovery Is Leaving Out Most of America
For further evidence of the uneven recovery among U.S. housing markets, howâ€™s this: In the 10 most expensive U.S. metropolitan areas, median home values have increased by 63 percent since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. In the 10 cheapest metros, median values rose by just 3.6 percent.
That finding, and the others illustrated by the charts below, comes from theÂ State of the Nationâ€™s Housing, an annual report published Friday by Harvard Universityâ€™s Joint Center For Housing Studies. While home prices have increased sharply in expensive coastal cities, plenty of urban centers are lagging behind. Home prices in 3 out of 5 metropolitan areasÂ remain below their pre-recession peak, and home prices in low-income neighborhoods are faring even worse.
Meanwhile, the number of Americans spending 50 percent of their income on rent is near historic highs, something likely to get even worse if proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development eliminate rental assistance for hundreds of thousands. Demand for rental units continues to rise, pushing rents higher.
The good newsâ€”such as it isâ€”is that slow price appreciation in much of the countryÂ outside the hot metros means for-sale units there remain relatively affordable for more families.
Home prices increased in 97 out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to the report. Nationally, nominal prices returned toÂ theÂ peaks they held before the Great Recession. But when youÂ adjust for inflation, those prices are as much as 16 percent below past peaks. And appreciation hasnâ€™t been evenly distributed: A May report from Trulia showed that nationally, just 1 in 3 homes has recovered peak value. The Harvard report, however, showsÂ the price gains have been concentrated in high-income neighborhoods.
The flip side of low appreciation should be greater affordability for home buyers. Indeed, 59 percent of households in U.S. metros can afford to purchase the median home, the Harvard report stated, and in 1 in 5 metros, 75 percent can afford to buy. (In this case, the report defines affordability based on a 5 percent down-payment and monthly mortgage payments of no more than 36 percent of household income.)
But many local markets suffer fromÂ low inventory, the report notes, partly because of the sluggish pace of new construction: The U.S. added fewer housing units over the decade ending in 2016 than in any 10-year period since 1990.
And while a significant number of Americans spend half of their income on rent, that figure did tick down a bit in 2015, to 11.1 million. Thatâ€™s still 49 percent more severely rent-burdened households compared with 2001. The vast majority of those households earn less than $30,000 a year.
Regardless of income, or whether they own or rent their homes, families that spend half their income on housing are forced to make sacrifices elsewhere in their budgets. When the poorest families pay less for housing, the extra money goes to necessities like health care. Among households that fall in the bottom 25 percent for total consumer spending, those that spent less than 30 percent of their income on housing spent three times as much on health care.
Those hoping for relief in the form of new rental stock may be waiting for a while.Â After growing by leaps following the foreclosure crisis, the nationâ€™s stock ofÂ single-family rentals actually fell in 2015, the last year for which the report offers data. Low-rent units, meanwhile, are being replaced by more expensive offerings, the report said. That is where the money is.
I recently attended an event celebrating the achievements of Dean Kellye Testy, the outgoing Dean of the University of Washington School of Law.Â Everyone in the U.W. School of Law community wishes her well.Â She has been a terrific Dean.
I recently attended a retirement dinner for Carole Grayson, my old boss at University of Washington Student Legal Services, who has also served as the head of the Senior Lawyers Section of the WSBA.Â I thank Carole for her patience with me as a legal intern, and for the many powerful lessons she imparted to me regarding the practice of law.
Renters Now Rule Half of U.S. Cities
Detroit was once known as a city where a working-class family could afford to own a home. Now itâ€™s a city of renters.
Just 49 percent of Motor City households were homeowners in 2015, down from 55 percent in 2009 and the lowest percentage inÂ more than 50 years. Detroit isnâ€™t alone, of course: The rate of U.S. home ownership fell steadily for a decadeÂ as the foreclosure crisis turned millions of owners into renters and tight housing markets made it hard for renters to buy homes. Demographic shiftsâ€”millennials (finally) moving out of their parents basements, for instance, or a rising Hispanic populationâ€”further fed the renter pool.
Fifty-two of the 100 largest U.S. cities were majority-renter in 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau data compiled for Bloomberg by real estate brokerage Redfin. Twenty-one of thoseÂ cities have shifted to renter-dominationÂ since 2009. These include such hot housing markets asÂ Denver and San Diego and lukewarm locales,Â such asÂ Detroit and Baltimore,Â better known for vacant homes than residential development.
While U.S. home ownership ticked up in the second half of 2016, there are reasons to think the trend toward renting will continue. A 2015 report from the Urban Institute predicted that rentership wouldÂ keep risingÂ through 2030, thanks to demographic trendsÂ that include aging baby boomers who downsize into rentals.
In the shorter term, housing market dynamics will also play a role. FewerÂ than 1 million homes were on the market in the first quarter of 2017, the lowest number since Trulia began recording inventory data in 2012. The shortage makes it harder for renters to buy. Meanwhile, rental landlords, including large Wall Street players and mom-and-pop investors, continue to plow cash into single-family homes.
Those shifts are likely to present new challenges forÂ cities unequipped to handleÂ high rental populations.Â Detroit Future City, a nonprofit that highlighted Detroitâ€™s shift in a reportÂ earlier this month, argues that the city needs an intentional strategy for dealing with the rising population of suchÂ households.
That could include providing new protections for renters or creating resources to helpÂ landlords keep properties in good repair.Â On a grander scale, the Center for Budget Policy &Â Priorities, a Washington-based research institute, published a proposalÂ this month calling for a new tax credit for low-wage workers, seniors, and people for disabilities.
Most low-income families donâ€™t rent by choice, said Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin. And plenty of higher-income households rent because they canâ€™t afford to buy. â€œWe donâ€™t have enough affordable supply in either rental or for-sale markets,â€ said Richardson, adding that cities interested in promoting renter-friendly policies can rethink their zoning policies to encourage more construction.
At an even more basic level, city leaders should check old assumptions about the role renter households play in their communities, said Andrew Jakabovics, vice president for policy development at Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit.
Homeowners have traditionallyÂ beenÂ regarded as more engaged, with more at stake in the long-term prospects ofÂ their neighborhood,Â Jakabovics said. That view can unfairly shortchange renters.
â€œIt goes a long way just to make sure youâ€™re valuing renters and making sure voices are heard when itâ€™s time to allocate resources to schools or parks or transit lines,â€ he said.
I spoke again today at University of Washington School of Law in the Small and Solo Practice ClassÂ aboutÂ a variety of topics related to solo andÂ small firmÂ practice.Â Presenting in this class and hearing from the students and instructors always gives me new ideas about how to improve my practice.
I had the privilege of attending the mentor-mentee reception at U.W. Law School again. It was great to meet so many new law students.Â I always feel like the caliber of law students continues to increase, which makes me hopeful for the future of the legal profession and of the world.
Councilmembers Rob Johnson, Lisa Herbold, Mike Oâ€™Brien and Kshama Sawant unveiled legislation today that would revamp the Cityâ€™s current practice of encampment sweeps, allowing for clear outs after the City fulfils certain conditions. The legislation was developed with the goal of protecting public safety and connecting the unhoused with permanent housing options. Councilmembers intend for this legislation to go through the legislative process in parallel to, and informed by, the work of the Mayorâ€™s Unsanctioned Encampments Cleanup Protocols Task Force to ensure implementation before the winter months.
The legislation unveiled today has been amended to address concerns that have been aired in recent days, clarifying the Cityâ€™s role in managing and clearing encampments. The new legislation would allow for encampment clear outs, with the following conditions:
â€¢ Outdoor living spaces in locations deemed unsuitable or unsafe are to be cleared with 48 hours notice, and the City must offer an alternative location for people to relocate;
â€¢ Camping on sidewalks, rights of way, school grounds, private property, highway overpasses, among other unsuitable locations, would not be allowed;
â€¢ For outdoor living areas that are not deemed unsafe, unsuitable, or hazardous, residents will be cleared out only after being offered an adequate and accessible housing option with at least 30 days advance written notice;
â€¢ Outdoor living spaces that have garbage accumulation and/or presence of unsanitary elements would be qualified as hazardous. Before clearing out the space, the City must first attempt to remedy the hazardous situation (for example, garbage containers, sharps containers, portable restrooms);
â€¢ Removed personal property must be catalogued and kept for a minimum of 90 days at storage locations accessible by public transit which operate beyond normal business hours;
â€¢ A 10 member advisory committee be created to provide recommendations on the Cityâ€™s ongoing removal and impoundment actions;
â€¢ Further amendments will be considered through the Councilâ€™s legislative process.
Current City protocol provides homeless residents 72 hours notice before each sweep occurs and access to outreach workers to connect to shelter and services. In practice, the notice has sometimes been as little as 24 hours, and an outreach worker often does not have available shelters or services to offer to individuals that meet their needs. Personal belongings are either disposed of or sent to a facility in an industrial area for pickup.
A Seattle Times story recently illustrated problems with the Cityâ€™s current outdoor living space cleanup protocol, including improperly destroyed personal belongings, inconsistency in cleanup notice and scheduling, unsuitable access to confiscated belongings, and exacerbating trauma onto marginalized populations.
According to the Human Services Department, the City has conducted 441 cleanups, or â€œsweepsâ€ of outdoor living spaces since the declaration of the State of Emergency on Homelessness last November. During those cleanups only 126 people were connected with shelter or housing while outreach workers actually engaged 1,852 individuals. The ineffectiveness of the current protocols is also depicted in the fact that many outdoor living space cleanups are done multiple times Because of repeat processes, the City constrains its resources and the proposed legislation will help stabilize those situations to ensure neighborhood safety and health.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park) said, â€œPeople are sleeping outside because they have no place to go, and thatâ€™s the reality. This legislation is meant to set the parameters for what is safe and what isnâ€™t, and itâ€™s largely intended to inspire the City to get serious about providing stable housing opportunities for people living on the streets.â€
Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle) said, â€œReforms to the current approach are necessary to ensure we are treating our unsheltered neighbors with decency and respect. While recent steps have been made toward increasing the affordable housing stock in Seattle (such as passing the Mandatory Housing Affordability Residential framework last month), we must work in the meantime to enact better, more compassionate short term solutions. I look forward to working collaboratively with the Mayorâ€™s taskforce, advocates, and members from the business community to make sure that we come up with an effective plan to this complex issue. â€
â€œIf our larger goal is to transition unsheltered people and families into permanent housing, then continually displacing them, destabilizing their lives, and compromising relationships and connections to services is not producing the results we need,â€ said Councilmember Mike Oâ€™Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle). â€œMany community members have approached me with concerns about increased garbage, human waste, and needles in their neighborhoods, which is why this legislation will require that the City provide sharps containers, public restrooms, and garbage pickup for those sites where we find unsanitary conditions. We all deserve clean and safe neighborhoods.â€
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) said, â€œSpending millions of dollars moving homeless people from one street corner to another is inhumane and ineffective. Instead, this money should be directed towards basic services and shelter. Also, the $160 million slated for a new North Police Precinct should be used to build a 1,000 units of city-owned affordable rental housing. The Council needs to address the root causes of the homelessness crisis and the lack of affordable housing.â€
The legislation was developed in collaboration with advocacy organizations and homeless service providers who have the on-the-ground work experience in case management for the unsheltered, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness ACLU of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, Public Defender Association, Seattle Community Law Association, Real Change, and people experiencing homelessness.
Councilmembers are requesting that the legislation be initially considered in the Councilâ€™s Human Services & Public Health Committee on September 14 at 2 p.m.
â€œTodayâ€™s vote is a significant step towards increasing fair access to rental housing,â€ said Councilmember Lisa Herbold. According to Seattle’s Renting Crisis Report from the Washington Community Action Network, â€œ48% of individuals who pay for rent with Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security retirement income said that discrimination prevents them from having successful rental applications.â€
Councilmember Kshama Sawant said, â€œThe movement of tenants in Seattle continues to win victories toward a full-fledged Tenantsâ€™ Bill of Rights. Thank you to Councilmember Herbold and tenant activists for this important protection against housing discrimination.â€
Councilmember Mike O’Brien applauded the bill. â€œWe are living through a housing affordability crisis. Itâ€™s essential to protect low-income renters from being displaced. Todayâ€™s legislation is directly based on what we heard from communities most impacted by discriminatory landlord practices.â€
Sponsored by Councilmember Herbold, the Source of Income Discrimination legislation was unanimously voted out of the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee. Currently it is illegal to discriminate against a prospective renter whose primary source of income is a Section 8 voucher.Â This bill expands the legally protected classes to include alternate sources of income such as a pension, Social Security, unemployment, child support or any other governmental or non-profit subsidy.
The Committee discussed the bill on May 24 and June 14. In light of these discussions, the legislation was amended to add further protections:
- First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice
Prevents housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority. It requires landlords to review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis.
- New Eviction Protections
Ensures that tenants can fully utilize community resources to prevent eviction. Landlords will be required to accept pledges from community-based organizations to remedy nonpayment of rent if funds are received within 5 days of an eviction notice.
- Preferred Employer Programs Banned
Encourages landlords to offer non-discriminatory move-in incentives. In 2015, both media and community members reportedÂ discounts on deposits and other move-in fees for rental applicants working for preferred employers. The Seattle Office of Civil Rights recently concluded that some preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination underÂ Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08).