Perennial Issues of Housing Discrimination and Fair Housing are Ripe for Reform
Race and socio-economic factors must not be used to prevent people from securing safe, healthy affordable housing. Yet, that is exactly what is happening.
On Monday, May 2, 2016, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) filed 23 director’s charges of illegal discrimination against 23 different property owners in response to the latest round of fair housing testing. Using HUD approved testing practices, it was revealed that prospective “tester renters” experienced different treatment than did “control group renters” across all three categories: familial status, disability, and use of a federal Section 8 voucher. The SOCR has jurisdiction within Seattle city limits to investigate and file charges against landlords for violating the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing. Under Seattle Municipal Code, Chapter 14.08, a civil penalty could be assessed against each property owner ranging between $11,000 and $55,000.
I commend SOCR for proactively around enforcing our Fair Housing Laws. Renters facing discrimination rarely complain. Yet, I am disappointed in the lack of compliance with our laws. Last year’s SOCR testing made similarly disturbing findings. We are a city of renters, and their interests must be protected if we intend to reduce the number of people living homeless and increase affordable housing opportunities.
As chair of Civil Rights, I will seek to balance the interests of rental housing providers with the interests of renters. In the next month, the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts (CRUEDA) Committee will discuss two pieces of legislation to 1) help landlords comply with their duties and 2) uphold renters’ rights.
First, a Resolution to remind rental housing providers of their legal, Fair Housing Law obligations. According to HUD, “As many as 100 million U.S. adults – or nearly one-third of the population – have a criminal record of some sort. As of 2012, the United States accounted for only about five percent of the world’s population, yet almost one quarter of the world’s prisoners, or 2.2 million adults, were held in American prisons. Since 2004, an average of over 650,000 individuals have been released annually from federal and state prisons.” This Resolution will inform rental housing providers of a recent HUD issued guidance that use of criminal history to categorically deny housing could potentially violate Fair Housing Act. The HUD guidance provides screening practices that, if followed, make a successful Fair Housing violation claim less likely.
To further address this issue, in July, the Mayor’s office will convene the Fair Chance Housing committee to develop proposals that address rental housing discrimination, provide wider access to rental assistance and increase enforcement of Seattle fair housing ordinances. In the meantime, I believe sharing the HUD guidance with landlords and tenants alike will further the City’s interest in promoting opportunities to access housing.
Secondly, an Ordinance to address source of income discrimination (SOID) proposes to add protected class to existing ordinances that already make it illegal to discriminate against a prospective renter whose primary source of income is a section 8 voucher, to include a pension, Social Security, unemployment, child support or any other governmental or non-profit subsidy. Currently, some recipients who rely on either temporary or long-term assistance as a primary source of income are categorically determined by some rental property providers to be unsuitable renters, without any consideration of other factors, such as whether they have a satisfactory rental history.
I also intend to raise the issue of “preferred employer programs” as part of the discussion around the SOID ordinance. Preferred employer programs that have been created to help employees of companies like Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon (some of our highest paying employers) get discounts on deposits, fees, and rents. These discounts are given only to rental applicants that work for particular employers but not to other applicants. Some of these employers are known to have workforce gaps based on gender and race, potentially resulting in negative impacts on underrepresented populations. SOCR issued enforcement guidance regarding these preferred employer programs, the use of which could result in discriminatory effects on one or more protected classes.
Both of these bills will be heard for the first time in CRUEDA on May 24, 2016 at 9:30am. Please sign up to receive agendas so you can track this issue.
Sound Transit Survey Results
As noted in the presentation, light rail from West Seattle to Downtown scores very highly. For North King County, it scored highest in the phone survey, and second highest in the online survey, at 5.6 and 5.8 respectively on a scale of 1 to 7. It was also rated highly in East King County, South King County, and Snohomish County—testament to strong regional resonance. It was the only project to score in the top 5 in four of the five geographical areas, as the West Seattle blog noted (see slides 24, 26-29).
Improvements to the C and D lines to increase reliability and decrease travel time also scored highly in the North King survey, as did the Ballard line, and a potential station at NE 130th. The Draft Plan also includes a station at Graham Street, a high priority in Southeast Seattle.
You can view the details of the online survey here.
The Council plans to adopt a resolution on ST3 later this month; the Sound Transit board plans to vote on an ST3 ballot measure in June.
As noted in an earlier blog post, the Council sent a letter to Sound Transit that asked whether tunneling was considered from the bridge to the West Seattle Junction (the Draft Plan released in March includes elevated rail). Sound Transit estimated a tunnel would cost approximately $500 to $600 million more than an elevated alignment.
They noted the alignment would require environmental review, which would consider a reasonable range of profile and alignment alternatives. They also noted that the more alternatives considered, the more time it would take.
Sound Transit indicated they selected an elevated option to the Junction in the Draft Plan based on the result of their High Capacity Study. They noted the West Seattle Junction has higher ridership and density of residential and commercial uses, and is centrally located on the peninsula. They further noted the plan includes a station on Delridge that can serve as a transfer point to light rail, and that the Draft King County Metro Long Range Plan includes Delridge for Future Rapid Ride Expansion (labeled as “Burien TC ‐ Westwood Village ‐ Seattle CBD”. The Move Seattle levy approved by voters in 2015 included funding for seven new RapidRide corridors, including on Delridge).
May 16 Start for Fauntleroy Expressway Bearing Pad Replacement on Western End of West Seattle Bridge
SDOT has announced the bearing pad replacement project for the Fauntleroy Expressway will begin the evening of Monday, May 16. The “Fauntleroy Expressway” is the western-most portion of the West Seattle Bridge, from just west of the Delridge on/off ramps to where the road turns south and is no longer a bridge.
The closure will take place between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Sunday through Thursday evenings. There will be no closures on Friday or Saturday evenings. On weekday evenings with Mariners or Sounders games, closures will begin at 11 p.m.
The contractor will replace 674 bearing pads, which provide a cushion between the bridge girder and the horizontal support for the girders, which help preserve the long-term integrity of the bridge.
The lower bridge will not be affected. Additional information is available at the project webpage.
A few weeks ago SDOT decided to delay the nighttime Fauntleroy Expressway closure, given WSDOT’s closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct for tunnel boring.
ARTS at King Street Station Public Outreach
The City, led by the Office of Arts and Culture (ARTS), is developing the upper floors into an arts and cultural hub, in conjunction with the Office of Economic Development and SDOT. They’ll present a programming plan in April, 2017.
NCIS Joint Committee Report
On Tuesday Councilmember Sawant and I held a joint committee meeting. Her committee oversees Seattle City Light (SCL) while Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is under my committee’s jurisdiction. We called this joint committee to bring more oversight to the New Information Customer System (NCIS). I wrote about this recently.
If you recall, the project started out with a $66 million dollar budget and was slated to be completed in October of 2015. It has now been delayed twice and is budgeted for $109 million and has a go-live date of September. On Tuesday, the NCIS project Executive Steering Committee as well as the quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) consultant, Tim Almond, presented to our joint committees.
QA/QC consultant Tim Almond presented first on his role in the project and how the Executive Steering Committee has responded to his recommendations. The role of the QA/QC consultant is to provide independent objective reporting to the Executive Steering Committee through written and verbal reports on a monthly bases, to provide risk assessments and assess the threats to success based on impact, probability of occurrence and imminence, and make recommendations to reduce those threats. We learned that early on Mr. Almond warned of a lack of oversight and a deficiency in IT resources as well as expertise in implementing the program. Additionally, Mr. Almond identified significant scope changes early in the product design phase that lead to significant delays. These changes include cyber security, new workforce management software, and lessons learned from other similar project implementations.
Mr. Almond has also flagged risks for the project after the projected September go-live date, including the lack of IT expertise to manage the program. Additionally, “project staff is tired, [and] operational staff are working hard” reads a risk that Mr. Almond points out is increasing. Customer service representatives are training on this new program which has led to longer waiting times and more dropped calls.
The second presentation was from the Executive Steering Committee for the project, which includes members from SPU, SCL, and Seattle IT. They described the project, and explained its complexity; the NCIS is replacing a 15 year-old customer billing system, and supports account management for more than 400,000 customers. It will be used by more than 600 City employees, and will produce 15,000 bills with $4.8 million in revenue daily.
In January of 2016 the team conducted its third dress rehearsal, to practice switching over from the old system to the NCIS. The January dress rehearsal highlighted some major concerns that the Executive Steering Committee still needs to address, including data conversion from the current system to the NCIS, additional testing to safeguard quality, and additional training to ensure business and team readiness. After evaluating the issues and working with third party vendors, they believe that they can meet a go-live date in early September.
The City Auditor has initiated an audit of the NCIS, and has been asked to investigate the significant increase in costs; the delay in schedule; what improvements can be made; what the City Council can do to facilitate more effective oversight; how effectively the Executive Steering Committee is using the impute from the QA/QC consultant; and finally, identify a timeline for key decision points in the project.
The first step of the audit is the “job design” phase, during this phase the auditors will work to clarify the objectives and determine what specific steps and tests the auditors will need to perform. The initial request for the City Auditor reads:
“To help us get started, we would appreciate it if you provide us with access to the following documents:
- The initial NCIS project proposal approved by Council that contained the initial budget and schedule
- Subsequent modifications of the project proposal’s budget and schedule
- The contract(s) with PricewaterhouseCoopers
- The reports produced by the project’s quality assurance (QA) consultant
- The contract(s) with the QA consultant
- Reports on the project submitted to the City Council”
I will continue to keep my eye on this project, and continue to ask questions as they move through additional testing. However, in the bigger picture, I want to continue conversations with Councilmembers and the Executive about the Council’s expectations regarding communication of scope and budget changes to major capital projects; we need more transparency, and I am considering a new policy to address this.