Mayor Murray proposes end to subminimum wage for people with disabilities

Today, Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle and South Park) announced the City of Seattle will change the Minimum Wage ordinance to prevent employers from paying any worker with a disability less than Seattle’s minimum wage. The Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS) will begin rule revisions to the ordinance this month, to propose elimination of special certificates permitting subminimum wages for certain employees with disabilities, which are currently allowed under the law.

“The point of our historic $15 minimum wage law was to build universal equity in Seattle,” said Mayor Murray. “A loophole allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers has undermined that goal. We are correcting that error to make good on our promise and our values.”

“Subminimum wages are an outdated practice that inherently devalue the employee receiving them,” said Councilmember Herbold. “With so few subminimum wage certificates issued to employers, now is the perfect time to end this practice and lead the region in ending this discriminatory policy.”

The ordinance as currently enacted mirrors Washington state law, permitting employers to pay less than minimum wage. The Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities voted unanimously at its June meeting to end this exemption. OLS Director Dylan Orr, who served for more than five years at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), including two years as chief of staff for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), supports the rule revisions.

“I commend the continued commitment on behalf of the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, the Mayor’s Office, and City Council to act quickly,” said Orr. “We must remind ourselves that when one person or group is marginalized or discriminated against, we all are.”

The proposed subminimum wage revisions are part of a larger effort to update Chapter 90 Rules to reflect legislation passed during the 2017 budget process establishing OLS as an independent office; changes resulting from the Wage Theft Prevention and Harmonization Ordinance of 2015; revisions to Washington State’s minimum wage law resulting from Initiative 1433; and to address service charges and employer payments toward individual employee’s medical benefits plans; and other requests for clarification from the public. OLS issued these revisions for notice and comment in late February 2017. OLS will issue further draft revisions to Chapter 90 Rules for notice and comment in August 2017. The Council will receive and vote on omnibus legislation, including the subminimum wage revisions, from OLS before the end of the year.




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Mayor Murray unveils affordability and growth plan, Arts and Culture District for Uptown neighborhood

Today, Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a plan for the future of Uptown, implementing requirements that will generate 600 new affordable homes for low-income people, providing capacity for more market-rate housing and jobs, supporting new spaces for cultural organizations and enacting the community’s vision for the future of the neighborhood. Additionally, Mayor Murray announced Uptown will become Seattle’s third Arts and Cultural District, providing resources to preserve, strengthen and expand arts and cultural spaces. Uptown has long been a cultural destination in Seattle, with over 30 arts, cultural and educational organizations located in the Seattle Center campus and surrounding neighborhood.

“By coupling growth with affordability, we are ensuring that Uptown’s booming culture and economy can be a model for community building rather than a model for gentrification,” said Mayor Murray. “With this announcement, we are ensuring everyone has access to housing in this local hub of arts, culture, transit, green space and jobs. Our housing policies must be about inclusion—this proposal makes good on that goal.”

Over the next 20 years, the proposed zoning changes will result in an estimated 600 new income-restricted and rent-restricted homes for low-income residents through the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, a key recommendation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. Under MHA, Uptown developers will be required to include affordable homes in between five percent and 10 percent of each building, or contribute between $8.00 and $29.75 per square foot to the Seattle Office of Housing to support affordable housing, depending on the specific location in the neighborhood.

“Uptown is one of our fastest growing urban centers, and borders on Seattle Center, one of the great civic spaces of our city,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia). “With its connections to Downtown, the Waterfront and the growing Belltown and South Lake Union neighborhoods, Uptown is already becoming a vibrant business and residential center. Not surprisingly, rents are rising rapidly in this neighborhood, and we clearly need affordable housing right in Uptown. Through this plan, hundreds of developer-funded affordable housing units will be built. I am committed to working with Uptown leaders to ensure we are using a suite of tools to create the housing we need.”

“I am excited for the implementation of MHA in the Uptown neighborhood. Through these zoning changes, we can ensure that more people have access to this vibrant neighborhood,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle). “As an area with great access to job centers, open space, transportation, as well as arts, culture and civic institutions like the Seattle Center and KeyArena, its density and amenity mix support a high level of livability. It is important that we continue to implement MHA and create additional affordable housing in our communities so that our artists, nonprofit employees, and workers of all wages can continue to contribute to the character of Seattle.”

For more than three years, Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) worked with community members to envision a vibrant future for the Uptown neighborhood. The proposal includes neighborhood priorities, such as design standards, that support vibrant streetscapes, incentives for new arts and cultural spaces, improved connections to Seattle Center, and enhanced walkability as outlined in the Uptown Urban Design Framework (UDF).

“The Urban Design Framework in this ordinance will help create the neighborhood where we want to live and work as Uptown grows,” said Deborah Frausto, chair of the Uptown Alliance UDF Committee. “We still have work to do in creating more possibilities for open space, affordable and workforce housing, and walkable community that’s safe and welcoming. Our community, with its generosity of spirit and gifts of time and expertise, will continue to stay involved and share ideas of what they want their neighborhood to be like.”

Mayor Murray’s proposal allows new building heights for many areas of the neighborhood already zoned for multi-family residential and mixed-use commercial buildings, providing additional capacity for market-rate and income-restricted housing within walking distance of South Lake Union, Belltown and Downtown. The rezone proposal includes an increase in building height along the Mercer Street Corridor from the current 40 feet to 85 feet, the same as the current height limit on the Seattle Center campus. The iconic public views of the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline as seen from Kerry Park, Bhy Kracke Park and other key view corridors are protected under the proposal.

The triangle bounded by Broad, Aurora and Denny could feature taller, thinner, well-spaced, 16-story residential towers. Other areas of the Uptown Urban Center currently zoned for multi-family residential or mixed-use would receive one or two stories of additional height. No zoning changes are proposed outside of the Uptown Urban Center or in nearby single-family neighborhoods.

Additionally, the rezone will create incentives for new arts and cultural spaces, giving smaller organizations a chance to operate in or near Seattle Center, which attracts visitors from around the world. The rezone will also help preserve historic buildings by allowing them to sell unused development rights.

In the last two years, 20 King County Metro bus lines that serve the neighborhood have expanded service because of voter-approved Proposition 1, improving transit speed and reliability. The Seattle Department of Transportation has updated signal controls on Mercer, Roy, and Valley streets to be more sensitive to real-time traffic conditions. Similar signal upgrades are planned for Denny Way. New street connections across Aurora at John, Thomas and Harrison will ease pressure on Mercer and Denny after the SR-99 tunnel opens.

Uptown Arts and Cultural District

Since the 1962 World’s Fair, Uptown has been a hub of Seattle arts and culture with the largest concentration of diverse organizations that range from independent artists, to internationally renowned classical arts, to innovative theater and visual arts, to ethnic festivals from around the world, to major music concerts. The Arts and Cultural District designation recognizes the culturally rich neighborhood and seeks to enhance its character.

“We are thrilled to be recognized as an official Arts and Cultural District,” said Cyrus Despres, co-chair and president of the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition. “Uptown is experiencing the same growing pains as the rest of Seattle, and we are committed to enhancing our cultural experiences and evolving our identity as a welcoming home for the arts in Seattle.”

The designation includes access to the Creative Placemaking Toolkit, a suite of tools designed to preserve, strengthen, and expand arts and cultural spaces. The district will have access to $50,000 to be used toward the toolkit’s programs and resources for right-of-way identifiers, wayfinding, busking and plein air painting, art historic markers, pop-up activations, and parklets. The toolkit was designed to support artists, art spaces, and neighborhoods in maintaining and investing in their cultural assets.

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Mayor Murray statement on Council passage of Seattle high-earner income tax

Today, Mayor Ed Murray released the following statement after City Council unanimously voted to create a city income tax on high-income earners, shifting Seattle to a more progressive and sustainable tax structure. The legislation will apply a 2.25 percent tax rate on annual income over $250,000 for individuals, or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. The tax will not affect any income earned below these thresholds.

“Seattle is challenging this state’s antiquated and unsustainable tax structure by passing a progressive income tax,” said Mayor Murray. “Our goal is to replace our regressive tax system with a new formula for fairness, while ensuring Seattle stands up to President Trump’s austere budget that cuts transportation, affordable housing, healthcare, and social services. This is a fight for economic stability, equity, and justice.”

An estimated $140 million in new annual revenue generated by the income tax would allow the City to lower the burden associated with property taxes and other regressive taxes, replace federal funding potentially lost through President Trump’s budget cuts, and enhance public services such as housing, education, transit, and/or create green jobs while meeting the City’s carbon reduction goals.

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Mayor Ed Murray announces Utility Discount Program expansion

Today, Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle and South Park) announced the expansion of the Utility Discount Program (UDP) to more than 3,000 new Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) customers. This expansion is the result of a June 1, 2017  Director’s Rule change allowing Medicare premium expenses to be deducted from Social Security, Social Security Disability Income and Supplemental Security Income.  Previously, Medicare Part B premiums were deducted from a senior’s Social Security check but the premium amount was included in their income calculation, causing them to exceed the income threshold to qualify for the discount. Allowing this premium to be deducted from the income calculation makes an estimated 3,000 seniors now eligible to receive utility discounts.

“Housing costs are the largest expense seniors face in our growing city and utility bills are a considerable part of that burden,” said Mayor Murray. “We have doubled enrollment in the Utility Discount Program, and today’s announcement expands eligibility to thousands more seniors. This will help more seniors stay in Seattle and keep the city affordable.”

“Today we’re able to lend a helping hand to people who rely on Medicare Part B to get by,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park). “When a City Light customer informed me her mother made $150 too much to qualify for discounted utilities because the City was calculating her $1,000 in Medicare Part B benefits as ‘income,’ I knew it needed an immediate fix.  I’m thankful for our utilities for implementing this common-sense fix.”

This move is a part of Mayor Murray’s commitment to address Seattle’s growing income inequality and remove institutional barriers between services and those in need. In 2014, Mayor Murray challenged City Departments to double the number of households enrolled in the UDP from 14,000 to 28,000 by the end of 2018.  This goal was achieved in 2016—two years ahead of schedule—by removing application barriers for households already enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance  Program (SNAP) and auto-enrolling households who live in subsidized housing.  Today, 33,000 utility customers are enrolled in the program.

The UDP provides those who qualify a 60 percent discount on SCL and 50 percent on SPU bills. The average UDP customer household receive an average of $1,200 in annual discounts on utility bills.

Interested customers may download an application on the Human Services Department website.

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Mayor Ed Murray announces Fair Chance Housing policy to ensure access to opportunity and housing for all

Mayor Ed Murray announces Fair Chance Housing legislation to increase access to housing by reducing barriers faced by those with arrest and conviction records.

Mayor Ed Murray sent legislation to Council this week aiming to increase racial equity in housing to ensure everyone has access to opportunity. Among other steps, Fair Chance Housing would prevent landlords from screening applicants based on criminal convictions more than two years old, and prohibit the use of advertising language that categorically excludes people with arrests or conviction records. Today’s announcement is a recognition of years of work by the community supporting a policy that will increase racial equity in access to housing, help keep families together, and build stronger, more inclusive communities.

“The growth in the number of Americans with criminal records has created a crisis of housing inaccessibility that is disproportionately felt by people of color,” said Mayor Murray. “Not only has our criminal justice system punished Black Americans disproportionately, they continue to be punished by barriers to housing that cut off access to opportunity. Ensuring people have fair access to housing is about equity and about ensuring everyone has the ability contribute in our society, including getting a good job and raising a family.”

Announcing Fair Chance Housing legislation aimed at reducing barriers to housing.

Posted by Mayor Ed Murray on Wednesday, June 21, 2017

An estimated 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record and nearly half of all children in the United States have at least one parent with a criminal record. It is estimated that 30 percent of Seattle residents over 18, or more than 173,000 people, have an arrest or conviction, with 7 percent having a felony record. Each of these people face significant barriers to housing because of current policy, denying them access to a basic need that would help them be successful. One study found that 43 percent of Seattle landlords are inclined to reject a tenant with a criminal history. All Home, which coordinates homelessness services for King County, found that 1 in 5 people who leave prison become homeless shortly after.

The Fair Chance Housing ordinance would prevent landlords from screening applicants based on criminal convictions older than two years; arrests that did not lead to a conviction; convictions that have been expunged, vacated or sealed; juvenile records; or status of a juvenile tenant on the sex offender registry. Landlords will not be able to use language in advertisements that categorically excludes people with arrests or conviction records and must provide a business justification for rejecting an applicant based on their criminal history. Fair Chance Housing is one of the dozens of recommendations in Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) meant to address public safety and racial equity in housing by lowering barriers for those re-entering society, who are disproportionately people of color.

“You can’t say everyone has a fair chance to succeed when we have a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests and convicts people of color,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park). “Fair Chance Housing is about giving people fair opportunities. This legislation is about addressing a homelessness crisis that we have created ourselves because we are not giving everyone a fair chance.”

Seattle has previously taken steps to lower barriers to housing, a key recommendation in HALA after years of community advocacy, and an essential component of the City’s plan to address homelessness, Pathways Home. These include Source of Income Discrimination legislation that protects people using alternative sources of income to pay rent and the coordination with funders of homeless services to reduce and standardize screening criteria for programs. People impacted by previous policies have advocated for the City to address these barriers for years, including hundreds of who spoke at community forums and the Fair Chance Housing Stakeholder Committee convened last year. Today’s announcement is the culmination of that work, as the City works to lower barriers to housing and ensure Seattle remains affordable and accessible.

“If part of the American Dream is to own a home, what message are we sending to people who cannot even rent, even after they have paid their debt to society?” said Augustine Cita, Workforce Development Director, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “We need to fix that.”

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