The Seattle City Council may add millions of dollars to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2020 budget to grow a jail-diversion program, buy mobile restrooms for people living on the streets and open new tiny-house villages for homeless people.
A package of changes to Durkan’s plan, unveiled Wednesday by Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, would make cuts elsewhere to help pay for the additions.
“We want to build on what’s working,” Bagshaw said at a committee meeting, describing the jail-diversion program, hygiene services, homeless services and affordable housing as the council’s most important priorities.
The council doesn’t yet know how exactly state Initiative 976, which is leading in Tuesday’s election and would slash car-tab taxes and fees, may change Seattle’s budget calculus.
Since then, council members have been trying to make good on their promises to constituents and interest groups by vying to tweak the budget with adds and cuts.
Bagshaw’s initial, balanced package includes some items requested by individual council members and some requested by the entire group, such as a $3.5 million add to bolster Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which sends certain people involved in drug activity and sex work to social workers rather than jail.
The move would more than double LEAD’s budget next year, and the money would be used to manage case loads, boost employee salaries, hire dozens more social workers and cover costs associated with the program accepting more referrals.
Bagshaw’s package would also add $1.3 million to buy and operate five mobile restrooms, each with toilets, a needle exchange unit and a pet-waste disposal unit.
The Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project has been urging the council to invest in mobile restrooms, noting that Seattle has only six toilets available to the public 24/7, according to a report by the City Auditor’s Office.
Bagshaw’s package would cut, among other items, $345,000 allocated by Durkan to hire staff for the new regional homelessness authority that Seattle and King County are setting up. The council supports the authority but thinks the city and county aren’t yet ready to hire staff, Bagshaw said.
The council’s package would snip $1 million allocated by the mayor for the potential relocation of a tiny-house village in Georgetown while adding $1.8 million to add more tiny-house villages elsewhere, including a village that would prioritize people referred by LEAD and by the city’s Navigation Team, which conducts outreach to unauthorized homeless encampments, including when the city removes such encampments.
Rather than eliminate the Navigation Team, as proposed last month by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Bagshaw’s package would continue requiring the team to report to the council quarterly, as proposed by Councilmember Lisa Herbold.
And the package would redirect $18.2 million in proceeds from the sale of the Mercer Mega Block property in South Lake Union. Rather than use that money to buy smaller housing sites and to provide backyard-cottage loans, the council would plow much of the money into “shovel-ready” affordable-housing projects.
Herbold suggested Wednesday the council may want to redirect some revenue generated by a new Uber and Lyft tax that Durkan has proposed, from Seattle’s downtown streetcar project to restore bus service that could be chopped by I-976.