The Hellhole – week of 1/1


About the photo: Motel 6 will break the law if ICE asks them to. Ironic! 

Happy new year! The Hellhole regrets to inform you that while 2017 was awful, it being 2018 now hasn’t done much to slow the enemies of a just and healthy society down. While that might sound like a bit of a bummer, you can take some pleasure in knowing that we haven’t slowed down, and we don’t have any plans to. It’s really hard to take a break when each week brings new stories of regressive taxation, corporations voluntarily invading your privacy so the government can racially profile and arrest you, and NIMBYs angrily opposing progress while the houseless freeze outside. 2018 isn’t better by definition, but we’re ready to redouble our efforts to make it that way. Welcome to the Hellhole.

Washington’s new minimum wage does the bare minimum

A new year brought a new minimum wage for Washington workers. Our state’s minimum wage now sits at $11.50 an hour—up from $11 in 2017—and it will eventually reach $13.50 an hour by 2020. Along with higher wages comes paid sick leave, which allows workers to collect at least one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked. The new minimum wage and the paid sick leave are the result of Initiative 1433, which voters passed in 2016. The importance of these gains cannot be overstated, as Washington is only the seventh state in the country to have a paid sick leave law and will have one of the highest minimum wages in country by 2020. It’s also worth nodding to the historic 2014 passage of the $15 minimum wage in Seattle, which will be fully realized by 2021. Momentous wins like this, achieved by the Fight for $15 movement along with other activists and organizations, are crucial in the struggle to regain power for the working class.

But while these gains are the result of blood, sweat, tears and countless hours, they are simply not enough for workers trying to live on minimum wage in our state. Even with our “high” minimum wage, the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows Washington residents statewide need to earn at least $23.64 dollars an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental home, or work 86 hours a week at minimum wage (which, at the time of the 2017, report was only $11, but that extra 50 cents won’t help much anyway). In Seattle, those numbers are even more dire: workers in the city need to make at least $29.69 an hour, or at minimum wage for 108 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom home or apartment (and lol @ the prospect of a two bedroom, many of us can only dream of our own studio).

Keep in mind, there are only 12 counties in the entire country where you can live in a one-bedroom home on minimum wage. So while these gains represent an excellent step in the right direction, they are not a stopping point, and they are definitely not an opportunity to let politicians off the hook. We deserve more, and we’ll keep fighting for more.

Soaking the Poor With Soda

Also as of this week, sweetened beverages are now taxed in Seattle at a rate of 1.75 per ounce, meaning a 20 oz bottle of Coke or Jarritos is 35 cents more expensive for the largely black and brown consumer base that overwhelmingly purchases them. Convolutedly, it’s this demographic that the tax was designed to aid, with $400,000 of the projected $2 million revenue going toward expanding the city’s Fresh Bucks program, whereby eligible consumers can jump through the requisite hoops to turn EBT into currency for use at farmers’ markets, should they be able to attend one during specified times at particular locations. The remaining revenue will go toward administration of the program.

Congratulating oneself for doing good by making a marginalized demographic pay for its own social benefits is quite the neoliberal feat, and it’s worth noting that this regressive tax was so easily endorsed by a majority of the same City Council that scrutinized and shamefully tabled a progressive business tax, leaving unhoused emergency services unfunded for the winter.

We’ll Leave the List Out For You

We can expect the same refrain, from the right and center, that State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is siding with “consumers” or “the people” or “the marginalized” and therefore must be running for the governorship. Imagine: the will of the people directing a civil servant’s decisions!

Once claimed by Motel 6 to be behavior confined to a few Arizona locations, Ferguson announced that Motel 6 franchises in Washington, including Seattle, Everett and Bellingham, furnished guest lists to ICE. ICE agents would scan this proprietary—usually private— information for names of guests staying in rooms that could be of foreign origin who’d then be subject to investigation and, in the case of six, detained, likely at private prison company GEO Group’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Each time this occurred, Motel 6 was alleged to have broken state law, so Ferguson is suing the chain, which denies any knowledge of this policy. While Motel 6’s motivation for collusion with the federal government’s xenophobic stormtroopers is unclear, it’s nonetheless an example of corporations tampering in the liberty and lives of others without accountability to anyone except wealthy owners or shareholders—in this case, the liberty and lives of often beleaguered people of color escaping harm and hardship. The Seattle Office of Immigrant Affairs is offering a free Know Your Rights workshop for immigrants on February 3.

I Wonder What Those Fires are From?

It’s been a cold winter, and residents of Ballard are starting to notice a peculiar pattern of fires in their neighborhood– vacant buildings have started to catch fire for some reason.

If you’ve lived in Seattle for longer than eight seconds, you know what’s happening– rather than freeze to death, Seattle’s houseless are taking shelter in vacant buildings and lighting small fires to keep warm, usually in fireplaces. Another fun piece of data– all the vacant buildings above were bought and “maintained” by property management companies, who plan to build condo and apartment buildings.

The article calls them “trespassers”, and the fire department refers to these as “warming fires”, but here’s another way to think about it. Property management companies are snapping up homes in Seattle left and right, and because they don’t give a fuck about actually sheltering people, they let the homes fall into disrepair. Those that don’t have homes try to move in to, you know, not die, and since there are no utilities, they resort to lighting fires to maintain homeostasis. What if… people lived in the houses, and then those people weren’t… houseless anymore?

You Can’t Spell “Houseless” Without “Us”

It’s a common myth on Seattle’s right and center-right (hi, NIMBYs!) that the source of Seattle’s growing houseless population is people coming from other places to take advantage of Seattle’s services. They’ve even got a cutesy name for it– “Freeattle”.

A recent Real Change article explored the data on this, and unsurprisingly, it’s incorrect– the majority of houseless in Seattle lived in Seattle when they lost their housing, and many were born here or have lived here longer than a decade.

Here’s why this myth finds purchase, even among Seattle centrists—it means they can pretend it’s not their problem. Even though it’s indisputable that housing costs in Seattle are skyrocketing, it’s a problem for some to acknowledge that their neighbors are becoming homeless, because that would force too much soul-searching about their six-figure tech job and million-dollar home. It would mar the pleasant story that capitalist America loves to tell us– if you succeed, it’s because you deserve it, and if you fail, it’s because you’re a bad person who deserves to suffer. In a city like Seattle, where we’re practically printing money, there’s way more than enough to go around; all it takes is the basic decency to recognize every face on the street as your neighbor and the political will to help. Take it from us– it’s not that difficult!

The Cost of Ignoring A Crisis

In case you were wondering what happens when you use cutesy portmanteaus to dismiss a pervasive problem, the King County medical examiner said Seattle’s set a new record for the number of people who died without shelter this year: 133. This Seattle Times article devotes a pretty substantial amount of attention to Mayor Durkan’s plans to “fix” homelessness through endless new programs, but most arresting is the Times’ profile of Robert Kiffe, who froze to death outside this year. It includes this from his family:

“Reached last week, Paul and Shari Kiffe remembered their son, whom they called Bob, as a loving man. The news of his death hit them hard, but they weren’t surprised. He had cycled in and out of homelessness for decades, never finding a place that could meet his physical and mental-health treatment needs, which the Kiffes said were substantial… ‘He had so many challenges,’ Paul said. ‘It seemed like he was always running from one agency to another to get help, but it never took.’

Maybe the help never “took” because it was barely help at all– another set of interviews, or forms to fill out, or case workers to meet with, all part of the vast sea of atomic “programs” that neoliberals slap together to feel temporarily better about themselves. The houseless don’t need more “programs”; they need justice, and that kind of justice only comes from treating housing as a human right, and treating being Bezos-level rich as repugnant. Mayor Durkan and the Seattle City Council should take notice and act accordingly.

Class Enemies of the Week: NIMBYs

The word’s starting to get out nationally—Seattle has a housing and houselessness problem, and an equally loud contingent of NIMBYs. NIMBYs (“Not In My Backyard”) are homeowners that are so paranoid about their property values that they’re willing to sue their neighbors and block any attempt at change within a ten-block radius, especially if it means more of “those types” might be hanging around.

The Times article cites Seattle’s own Heidi Groover and her reporting about how the city just can’t seem to develop affordable housing at Fort Lawton, because NIMBYs keep threatening to shriek so loud it knocks over any new structures on the mostly-vacant 38 acres. Their usual stalling tactic is “environmental review”, which is—you guessed it—horseshit. The newest tactic is to reserve the land for a “children’s camp,” which sounds creepy enough to somehow be creepier than an abandoned military base.

A spokesperson for the Discovery Park Community Alliance said “I don’t consider it opposition to the housing because that’s a storyline that the housing people like to run, that the homeless people might like to run, that the city might like to run”. She’s wrong—we’d rather run a different story, one where all the houseless are housed, but that won’t happen until NIMBYs start caring about who suffers for their property values. Congratulations, NIMBYs: Your commitment to making sure miserable lives stay miserable so you don’t lose a single dollar makes you our class enemies of the week.

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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA Communications Committee. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.