The Hellhole – week of 1/8

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About the photo: Is change coming to Seattle? Are people actually on board with building affordable housing? Or are they just staying home and sending nasty emails? Only time will tell. (Photo from the City of Seattle)

This week’s events felt like two steps forward but three steps back. On one hand, the response at the first public comment period for the affordable housing development at Fort Lawton seemed overwhelmingly positive, and everyone’s favorite Attorney General followed through on his promise to sue a major opioid maker. But on the other hand, the Seattle Police Department got word that it’s totally normal and fine despite doing things such as killing pregnant mothers in front of their children, and a power Airbnb host had the city’s regulations on short-term rentals made to order, and so now they’ll affect everyone except him (and his 39 micro-apartments). As we head into the extra-dreary part of winter and the news is increasingly dire (not that it has ever been good), your friends at Hellhole encourage you to seek solidarity with your comrades and continue the important work of dismantling capitalism and systems of oppression. We’re all in this together. Welcome to the Hellhole.

The Fort Lawton meeting went… surprisingly well

Socialists, affordable housing advocates, public policy wonks and people who probably spend way too much time on Nextdoor.com walk into a bar public comment meeting in Magnolia and …. It doesn’t devolve into a bloodbath? This is our version of a (bad) joke that isn’t really a joke because for the first time in a long time in this city, most people seem to agree that the affordable housing development at Fort Lawton is a pretty good idea.

For background: Members of the public gathered Tuesday night in Magnolia to sound off about the proposed affordable housing development at Fort Lawton in Discovery Park. The city’s proposal involves building around 240 housing units to shelter about 600 people at the decommissioned Army base. The homes would be a mix of rent-restricted apartments, Habitat for Humanity homes, units for houseless seniors and 52 “affordable ownership” units. As detailed by The Stranger’s Heidi Groover, the project has faced furious opposition from the type of people who are more concerned with preserving “the best open space” than they are with providing shelter for human beings. Since Magnolia residents stopped the city’s last effort to develop Fort Lawton in 2008, it’s no wonder some showed up expecting a public comment period from hell.

But the tone of this meeting was decidedly different. A majority of people actually seemed to be there in support of the project, and some even called for more housing to be built (on one SDSA member’s count, fewer than 10 people spoke in opposition to the project out of the 82 who gave testimony). So what’s happening here? It could be that opponents of the project didn’t bother to show up and instead they’re flooding the inboxes of city council members with their vile, anti-houseless rhetoric. But on the other hand, maybe there’s hope. Maybe people are starting to believe that providing homes for our most vulnerable neighbors is not a gift to be given, but rather an inalienable right of every person. Maybe, just maybe, there could be a bright spot.

It’s nice to think about, but we at Hellhole also understand that it takes more than just optimism and goodwill to make something happen. Seattle DSA members will continue to support the development of affordable housing at Fort Lawton every step of the way because we know that without housing, people die. If you also believe that housing is a human right and want to get involved with our housing efforts, send us an email at [email protected]. You’ll be even more pleased to learn that we also have a plan to pay for all this new housing….

You can’t fix the housing crisis without a public bank

So now that we’ve got a seemingly agreeable housing plan, how should we pay for it? A public bank, of course.

As Seattle DSA activism chair and public banking advocate Paul Alexander writes in How a Public Bank Could Relieve Seattle’s Housing Crisis, “no single funding source is capable of making as transformative an impact as a public bank.” This is especially true when it comes to projects that serve the greater good.

Unlike private banks, which are beholden to shareholders, a public bank is operated by and accountable to a state or city government. The advantages are numerous, and include increased transparency and accountability, decreased costs for public infrastructure projects through a reduction in fees and interest, the ability to insulate local economies from booms and busts in the market. Mostly importantly, public banks aren’t compelled to return massive profits to shareholders. Private banks don’t lend cities money for projects because executives magically starting feeling some altruistic will; they do it because they want to get paid. This tension between banking and serving the greater public good is capital’s goal, and it’s why a public bank is the way to go if we want a permanent solution to Seattle’s housing crisis.

Paul lays all of this out in much more depth, and you should read the piece and then email [email protected] if you feel inspired to get involved.

ACAB, Always

District Judge James L. Robart judged this week that SPD is in compliance with the Consent Decree, which was essentially a federal mandate passed down in 2012 for Seattle police to reduce police violence, institutional racism in enforcement of the law, and generally just act… constitutionally. The Stranger did a pretty good writeup of what this means, but here’s our non-lawyer reading of the decision as a fun short play. Educational!

Independent monitor Merrick J. Bobb: “You’ve probably achieved initial compliance with the consent decree.”

SPD: “Sounds like ‘full and effective compliance’ to us!”

MJB: “Sure; that’s not really my department. I have a few concerns, though– lieutenants and captains aren’t identifying and addressing issues with investigations of the use of force at the precinct level; the Force Review Board is identifying way more potential investigations of the use of force than SPD command is actually following up on; there are certain… ‘isolated communities’ that really don’t trust you; the Office of Professional Accountability doesn’t seem to do much; you shot a non-zero number of mentally-ill people to death while I was investigating; and you stop and frisk people of color more than you do white people.”

SPD: “Neat! Jimmy, does that sound like ‘full and effective compliance’ to you?”

District Judge James L. Robart: (from another room) “…does what?”

SPD: “Does ‘achieved initial compliance’ sound like ‘full and effective compliance’ to you?”

JLR: “Sure, probably!”

SPD: “Awesome! On to Phase II, which is continuing to do exactly what we’re doing with no change for two more years, and after that we can kind of do whatever!”

Two days before Judge Robart issued the decision, King County Executive Dow Constantine suspended all pending inquests into incidents where police shot people to death, including the case of Charleena Lyles. The reason? To quote the Seattle Times:

“Although there is no precise historical record of all King County inquests, it appears only one police officer was criminally charged following the process, in 1971.”

Sounds like “full and effective compliance” to us!

Your Health, For Sale

State Attorney General Bobby Ferguson is making good on his promise to sue drug company Purdue Pharma, citing that they helped create Washington’s opioid-abuse epidemic by “ignor(ing) warning signs and their own studies while targeting high-prescribing doctors in Washington state.” To do this, they doubled their Washington sales force in a year, used “manipulative marketing practices” to convince everyone that their drugs were safe, and looked the other way when they knew that doctors were over-prescribing.

AG Ferguson wants Purdue to forfeit the profits from any OxyContin sold in Washington, which would go a long way to dealing with the fallout from a coordinated campaign to get so many in Washington addicted to a product on the advice of their doctor.

While large-scale actions by high-profile politicians like these are nice to hear about, never forget the actual root of the problem: giant corporations are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and watch you die if it means there’s money in it for them, and they donate disgustingly-huge piles of money to politicians to make sure that their grift is protected.

Something as elemental as your health shouldn’t be a commodity for corporations and their investors to trade. Some might even say that quality, free healthcare is a human right. We’re organizing to make that a reality– want to join us?

Manslaughter and violation of labor safety regulation with death resulting

36 year-old Howard Felton was killed on the job in 2016 outside a West Seattle home. While attempting to replace a sewer line, the eight to ten-foot trench he was standing in collapsed; first responders were unable to get to Felton for hours. Nevermind that this trench was open for days, exposing it to hours of soil-destabilizing rain, that it was beyond a safe scientific level to work with or that the tools of the trade were vibrational, shaking the earth further; the single person on the jobsite legally accountable for supervising the specialized task—Philip Numrich, Felton’s employer and owner of Alki Construction—was away buying lunch.

Already having been fined over $51,000 for the collapse (which he beggared down to ~$27,000—employers tend to do that kind of thing), King County prosecutors have decided to pursue felony charges against Numrich for his alleged willful negligence resulting in the manslaughter of Felton. So egregious was Numrich’s alleged carelessness that this is the first time anyone with King County’s prosecutor’s office can recall an employer facing these charges. Whether that’s a testament to labor safety law or entrepreneurial privilege is something we won’t get into here but we’re hoping that a similar settlement as the reduced fine will not be brokered. Infuriatingly, Numrich is still on the lam.

Class Enemy of the Week: Eric Friedland

Seattle City Council finally passed regulation on short-term rentals back in December, providing themselves with the sort of victory that ensures a good headline (“Look— they’re finally limiting Airbnb’s monopolization of units”) at the expense of several Swiss cheese-styled holes in the law’s oversight (“You can rent out as many as two units you own. Well, three if you live in one of them. Well, hold on; if you’re operating several rentals out of newish buildings, you’re fine. Wait, only in certain neighborhoods…the ones that have seen the most development.”)

The riddled regulations were, prima facie, intended as a tourniquet on the flow of units from the housing market into the “short-term rental” market during a housing crisis spiraling out of control in terms of affordability and sheer number of unhoused and dying. Airbnb power-host Eric Friedland, though, stands athwart even such svelte legislation shouting, “my $4 million!” Friedland, an ER doctor and “still an effective father and husband,” purchased a building on Capitol Hill with the intention of turning 39 units into Airbnb-assisted money printing machines for themselves. The new regulations require licensing and caps, none of which will apply to the Friedlands for the simple fact that they had the capital to have the laws made-to-order. Their housing grab will continue to rent rooms unabated thanks to a now-dropped suit from a top land-use lawyer, lobbying and negotiations with the city’s own counsel and with former interim mayor and then-Councilmember Tim Burgess to pass the regulation quickly, leaving the Friedland property untouched.

While we have to gather like we did in Magnolia Tuesday night to beg the city and community for a meager amount of affordable housing to be constructed in an attempt to stave off some the suffering we know defines our neighbors’ lives in 2018, people like Eric Friedland are able to pay their way out of the undesirable situation of having already put money down to fund a deleterious practice a municipality has been moved to curb for the good of its citizens. Is this what you’d call a functioning democracy? Regardless, this is what we know to be “capitalism.”

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

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