Mayor proposes new initiatives to serve immigrants

Mayor Ed MurrayMayor Ed Murray today proposed new, innovative and expanded services to support the success and integration of immigrants and refugees new to Seattle.

The efforts, coordinated through the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, will improve English language education and job training, encourage eligible permanent residents to pursue U.S. citizenship, and improve engagement of immigrants and refugees in public safety initiatives.

“Immigrants account for nearly one-fifth of all Seattle residents and are a vibrant addition to our City,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Many are fleeing violence or extreme poverty, seeking a safe place to raise their families. Our goal is to help them gain the skills they need to get a job, start a business and become U.S. citizens here in their new home.”

The mayor made his announcement on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, when Americans celebrate the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the civil rights we are granted as citizens.

Murray is proposing new funding to launch an innovative model called Ready for Work: ESL and Computers that integrates English language education with critical job skills training. In the proposed budget, 80 new immigrants will come together for language instruction from the Seattle Colleges and community-based organizations. The courses will be augmented by hands-on skills training in computers and other workplace basics that will open doors to employment.

The mayor is supporting efforts to encourage citizenship through the New Citizens Program by moving it to the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in 2016 to amplify its impact and reach. The Seattle area is home to 68,000 legal permanent residents eligible to become citizens; a total of 180,000 people eligible for citizenship live across Washington. Yet only 17,000 new citizens were naturalized in Washington State last year.

Citizenship offers many benefits, including a chance to participate as a voter in our democracy and higher wages and employment rates than non-citizens. New citizens report higher earnings – between 8 and 11 percent higher – after naturalization.

“The Mayor’s proposal is a bold and sensible vision to make real Seattle’s commitment to being a more welcoming community for all of its residents,” said Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica. “Together, the programs announced by the mayor will strengthen the City’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and affirm Seattle’s national leadership in supporting our newest Americans to navigate and integrate into our increasingly diverse community. By investing in English language and jobs-readiness training, promoting citizenship, building bridges between refugee residents and law enforcement, and strengthening language access programs, we are investing in more effective government and a more equitable future where everyone belongs.”

Earlier this month, the City launched the Refugee Women’s Institute, a new program designed to build understanding and trust between refugee communities and the Seattle Police Department. The institute, the first of its kind in the nation, will build a grassroots network of emerging refugee women leaders, while increasing the cultural competency of the female officers who participate.

The mayor’s budget will include $680,000 in new funding for OIRA to support these initiatives, for a total 2015 budget of $1,470,000 for the office.

The mayor will submit his budget to the City Council on Sept. 22nd.

Housing Affordability statement from Mayor Murray

Mayor Murray released the following statement today regarding his forthcoming Housing Affordability Agenda:

“As the fastest growing city in America, Seattle is undergoing record growth and development. Our diverse economy – that spans sectors from industrial to hospitality to high-tech – has created thousands of new jobs. But as a result of this tremendous growth, housing is reaching a premium many of our residents can no longer afford. Many of Seattle’s low- and middle-income workers, families, artists, students, and immigrants new to our country are struggling to find homes at a price they can manage. Our city is at risk of losing the diversity it has always thrived on. State and regional agencies estimate at least 115,000 new jobs created in the next 20 years which will continue the housing squeeze and it will have a profound impact on the financially vulnerable.

After raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, I am committed to changing this narrative as the next step toward my administration’s goal of making Seattle an affordable city for all. Seattle’s future growth can and will bring unprecedented challenges for our city, but we can choose our path forward. This can be a moment to engage in battles over density and fear of change, or this can be a moment full of opportunity to create walkable, livable, and affordable mixed-income neighborhoods for everyone. As I said when I created an Income Inequality Advisory Committee to raise Seattle’s minimum wage earlier this year, making Seattle a more affordable city is at the core of my agenda. Seattle’s future growth can only be successful if we build a city that is affordable for everyone.

In partnership with the Seattle City Council, and following a stakeholder process similar to the one we used to negotiate an increase to the minimum wage, we will be convening a Housing Advisory Committee this fall to provide recommendations that help guide us in our policy-making around housing and development. We must start planning for future growth in strategic and intentional ways, and this committee will help us identify ways to achieve that. We will be looking at housing holistically – with our eye not just toward real estate and development issues, but also toward underlying regulatory and financing issues. Our goal will be increasing affordable housing across the economic spectrum – for homeless housing to workforce housing – at a scale that will have an impact for years to come. The committee will be comprised of renters and homeowners, as well as representatives from the financial sector, for-profit developers, non-profit developers, and other local housing experts.

The Housing Advisory Committee will be asked to identify ways we can deliver housing affordability across all income levels. They will be asked to look at every piece of the housing puzzle, including incentive zoning rules, the potential for linkage and impact fees, the impact of accessory dwelling units, new efforts to preserve existing affordable housing, opportunities to stretch our valuable Housing Levy dollars using public-private partnerships, and more.

By bringing key voices to the table to think broadly and boldly, we can make a powerful and lasting impact on the current and future affordability of our city. I have already directed staff in our Office of Housing, Office of Policy and Innovation, and Department of Planning and Development to gather data about Seattle’s current housing needs and to research best practices around the world. When solutions are identified, I want the City of Seattle to be ready to hit the ground running.

I will have more to say later this fall about the Housing Advisory Committee, its foundational goals, and our process for establishing a Housing Affordability Agenda. For now, I would like to thank Councilmembers Sally Clark and Mike O’Brien for taking up some of these issues in their respective sub-committees this week. I look forward to working with the full Council in the months to come to find lasting solutions to Seattle’s affordability crisis.”

Mayor Murray releases recommendations to double enrollment in Seattle’s Utility Discount Program

UDP presser

Mayor Murray today provided an update on the City of Seattle’s efforts to promote affordability by increasing enrollment in the Utility Discount Program.

“It’s extremely important that Seattle remain inclusive and affordable for people all across the income spectrum,” said Murray. “Increasing enrollment in the Utility Discount Program is another critical step we are taking on the road to making Seattle affordable for everyone who wants to live here.”

Recently approved by the City Council, the Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) strategic business plans address affordability by setting stable rate increases, thereby controlling costs for customers. SCL’s rate increases have averaged almost 7 percent over the past 5 years and will now be held to 4.4 percent per year. SPU’s rate increases, which have averaged almost 7 percent annually over the past 10 years, will now be held at 4.6 percent per year. Find graphs of these changes here.

Both strategic plans also include the goal of doubling enrollment of the city’s Utility Discount Program by 2018, a goal announced by Murray in January.

Seattle has one of the strongest utility discount programs in the country; however, of the estimated 72,000 Seattle residents who qualify for this important program, only 14,000 were enrolled at the beginning of the year. Faced with this information, Murray put together an interdepartmental team to strengthen the program. Read the report here.

“Each month Solid Ground serves thousands of families who must make tough choices between paying their rent and paying their utility bills. Increased utility rate assistance is critical for Seattle’s working families who are at risk of being priced out. Solid Ground applauds the mayor’s call to expand the Utility Discount Program and looks forward to continued efforts to keep Seattle affordable and inclusive,” said Gordon McHenry, president and CEO of Solid Ground.

Since January 2014, the Utility Discount Program has made a concerted effort to raise enrollment by running direct mail marketing campaigns and coupling their efforts with other services and service providers, such as auto-enrolling customers who are participating in SPU’s Emergency Assistance Program and allowing affordable housing providers to enroll new and current tenants. Changes in the program also allow for customers to remain enrolled when they move. These changes have led to a 12 percent increase in enrollment through June 2014.

Additional changes are on the horizon the Utility Discount Program, including creating a single online point of entry for consumers, an online application process, auto-enrolling qualifying subsidized housing units; integrating Utility Discount Program with Seattle Financial Empowerment Centers, aligning eligibility thresholds and benefit across both utilities, lessening documentation requirements, extending the recertification time from 18 months to 2 years, and including the utility discount program benefit on monthly billing statements.

“The recommendations for streamlining enrollment in the Utility Discount Program will undoubtedly make the program more accessible, enabling the City to help more Seattle residents,” said Steve Daschle, Co-Chair of the Seattle Human Services Coalition.

For more information, visit http://murray.seattle.gov/udp.

Video from the press conference:

Mayor Murray’s statement on Barton foreclosure

Mayor Murray issued the following statement today on the Barton foreclosure:

“We are attempting to understand all options that may exist in this situation and I have asked Chief O’Toole and the Seattle Police Department to stand by while the latest court proceedings unwind.

An interdepartmental team has been working on the issue of foreclosure and how the City of Seattle can proactively connect residents to resources early in the process. I’ve pledged the City of Seattle’s participation in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in 2015, and will launch a separate process to address homelessness and increase housing affordability in the months ahead, one of my visions toward making Seattle an affordable city.

In Washington State, we’ve seen recent victories such as the 2011 Washington State Foreclosure Fairness Act, which I worked on closely, designed to help homeowners and their lenders explore alternatives to foreclosure and reach a resolution when possible. I’m committed to working with all stakeholders, using this and other alternatives in the work Seattle does on housing affordability.”

The City of Seattle and Washington State have resources to help homeowners avoid default and work out repayment plans in order to stay in their homes, or gain enough time to sell their homes on their own terms:

New public utility business plan would improve services and efficiency

SPU Strategic Business PlanMayor Murray today proposed a six-year strategic business plan for Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) which maintains and improves essential services while holding annual rate increases — which have averaged almost 7 percent over the past 10 years — to 4.6 percent.

“Seattle needs to have predictable bills for vital utility services —drinking water, sewer, drainage, garbage and recycling — that strike the best balance between keeping bills as low as possible and making our city the best place to live,” Murray said. “I believe this intelligent plan will show us how to invest our customers’ money wisely.”

The mayor said the plan was guided by an independent customer review panel that met 28 times beginning April 2013, and by an efficiency expert who scrutinized SPU’s business practices. The public had a say in the plan, too, through an extensive public outreach process that received input from residents and businesses throughout the city.

In a letter to the mayor, the Customer Review Panel expressed its “strong endorsement” of the plan, which it said, “represents a responsible and important investment in infrastructure and services provided by Seattle Public Utilities, benefiting both current and future generations of customers.”

The Strategic Business Plan trims .5 percent from SPU’s budget through 2020, while at the same time adding a number of important service improvements. Those improvements include:

  • Making significant investments in reducing sewer overflows into the Sound, Lake Washington and other waterways.
  • Accelerating flooding and sewer backup prevention projects in the Broadview and South Park neighborhoods.
  • Increasing sewer pipe inspection, cleaning and rehabilitation to reduce sewer backups and overflows.
  • Preparing for water supply and utility system threats that may occur from climate change.
  • Developing a plan to protect the drinking water system from major, regional earthquakes.
  • Implementing a program so the Utility can achieve carbon neutrality.
  • Improving maintenance and operation of the approximately 60,000 valves in the drinking water system.
  • Expanding existing street sweeping to remove 440 tons of pollutants from our streets and drainage to reduce Puget Sound, Lake Washington and waterway pollution.
  • Improving the quality of drainage and sewer services through accelerated mapping, planning and policy development.
  • Actively ensuring that all communities and customer groups have equal access, service delivery and ability to use services.
  • Constructing a new North Seattle solid waste and recycling transfer station.
  • Centralizing and streamlining the utility permit, service and sales functions for development customers.

The plan will be reviewed by the City Council over the summer. The public is invited to take an online survey or learn more about the Strategic Business at a series of four meetings around the city this month:

More information on the draft Strategic Business Plan is available at www.seattle.gov/util/StrategicBusinessPlan.

Seattle Office of Housing announces $22 million in funding

Today, Mayor Murray announced the availability of over $22 million in funding for affordable housing in Seattle. Part of the annual Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) from the Office of Housing, this money will be loaned to housing developers to build apartments affordable to our city’s low-income residents.

“This funding is part of the City’s continuing commitment to support the development of affordable housing so that families of all incomes can call Seattle home,” stated Murray. “The people of Seattle have made affordable housing a priority since the first housing bond was passed in 1981 and I am committed to continuing this good work to support housing affordability.”

Over the last 30 years, the Office of Housing has invested more than $400 million in the creation and preservation of nearly 12,000 units of affordable housing. These apartments retain their affordability for at least 50 years.

“The investment from the Office of Housing is a vital part of our funding mix,” said Marty Kooistra, director of the Housing Development Consortium. “Affordable housing developers are able to leverage this local funding at a three-to-one ratio with public and private investments.”

Last year, the City awarded $27 million to seven affordable housing projects, preserving 122 apartments and building 310 new units. Priority projects include those that provide housing for homeless adults, families and youth; seniors and people with disabilities; and low-wage working families.

“The Office of Housing strategically invests these public funds across the city to provide opportunities for low-income families and individuals not just for the next few years, but for decades,” stated Steve Walker, Director of the Seattle Office of Housing. “We work with our partners to ensure these buildings are sustainable and built to last.”

Applications for the 2014 NOFA are due on September 12. Awards will be announced in November 2014 after a competitive process managed by the Office of Housing.

Mayor Murray: ‘I challenge other employers to follow Starbucks’ lead in investing in their workforce’

Mayor Murray made the following statement today regarding Starbucks’ new College Achievement Plan:

“I want to applaud Howard Schultz and Starbucks for their corporate leadership in addressing one of the greatest issues facing this generation and recognizing that America must close the college affordability gap in order to close the income inequality gap. This partnership with Arizona State University will put student workers on track for success, giving them the tools they need to succeed without the debt.

I challenge other employers to follow Starbucks’ lead in investing in their workforce and giving every employee the chance to earn a college degree”

Mayor Murray statement on International Franchise Association lawsuit

Mayor Murray made the following statement today about a lawsuit filed by the International Franchise Association:

“The movement around wage equality in our nation began with fast food workers walking off the job. I believe we have to recognize that’s where this started. That was the straw that broke wage disparity’s back in this nation.

Franchises have resources that a small business in the Rainier Valley or a small sandwich shop on Capitol Hill do not have. Franchise restaurants have menus that are developed by a corporate national entity, a food supply and products that are provided by a corporate national entity, training provided by a corporate national entity, and advertising provided by a corporate national entity. They are not the same as a local sandwich shop that opens up or a new local restaurant that opens up in the city. Our process for reaching $15 an hour in Seattle recognizes that difference.

There is a problem in the franchise business model and I believe this is a discussion franchise owners should be having with their corporate parents. I don’t believe that the economic strain comes from a fairly slow phase in of a higher minimum wage, but on a business model that really does — in many cases — harm franchise owners. I don’t doubt at all that franchise workers are operating under tight conditions, but I think it’s a conversation to have with the people who have decided to spend oodles of money on lawyers to fight a higher minimum wage.”

Mayor Murray statement on minimum wage charter amendment

Mayor Murray released the following statement today:

“From the very beginning of a process that I launched in December, my goal has been to raise the minimum wage in Seattle  – but to do so smartly, and in a way that avoids a costly battle at the ballot between business and labor.

It was never my understanding that a charter amendment would not be allowed on the ballot in November; in fact, I was working from the opposite premise. There were several ballot measures that I believe could have easily gone to the ballot to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour overnight. Any one of them could have gotten the required number of signatures, and, I believe, any one of them could have won – which I also believe would have been harmful to our business community.

We all witnessed the $15 minimum wage initiative battle in SeaTac, and there was considerable momentum and pressure to use the very powerful initiative tool here in Seattle.  The threat of a petition to voters on this question – whether an initiative or charter amendment – was very real.

Our process produced a bold policy with a progressive outcome, but takes a rather conservative approach along the way. I continue to believe it’s the best deal for workers, the business community and the best approach for our city as a whole.”

Mayor Murray pens USA Today column: ‘Seattle has taken a dramatic step to address income disparity’

Mayor Murray published a column in this Sunday’s USA Today explaining his approach to correcting wage inequality in Seattle and why he believes this course could set an example for the rest of the nation:

USA Today“Seattle is a vibrant and thriving city. In 2013, we added nearly 15,000 jobs. Construction cranes punctuate the skyline. Our retail and entertainment districts are alive with people day and night.

But that’s not the entire story. We also face a growing disparity between those who can afford what this affluent city has to offer, and those who struggle to get by. One Seattle resident in eight lives in poverty. The top 20% of households take home more than 50% of the income generated in this city — 20 times what households in the bottom 20% earn.

In this, we’re not different from anywhere else in the country. During the past 40 years, more and more wealth has concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer Americans. This undermines the essential promise of our democratic society — equal access and opportunity for all.”

Read more…