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

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

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…