The Seattle City Council has a big committee meeting day ahead of it. Two committees meet today: the Public Safety and Human Services Committee and the Sustainability & Renters' Rights Committee. In the latter committee, the council could vote to pass three tenant protection bills. If those bills pass, the full council will decide whether to vote them into law next Tuesday (Monday is a holiday!).
Timing is important here since the eviction moratorium ends on June 30. The faster the council passes tenant protections the more tenants will be protected once rent comes due. However, Seattle already has some other protections in place that will delay the immediate impact of the end of the moratorium. I spelled those out last week.
If you're feeling particularly civically engaged today, here's where you can sign up for public comment. Anyway, here's the lowdown for today:
First up: At 9:30 a.m. the Office of Police Accountability presented its 2020 annual report in the Public Safety and Human Services committee. Highlights include the fact that 40% of sworn employees received a complaint last year. The leading allegations in the complaints were professionalism, use of force, and bias. The OPA attributed the increase in complaints about use of force to police action at protests. Check out the rest of the presentation here.
OPA Director Andrew Myerberg announced in the meeting that the OPA had interviewed all six SPD officers who went to the D.C. rally that precipitated the Jan. 6 insurrection. The question is whether or not these officers attended the actual insurrection. From Myerberg:
"We have interviewed all six of the involved officers. After those interviews occurred, two of our supervisors went to Washington D.C. to do further analysis and investigation. We're trying to pull responsive records, for example, hotel records, meal records, video, and other evidence that would be relevant to the case. We're now in the process of reinterviewing at least five of the six—potentially all six—officers prior to issuing findings. Right now, our findings are due in early July and we are on target to be getting that case done within the 180 timeline."
All OPA cases have a 180-day timeline.
Lots on the docket at the 2:00 p.m. Sustainability & Renters' Rights committee: First, the committee will discuss and possibly vote on Councilmember Kshama Sawant's bill that establishes a legal defense for educators and children and their families who may face eviction during the academic school year. The bill aims to prevent children from facing an unstable living situation while they're in school. If the bill passes, then any member of these qualified groups could invoke this eviction defense if they face evictions from the first Wednesday in September until the middle of June the following calendar year. That leaves only around 11 weeks when these tenants couldn't use the defense.
Some council members (*cough* Alex Pedersen *cough*) may take issue with the proposal's wide definition of educators as "anyone who works as an employee or independent contractor of a school in Seattle."
Killing the fixed-term lease loophole: Next, the committee will hear a slightly different version of the bill to close the fixed-term lease loophole. Likely, the committee will vote on the bill, too. As I wrote earlier this month, Councilmember Tammy Morales introduced a bill to put an end to that pesky loophole where Seattle landlords can circumvent just cause protections and evict a tenant at the end of a 12-month lease by not offering to renew it. This move is the second-leading cause of eviction in King County, and Morales fears landlords will end leases willy nilly once the eviction moratorium is up on June 30. Sawant also proposed her own version of this bill. Instead of asking their fellow Sustainability & Renters' Rights committee members to vote between the two bills, Morales and Sawant combined their legislation.
The bill now requires landlords to automatically grant tenants a new lease contract between 60 and 90 days before their current lease expires. Tenants will have the first right of refusal for that new contract. This amounts to a departure from Morales's original bill, which required an expiring 12-month lease to convert to a month-to-month contract, an agreement protected by just cause protections. Under the new bill, landlords can still cancel leases, but they need to specify a reason why they want to end the lease, and they must provide a tenant with written notice between 60 and 90 days before the lease is up. If a landlord doesn't follow these rules while ending a lease, then the bill equips tenants with a private right of action for up to the cost of three months' rent from the landlord under their rental agreement.
We'll see if any council members submit amendments to the legislation. So far, the committee has been pretty quiet in conversations around this bill.
A COVID-19 eviction defense: Last week, Morales introduced a legal defense for tenants facing evictions due to COVID-19 economic hardships. Any low-income tenant could use the defense if they're facing eviction for not paying rent and if COVID-19 impacted their finances. The council passed a similar COVID-19 eviction defense last year that lasts for six months after the eviction moratorium ends. Morales's eviction defense does not have an expiration date and will require landlords to notify any tenants they're evicting of the tenants' right to use the eviction defense. It also establishes a rent mitigation fund.
ICYMI: The council successfully moved the 911 call center out of the Seattle Police Department in a vote yesterday. In doing so, the council established the new Community Safety and Communications Center that will house the 911 dispatchers. Eventually, SPD's parking enforcement officers will move under the CSCC umbrella, too, but the council delayed that move for now.
"911 dispatch has been called the gatekeeper for the whole criminal justice [system]," Councilmember Lisa Herbold, chair of the Public Safety and Human Services committee, said in a statement. "911 training within police departments typically emphasizes a police response. In 2015, 83 of the 153 unarmed people who were killed by police came into contact with the police because of a 911 call. The move today is part of Seattle’s work to develop a crisis response that doesn’t rely on an armed police response."
So what's next?
According to Herbold, 911 dispatchers will undergo more training to "identify more calls that would benefit from a non-police response from Seattle Fire Department’s Health 1 and the new (expanded this year) Health 2 unit, or the Mobile Crisis Team program also funded this year to pilot with a law enforcement referral."