No Heat Twice in a Month

Lisa,
We have a problem. Twice in the past month, my apartment has lost heat. Both times, I called DCI and filed a complaint. The first time, I never heard back from them, and my landlord, SHA, took five days to fix it despite the legally required 48 hour response time. They acted very non-chalant about it, saying it could take much longer, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, so I should just be patient. The second time, when I told SHA, I warned them that they faced citation and/or fine if they didn’t fix it in 48 hours. I didn’t hear back from DCI for five days. This time, SHA found the ability to fix the heat in 48 hours. 

But in neither case did DCI even inspect my apartment. In neither case did they respond within the 48 hour limit. They never contacted SHA, so the 48 hour clock never started ticking. Had I not gotten lucky, there would have been no enforcement of the law whatsoever. 

I fully expect my heat to go out again this winter because SHA is cheap and values nothing less than their disabled, impoverished tenants. I highly doubt they fixed the heat any more than necessary to keep it running a couple more weeks. I shouldn’t have to take my chances with DCI. They are not doing their job or enforcing the law. With no enforcement, tenants don’t really have any rights. And I’m one of the lucky ones whose native language is English, who can write articulately, who doesn’t have to worry about deportation, who knows my rights, who has professional experience working in housing and homelessness, and who can make savvy decisions about what scares landlords into following the law. This is totally unacceptable and even immoral. Please help. 

What tenants really need is the no-brainer right to repair and deduct. It works, and it gives renters some agency over their own living situation.

[Written to Seattle Councilwoman Lisa Herbold, Chair of the housing committee and huge help to tenants in her district or not; my own Councilman Bruce Harrell couldn’t care less]

How SHA Abuses its Own Tenants

It’s now been 3 months since I ordered ink for my new printer, but I still don’t have it–thanks to the still-broken callbox at my building that the Seattle Housing Authority won’t fix or give any information/answers about. They can’t tell us when it will be fixed, how we’re supposed to receive packages (while denying that they’ve blocked our ability to get them), and rather than generally informing residents, I was told last week that we’re supposed to go to their office in Queen Anne in person to find out what’s going on at our building–the lack of phone calls, emails, or paper/mailed newsletters or ad hoc notifications from them is as they think it should be. SHA just sees no reason to communicate with its residents. They take no responsibility for misinforming us (I spent a month chasing down the wrong contact person), or lost time or money (this ink costs 3-4 times more to buy offline). They said they’d call me back but haven’t. They routinely ignore us, requiring multiple attempts to ask questions, of multiple people, via multiple methods. They’re a big bureaucracy with a single huge switchboard phone system, so it’s hard to find out who you’re supposed to talk to–and emails and voicemails are rarely answered. I’ve contacted Rep. Adam Smith‘s office and Seattle City Council members seeking help contacting SHA, but I’m not hearing from them anymore either. Even SHA’s Board of Directors has no contact information on the website. No emails or phone numbers for the individual members (2 of whom are specifically designated to represent tenants), no general Board email address, no staff contact who can forward requests on to the Board. Just the same general mailing address. The Board meets monthly, but I was dog sitting in Burien and had to miss the August meeting.
 
The merchant says they’ve tried to ship my ink twice and thus can’t do anything else, like a refund or 3rd attempt. So I disputed the charge with my credit card and hope that will encourage them to compromise–I could pay the shipping for a 3rd delivery attempt if they’d agree to give the UPS driver my cell number (they refused before) or leave it at their Othello store as I’ve set up my preferences on MyUPS.
 
Meanwhile, I need to print things like my passport application and don’t want to use the library too much at 15 cents/page (this held up renewal of my disability transit pass). So I’m debating ordering another cartridge from someone else. Once I verify that the new printer prints, I can finally get rid of the old one.
 
We desperately need the Tenants Union to help us organize; it’s painfully clear that SHA only considers us to be nuisances to shoo away. As individuals, we have no power or recourse. In WA, you’re not allowed to withhold rent; they can (and will) evict you. The time, money, frustration, hassle, and emotional turmoil gratuitously forced on poor people is unconscionable and gradually wears you down. It’s time this country fought classism.

Never Mind Upzoning; Can’t We AT LEAST Have Backyard Cottages?!

IS1rpku0qpwn030000000000I walked by this house today. It’s quite the sight to behold. What if everyone could live like this? The median home in Montlake is $990,000, and interestingly the foreclosure rate is 12% which is much higher than citywide. A 20% down payment at this price is more than most people can afford as a purchase price. What really sticks in my craw about it is that–forget upzoning the part of Montlake near UW Station–the mayor already agreed to scrap his compromise committee’s recommendation to allow ADUs (accessory dwelling units) in single family neighborhoods. Those are modest, affordable, unintrusive, and can add revenue for the homeowner and diversity to the neighborhood. Zillow says this home’s Walkscore is just 59, but consider all these perks of the site:

*walk to light rail
*shorter walk to frequent bus (48, 271) and several other routes (43, 167, 277, 540, 541, 542, 556)
*walk to campus and UWMC
*adjacent to park
*adjacent to Ship Canal
*quiet!
*ample parking
*right by 520 interchange
*pretty damn private for a major city
*good bike infrastructure around
*walk to library branch
*good boating access
*every neighbor seems to support Bernie Sanders (must be among the 10 richest US neighborhoods to love Bernie)

Ignore the logic of upzoning this area and the wealth (privilege) that prevents it. Isn’t it kind of elitist or selfish to reserve this location for people who can afford well over $1 million on a home, instead of allowing some backyard cottages too? They’re not a silver bullet, but they would definitely help.

General Update

APARTMENT:
I went back to SHA. She’s submitting my file today and expects me to be approved. She said it might happen Friday. It’s a 2nd floor unit, and it has a dishwasher (hooray!). I’ll have to see later about getting a ham radio antenna outside. The rent is 30% of your income, updated annually. You also pay electric. The deposit is $300. She’s being extra cautious because of the way the feds pore over everything. Their check on me had temp agencies I worked for in college and the address where I first lived with a friend outside DC for two months in 1999-2000.

SHOULDER:
The x-ray results were done right after I got them March 30th, but I only got them yesterday. They say everything is normal. I gave a copy to my physical therapist and got a doctor to request an MRI. She said they’ll want the PT notes, so my therapist is submitting them. They really make it hard to get an MRI and strongly discourage it. But my therapist thinks I have a cartilage issue, for which they might have to do a “manipulation under anesthesia”. You get *general* anesthetic, and they move your arm all around to force it back to its proper range of motion, breaking up the cartilage. Then you have more aggressive physical therapy. I’ve had general anesthesia once before and don’t look forward to the vomiting. (Why is my phone correcting physical to phytoplankton?)

FOOD STAMPS:
I finally got a form from DSHS, and my therapist filled it out to say I’m disabled. I need to scan and submit it.

MENTAL HEALTH CARE:
My new home clinic referred me to a separate place for medication management; they don’t do it there. This is part of the stigma of mental health and illness–why should it be done at a separate facility in a different network? No other body part gets separated out like that. I have lots more paperwork to fill out then a 2 hour intake. Hopefully I can get them to prescribe klonopin; apparently many Medicaid mental health places won’t. If I get med management there, they’ll want me to switch my therapy there too, but I’m pretty sure you still get just one hour every two weeks, which is definitely less than I need. The doctor I saw showed me that I’m listed as “medically complicated” in their system.

TRANSIT:
I’m behind on writing an article on late night transit service. I do have at least one rider who works late and is willing to talk with me about it. I also got a short email reply from the venerable Jarrett Walker.

Indirectly and unexpectedly, I got one of the ORCA cards being given to people who live near the new U Link stations. It’s good for free trips through the 13th. I start dog sitting in Burien Friday though.

HAM RADIO:
I really badly want to get back on the air already. The guy with a spare radio to loan me should have it back now, but I haven’t heard. I could use my client’s car to pick it up from Burien which is slightly closer. I go to the Spark Museum in Bellingham tomorrow. Weather-wise, it should be a good day to go north. I have to wake up at 4:45am, and take a couple Whatcom bus schedules with me.

I have to get my hat back from my last clients and may have a free movie to see tonight. I’m at Top Pot now. It’s not what I should eat, but food is the one human need I can control.

Impossible Decision Point

The Social Security Administration limits disability applicants to earning $1130/month for 2016.
If you make any more than that in a calendar month, you’re automatically disqualified from getting disability. 
Well, by working at Taco Time doing boring mindless work for a lower nominal (let alone real) wage than I earned in 1999 before I had any professional work experience, and which I had to commute 75 minutes each way to get to and from, it turns out that my February earnings were…$1131.27. Of course, I’ve since lost that job for being sick too often (embarrassing, stigmatized health issues like PTSD with no coverage to speak of from Medicaid), but that extra $1.27 does me in. After 20 months of bureaucratic nightmare trying to get disability, including a trumped up arrest dismissed by the prosecutor (only arrest in my life), and their loss of my birth certificate for 7 months and claim it was my fault, my application is now automatically disqualified. This is the great vaunted social safely net in America. I can’t hold a job but can’t get disability. I can’t have a stable home, pet, girlfriend, any of the physical or mental health treatment I desperately need–no matter how hard I fight for it or how many times I seek it out. Or how clearly and certainly I know exactly what I need–the poorer and less powerful you are, the less anyone bothers listening to you. Including friends and family, if you have those. I have nothing but inadequate food stamps, which will be taken away soon–because under their standards, I’m an able body adult w/o kids. (Since I’m not approved for disability) 
The only thing we do for people in need in the US is blame them, judge them, ignore them, castigate and excoriate them, and pretend everything bad in their lives is their own fault. Never mind systematic classism. Because we can’t possibly admit that the US is not a perfect meritocracy which deliberately and systematically exploits the poor to feather the nests of the Super-rich just a little more–in fact, no advanced nation is as anti-meritocratic or anti-utilitarian as the US. We make sure to maximize the number of people suffering and the depths of their suffering–see Where to Invade Next. It doesn’t have to be like this at all–we choose it consciously. But pretty lies always trump ugly truths in our land of denial and magical thinking. It’s far easier to blame victims and cast them as immoral, lazy, weak, undeserving, etc. than to acknowledge or fix problems. 

Is it worth trying yet a third time (with another 18-24 month wait) to apply for disability anew with all its impossible endless bureaucracy and total lack of guarantee you’ll get a fair hearing, let alone benefits? Is there any job I could possibly get and keep–one with a reasonable commute that uses my “huge Aspie brain” and lets me advance social justice in some way, paying well enough not to need help from poverty programs, but rather let me enter the middle class for the first time in my life at 39? Am I truly better off killing myself, since that’s clearly what every institution of any power or significance in the US really wants of us? Or is there any plausible way for me to emigrate to the vastly more advanced, fair, humane, egalitarian, happy, functional, democratic countries of northern Europe where people are treated with dignity and opportunity? My inclination now is suicide, unless emigration gets simpler, faster, and more feasible in short order.

Sound Transit: Vaccine Too Expensive; We’ll Take the Disease

Alignment (and Philosophical) Battle at Sound Transit Board Meeting (Publicola)

Futurewise​ and Mike O’Brien​ (Seattle’s best City Council member) are right. Sound Transit​ is poised to make yet another penny-wise, pound-foolish decision. If we want to create walkable communities where lots of people can live without cars (reducing their housing costs), we need TOD. If we want to run trains that are used heavily all day–not just at rush hour–we need TOD. If we want to conserve land and minimize air and water pollution, we need TOD. If we want transit to be cost-effective, so it needs smaller subsidies, lower taxes and fares, and/or expands the system more rapidly; we need TOD. If we get this wrong now, just to pander to suburban politicians and save $300 million (the 2008 Mass Transit Now package is $18 billion), it will be nearly impossible to fix for generations, and our capital AND operating investments will be mostly wasted. Just look at DC’s Orange Line in Fairfax County, Virginia (it runs in the median of I-66), among myriad other places that have made the same error.

Will we do what’s easy, or what’s right? I’m not holding my breath.

Like Futurewise, Seattle City Council and Sound Transit Board member Mike O’Brien looks at the issue in the long term. “We want to think holistically here. It would be shame to save a few dollars today at the cost of huge benefits decades from now,” said O’Brien. “What I see from public comment and places like community-based organizations and the Highline Community College is that they would all like to see it on SR-99. So there’s a disconnect between what I’m hearing from the constituents in the community and what I’m hearing from the elected officials who represent those constituents,” O’Brien added.

1 Hour Meeting with Councilwoman Bagshaw

bagshaw_header

Wednesday evening, I met 1-1 with Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw. She’d invited me to meet with her via Facebook after seeing something I wrote (probably when I said she’s an airhead and pawn of the local business establishment). We talked for about an hour, which is more time than I’ve ever gotten with a local lawmaker. She seemed interested in listening to me and getting my ideas and suggestions. Not knowing where to start, I explained my interest in affordable housing and homelessness. She jumped off on that point and seems very interested (which really surprises me) in mandatory inclusionary zoning (fancy name for a policy where the city requires new apartment buildings to reserve some units for low-income people). She asked if I’d help her push for it, which I’m very enthusiastic about. I did not pull punches or sugarcoat on the dearth of courage from Seattle lawmakers or the economic corruption of the political system, and some of my initial thoughts on why the election went as it did. I don’t think she totally gets it. I still think she’s a bit simplistic in how she views some things. She doesn’t see the need for more political parties, following some of the tribal Democratic Party line (let’s just bring people together and get things done, the Republicans have just blocked Obama, who seems not to be held responsible) though she does see that the government, state and federal at least, has shown itself unable or unwilling to address our problems. It sounds like education, transportation, and mental health are her top priorities at least in Olympia. I also, after being warned that she likes to hear herself speak, made sure to assert myself. But I was civil and well-behaved. I came back to the need for public financing a couple times and raised the idea of a guaranteed basic income, which she seemed to like but find impractical at the city level. I also explained my own poverty, unemployment, and health challenges. At some point she said I’m needed to fix things in the U.S. and suggested or asked if I’d considered running for office. I explained I can’t raise money and don’t have the personality for it–I’m a policy person rather than a campaigner (think Obama; not Bill Clinton). I didn’t think to ask her to hire me. She’s no Socialist Alternative bombthrower, but she said plenty of things that seem basically like democratic socialism to me. (That’s a compliment)

Overall it was a very good experience. It’s nice to be called in to offer your ideas and be listened to (I feel ignored or excluded so much anymore), especially by someone with the power to act on it. Time will tell if there’s really hope for mandatory inclusionary zoning in Seattle. Bagshaw did agree that incentive zoning (tax breaks Seattle offers to developers to produce affordable housing–which has produced just 714 affordable units in a decade or so) is a joke.