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]

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Income-Based Transit Fares!

Please sign this petition against 2nd class transit. Here are my comments:

ORCA Lift is a great program, and I commend you for taking the leadership to implement a low-income fare in a major jurisdiction like King County. As a transit junkie and advocate, I know there are many good reasons for shifting fare collection away from paper and toward smart cards. One of these is the ability to create just about any fare category you want, and charge it to targeted populations. So I’m interested in working *with* ORCA rather than seeking a step backward (in the long term) toward paper fare media.

I appreciate the rationale for peak-hour and two-zone surcharges; they make sense from a transportation perspective. And I understand the reasons for having senior, disabled, and youth fares too–I use an RRFP myself. But it seems to me that these last three are indirect attempts to help people who really need it, which is mostly people with the least money. And a large share of peak-hour commuters paying both the distance and rush hour premiums are probably employees whose fares are subsidized by their employers anyway, so the surcharges raise more money but don’t have the transportation or location effects desired.

I increasingly believe that simplicity is of great and underappreciated importance, and income inequality nationally and locally has become so great that I think it’s now more important than the reasons for, and effects of, the rush hour and two-zone surcharges. So I propose that, short of violating any federal requirements, Metro end the surcharges, abolish the special senior, disabled, and youth fare categories, and charge fares entirely based on income. We have lots of good ways to verify income for people under 200% of the poverty line; we can use existing infrastructure to charge still lower fares for people below 100% and 50% of poverty. Above that, the County has a large role in health care, and the ACA offers premium subsidies to people up to 400% of poverty. I suggest that the Health Department, perhaps working with WA Healthplanfinder, use that information to verify incomes in the 200-400% poverty range and apply an appropriate income-based fare category. This would be simpler and fairer for everyone.

Thanks.

Insurers Leaving Health Exchanges–What to Do?

This certainly doesn’t look good for Obamacare

So from my perspective, the problem here is simple and was foreseen, and the solution is simple, but virtually impossible.

1) United, Humana, and now Aetna are cutting their participation in the exchanges because they can’t turn a profit. Answer: Health insurers should be banned from making profits, as every other developed nation does. Make them public, non-profit, or cooperatives.

2) Aetna is using its large market share to punish/bully the administration for nixing a merger it wanted. This should have the same solution.

3) Insurers are getting too many new (sick) subscribers at once, and/or their existing beneficiaries are getting sicker. But the New York Times recently reported that not only has Obamacare cut the uninsured rate to a modern low (<10%), but it is actually making Americans healthier. At root, those are the fundamental, critical goals of health reform–not profitability or federal deficits and debt. Let’s keep this in mind. So how to solve #3? Health insurance, like voter registration, doesn’t work when people are excluded by default unless they act. Both need to be automatic–in this case so that healthier people who are cheaper to insure are paying into the system. Shared risk is a basic principle of insurance.

But that alone isn’t enough. We still have a crazy patchwork system where people get their health care in different ways from different places. Each comes with a different population, motive, administration, needs…this complication is a big pain for patients and providers, AND it’s a major reason for our very high administrative costs. Our political system isn’t ready to face this reality, but it’s unsustainable and has to end.

WE MUST GET EVERY AMERICAN ON THE SAME HEALTH SYSTEM.

I don’t care as much about which one it is; the imperative is to get everyone on Medicare (like Canada), or everyone on a fully socialized VA/IHS system (like the UK), or everyone on the exchanges or an employer-based system (like Germany). Then you greatly simplify everything, slashing administrative costs, and have one giant risk pool comprised of the whole country. No system is older or sicker or poorer. There are no big year to year changes because change happens slowly in a group of 320 million. And access to and quality of care are equal for everyone. Many of our health care problems will persist until we do this.

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.

20 May 2016

It’s been a hell of a day–again. I met with the new client who’s looking for a couple dog walks a week. She’s four bus stops from me. We chatted for 3 hours. Pets, Asperger’s, health care, housing, transportation…and Ruby licked and cuddled me, though she’s kind of reactive. The client also just moved and has boxes for me. 🙂

Then I went back to Goodwill. The printer was still there! I even found a power cord to match. And a sturdier case for my dying phone for $2. I can’t get my phone out of it, but that seems secure in a way. I spent $31 total. The printer weighs 30 pounds, and the Car2Go home was another $17. Denny and parts of I-5 were congested. We could fix most of that with a Denny subway and highway tolls, but we don’t like to do tough or sensible things. The navigation on my phone is better than the car’s. Yet again, the trunk refused to open. After Goodwill I picked up my study materials to upgrade my ham license. The tests are updated every three years, and these are good to 6/30/19. I didn’t even know they’d tried to deliver the books, or that they weren’t coming USPS. The call box at my building only works for land lines. And this is 2008 construction. We dealt with call boxes and cell phones in 2002-04 when I was on my co-op board in DC. I’m going to see about getting that fixed.

On Capitol Hill I passed the shuttered Harvard Exit theater. It’s so sad. Such a great old building with countless memories. I took my Meetup group there on Christmas 2008 and saw Slumdog Millionaire. STG saved the Neptune, and SIFF saved the Uptown and Egyptian, but I guess our arts community lacked the resources to save this one (our millionaires don’t, but they spend only on their whims). Meanwhile SIFF is showing films in Kirkland, Shoreline, Renton, and Bellevue. Toronto (our rival in North America) does nothing like that–if you hurry you can get between all their venues on foot. I also passed the former diabetic-friendly Mexican restaurant Galerias. It was among my favorites here, but they had a fire and didn’t reopen. The first time I went there, a young woman was dressed up playing a harp. No one seemed to notice when she switched from classical music to Stairway to Heaven. Now it’s a Tex-Mex place called Rooster. :/ Our best Greek restaurant, Costas Opas, is gone too; replaced by a damn Chase bank branch–2 blocks from Lenin.

InterConnection is having a $30 sale on smartphones, but they’re old. So I saved a trip to Fremont. My health clinic just got my MRI results, but the doctor hasn’t analyzed them yet.

Shockingly, Bruce Harrell’s staff got back to me about the vacant lot next door. It’s fenced off, with intermittent barbed wire, and neglected to the point that it has 3-4 foot grass, and thorny branches poking out. Not the right message to send in the heart of the neighborhood. I asked who owns it because I want to see why it’s just sitting there, and at least get them to maintain it a bit in the interim so it’s not so ugly. So is it notorious slumlord Carl Haglund? A developer stuck in permitting? A rich guy who’s holding the land to sell when it’s worth more? Nope. It’s… The Seattle Housing Authority! What the hell?!? Are they waiting for the housing levy to pass before building something? We could really use 6 floors of affordable housing above shops and restaurants. (The zoning is 40 feet–stupidly–but we make exceptions all the time) This is crazy. I have to get to the bottom of it.

The new printer has no ink, but I managed to set it up after a long call with Filipino tech support. I’m blown away. It has features I’ve never seen in a printer. It’s a 2014 model; mine is 2007. It can automatically scan and print double sided, has a top feeder so I can scan much more quickly, two paper trays so I can do regular paper and envelopes for example, very low cost per page, can fit legal paper…I can even print over wifi from my phone! And I think it may be able to print remotely via iCloud. It’s a productivity boost I’ve needed for a long time. Money well spent.

I made some final tweaks to my info flyers for the bus stop out front and posted them in the shelter. Hopefully they’re helpful to riders. I still want to represent the information visually since many people here don’t speak English, but it’s great for now. I got another round of things from the house and can print the food stamp paperwork on my old printer until I get ink for the new one. I got my mail for the first time in 10 days and need to do laundry for the first time in 2 weeks. I walked 13,000 steps today. Tomorrow there’s still more to do before a brief sitting job in Greenwood.

I Was Right! Again! Mexico’s Sugar Tax Works

Admittedly, I didn’t know Mexico had already enacted a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and junk food (Washington State tried this in 2010, but a misleading $22 million campaign from groceries and junk food companies promptly reversed it by initiative). Mexico’s tax took effect in January 2014, and preliminary results seem to show pretty clearly that people are consuming less of this toxic “food” as a result. This is a critical tool we need to use if we’re serious about fighting–and preventing–diabetes and obesity. I hate diabetes, and we need to be doing everything we can to keep more people from getting it.

But according to the researchers, who analyzed data on household consumption in 53 Mexican cities, purchases of sugary beverages dropped 6 percent on average in 2014 compared with pretax trends. And by December 2014, they’d gone down by 12 percent, compared with previous years. The study adjusted for other factors, like the overall downward trend in soda consumption, wages and unemployment.

Mexico’s Sugary Drink Tax Makes a Dent in Consumption, Study Claims (NPR)

Mayor Tory: Tear Down This Waterfront Highway!

Why Toronto Should Tear Down Its Urban Expressway (Citylab)

Tearing down the Gardiner Highway in Toronto is even more of a slam dunk decision than tearing down the Viaduct in Seattle. They don’t have a major port like we do, they have one citywide grid instead of two competing ones, their downtown isn’t tightly hemmed in by another highway on its exterior like I-5 did to us, and they only have water on one side instead of two so they lack our very constricted geographic “waist”. But in 1995 the Conservative Ontario government forced Toronto and its suburbs to “amalgamate” into one huge municipality, so city decisions are now dominated by what are really suburbs. Thus we lost this vote 24-21. Suburbs don’t make good urban policy. We see this with Sound Transit as well (good transit decisions require transit users to be making them. The silver lining is that these merged cities tend to get more urban and progressive over time. See Indianapolis, which has been building great bike infrastructure and whose Republican mayor spoke out recently for marriage equality.

In 1971, then-Mayor Richard Lugar (R) spearheaded Unigov, which merged the old City of Indianapolis with Marion County and most other municipalities in the county. For 30 years, it always had GOP mayors and council majorities, but now it’s more competitive and has had both a Democratic mayor, Bart Peterson, and Democratic majorities on the City-County Council on and off. Similarly, my other hometown of Columbus, Ohio has shifted from red to blue (at all levels, really), though both very sadly continue to be among the nation’s biggest metro areas (by 2020, Franklin County will be Ohio’s biggest–surpassing Cleveland and Cincinnati) without heavy rail, light rail, bus rapid transit (BRT), or even streetcars. Both redeveloped their old Union Station sites with no transit and in ways that make it very hard to return them to rail uses. Even worse for the environment, both rely heavily on coal for their electricity. (Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, now running for US Senate, always promoted coal; he represented the Appalachian coal region of Ohio in his 12 years as a congressman) Ironically, both cities grew up largely as major rail hubs. Statewide, Ohio ranks 7th in population but 4th in miles of railroad. Columbus, and probably Indy too, have a lot of unused or underused rail right of way that could pretty easily and cheaply be modernized for use as 21st century urban transit. Some mid-sized Midwest cities like St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul have built decent light rail networks (even Detroit is finally building its first line, while Kansas City tries a dubious streetcar), but the political will just still doesn’t seem to exist in Indy or Cbus. It makes me sad. There are a few reasons why I couldn’t live in my hometown(s) anymore, but the first is that you really can’t do so without a car, and I refuse to own one.