Discussions at this week’s Bellevue City Council meeting centered around three topics: reviewing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city staff, approving funding allocations for A Regional Coalition on Housing, and providing comments on the city’s Conflict Resolution Center and their program to mediate landlord-tenant repayment plans.
Juneteenth Now a Paid Holiday for Staff, Councilmembers Ask for Additional Ways to Commemorate
Monday’s study session began with a unanimous, uncontroversial vote to declare Juneteenth as a City holiday. This move brings Bellevue in line with action from the State legislature, which passed HB 1016 during the 2021 legislative session to commemorate the holiday for State employees. Final approval is expected to come back to Council on next week’s consent calendar.
Also unanimous was Councilmember support for additional actions beyond the declaration of a City holiday. Suggestions ranged from purchasing a Juneteenth flag to fly at City Hall during the holiday weekend to further educating the community on the history and impacts of slavery. With this vote, Bellevue joins at least two dozen local jurisdictions in Washington State in commemorating the holiday.
Bellevue Greenlights $328,000 for Affordable Housing Investments on the Eastside
Because it is often more effective for cities to operate in tandem with one another on regional issues, Eastside cities partnered with King County to create A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH). Since 1992, the organization has served to leverage contributions from both its member cities and other agencies to more effectively fund affordable housing on the Eastside. In a December 9th memo, the ARCH Executive Board informed member cities of its recommendation to fund four affordable housing projects with $3.1 million in coalition funds, but final approval was still required from member cities for their respective portions.
At Monday’s meeting, Bellevue City Council unanimously approved the allocation of $328,000 from the City’s Housing Fund (representing 10.3% of the multi-million dollar balance) towards the four recommended projects. Because her husband is employed by the King County Housing Authority, Mayor Robinson recused herself from the vote on an Issaquah project out of “an abundance of caution.”
The four approved projects will create 344 units of affordable housing in Bellevue, Kirkland, and Issaquah. The ARCH-recommended $750,000 in funds towards a LifeWire project in Bellevue for survivors of domestic violence will complement funding that the City approved from its HB 1590 funds earlier this year.
Because funding for affordable housing often comes from several sources, it is difficult to say which agencies are “responsible” for having created affordable housing. This will be important to keep in mind as the City assesses both its affordable housing need and its contributions later this year. With how big the hole is though, any contribution is certainly valuable.
Council Receives Update on Eviction Resolution Pilot Program
Back in January, I reported on the challenges that Bellevue renters have been facing since November 1st when the statewide eviction expired. In the last month and a half since that article’s publication, an additional 409 Eviction Resolution Pilot Program (ERPP) cases have been initiated with the City’s Conflict Resolution Center — a nearly 230% increase, with 152 cases in the last week alone.
Because of SB 5160, tenants are entitled to negotiating a payment plan with their landlord before they are evicted. For tenants in Bellevue and Kirkland, Bellevue’s Conflict Resolution Center (CRC) is the designated agency to process such payment plans, and data from their presentation on Monday evening provided additional insights into the state of affairs on the Eastside. For example, the tenant response rate of 92% as I reported in January has apparently since fallen to 78%. This is crucial, because tenants who do not respond to contacts from the CRC lead to the agency issuing certificates that landlords can then use to initiate eviction proceedings in court.
Staff noted the difficulty in providing Bellevue-specific estimates for the number of households still in need of rental assistance, as well as the uncertainty in knowing how many tenants self-evicted after receiving an initial pay-or-vacate notice from their landlord. However, staff shared that 13% of King County renters were behind on rent in January 2022; for Bellevue, this would represent more than 3,500 households. Rental assistance passed by Bellevue City Council last summer has provided funds to over 2,000 households, but only approximately $2 million in City funds remain from the allocated $7 million. With the need for rental assistance funds likely outstripping their availability and the fear that many renters who negotiated repayment plans may still default on those agreements, Bellevue renters are by no means on the other end of the Covid-19 crisis.
As always, check out the play-by-play on my Twitter page if you’d like more details. As recently covered in KUOW’s Soundside, I provide weekly livetweets for Bellevue City Council meetings, as well as coverage of important commission meetings and other City news.
Chris is a UW Environmental Sciences graduate who moved to Bellevue in 2015. When he's not busy being an urbanist fox on the internet, he's working on the Eastside to support efforts reducing greenhouse gas emissions and going to city council meetings to denounce the hegemony of automobile infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter at @Deutski1.