Climate change will be the single most important factor in what our community looks like over the next 100 years. As more parts of the earth become less habitable to human life, migration will happen. This means we need to be prepared to have continued growth in our region, and to plan accordingly. However, planning for growth means allowing preservation to occur that will maintain habitat and preserve the salmon resource we share with our local native tribes. How we live with our environment is going to be just as important as where we live. Using less pesticides, rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, developing a taste for more native plants over lawns, growing our own food, working with volunteer groups to remove non-native invasive species, and fighting the federal government to ensure the safety of our groundwater supply currently at risk – these are all things that we will need to participate in so we can continue to have the stellar way of life in this region while making room for those who come after us.
To combat climate change and prepare for the continued influx in our region, we will need to move to more transit orientated land use options. The county can lead the way by offering density bonuses near proposed transit lines and incentives that encourage alternative energy sources for power such as wind or solar. We also need to work collaboratively with the four tribes in our region to improve the chances we will continue to see sustainable salmon runs in the future. From reducing pesticide use near our streams to replacing aging septic systems near waterways with sewer lines, to increasing our tree canopy, the county needs to step up and make a stand for our way of life to continue.
This leads to the next issue – the rising costs of housing. When I was on the county council I worked with my colleagues to actually learn what costs went into the construction of housing and tried to find creative ways to mitigate those costs so those savings could be passed on to homebuyers. We were successful in making some changes and I think the time is ripe again to review our building and zoning codes to see how we can reinvent housing to gain affordability.
The county and its cities need to work collaboratively to offer affordable housing opportunities. These housing units should be close to services and transit lines. Our county can be leaders by reviewing our building code to use alternative materials and develop incentives for people in rural areas who wish to be entirely off the grid. We will also need to develop an improved relationship with our Pierce County Housing Authority so that we can work together to address our housing crisis. Right now, trust between both entities is at an all time low, however a change in leadership may improve this relationship. A properly run Housing Authority can leverage federal support to help reduce need in our unincorporated areas. Our county can work to develop a housing trust fund to increase available affordable housing stock, but when it does so, we should avoid using a tax structure that adds to the cost of housing.
Our county should allow for a varied mix of housing types for families to choose from. We need to explore using accessory dwelling units to increase affordability of existing dwellings. The county should also look at different types of housing models, like co-housing or shared housing that allows older residents to continue to live in their neighborhood while giving younger residents housing options.
Finding a home
This brings me to our final topic of the night – making a dent in the homeless population in our community. I don’t think this is a solution we can do on our own. This is a solution which will require us to work with other jurisdictions in the Puget Sound. We need to make an effort to identify what people’s needs are before we run out and start investing in solutions for a problem we may not totally understand. A lack of affordable housing is one facet of this solution, but it does not address helping those who have problems staying housed even when the opportunity presents itself. For this population, the population of those with behavioral health disorders, the solutions will come at some cost – but result in savings in other areas. Let me share an example.
The TNT’s Million Dollar Man
The News Tribune ran an article about fifteen years ago about the “million-dollar man.” He was a homeless individual with an alcohol addiction. He got the nick name due to the aggregate costs to the city and hospitals for responding to 9-11 calls to attend to him. He tried recovery many times, but it never really stuck. After a long-time friend died on the street, he decided to make an effort to stay sober. He was given an apartment through MDC and, success. He has been sober ever since. He does participate in group sessions with those who are starting recovery and gives a good pitch for keeping sober. It is organizations like MDC which can partner with our county to help people like him find the road home.
Chronic Minor Offenders and Housing First
The reason why I am telling you this is his story is quite common. The county invested time on a task force (a six month project that I served on personally) to find solutions for what we termed “chronic minor offenders.” The top 41 of these (some were re-arrested 18 times in a 2-year period) cost the county and city over 2.5 million dollars a year – just those 41 people. This only covers jail costs – not the costs of the courts or the hospitals that attended them. Sometimes when people have sunk so far giving them a place to stay is the only way they can motivate themselves to recover. We call this, “Housing First.” We tried to develop just such a model in Tacoma in 2011, but the city declined to partner with the county on its development. This needs to change.
The hidden costs of homelessness
While I understand that many people will not want to put money into someone who is not clean and sober, countless studies and our own experience has shown that it is the one thing that works for the most difficult cases. I would like your support in pushing for this model to help address these non-violent, chronic minor offenders. If we are to be more efficient as a government and help stabilize the costs of criminal justice – we are going to have to get creative. For more information, see here. As an FYI, it was originally pushed by the Bush Administration as a possible solution to chronic homelessness.
Not everyone needs this type of model, but it is a way to help the most difficult to house. Other models that we need are supportive housing for those who are coming out of treatment and need to maintain their sobriety. As someone who has been sober for 20 years, I must tell you that it is much easier to concentrate on keeping your sobriety when you have a roof over your head than if you do not. If you don’t have shelter, you will just want to escape more – and the bottle or the needle is easier than facing the reality of your situation. Trust me.
On a final note, I noted earlier that we need to pull together to come up with a solution to homelessness in the Puget Sound. I have reached out to other former and current colleagues on this issue and there is some level of agreement that pitching in is the best solution. I make this commitment to you – upon election, those conversations are going to get kick-started in a hurry. I would also welcome any comments or thoughts to this message.
This is the final policy message I will be offering before the primary. You can expect a close out message tomorrow and maybe I might actually get around to asking for a donation to the cause. My campaign team has been after me to do that, but I wanted to have these conversations first so you knew that I was all about policy and letting you know who I was and where I stood. It has been fun sharing these thoughts with you, and I hope that we can continue to do this for a long time.