Council OKs short-term fund to help residents in financial straits due to COVID-19

Councilmember Luke Distelhorst (middle row at left) speaks as the Edmonds mayor, city council and city staff listen remotely Tuesday night.

Looking for ways to ease pain of residents financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved a short-term Homelessness Response Fund aimed at helping those in need with rent, mortgage, food or other household expenses.

The council also approved a resolution calling on local landlords to not increase rent, and asking state and federal officials to use emergency powers to address rent and mortgage payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both items were spearheaded by the council’s newest member, Luke Distelhorst, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat vacated when Mike Nelson was elected mayor.

At the end of the meeting, Distelhorst thanked his fellow councilmembers for supporting his proposals. “I know the economic impacts of this crisis are going to continue mounting the longer this goes on,” Distelhorst said. “I’m glad that the council has taken action tonight to encourage relief on rent and mortgages by our state and federal authorities, and we may need to keep advocating on behalf of our residents, businesses and nonprofits.”

The $100,000 fund is being created with money transferred from the council’s existing Homelessness Response Fund, which currently has $225,000 in it. Under an amendment from Councilmember Laura Johnson, to ensure accountability the funds will be distributed monthly for three months in $33,000 increments, and monthly reports will be required outlining the organizations that have received funding, how many people were served, and the specific services provided.

As proposed, the measure would apply to those Edmonds residents who earn less than 60% of the Snohomish County median income.

City Development Services Director Shane Hope, who has been working on the details of the effort, said that local human services organizations could serve as a “pass through” to distribute the funds, with no administrative fees involved. No one would receive cash payments; instead the money would be used to pay for specific items or services. Councilmembers agreed it was important to use local organizations that are familiar with Edmonds residents and their needs. Family-focused nonprofits like YWCA and Washington Kids in Transition were mentioned, although Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said she hoped that organizations specializing in needs of those with disabilities and veterans would also be involved.

Both Kristiana Johnson and Diane Buckshnis expressed reservations about the idea. Johnson said she worried that the plan lacked details about how it would be administered, and she also worried about pulling money out of the fund when it may be needed for those who are actually homeless. Buckshnis said she would like to wait a bit to get more data and ensure that all residents who need assistance receive it — and that may require more than $100,000.

The final vote was 5-1, with Kristiana Johnson opposed and Buckshnis abstaining.

In other business, the council approved a request by the Edmonds Public Facilities District (PFD) to accept a $200,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan it has requested from the Small Business Administration — although such a loan has to yet been awarded.

The Edmonds PFD operates the Edmonds Center for the Arts, which has had to suspend performances and lay off staff as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Loans from the Paycheck Protection Program are eligible for loan forgiveness provided the recipient spends at least 75% of the funds for Payroll, Payroll Taxes, and Health/Retirement Benefits, which the Edmonds PFD intends to do.

Finally, the council discussed Mayor Mike Nelson’s decision to create a $200,000 Community and Economic Relief Fund to benefit three organizations: the Edmonds Food Bank, the Edmonds Senior Center, and the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The fund was the result of contributions from several city departments, achieved by foregoing certain projects or programs this year and salary savings from open positions not yet filled.

The mayor’s decision was on the council agenda because some councilmembers questioned whether it was legal for the city to enter into service agreements that provided funds for such organizations, and whether the mayor had the authority to transfer funds to create the relief fund.

Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty provided documentation from both the state attorney general and the city attorney confirming the appropriateness of the actions.

Councilmember Vivian Olson noted that even though legal rules may have been followed in establishing the fund, she would encourage the mayor in the future to involve the council “in the spirit of collaboration that we are at least having conversations between council and mayor.”

“As people who put a lot of time and thought into what’s good for our community, I feel like there’s a lot of value, and the community would benefit from us being involved in these processes,” Olson said.

“We are in an immediate crisis and we are trying to provide immediate aid, and I’m trying to do it as best as I can,” Nelson responded. “There are other options we could have done but it would have taken significantly longer and quite frankly people are suffering.”

The mayor added that the council was also welcome to add to the $200,000 in funding he cobbled together. “This was just an initial reaction to the crisis at hand but by all means, if you feel that more needs to go in there I would fully support that,” Nelson said.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

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