Olympia residents could see a housing levy on their November ballots. Or they could see a public safety levy. Or they could see both.
A recent poll shows that Olympians are receptive to those levies. When asked how they would vote if both levies were on the ballot, 51 percent of respondents said they would vote “yes” on both measures, 16 percent said they would support only a public safety levy, and 14 percent said they would support only a housing levy. Eight percent of respondents said they would support neither measure, and the remainder were undecided.
“The support is pretty strong, but the case still has to be made,” said pollster Stuart Elway during a June 6 study session with the Olympia City Council.
But when asked about each measure individually, support was overwhelming. Seventy-eight precent of respondents said that they would definitely or probably support the policing measure if it were put on the ballot, with 14 percent of respondents saying they would probably or definitely oppose the measure. Eight percent of respondents were undecided.
When asked about the housing measure, 78 percent of respondents said they would probably or definitely support it. Eighteen percent said they would probably or definitely oppose it, while five percent were undecided.
Elway Research polled 6,000 Olympia residents — 4,000 online and 2,000 by phone. Potential subjects were pulled from the registered voter list. Those with available phone numbers were called, and Elway sent letters to the rest. The letters directed people to an online survey.
The council hasn’t yet decided whether to add either of the measures to the November ballot, but they need to decide by early August. Elway advised the council that they’d have a better chance of passing the measures if they’re brought forward one at a time.
“It just seems like more of a gamble if they’re both on there together,” Elway said.
“Fifty-one percent is close to 50 percent, which is close to 49 percent.”
The housing measure
Home Fund — an Olympia-based organization composed of stakeholders, citizens and service providers — drafted a proposal for a housing levy last year that would tax Olympia homeowners $0.36 per $1,000 of real property value. Over seven years, the levy would generate $16 million in direct revenue and leverage an additional $32 million in state and federal funds.
The organization proposes creating 250 units of permanent, supportive housing over those seven years. That type of housing typically costs about $10,000 per unit per year.
Phil Owen, co-chair of Home Fund and executive director of the nonprofit SideWalk, said the housing would serve the most vulnerable people in Olympia — many of whom are disabled and/or mentally ill. In the past, many of these people would have lived in some kind of institution. Now, many live on the streets and bounce between emergency services, hospitals and jails.
While people who fall into this category are a small part of Olympia’s overall homeless population, they’re typically the most visible, Owen said. This population also is growing because there isn’t enough supportive housing in the community.
“It’s expensive, but it’s still cheaper than relying on emergency services,” Owen said.
He pointed to the Seattle-based Downtown Emergency Service Center. A study completed in 2009 showed that subjects housed by the organization had health care savings of $2,449 per person per month when compared to a control group. The study took into account the $1,120 per month it took to house the participants. In a year, the 95 participants each saved an average of $42,964.
So he said the housing wouldn’t just get the most vulnerable Olympia residents into housing, it would save taxpayers money.
Jessica Bateman, an Olympia City Council member and Home Fund co-chair, said Olympia residents care about the local homeless population. She’s learned that through talking to constituents and through Elway’s recent poll.
Elway’s first questions was open-ended: “In your opinion, what is the most significant issue facing the city of Olympia at this time?”
A majority of respondents, 51 percent, replied “homeless.”
“We know that the community supports a solution,” Bateman said. “There’s good stuff in the public safety (proposal), but housing has to be the priority.”
The public safety measure
City officials haven’t yet put forth a dollar amount for the possible public safety levy. But it would likely include money for three things: additional walking patrol officers, a mental health response crew, and neighborhood liaisons.
For the mental health response crew, the Olympia Police Department would hire a counselor to respond with officers to crisis calls, said Lt. Paul Lower.
This specialist would to a variety of calls, from homeless Olympians in crisis in downtown Olympia, to teens in crisis in their parents’ homes.
“It’s geared toward those calls that may initially look suspicious, but really aren’t,” Lower said. “They’d go out on calls that have a mental health overtone, calls that aren’t really criminal.”
The counselor would help de-escalate the situation, connect people with services, and free up law enforcement officers to go on criminal calls.
The walking patrol component would bring patrol staffing downtown back up to late 1990s and early 2000s levels.
“It would expand the services we already have,” Lower said. “Right now we just have the two during the day, and the night patrol in the summers.”
Ideally, the Olympia Police Department would be able to have a walking patrol supervisor and night walking patrol year round.
Neighborhood liaisons would work specifically with neighborhoods and neighborhood associations throughout the city — whether concerns are related to speeding cars, a string of burglaries, or a problem house.
“We recognize that the needs of our neighborhoods are different to those of downtown, and we want to meet those needs,” Lower said.
More on the poll
In your opinion, what is the most significant issue facing the city of Olympia at this time?
- Homeless: 51 percent
- Growth/development: 15 percent
- Non-city issues: 10 percent (these included issues such as national politics, racism, etc.)
- Public safety: 9 percent
- Taxes: 3 percent
- Other city issues: 6 percent (these included issues such as Capitol Lake, the city council, etc.)
In a typical week, how many days are in you in downtown Olympia?
- 0 days: 9 percent
- 1 day: 18 percent
- 2 days: 17 percent
- 3 days: 15 percent
- 4 days: 9 percent
- 5 days: 10 percent
- 6 days: 9 percent
- 7 days: 10 percent
- Average: 3.2 days
Which public safety program should be the highest priority for the city of Olympia?
- Providing mental health services: 32 percent
- Additional officers on the walking patrol downtown: 29 percent
- Training in modern techniques: 13 percent
- Continuing the community court program: 12 percent
- Additional officers for neighborhood nuisance issues: 10 percent
- N/A: 3 percent
If all of these public safety programs were presented to the voters in a single package, would you be inclined to ______ the package?
- Definitely oppose: 5 percent
- Probably oppose: 9 percent
- Probably support: 44 percent
- Definitely support: 34 percent
- Undecided: 8 percent
Would you ____ the proposal including renovation/construction of 250 units over seven years for the vulnerable, chronically homeless population; mental health services, drug treatment and alcohol treatment for residents of this housing; rental assistance and other programs to prevent homelessness; include more shelter beds, a day center and other services for people?
- Definitely oppose: 11 percent
- Probably oppose: 7 percent
- Probably support: 35 percent
- Definitely support: 43 percent
- Undecided: 5 percent
How old are you?
- 18-35: 14 percent
- 36-50: 25 percent
- 51-64: 32 percent
- 65+: 27 percent
- No answer: 2 percent
- Male: 44 percent
- Female: 52 percent
- Other: 1 percent