Federal Way, like all cities, gets to be a front row player to the daily, weekly, monthly, annual or multiyear “pick-6” crises to manage. Politicians and elected officials learn early on to never waste a crisis. They are opportunities to show leadership, strengthen constituencies and blame others for lack of progress. Some problems are destined to never be solved — often by design.
So, what would be your “pick-6” choices for Federal Way’s 2021 election cycle?
My likely winning choices for this year’s pick-6 issues are: homelessness, eviction moratorium being lifted, affordable housing, crime, police reform and education. Will the solutions offered for any of these issues improve our city’s well-being?
It is important to recognize that while these issues manifest locally, the problems themselves are not specifically local and each issue has multiple constituencies competing for their chosen solution. Like it or not, people, businesses, corporations, governmental entities, and faith-based organizations are competing for dollars and finding purpose on these issues. Which means solutions will never be easy.
Homelessness is a forever challenge that got worse locally, regionally and nationally as a result of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. It was an economic downturn that left us as a nation poorer, more unequal, and negatively impacted in greater numbers: men, Black and Hispanic workers, those entering the workforce, and the less educated.
Poverty and homelessness are intertwined with multiple layers of government, dedicated nonprofits, and faith-based organizations working on the problem. Many of us take a simplistic position of “just make it go away.” But as a society, we have an institutionalized “poverty industrial complex” that lobbies for funding, which means that no matter what we think or do, we are managing multi-year crises.
The eviction moratorium being lifted and affordable housing could be considered a two-for-one issue, but they are not the same. As the moratorium gets lifted, evictions will occur. Non-paying renters will be evicted, but most will voluntarily move. Landlords are not likely to be fully compensated.
The moratorium was only a stop-gap measure to reduce housing stress and potential homelessness caused by job loss during the COVID-19 crisis. It has to unwind and it will be ugly. Worse for those who have not found new employment, or had their credit ruined. Many will struggle to find new housing due to a housing shortage with landlords increasing rents and standards.
Affordable housing is an interesting conundrum shrouded in emotions of how much social engineering do we need to do on a local level to serve constituencies. We have for years been operating as an affordable starter-community option for people with low and moderate incomes. Should that change?
Our city has attracted the salt-of-the-earth worker bees willing to travel long distance for work because living in a more affluent community with better jobs and schools was not an option. The discussion needs to become less about affordable housing and one that deals openly with how to improve Federal Way’s capability as a well-rounded economic jobs center that elevates people to middleclass standards and beyond.
Crime is a constant in our society. Federal Way spends 19 percent of its general fund budget on police and court operations. We could spend more, but crime statistics are not likely to change significantly.
It is the behavior of our population that needs to change for crime to become less of a factor. We blame our bad behavior on poverty, parenting and lack of education, but we never talk about our society being crime tolerant. Property crime and credit card fraud are covered by insurance so criminals think of them as “no big deal.”
Crimes of hate, passion, assault, sexual exploitation and robbery happen when fear of consequences is not valued. Crime will remain a constant until accountability and a higher standard of ethics becomes common place in our politics, media sources, faith organizations, and corporate board rooms. Not likely to happen.
Police reform has become a critical issue but as long as a percentage of our population sees them as gladiators protecting us from the criminal hoard, they will be championed by some and a nemesis for others. We need to remember that police do not prevent crime. They show-up as or after it happens. Crime prevention starts with personal responsibility, creating opportunities and assuring equity.
Our society has dedicated underclasses that are targeted for their poverty, homelessness, mental health problems, drug use, skin color, and lack of English language skills. The inequities created by those issues need to be dealt with as a value reform change process on a societal level. Not easy to do as long as politicians, media moguls, position advocacy groups and corporations see each of those issues as beneficial political talking points, opportunities for exploiting tax dollars, sowing division, and cost centers for making money.
Education and local school districts above all else happen to be our society’s most consistent community builder. That is why they are at the center of this country’s culture war. Their greatest gift, should they choose to lead, would be a return to embracing arts and humanities, which teaches us to think and understand issues.
We need to realize that many religious leaders and politicians work hard to scrub our curriculums and textbooks of facts and ideas that are teaching young minds factually honest realities, to think for themselves, ask questions, understand the how and why, and muse about what could be. The future of our society requires our school systems to be accepting, challenging, inspirational and prepare our students for a lifetime of learning, success and change.
How Federal Way deals with these pick-6 challenges will define its present and future. Federal Way will not become a well-positioned and dynamic city if it maintains its “starter community” mindset that keeps our city operating at a lower economic standard.
The wiser choice is to reposition our city to a view of focusing on middle-class jobs, economic growth, behavioral accountability, improving social programs for those in need, and adjusting housing needs based on balancing equity with market opportunities. Our best approach to police reform, and winning the “desirable community lottery” with less crime, fewer homeless, and higher-paying jobs, starts with valuing education.
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.