Two Steps Forward...

Keeping people warm; plus, Congress drops immigration reform

Shelter in the Storm

After struggling to find nonprofits to act as warming centers for the homeless last winter, the city of Spokane is now looking to revamp the program. The city proposes increasing the temperature when warming centers are activated from 15 degrees to 20 degrees and paying organizations per year instead of based on how many nights they’re activated.

The program reimburses shelters — one for each target demographic: men, women, youth and families — to temporarily house homeless people during the coldest nights from November to March. When the temperature drops, shelters are activated as warming centers if they were at least 90 percent full the night before. When activated, they’re required to provide shelter and staffing, but not beds, for extra people.

In the past, some nonprofits said the money the city offered wasn’t enough to cover the costs of sheltering extra people and the per-night payments made budgeting unpredictable. Under the proposed changes, they would now be paid per year: $12,000 for those serving 25 people per night; $6,000 for those housing fewer. The program would now cost the city $28,000 a year, up from $15,000, because the temperature increase will mean more nights of activation, says Sheila Morley, who oversees the program.


Stalled in Congress

After a five-week recess, congressional lawmakers convened in D.C. this week with a long to-do list, including voting on military intervention in Syria, passing a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling. Immigration reform, according to Idaho U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador, will likely fall by the wayside.

Last month, the House rejected the Senate’s immigration plan, which expedited the path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. In several media interviews over the past week, Labrador said lawmakers in the House, facing a tight schedule, won’t have time to discuss the issue.

“We don’t know exactly when we’re going to be able to have this debate,” Labrador told the Spanish-language network Univision. “With the problems that we’re having internationally and also here in this country, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to have this debate until November. And I really don’t know if it will be possible to do it in November.”

The Republican congressman was a member of the bipartisan House “Gang of Eight,” charged with hashing out an immigration bill. He dropped out of the group in June over disagreements on health care for undocumented immigrants.


Unchecked Development

A petition before Spokane Superior Court from local land-use groups failed last week, giving developers a lot more time to start developing in Spokane County’s newly expanded urban growth area. And once developments start, little can stop them.

In an effort to prevent sprawl, Urban Growth Areas, or UGAs, prohibit denser development outside their boundaries. Earlier this year, Spokane County expanded its UGA, angering land-use groups upset and pleasing developers who intend to build in the newly expanded areas.

Groups like Center for Justice and Futurewise believe that the boundary was expanded too far and are arguing that case before the Growth Management Hearings Board. But once a developer turns in a valid pre-application in Washington state, they’re “vested” — meaning future changes in zoning laws don’t apply to that development. Even if the county is forced to shrink the UGA boundaries, the vested properties will be unaffected.

A few land-use groups went to Spokane Superior Court, hoping to stop the vesting process until the hearings board could make a decision. Last Wednesday Judge Greg Sypolt denied their motion for a stay, charging that some of their arguments were “seriously flawed in a number of respects.” Ultimately, the judge came to the conclusion that the Superior Court didn’t have jurisdiction — only the Growth Management Hearings Board did.

While Rick Eichstaedt, director of Center for Justice, says he’s absolutely confident the land-use groups will win the case before the hearings board, that may not be until next year.

“What it further illustrates is the challenge of this loophole,” Eichstaedt says.