Saturday, December 17, 2016

Updates on the Shady Acres crisis

The crisis at Shady Acres continues, although the families have a temporary reprieve of sorts. In September, the County Commissioners finalized the purchase and sale agreement for the manufactured home park, which means that the County now owns the property and is, through Accolade Property management, collecting rent and is, in principle at least, responsible for upkeep on the property. There's a lot of urgent work to be done there, on health and safety issues in the common areas, and we keep on reminding the County of their obligations in these areas.

In the November elections, two the three County Commissioners (who are all, it should be noted, Donald Trump supporters) were running to retain their seats, opposed by progressive (Bernie Sanders-supporting) opponents, and Shady Acres was the most hotly contested issue in local electoral politics.   (It should be noted that during the primaries all of the incumbents' opponents, including conservative Republicans and independents, strongly supported the Shady Acres families.) On Nov. 8, in the context of the pro-Trump wave that swept Kittitas County, the incumbents retained their offices. So the focus of the struggle has shifted from electoral politics. back to community activism, and perhaps, soon, to the arena of 'lawfare,' that is to say litigation by public interest law attorneys and perhaps by the state Attorney General's Civil Rights Division. There are enormous uncertainties at the present moment, as everyone knows all to well, in terms of the future of the Fair Housing Act, core civil rights law, and immigration policy.

The endgame in late August/early September of the struggle over the County's acquisition of the property was enormously instructive, although often heart breaking. The activists, in and around the community, managed to demonstrate flaws in the Commissioners' frequently cited plan to replace the mobile home park with an RV parking lot, for (overwhelmingly white) visitors to the once per year rodeo and county fair.  The RV lot would require rezoning the property as "Commercial Tourist,' but under the Ellensburg City Code such rezoning simply can't happen in areas more distant that a half mile from the interstate interchanges. So once that was established, the proponents of the purchase changed their justification. At a larger public hearing, the proponents (nearly all of them current or former board members of the County Fair and Rodeo -- which overlaps, one might note, with core base of Trump support in the County) insisted that their real motivation was to provide larger holding facilities for animals at the fair, especially for swine pens. Swine, we were told repeatedly, were being held for three days out of the year in inhumane conditions, and thus the Shady Acres/Shady Brook property was needed to provide the animals with better conditions.  For activists who had been insisting that the underlying motivations of the mass eviction plan were anchored in race and ethnicity, these speech acts were taken as rather clear confirmation of the argument;  in the eyes of the conservative, pro-Trump leadership of the County, the needs of swine far exceeded those of the 32 human families, all of them low income and nearly all of them people of color.

The Commissioners, in their continuing negotiations with the Northwest Justice Project, which represents the Shady Acres Homeowners Association, continue to insist that they won't pull the trigger for mass eviction until a "housing solution" has been reached for the impacted families. But they refuse to say what that solution might entail. HopeSource, a local non profit with very close ties to the Commissioners, recently proposed constructing a large affordable housing complex and secured a half million dollars in supporting funds from the Commissioners, even though they hadn't gone through a regular RFP process ; it emerged that HopeSource had not engaged in any consultation with the Shady Acres Homeowners Association or their attorneys. The "Spurling Place" project seems to have died for now, mainly because of NIMBY opposition by neighbors.  It isn't clear if there are any other credible affordable housing plans really on the table for now, although HopeSource seems committed to retaining that $500,000 funding guarantee for an unspecified housing project at a location yet to be determined.

So for the moment, the residents have a little breathing room, although they continue to live under an anxiety-producing Sword of Damocles, not at all certain when the mass eviction notice will be given.

The  basic economic facts of life remain unchanged; local agribusiness and motels, which employ nearly all the Shady Acres adults, refuse to pay their employees a living wage.  (We honor a few sterling exceptions, such as Kelleher Motors, who continue to be conscientious employers and staunch supporters of the families.) The local rental housing market is saturated, and low income workers and their families simply can't afford to live anywhere other than mobile/manufactured home parks. There are severe zoning and other economic and political restrictions on where MHPs can exist in the county, so  low income families, especially Latino, remain between a rock and a hard place. The county's leading industries, farming and hospitality, depend on low-wage labor, but there isn't a corresponding political will to provide decent affordable housing for the great majority of these highly vulnerable families. The wave of xenophobia and white nationalist rhetoric sweeping the region in the wake of the Trump victory sure isn't helping.

There have some unfortunate statements of late in the press by the Commissioners, incorrectly asserting that something like half the Shady Acres residents are delinquent in their rent and are being served with eviction notes. This simply isn't the case; nearly all have been paying their rent conscientiously, despite the tough times.

There are some moments of hope and cheer. We had a good session the other day doing weather proofing, to help with heat loss during the cold winter months, and will keep on with that through the winter.   We were all enormously heartened when, in response to Klan recruitment activity, about seven hundred people marched through campus and town in support of a tolerant and inclusive community.

We will, in any event, gather at 4:00 pm on Monday, December 19 for a holiday party with all the Shady Acres families and their supporters, in the fellowship hall of the First United Methodist Church at 3rd and Ruby.  Pastor Jen, who has been tireless in her support of the Shady Acres families, often likes to remind us of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's observation that God is to be found, first and foremost, in the manger. Whatever faith traditions we might hearken to, the sacredness of the manger and the image of a candle flickering in the darkness, surely sustain us at this moment of profound uncertainty and boundless possibility.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mark, this is a helpful update on the situation. I will see you Monday afternoon at the Methodist Church.