Renata Rollins, Olympia City Council member, successfully ran for her position as a Green in 2017. This is what Green leadership looks like:
Renata summed up the state of Olympia during her first year on the Olympia City Council as: “We’ve had hard times in the community, but a lot of good groundwork has been done.”
The primary issue that Renata ran on was homelessness. The current Council, thanks to Renata and her alliances with other progressive members, has taken a 180 degree turn in their thinking about homeless issues. City priorities have dramatically changed in the past year, with much more attention to homelessness.
In May, the Council had a retreat to brainstorm policies around reducing the harmful impacts of homelessness. They came out with a new harm-reduction approach: support camping, daytime places to gather, and broaden focus from affordable housing construction to include more immediate housing solutions.
Renata said, “We can’t keep having a whack-a-mole response to homelessness. We need to get in place the basics like sanitation and safe places to camp and stay, and then work on the more difficult issues.”
A tiny-home village is in the works, with 40 dwelling units. Access will be based on an individual’s vulnerability. Renata is also involved with asking Thurston County to move to more evidence-based projects. In addition, there are many in the faith community who want to host encampments who could work with the city.
The 2019 budget cycle is about over. Renata has taken the opportunity this first cycle to learn more about the process. She requested that a Police Auditor be added to the 2019 budget, a contracted position that had been part of the budget years ago. This request has gained support from other council members. Like all local governments, Olympia struggles with revenue – especially from decreasing sales tax revenue. Renata advocated for the city to file an amicus brief supporting Seattle’s income tax case with the WA Supreme Court, which the legal department successfully filed. Hopefully in the future our cities and state will have more progressive tax structures available rather than regressive sales tax and property taxes.
In 2019, Renata will be looking at inclusionary zoning and market-based incentives as currently available tools to encourage affordable housing. For example, city fees could be reduced in exchange for creating units affordable for people earning 50-80% of the average local income. The previous Council approved, and an initiative was passed in February 2018, for a “Home Fund” 0.1% sales and use tax that will be used to create permanent supportive housing for the most vulnerable homeless individuals. So far, the City has purchased some property for affordable housing with funds from this levy.
Renata is also working with a community group on a regional social housing proposal, common in Europe, where public housing is more broadly available to people regardless of income. Social housing essentially is proportional rent – the cost of rent in a building may vary family to family, but the percentage of each family’s income going toward rent would be the same.
Renata has been participating in forming a subgroup of local policymakers to study sea-level rise issues and consider alternatives to the mainstream response that was proposed by hired consultants. Downtown Olympia may need a change in development patterns, as it is built on fill close to the waterline. Additionally, city staff are working closely with the Thurston Regional Planning Council to develop a regional climate change response plan for both mitigation and adaptation.
Renata said that many city department planning processes are currently isolated or siloed. For example, the Parks Plan process has historically asked residents what amenities they want to see in their city parks without regard to how that may impact other important areas such as affordable housing, cost of living, or climate change mitigation and adaptation. With the Parks Plan update commencing in 2019 Renata has been advocating for a more integrated approach to department planning.
Olympia government has a new department: The Office of Performance and Integration (OPI). It happens to be completely staffed by women, who serve as internal consultants for other city departments. They provide a model for community conversations and encourage changing the typical government decision processes to community-driven policies rather than relying on a top-down approach. Renata is meeting with OPI to see how this new process template can be applied to homelessness policy, parks planning and other processes.
Renata serves as Council liaison to the Olympia Heritage Commission. She and a subgroup of the Commission have been meeting to brainstorm ideas, for example, how to honor the area’s traditional stewards, the tribes, by choosing more appropriate place names and posting informative murals or plaques to reflect heritage.
Finally, in 2019 Renata will be working on creating a Human Rights Commission as well as an ordinance for gender-neutral restrooms throughout the city. She will also support work toward getting renters protections such as requiring “just cause” for evictions, and longer notice requirements.