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March 2021

News In Brief

March 4, 2021

  • A new study ranks Seattle as the second-healthiest city in the nation. The study, by personal finance website WalletHub, compared more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities across 44 key metrics, from the cost of medical visits to fruit and vegetable consumption to fitness clubs per capita. San Francisco ranked as the nation's healthiest city, with Seattle as a close second. Portland, Ore., was ranked as third-healthiest. Seattle posted some impressive scores in individual areas as well - ranking first in the nation for its share of physically active adults and fourth for most running and walking trails per capita. The nation's least healthy city, according to the study, is Brownsville, Texas. Other cities ranking in the bottom five: Laredo, Texas; Gulfport, Miss.; Shreveport, La.; and Memphis, Tenn.

  • The Department of Justice in February withdrew HUD's appeal of the case postponing the agency's 2020 Disparate Impact Rule that would have made it harder to bring discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act. By withdrawing the appeal, the preliminary injunction under the case Massachusetts Fair Housing Center v. HUD will continue to delay implementation on the rule. According to DOJ court documents, HUD, along with HUD Acting Secretary Matt Ammon voluntarily moved to dismiss the appeal. The rule, initially enacted in 2013 under the Obama administration, drew significant backlash from the housing industry after changes to the rule were made under former President Trump last year. Criticism was especially apparent after then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson issued updated guidelines that imposed a specific, five-step approach that required regulators to prove intentional discrimination on the lender's behalf. Under HUD's previous rule, lenders, landlords and other housing providers could be held liable for discrimination against protected classes even if it was not their intent to discriminate. The use of disparate impact was challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the rule in 2015. However, under Trump, HUD began signaling that changes could be coming. By 2017, the Trump administration, via the Department of the Treasurycalled on HUD to reconsider how it used the disparate impact rule. However, after the controversial changes were issued in 2020, a federal judge delivered a preliminary injunction in October to stop HUD from implementing the rule until the legal challenge was resolved. One week after being sworn in, President Biden signed a number of executive orders alongside a memorandum calling for HUD to reexamine the changes made to the Disparate Impact Standard. And HUD has shown signs it plans to work with the new administration in expanding racial equity past its current policies.

  • The U.S. Census Bureau in mid-February said it won't be delivering data used for redrawing state and local legislative districts until the end of September, causing headaches for state lawmakers and redistricting commissions facing deadlines to redraw state legislative districts this year. Officials at the statistical agency blamed operational delays during the 2020 census caused by the pandemic. The redistricting data includes counts of population by race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing occupancy status at geographic levels as small as neighborhoods. Unlike in previous decades when the data were released to states on a flow basis, the 2020 redistricting data will be made available to the states all at once, according to the Census Bureau. The delayed release creates a chain reaction in the political world. Several states will not get the data until after their legal deadlines for drawing new districts, requiring them to either rewrite laws or ask courts to allow them a free pass due to the delay. Candidates may not know yet whether they will live in the district they want to run in by the filing deadline. In some cases, if fights over new maps drag into the New Year, primaries may have to be delayed. In the end, though, experts said the elections will proceed as normal in November 2022. The biggest impact will be to compress the window during which lawyers can challenge bad maps in court. The once-a-decade census is used to determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets. It also is used for redrawing state and local political districts and determining the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

  • After years of development, a West Coast earthquake early warning system will be ready to send alerts to your phone in a matter of weeks. The much-anticipated system rolls out in May in our state. Experts said it will be critical to saving lives and property in an earthquake. When an earthquake hits, every second counts. The ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System is a network of sensors that can detect an earthquake in real-time. It sends a warning message-then alerts go out to your cell phone-before the shaking gets to you. The system will finally be going live in Washington this May-completing the rollout for the entire West Coast. It goes live in Oregon March 11 and it was rolled out in California in October 2019. You need to 'opt in' to receive the test. Learn how here.

  • Sound Transit announced it will transfer 10 parcels of property it owns in the Rainier Valley to the city of Seattle at no cost for the development of affordable housing. The deal is part of a partnership that includes a $10 million commitment from the city of Seattle to create affordable homeownership opportunities. Under the terms of the agreement, approved by the Sound Transit board, at least 100 to 150 homes will be created across the sites, all of which are within a half-mile of Sound Transit light rail stations. The housing units will be sold or rented to households whose adjusted income is at or below 80 percent of the average median income. Sound Transit originally bought the 10 parcels of property for construction purposes as it was building the light rail line through the Rainier Valley, but no longer needs the land. The Federal Transit Administration, which provided funding to help Sound Transit purchase the properties, has agreed to their transfer to the city of Seattle without repaying the federal interest. The first three sites will be made available for development within 180 days of the property transfer and all 10 will be made available by 2031, under the agreement.