PubliCola Questions: Andrew Grant Houston

Photo via agh4sea.com

As PubliCola prepares to endorse candidates in the August 3 mayoral and council primary elections, we reached out to the leading candidates for mayor and City Council Position 9 with questions about homelessness, housing, police accountability, and economic recovery.

Their answers to these questions, which we’ll be sharing over the next several days, will help inform our endorsements, coming out next week. Endorsements will be based on each candidate’s record of action, public statements, interviews with PubliCola and other media outlets, and responses at the many candidate forums that have taken place over the summer.

First up: Newcomer Andrew Grant Houston, an architect, housing advocate, and impressive fundraiser whose future-oriented platform would bring transformative change. Houston wants to increase the minimum wage to $23 an hour, build 2,500 tiny homes for people living unsheltered, use neighborhood planning to develop Barcelona-style “car-light” superblocks, and cut the Seattle Police Department’s budget in half, redirecting the $138 million in savings to other purposes.

Here’s what Houston, who is currently outpacing longtime council members Bruce Harrell and Lorena González on both overall fundraising and number of contributors, had to say in response to the eight questions PubliCola posed to every mayoral candidate.

PubliCola: Assuming Charter Amendment 29 becomes law in Seattle, what city programs would you cut or deprioritize in order to dedicate 12 percent of the city’s general-fund budget to human services, and how would you go about adding 2,000 new shelter or housing spots by the end of next year?

Andrew Grant Houston: The money to fulfill the 12% will come from SPD, though based on interpretation of the current budget, that would only be a reallocation of 1% of the General Fund. I already have a plan for 2,500 tiny homes, recognizing that in Seattle there are close to 3,300 unsheltered individuals by an undercount. These homes plus CM Lewis’ “It Takes a Village” plan should be enough to ensure that, at the very least, we make sure everyone is inside by the end of next year.

Local elected officials and candidates have often emphasized the need to revitalize downtown Seattle as the primary focus of post-COVID recovery. What is one specific action you would take in Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods to promote economic recovery and neighborhood vitality?

We need economic recovery no matter where people live or where a business is located. The answer is ultimately short and long-term action that gives people financial stability when it comes to wages, rent, childcare, and housing affordability/availability in our city. We must do what is just and effective to continue financial protections for individuals.

“I remain the only candidate for Mayor with a plan to expand public restrooms, recognizing that when people have places to go (whether housed or unhoused) as well as specific places to dispose of sharps and trash, we reduce the number of biohazards in our public realm.”

That said, we can promote economic and neighborhood vitality by improving the public realm and making it such that people want to spend time on our streets frequenting local businesses. This is what my “Retake the Right of Way” policy proposal is all about: when we replace space for cars with space for bikes, walking/rolling, and even street cafes, people want to spend more time in our neighborhood centers. Plenty of data and studies show that protected bike lanes actually increase the amount of customers a business sees, so let’s do everything we can to encourage sustainability—environmentally and economically.

There is general consensus around the need to replace some functions of the police department with non-policing alternatives, such as civilian crisis responders. What gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network can be filled on the shortest timeline, and which are the most pressing priorities?

I would normally start with the transfer of Parking Enforcement to SDOT, however that is already happening and being worked on by Council. The next step, then, is to expand the Public Safety Coordinator from a singular position in South Park to creating no less than seven in each council district. This is a version of public safety that has seen success and is enjoyed by the residents of the neighborhood, so let’s expand this visible network of resources to other parts of Seattle.

One of the most pressing priorities for public safety in my mind are public restrooms. I remain the only candidate for Mayor with a plan to expand public restrooms, recognizing that when people have places to go (whether housed or unhoused) as well as specific places to dispose of sharps and trash, we reduce the number of biohazards in our public realm.

According to the latest Point in Time Count of the county’s homeless population, about half the unsheltered people in King County live in their vehicles. Yet there are very few programs or resources available to vehicular residents, and little public awareness of the size and circumstances of this population. Name one action you would take to specifically address the needs of vehicular residents in Seattle.

One specific action I would do is to create RV Safe Lots that allow for those currently living in them a safe, sufficient space for their vehicles while also providing resources and services in a sanctioned environment. People within the Lived Experience Coalition have asked for this specifically. Just like any policy that impacts our marginalized communities, we should center what they specifically name as needs. This is why I’ve been endorsed by individuals like Tiffani McCoy, who is the Advocacy Director for Real Change.

Nearly every mayoral candidate this year says they support allowing more types of housing in Seattle’s exclusionary single-family areas. As mayor, what’s the first piece of legislation you would send to the council to move toward the goal of eliminating or modifying single-family zoning?

First, let us be very clear. I am the only candidate who has stated they will end exclusionary zoning across the city since Day 1 of my campaign. Whether people have found it more politically expedient or not to say they are in support is their business, but I have been the only candidate who consistently raised this issue.

First, I would authorize up to six units on every single lot in the city. HB2343 allows sixplexes, which I, along with others, advocated for and passed. If we pass this change before April 1, 2023 it is not subject to a SEPA appeal process. To be clear, I do believe we need to go further and I believe that is what the major Comprehensive Plan Update is for. However, we have a law on the books that can get us part of the way there much faster; it just takes a Mayor who’s willing to put the work in and act on it.

Congratulations, you’ve been elected mayor! Your first meeting is with Jeff Bezos. What do you say to him?

Jeff! I see you made it back to Earth in one piece. I have a challenge for you. McKinsey said it would take an additional $1billion a year for the next ten years to solve homelessness in King County. You are currently worth over $195 billion dollars. Will you work with us to fund the solutions we need, thereby cementing your name in history as someone who actually solved something, or do we have to do this the hard way? (Taxation)

What’s your top priority for Sound Transit realignment? Make your best case for this project to a fellow Sound Transit board member who wants to prioritize getting light rail to Everett.

My top priority for realignment is to bring projects forward, not delay them further. The record-shattering temperatures we’ve already seen in June make the case for us: The heatwaves are a direct result of climate change, which ironically also creates a lot of highway damage as asphalt buckles from the stress. We must do everything in our power to find additional funding so that we don’t have to sacrifice any service, particularly later infill stations that then cause the entire system to shut down. Given all of that context, I will increase transit service as quickly as possible.

When responding to people living outdoors, the city has historically focused on large or highly visible encampments, and reserved resources and enhanced shelter or hotel beds for people at encampments removed by the city. This focus on large, visible encampments tends to exclude many unhoused people of color, such as Native Americans, from access to the most desirable services. What would you do to improve equity in access to services for unsheltered people of color, particularly the Black and Native homeless populations?

I will improve equity in access to services by starting with culturally-relevant and -sensitive outreach. Organizations like Mother Nation do this well for our Urban Native populations. Just this year, however, Native-led homelessness organizations refused to sign on to many pre-existing contracts with sudden changes in them because it would’ve forced those organizations to do away with cultural-sensitivity and engage in sweeps. On top of that, Native community members are geographically dispersed, often in small groups that may not be deemed a priority by the City.

I will also move to overturn I-200 so that we may directly aid specifically to Black and Indigenous Seattleites, both those unhoused and those on the brink of homelessness. This would manifest in prevention (through the Equitable Development Initiative), and in homelessness outreach. While a majority of the unhoused population may be white, those disproportionately represented are always Black and Indigenous—and that’s the inequitable truth of it.

5 thoughts on “PubliCola Questions: Andrew Grant Houston”

  1. He wasn’t asked about rent control which he has supported in the past. There are few better ways to destroy the housing stock of a city so I hope he gets asked about it. Tiny homes are an emergency solution to a persistent problem: it would be cheaper and better to build actual housing — apartments, SROs, mixed-use/market rate and social housing — than temporary shelters that no one really wants to live in.

    If Seattle were to follow the model used in Vienna — buy land or allocate from its stock or surplused land and get housing built without huge windfalls to speculators — we could get everyone indoors. But the land owning class that hopes to reap the rewards of scarcity won’t let that happen. I don’t know how people don’t get tired of advocating for no homeless people in their view but no homes for them at the same time.

    1. The City of Seattle will never succeed in getting “everyone indoors”. Even the suggestion calls your education or intelligence into question. Did you not read my explanation below? When the word gets out that Seattle has free tiny homes and motel rooms for everyone, they will attract the homeless from Renton, New York, Guatemala, and everywhere else on the planet. They will attract not only illegal immigrants already pouring across the open border, but all the poor life-planners, escapees from socialism, and local scammers just looking for more free stuff. Just think about it before you use that phrase next time. Steve Willie.

  2. Houston did not answer your ST3 question. They do not have enough funding to not change something: pace or projects. Constantine, Durkan, and Balducci suggest putting off realignment. To the spine worshiper: how about deleting the deviation to Everett Boeing to make it less costly; why build a spine with scoliosis?

  3. Mr. Houston: So you say: “….make sure everyone is inside by the end of next year”. Do you realize this is impossible? Allow me to demonstrate: Lets say you had a pile of dollars, gold, and euros one hundred miles high. Would that be enough money for you to get everyone inside? Of course you would say yes… or let me know if that is not true. Now let’s run the scenario whereby you tried to “make sure everyone is inside”. Surely you can see that you have now created a system which is easy to game for everyone looking for a rent-free place to stay in Seattle. As soon as you build your 2500 tiny homes, you would need to turn right around and build 5000 more as new blue tarps pop up in parks all over Seattle. Then 10,000, etc. This is only basic economic behavior here. You might want to take a real class in economics. Actually, I am looking forward to voting for you because it will be very entertaining to watch you fail miserably. In the end, you will blame it on Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, global warming, Capitalism, Wall Street, or any of your other supposed enemies. You Progressives are so predictable. In fact, the cause of your failure will be Andrew Grant Houston. OK let’s do this! Steve Willie

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