Nearly every day, our organizations hear from workers, employers, and housing providers about the tremendous need for more housing options across Seattle. Just how big is the need? The Washington State Department of Commerce just released new projections that the city will need about 112,000 new units over the next 20 years.
To get there, we’ll need to maximize all the tools in our toolbox. The good news is that there is momentum. The state legislature went big and bold for changes that will make an impact, by investing in the housing trust fund and adopting reforms that allow more missing middle housing around the state.
In Seattle, these improvements work in concert with a proven housing program that is up for renewal this year: The seven-year housing levy. Mayor Bruce Harrell released his levy proposal in March and the city council is leading a process to place it on the ballot this November.
For nearly four decades, the housing levy has been our city’s voter-approved funding source to build and maintain thousands of units of permanent, affordable homes for vulnerable and low-income residents. It is an unparalleled success story—not only supporting the construction of housing, but providing assistance to seniors to mitigate displacement, emergency rental funds to prevent homelessness, and targeted homeowner support to address inequities and build generational wealth.
The proposed $970 million levy package builds on this record of accomplishment, and is supported by a diverse coalition of leaders and stakeholders who have been rethinking how we leverage levy funds to meet urgent needs while better coordinating with other funding sources. Our shared goal and commitment has been to partner with the mayor and city council to present voters with the best possible levy proposal this November, to make the largest—and most lasting—impact on the diverse housing needs of our communities.
The next levy should build upon proven and cost-effective staffing and housing programs that restore lives. This includes both the physical residences and the staffing needed to keep people housed and on pathways to stability and recovery.
First, we must expand our commitment to the basics: Thousands of units of affordable homes for low-income, working, and vulnerable families and individuals. These include new construction, restoration and preservation of existing buildings, and purchase of buildings to maintain or improve affordability.
Second, we need to emphasize the importance of permanent, supportive housing solutions for people we are helping back into stable housing or those at risk of slipping into homelessness. Levy funds have, and must continue, to be part of the larger solution as we address the acute and individualized needs of people experiencing mental health and addiction crises. The next levy should build upon proven and cost-effective staffing and housing programs that restore lives. This includes both the physical residences and the staffing needed to keep people housed and on pathways to stability and recovery.
A third critical element is maintaining funds for emergency rental assistance—making sure a low-income worker who loses a paycheck or has an unexpected medical bill doesn’t lose their home, resulting in greater downstream costs and trauma. These simple and proven programs to prevent eviction and homelessness are essential to community stability and economic independence.
Finally, our levy renewal should continue progress in addressing past inequities that have led to lower rates of homeownership for communities of color, and greater rates of displacement and gentrification in historically redlined neighborhoods of Seattle. Thoughtful investments in down payment assistance, home repair, and other programs not only allow families to place and maintain roots in our city but provide for future generations to achieve goals of homeownership and financial equity.
Seattle voters have demonstrated a commitment to affordable housing again and again, dating back to our first housing levy in 1986. But we are not taking this commitment for granted. Voters need to know that the investments they approve are making an impact at a scale that makes a significant difference. The levy is not a cure-all for every housing need facing our city, but it is an integral part of the solution and must expand to continue serving as the foundation for a broader set of investments.
Now, with the need greater than ever, it’s critical to unify around a bold vision for affordable housing. We look forward to building on this record of success with a 2023 levy renewal that meets this moment and provides a foundation for the future.
Patience Malaba is the Executive Director of the Housing Development Consortium, a 200-member association of affordable and low-income housing developers, providers, and advocates.
Jane Hopkins, RN, is the President of SEIU 1199NW, a union representing nurses, care providers, and other healthcare professionals.
1. Seattle police captain Keith Swank, a 33-year department veteran who is currently out on long-term paid leave, has posted dozens of tweets that appear to violate SPD’s social media policy, which says SPD employees “shall not post speech that negatively impacts the department’s ability to serve the public,” including any post that “ridicules, maligns, disparages, expresses bias, or disrespect toward any race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other protected class of individuals.”
In the past several months, for example, Swank has posted tweets that are that are transphobic (March 24: “Transwomen are men. #KeepTheRepublicSafe”), racist (March 24: “Democrats let violent animals like this [Black attacker] back out on the streets to kill Americans”) and conspiratorial (March 21: “It’s time for Republican prosecutors across the country to start investigating Pelosi, Schumer, Swalwell, etc. I’m giving you the names, now find the crimes.”)
In addition to denigrating trans women and promoting conspiracy theories about—among other things—election fraud and Paul Pelosi, Swank has repeatedly expressed his support for the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, calling the killing of Ashli Babbitt—a woman who was shot while breaking into the US Capitol—”state-sanctioned murder.”
“Pelosi coordinated the deadly attack, and Ashli Babbitt was murdered,” Swank wrote in March. “Would be great to see this criminal face accountability for her crime.”
At least six SPD officers went to the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, and two who trespassed on Capitol grounds were fired in 2021 after an Office of Police Accountability investigation in 2021. Shortly after the attacks, Seattle Police Officers Guild director Mike Solan faced calls for his resignation after blaming Black Lives Matter for the attacks, which were coordinated and carried out by Trump supporters.
When PubliCola inquired about Swank’s tweets attacking marginalized people and defending the January 6 rioters, a spokesman for the police department, Sgt. John O’Neil, said the “department will evaluate any policy violating statements that we become aware of and refer them to OPA as appropriate.” Asked if SPD does believe Swank’s tweets violate SPD’s social media policy, O’Neil responded, “It’s the view of the Seattle Police that any employee that violates social media policy will be referred to OPA. There is a process. We have no further comment on this.”
UPDATE May 4: The Office of Police Accountability confirmed that SPD did not file a complaint about Swank’s posts, indicating that SPD does not believe his comments violated its social media policy. OPA disagrees; after PubliCola contacted the office, the OPA opened a complaint into Swank’s social media behavior.
2. The King County Council rejected a measure that would have asked voters to increase the size of the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy by 2 cents per $1,000 of property value, or about $17 a year, opting instead for a flat renewal at an initial 10 cents per $1,000 that will result in cuts to services and build only half as many housing units as the most recent levy renewal.
“Going to the ballot with a property tax increase opposed by the suburban cities puts at risk the funding for the underlying levy, and I’m not willing to do that.” —King County Council Chair Dave Upthegrove
The seven-year VSHSL levy pays for housing, domestic violence prevention, senior centers, and supportive services for low-income and homeless veterans, seniors, and other King County residents. Over the last six years, it has raised around $350 million. Because property values have increased dramatically, the next seven-year levy will raise an estimated $565 million and cost the owner of a median (in 2024 dollars) $838,000 home around $100 a year.
Council members who supported the higher levy, including North King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, noted that a flat 10-cent renewal will severely constrain the uses of the levy for the next seven years. “Ten cents is a cut,” Dembowski said. “It’s a cut because of inflation, [and] because of increased demand for the services that exist and for things we might want to do.”
Suburban council members said they feared a higher levy would lose outside Seattle, potentially dooming it. Eastside Councilmember Claudia Balducci, voted for the 12-cent rate, noted that the levy to build mental health crisis centers, which passed countywide in April, fared poorly in suburban districts, including hers.
Council chair Dave Upthegrove, said he had “no political problem” with the higher, 12-cent rate, but added, “I do worry about passage. … Going to the ballot with a property tax increase opposed by the suburban cities puts at risk the funding for the underlying levy, and I’m not willing to do that.”
After rejecting the larger levy proposal on a 5-4 vote, the council unanimously voted to put the 1o-cent levy on the ballot in August.
I am the single parent of a teen with early onset schizophrenia, and we’ve been consistently failed by the system.
At 15, Jaime has intense hallucinations, agonizing delusions, and debilitating paranoia. Getting her consistent, quality care has been a challenge. The $1.25 billion, nine-year King County Crisis Care Centers levy, which would fund the creation of five urgent care clinics around King County, including one exclusively for kids and youth, is on the April special election ballot. It would be a major step forward in helping our most vulnerable kids get the care they need.
The stakes are high: Nationwide, one in six young people between 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder each year; half of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent starts by age 24. The mental health system is difficult to navigate as an adult, but for kids it’s inscrutable. I used the resources available to parents: I collaborated with the school district for special education services, met with social workers, and conferred with specialists—all of whom underestimated Jaime’s needs.
Our family has lived with pain, confusion, and anger with the system. If we had access to urgent care, I believe we would have been better equipped to survive my daughter’s worst days.
She started spiraling at 12 and my maternal instinct told me she needed more help than I could give her. Everyday activities could make her irritable to the point of irrationality. I often found Jaime crying in our hall closet. During one particularly frightening episode, she was admitted to Children’s Hospital. After a five-day stay (with a $50,000 price tag) I was told she was depressed and encouraged to send her back to school within a few days. When she returned home, the crisis continued. I didn’t know where else we could get help.
Our family has lived with pain, confusion, and anger with the system. Jaime’s needs were outgrowing the diagnosis and medications we’d been given. I left my lucrative tech consulting career to become her full-time caretaker. If we had access to urgent care, I believe we would have been better equipped to survive her worst days. Community-based care is vital, because it provides a continuum of care, while hospital stays triage and treat acute symptoms. Intimate knowledge of the client’s physical, behavioral, and emotional health helps providers ameliorate a crisis. Caretakers, who no longer have to share a comprehensive health history at every visit, can feel heard.
While community care shows great promise, I am concerned that the system could quickly become overloaded. Cities should take steps to prepare for the potential onslaught. Neighborhood services can feed into the expansion of the crisis care network. Last week, the north and northeast King County cities of Bothell, Kenmore, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, and Shoreline announced a new multiservice crisis response center dedicated to serving the needs of their citizens. This center will be the first in the county to address the demand, and offers a blueprint that other cities can follow. One area which requires more discussion is how the county will manage the quality of care, so there is consistency for clients and staff.
After all we’ve been through, Jaime is currently stable with the right medication and has a therapist she adores. Life is better, but her symptoms can make the best of days difficult, and a crisis can erupt at any time. Passing the Crisis Care Center levy will ensure that a vital safety net will be in place for those struggling to manage their mental health in a post-Covid world.
1. People living unsheltered are increasingly vulnerable to attacks from people targeting them specifically because they’re homeless. The Seattle Police Department’s 2022 crime report, released earlier this month, showed a 229 percent increase in hate crimes targeting homeless people (an increase of 16 individual crimes), and an increase of 11 homicides in which the victim was homeless over last year.
During a recent meeting of the council’s public safety committee, City Councilmember Sara Nelson used these numbers to imply that expanding the city’s gun-violence prevention efforts to include older adults may be unnecessary, because an uptick in shootings among people older than 24 “could be because of the increased association with gun violence in encampments” rather than a citywide trend.
According to SPD, about a third of gun homicides with victims older than 24 had a “homelessness nexus,” meaning they most likely involved people experiencing homelessness. However, since the interventions that could help people living unsheltered (housing, behavioral health treatment, and job assistance) are similar to the ones that could help older shooting victims who are housed, it’s unclear why this distinction matters, beyond its usefulness as a pro-sweeps talking point.
“It’s a good thing that more [homeless] people are coming forward” to report hate crimes, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said. It also highlights the urgency of efforts to get people inside where they’re safer from both the elements and people who want to target them.
Overall, the number of shots-fired and shooting incidents that involved people experiencing homelessness increased only slightly from 2021—about 4 percent—but that requires context: In 2021, the number of shootings with a homelessness “nexus” increased by 122 percent, meaning both of the last two years have been especially dangerous for people experiencing homelessness.
Despite this alarming increase in violence against people living unsheltered, Nelson focused on the danger encampments supposedly pose to children who may attend school or live nearby. “We need to address the safety of the children first,” she said. In reality, however, living outdoors is most dangerous for unsheltered people themselves, who are increasingly targeted by people who “take things into their own hands,” as Seattle Police Chief Diaz put it, lashing out at people living in encampments for being unhoused.
“It’s a good thing that more [homeless] people are coming forward” to report hate crimes, Diaz told PubliCola earlier this month. It also highlights the urgency of efforts to get people inside where they’re safer from both the elements and people who want to target them.
2. Now that Initiative 135, which establishes a public developer to build permanently affordable “social housing” in Seattle, has passed, supporters have switched gears and are working to get the new agency up and running. They’re up against a deadline: Once the election is certified on February 24, they have 18 months of city support, including staffing and office space, to establish a public development authority and come up with an initial funding source that will allow the PDA to start building housing.
Tiffani McCoy, the advocacy director of Real Change and a leader of the group’s House Our Neighbors! (HON) social-housing campaign, said the group has already discussed initial steps with Councilmember Tammy Morales, including the creation of the agency’s initial board of directors. This board will include seven members appointed by the Seattle Renters’ Commission and six members appointed by the city council, the mayor, and labor and housing representatives. Although HON doesn’t have any official role in the appointments and “we don’t want to overstep,” McCoy said, “it would be cool to have a [Real Change] vendor or someone from the Housing Justice Project,” which advocates for tenants’ rights and provides legal assistance in eviction cases.
Next, the new agency will have to come up with an ongoing funding source to keep itself going, along with a plan to actually pay for social housing, which was not funded by the initiative. State Rep. and former Solid Ground director Frank Chopp (D-43, Seattle), who supported the initiative, has proposed a budget proviso that would pay for the agency’s startup costs.
Chopp says the state is considering new funding sources that could pay for social housing in Seattle, including an expansion of the real-estate excise tax to include a new taxing “tier” for property sales above $5 million; that proposal includes a local option that the city could use to fund social housing.
Pointing to a number of mixed-income projects that are already underway thanks to the state’s Home and Hope program, which acquires public properties and develops them into affordable housing and early-learning centers, Chopp said he doesn’t see the new social housing PDA as a competitor to traditional nonprofit housing providers. “The point is, we need more capacity—the speculative real estate market is not solving the problem, and there are plenty of nonprofits who see the value of this,” Chopp said.
McCoy said initiative backers are considering a few potential progressive local taxes to pay for social housing, including one novel option that she says would not conflict with the city’s efforts to create new progressive revenue to fund the city budget amid ongoing annual shortfalls. A new progressive revenue task force is meeting privately once a month to hash out a set of proposals to supplement Jumpstart payroll tax revenues, which the city has used for several years to backfill general-fund shortfalls.
Although McCoy said she couldn’t discuss specifics on the record, any new revenue source (as opposed to expansion of an existing source, like JumpStart) would likely require a separate ballot measure. In theory, the city council could just put a proposed new tax on the ballot—the same way it put a levy to fund improvements at Pike Place Market, which is run by a PDA, on the ballot in 2008—but a more likely scenario is that I-135 backers would have to run another initiative campaign for funding sometime next year.
Ron Davis, a tech entrepreneur and urbanist who’s running for the District 4 (northeast Seattle) city council seat being vacated by one-term Councilmember Alex Pedersen, is a first-time candidate who decided to run before he knew Pedersen was leaving his seat—spurred on, he told PubliCola, by frustration with the incumbent’s intransigence on housing, taxation, and the city budget. “Alex was a wall-builder extraordinaire—he literally uses the power of the regulatory state to keep people out of high opportunity neighborhoods,” Davis said.
Davis, who announced his candidacy on January 31, grew up in a working-class family that rose into the middle class through what he calls “almost the fairy-tale American dream,” enabling him to go to Harvard Law School school and ultimately create and sell off a software company that aimed to reduce burnout and stress for call-center employees. Since selling that company, he’s been a sales executive and consultant for tech companies, and more recently started getting involved in local politics, joining the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, 46th District Democrats, Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel, and the boards of Futurewise and Seattle Subway, a pro-transit group.
If that seems an awful lot like the resume of someone who’s been planning to run for office for a while, Davis doesn’t disagree. “I have a lot of passion for local land use and transit, and although there area lot of levers that can be pulled at the state state level and other places, I care about my local community and I was represented by someone that made me crazy.” After talking with local political leaders, campaign consultants, and policy experts, it “became clear that that [running for council] was the best fit,” Davis said.
“The 15-minute city concept has been really abused here to justify urban villages. It’s supposed to be that every person lives in a 15-minute city, not little 15-minute neighborhoods that are stuck on arterials everyone can drive through.”
If he’s elected, Davis said, he’ll push for a more inclusive housing strategy for the city, starting with the city’s comprehensive plan, which is up for a major revision this year. The city’s decades-old “urban village” strategy, which concentrates multifamily housing along busy arterial roads while reserving most of the city’s residential land for suburban-style single-family houses, is on the table.
“The fact that all five [comprehensive plan] options still include urban villages is preposterous,” Davis said. “The 15-minute city concept”—the idea that everyone should be able to access what they need within 15 minutes without a car—”has been really abused here to justify urban villages. … It’s supposed to be that every person lives in a 15-minute city, not little 15-minute neighborhoods that are stuck on arterials everyone can drive through.”
Davis, unsurprisingly, connects density to homelessness—you can’t solve homelessness without housing, and you can’t build housing in cities where it isn’t allowed—but he also said he supports adding a lot more shelter while the region ramps up housing investments, a view that puts him in the company of both the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and Mayor Bruce Harrell.
“You can throw a million social workers at a problem—and we do need more, and they need to be paid a living wage—but at some point, if they don’t have resources to offer, they’re going to be limited in what they can do,” Davis said. “I think one of the mistakes that we on the left have made is [not acknowledging] it takes a ton of money and time to build the houses. We have to build the housing. I’m 1,000 percent for that. But … I am for intermediate solutions while we build,” like tiny houses and safe lots for people living in their vehicles, Davis said.
The city recently convened a new progressive revenue task force to come up with recommendations to increase revenues at the local level—including, potentially, for affordable housing. At the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a statewide ballot measure to authorize $4 billion in bonds to fund thousands of new units across the state.
Davis said he supports both those efforts, but when it comes to housing for people experiencing homelessness in King County, “I would rather see a serious King County tax, so that it would be genuinely regional, and … so that various individual governments wouldn’t have an incentive to defect and hold everyone else hostage.” Currently, only King County and Seattle fund the regional homelessness authority, although four north King County cities recently voted to contribute.
Davis is currently one of three people seeking the District 4 seat—the others are socialist UW grad student Matthew Mitnick and former Teresa Mosqueda opponent Kenneth Wilson—but the race for this open position will almost certainly get more viable candidates in the months before the May filing deadline. State Rep. Gerry Pollet, who was a rumored candidate for the seat, did not respond to PubliCola’s questions last month.
Collective action is the heart of the labor movement. As a public sector union, PROTEC17 members work together to improve conditions at our own workplaces. What is often lost in the public understanding of unions is how we also strive to improve the communities where we live.
The inadequate and shrinking supply of affordable housing in our region has become a crisis. That’s why our union, along with a number of coalition partners, is supporting Initiative I-135, which would create a public developer to build and acquire permanently affordable social housing in Seattle.
PROTEC17 represents the largest number of union workers at the City of Seattle. Through mobilization, negotiating strong contracts, and workplace wins, union members’ ability to create positive change undoubtedly fosters a better workplace and livelihood for themselves and their colleagues. However, with the rising cost of living and housing in Seattle, it is increasingly difficult to raise city employees’ compensation to fit the realities of living in Seattle. The simple fact is that too many city employees cannot afford to live in the very city they support, shape, and serve.
It is in this context that I-135, the social housing initiative, offers a proactive, transparent, and inclusive pathway to the development of truly affordable housing in the city of Seattle. I-135 does this by creating a Public Development Authority that will enable the city of Seattle to acquire properties, renovate existing housing, and build affordable homes, removing the pressure for profits and allowing more collective and collaborative management. The authority itself will be directed by a public oversight board composed of renters, union members, experts in affordable and green development, as well as City Council and Mayoral appointees. It is collective action in action and as an ongoing model.
Housing created by the authority would include units to fit a mix of household sizes, as well as units that are affordable to a cross section of tenants—from those with extremely low incomes to those making up to 120% of Seattle’s median income. If passed, the tools provided by I-135 will be a critical component to restoring and maintaining living communities that cross incomes, ages, and backgrounds.
For these reasons, and many more, a broad range of community, labor, and small business partners have come together to support I-135. Join us in this collective action and vote YES on I-135. Let’s give our city the opportunity to create affordable housing by and for the people.
Karen Estevenin is the executive director of PROTEC17, a member-powered labor union representing nearly 10,000 public employee professionals across the Pacific Northwest. PROTEC17 members work in city, county, and state government, public health, and beyond to support the programs and services that our communities rely on everyday.
A lot has been written—including here on PubliCola—about the coming mass exodus from the Seattle City Council. Five council members—Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, Alex Pedersen, and Debora Juarez— have either said they will not run for reelection this year or that they will run for a different office. At least four, and probably five, council seats will be filled by new people next year; depending on how things shake out, the most senior council member could have just four years’ experience.
Amid that churn, two freshman council members—Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis, whose districts encompass southeast Seattle and downtown, respectively—have said want to stay on the job. (Dan Strauss, who represents northwest Seattle, has not announced his intentions yet.)
In conversations with PubliCola, both cited unfinished business, a need for continuity in the legislative branch, and a sense of optimism about the future among their reasons for running again despite a working environment that has been chaotic, toxic, and full of unexpected challenges—including the COVID pandemic, a racial reckoning whose promise is largely unfulfilled, and a mainstream backlash against people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
“None of us expected the kind of term we had… and it takes a toll,” Morales said. “There were definitely times when I was like, ‘What the hell? This was not what I expected.’ It’s stressful and I don’t begrudge any of my colleagues for wanting to find a different way to give back to the community.”
That said, Morales added, “given that I represent a district that has historically been ignored, I don’t want to lose momentum.”
When Morales ran for her seat four years ago, she focused on issues like preventing economic displacement and ending encampment sweeps. Four years later, she says she’s still focused on those issues, but with a deeper understanding of how the city’s policies promote gentrification and make long-term solutions to Seattle’s housing crisis a complex challenge. “I’m especially interested in seeing through the comprehensive plan”—a planning document that guides housing, parks, jobs, and transportation in Seattle—”and really trying to change the way we manage growth in the city … so we’re not just rubber-stamping a perpetuation of the existing strategy,” Morales said.
“We know that transit corridors have high rates of pollution associated with them, at least the way we have allowed them to be built. Now we’re saying, ‘put a lot of poor people there and let’s use them a as buffer between homeowners and the road.'”
For example, Morales said, one major reason for the housing shortage is the city’s decades-old “urban village” strategy, which concentrates dense housing along busy, polluted arterial roads while locking up most of the city’s residential land for suburban-style single-family houses. Next year, the city will adopt a new comprehensive plan that will guide development for the next 20 years, and some of the options under consideration would concentrate development along “transit corridors”—those same busy, polluted arterials.
Morales wants to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“We know that transit corridors have high rates of pollution associated with them,” Morales said, “at least the way we have allowed them to be built,” with buses and cars competing for space along fast-moving arterials like Rainier Ave. S. “Now we’re saying, ‘put a lot of poor people there and let’s use them a as buffer between homeowners and the road.'”
Morales, who has a background in urban planning, emerged as a vocal advocate for pedestrian safety during her term, a time when almost half the fatal crashes in the entire city of Seattle occurred in her district. For decades, the city has failed to meaningfully address traffic violence along most of Rainier Ave. S., with the exception of the gentrified Columbia City neighborhood, where a controversial road-narrowing project successfully calmed a section of the road where crashes were once frequent.
Morales has been critical of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s uninspiring traffic-calming efforts, like lowering the speed limit on arterials by five miles an hour and posting signs encouraging drivers to slow down.
“We need to design roads differently so that people slow down” while also enforcing traffic laws in places where people continue to speed—for example, with automated traffic cameras that result in warnings, then fines, Morales said. “I drive down Rainier and I see people blow past me in the bus lane, the turn lane—that is a problem. But we’re not going to solve it with a public education campaign.”
If she’s reelected, Morales said she plans to focus on building generational wealth for Seattle residents of color through programs like community land trusts, which enable low-income people to buy homes, programs that help potential homebuyers qualify for loans, and a pilot program, which she’s introducing this spring, to give developers incentives to work with small, community-based groups to build 35 small affordable housing project throughout the city.
In addition to securing public funds for public parks, beach restoration, sidewalks, and other “quote-unquote back to basics things,” Morales says her office has “really increased the explicit discussion of racial equity” on the council. “When I first got here and I was talking so much about racial equity, I feel like I got a lot of pats on the head,” she said. “Because of the team that I’ve built and the work [we’ve done[ on behalf of District 2, I think other council member are talking more about the need to center racial equity and acknowledging the ways that the South End has been left out.”
Lewis, like Morales, said he’s motivated to run again by the desire to complete work that he started in his first term, particularly when it comes to alternatives to police response. For more than two years, the city has been debating whether and how to establish a program that would send unarmed civilian responders to some non-emergency calls, with little progress; last year, Mayor Bruce Harrell agreed to move forward with a small pilot program while his office and the police department continue to analyze 911 call data.
During his confirmation hearing last month, then-interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz estimated that over the next two years, the police department would gain a net total of about 18 officers, assuming the rate at which officers leave the department continues to decline. “We have to have leaders who are willing to soberly acknowledge that even that 982 number may unfortunately be an optimistic one,” Lewis said. “We have a civic consensus that we need more police, but where that conversation never goes is that it may be necessary, but it’s not in and of itself sufficient.”
While Lewis noted that Harrell has been far more willing to work with the council, in general, than his predecessor, Jenny Durkan, the time could eventually come to “call the question” on civilian responders by amending the city charter to create a new department dedicated to certain kinds of non-emergency calls.
“We have this really difficult and intractable public safety challenge that comes down to the fact that—very, very stubbornly—we haven’t been doing the things that we need to do as a modern American city to keep people safe,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what it is about our local politics that holds us back from making similar progress that other cities have,” like Denver and Albuquerque, which both set up alternative response programs in 2020, during nationwide calls to reduce reliance on police for many types of emergencies.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a moderate Democrat, is “not too dissimilar from the folks who tend to be mayor in the city of Seattle, but … they have a very mature (alternative response) system while we are still screwing around on this,” Lewis said.
“To the extent that things are more collegial now, the council didn’t really change all that much but the mayor did. Maybe that is a clue to where the preponderance of the problem was.”
Lewis currently heads up the council’s homelessness committee, and has advocated for more spending on tiny house villages, in particular, throughout his term. If he gets a second term, he says he’d like to serve on the council’s transportation committee in addition to working on homelessness and police accountability.
“My district has quite a few bridges that need work done,” including the high bridge to Magnolia, Lewis said. “I think bridges are going to be a dominant infrastructure issue over the next decade, because we are going to see more bridge failures.” Part of the problem, he added, is that “there’s been a lot of instability” at the Seattle Department of Transportation, which has had five directors since 2018.
“Despite the fact that we’ve come up with a lot of resources that we’ve directed toward bridges as a council, SDOT hasn’t taken that money and actually done anything to help those bridges. A lot of that money gets reshuffled for other priorities or put on hold.” Urbanists, meanwhile, often understandably advocate for other priorities, like safe bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects, instead of road infrastructure that primarily serves cars. Continue reading “They Want to Stay: Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis on Why They’re Running for Reelection”→
Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who’s in the middle of her second four-year term, will run for the King County Council seat longtime County Councilmember Joe McDermott is leaving at the end of the year. (PubliCola first reported that Mosqueda might run for this position on Monday). In an interview, Mosqueda said she was “pulled” by the appeal of serving on the county council rather than “pushed” out of her current job by the factors—public hostility, divisiveness, and personal attacks—that have contributed to several colleagues’ decisions not to run for reelection.
“Throughout my career, but especially on council, it is evident that I can rise above the fray, that I can pull people together who have diverse perspectives, and we can pull solutions together and pass them with near unanimous or near-unanimous support,” Mosqueda, a former labor lobbyist in Olympia, said.
As an example, she pointed to the JumpStart payroll tax, which succeeded where previous “Tax Amazon” efforts by her council colleague Kshama Sawant had failed, thanks in large part to Mosqueda’s efforts to win at least tacit consensus from groups that opposed previous efforts to raise taxes on large businesses.
“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”
Similarly, Mosqueda said, she would have handled the siting of a controversial homeless shelter expansion in SoDo—which King County abandoned under pressure from advocates in the Chinatown-International District who said the county never consulted them—differently.
“Folks who were concerned about the siting [of the shelter] there are also interested in solutions— they’re concerned about people not having a place to use the bathroom or sleeping outside business establishments,” Mosqueda said. “We have shared interests… but we have to start with talking to the community first—especially in the CID and the [Asian and Pacific Islander] population who have also been on the receiving end of other services over the years.”
If voters pass a ballot measure to build six behavioral health crisis centers around the county in April, the council will play a role in deciding where those are located, a decision Mosqueda said “has to start with community conversations” about “where those six sites are going to be.”
In addition, Mosqueda said, she wants to support efforts to build “workforce housing” in places like Vashon Island (one of several parts of the district outside Seattle), improving participation in apprenticeship programs and broadening their scope, and bolstering the infrastructure that supports high-paying jobs—everything from funding to “create a career pathway for child care workers” to restructuring King County Metro’s bus system to better serve people who work outside standard office hours.
“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”
If Mosqueda wins, she will be the first Latinx person to ever serve on the King County Council, and one of only four council members of color in county history—one of whom, Girmay Zahilay, represents what has historically been the council’s only majority-minority district.
Mosqueda wouldn’t take the bait on a question about whether she, like the four council members who have announced they’re leaving this year, is actually fleeing the council, rather than being “pulled” toward the county. After all, I noted, if the county council was more compelling than the city council, she could have run for that position in the first place.
Instead, she chalked up the city council exodus to the fact that seven of the nine council seats are all on the ballot at once—a recipe, she said, for instability. If elections were split more evenly—with half the district seats and one citywide seat on the ballot every two years—”then you wouldn’t see that kind of instability,” Mosqueda said. That’s something she said she plans to work on this year, whether she wins or not.
Since the Durkan administration, Mosqueda has over multiple city budget cycles to prevent the mayor from raiding proceeds from the JumpStart tax to fill a general budget hole. Without her vigilance, will JumpStart—which is supposed to fund housing, small businesses, and equitable development—become a slush fund for other priorities or a permanent emergency reserve to fill funding gaps?
Mosqueda said she was confident that it wouldn’t, citing “structural requirements” the council has codified as well as future revenues, to be identified by a new progressive revenue tax force, that will address long-term budget gaps. Even so, Mosqueda had to negotiate a deal this year that allowed some JumpStart revenues to help backfill a massive general-fund shortfall—and even with new progressive revenue on the table, there’s no guarantee that the mayor, or a future mayor, won’t try to use JumpStart taxes for purposes outside the scope of its adopted spending plan.
Mosqueda has already rounded up more than c80 endorsements, including that of current Mayor Bruce Harrell, and her decision to run seems to have neutralized some potential opponents, including West Seattle attorney Rob Saka, who was reportedly considering a run for the county council seat but now appears likely to run for the West Seattle seat being vacated by Lisa Herbold.
Two longtime residents of City Council District 3, Alex Hudson and Joy Hollingsworth, have announced they’re running for the council seat occupied for the last 10 years by Kshama Sawant, who announced earlier this month that she won’t seek reelection.
In conversations with PubliCola on Wednesday, both Hudson and Hollingsworth said they planned their campaigns assuming they would be taking on Sawant directly. Now that the firebrand socialist is no longer a factor, both said they feel a sense of relief that they’ll be able to talk more about their own priorities, rather than defending themselves against an incumbent whose fiery denunciations of “corporate Democrats” (including all eight of her council colleagues) have a tendency to suck all the air out of the room.
Although there are months to go before the filing deadline, Hudson and Hollingsworth are both well-positioned to be frontrunners in the race for District 3. Hollingsworth, whose family owns and operates a cannabis farm in Mason County, was born and raised in the Central District; her grandmother, Dorothy Hollingsworth, was a civil rights trailblazer and the first Black woman to serve on a school board in Washington state.
Hudson, the director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, is a longtime renter on First Hill who led the pro-density First Hill Improvement Association before working to pass big major transportation policy and funding packages, including last year’s Move Ahead Washington statewide funding bill.
If elected, Hudson would bring a long history of transportation advocacy and expertise to the council at a time when the city is failing to make progress toward Vision Zero, a plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in the next seven years. To get there, Hudson said the city needs to stop debating how to implement its Vision Zero goals and start implementing strategies it already knows are effective.
“There should not be as many fatalities, near misses, or injuries on our roadways as there are right now in the city, and that should be the primary focus of the Seattle Transportation Plan that they’re putting together now,” Hudson said. For example, she said, the city could easily install bike lanes, curb bulbs, spaces between parking and bike lanes, crosswalks, and lighting—design changes that slow down drivers and provide redundant protections for others on the road—without going through the usual years-long public process.
“Ludi’s”—a now-shuttered downtown diner, formerly known as the Turf, that mostly served low-income patrons—”was a place where you could go and get a hot meal and some protein and kick it in community. And I don’t know another place right now, anywhere in downtown, where you could do that.”
In our conversation, Hudson emphasized her experience building coalitions while also pushing boundaries. As head of First Hill’s neighborhood association, Hudson defied stereotypes about neighborhood activism, pushing for dense affordable housing at a Sound Transit-owned property and organizing to bring two new homeless shelters to the neighborhood. While it’s common to see organized neighborhood opposition to shelters or services, Hudson said that “with deep organizing, [by the time] we had the community meeting about it in the basement of First Presbyterian, site of one of the two shelters, every single person who was there spoke up and was like, ‘We want it. How can we help you?”
Hudson said she’s still learning about the city’s current response to homelessness, which consists largely of disruptive, traumatizing encampment sweeps. (The city-funded King County Regional Homelessness Authority, whose policies the city can influence through its annual budget, now controls all homeless service contracts). In general, she said, “there’s no point in just pushing people around, if what that is going to do is just further traumatize someone, disinvest them from what little belongings and stability and community that they have, and create a further cycle of distrust in the system.”
At the same time, she added, “unauthorized encampments in our parks isn’t a solution that works for everybody, including the people who want to use those parks.” For example, she supported the removal of a large encampment in and around Miller Park, which is next to Meany Middle School. One solution, she said, might be allowing more authorized encampments where people can connect with services and get on a path to housing. “Homelessness is a housing problem, and we need more housing,” she said. “But that doesn’t solve the problem for people sleeping in a tent tonight.”
Although downtown Seattle isn’t in District 3, policies to address homelessness downtown could impact every other district, because the KCRHA and the city have made a policy decision to focus most of their housing resources on downtown, through a public-private partnership called Partnership for Zero—”zero” referring to the number of people sleeping outdoors in the area for more than a brief period.
Hudson said the emphasis on downtown makes sense—”having some resources that are specifically targeted to downtown to support people, is a good and important thing”—but she said it needs to be coupled with efforts to give lower-income people, including those experiencing homelessness, places to go during the day besides social service providers.
“Ludi’s”—a now-shuttered downtown diner, formerly known as the Turf, that mostly served low-income patrons—”was a place where you could go and get a hot meal and some protein and kick it in community. And I don’t know another place right now, anywhere in downtown, where you could do that.” Commercial rent stabilization, city programs to support small businesses that cater to people who aren’t white-collar office workers, and partnerships with landlords trying to fill empty storefronts could help fill that need, Hudson said.
Hudson didn’t commit to a specific set of policies on policing, such as an ideal number of police officers or a path toward hiring more non-police responders, although she said that as a resident of First Hill, she often witnesses situations, like people in crisis, where police would only make the problem worse.
She was unequivocal, however, about another “public safety hazard”—the large concrete blocks, known as “ecology blocks” or eco-blocks, that businesses dump in public rights-of-way to prevent people living in RVs from parking in the city. Although blocking public streets and parking areas is illegal, the city has indicated it will not enforce the law, effectively allowing businesses to take over public space with impunity.
“The public right-of-way is for everyone, and so we can’t just [let businesses] drop hostile architecture all over the place, and call it good,” Hudson said. How would she propose making that happen, when the Seattle Department of Transportation has said it would be too difficult to remove the hundreds of heavy blocks that now litter the city? “Forklift comes, picks them up and moves them away. I don’t think it’s that complicated.”
“We’ve got to do better,” Hudson added. “If people can’t trust the city to move a piece of concrete, how can people trust the government to solve problems?”
Hollingsworth, too, told me she was frustrated with the city about its slow response to road safety issues—so much so that she installed a camera at 23rd and John and recorded every crash at the intersection, posting clips on Youtube. It took five years to get the city to add turn signals and pedestrian safety improvements, Hollingsworth said. “There has to be a sense of urgency to take care of this stuff,” Hollingsworth said. “When a kid got hit on a scooter”—a crash her camera captured—I feel like that’s when the city started to pay attention to this corner.”
In our conversation, Hollingsworth emphasized her deep roots in the Central District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, where she went to school (at Meany Middle School and Seattle Prep) and has lived all her life except during college, when she studied and played basketball at the University of Arizona. During that time, the Central District has lost most of its Black residents, gentrifying rapidly without meaningful anti-displacement measures that could help people stay in the area.
“The density has been very extreme in District Three,” Hollingsworth said. “And I say that because I don’t think we think of the impact that that’s had on certain neighborhoods. Seattle is very, very good at protecting white neighborhoods and not Black neighborhoods.”
As neighborhoods have gotten more multifamily housing, she continued, infrastructure hasn’t kept up.
“As we think about density, we have to also think about how it’s going to impact that neighborhood. How does it impact our water, our sewer, our garbage, our electricity?” Several current council members, including Lisa Herbold (D1) and Alex Pedersen (D4) support requiring developers to pay impact fees for the perceived negative impact of new density. Hollingsworth said impact fees might be part of the solution. So, she said, could programs to help homeowners convert their single-family houses into duplexes and triplexes without “changing the façade of the home.”
Hollingsworth said new residents have also impacted the availability of parking and clogged neighborhood streets. “We’ve gotten a lot of new congestion” because of new residents who live in buildings without parking, she said. “We thought people would come here and not bring their cars and just live in apartments” car-free, she said. “That’s not the case.”
“As we think about density, we have to also think about how it’s going to impact that neighborhood. How does it impact our water, our sewer, our garbage, our electricity?… We thought people would come here and not bring their cars. That’s not the case.”—District 3 candidate Joy Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth endorsed now-Mayor Bruce Harrell in 2021, and is widely expected to receive his endorsement. Asked whether she supports the mayor’s encampment removal policies, she demurred. “It’s a health hazard to people who are there for them to be living in those conditions… and we have to do better as a city,” she said.
What about hiring more police officers, another priority of both the mayor and most members of current council? Hollingsworth said her focus would be on hiring “good officers” at a rate that can produce “great response times,” not a hard and fast number. “We need to be investing in things that create safe neighborhoods,” like Byrd Barr Place and the Central Area Senior Center, she said, in addition to hiring officers. “It’s a holistic approach— not just ‘Joy wants more police.’ I think that’s a notion that’s been significantly put out there to scare people, and I think I’m thinking of community safety holistically, in a different, thoughtful way.”
Hollingsworth expressed frustration at being portrayed, in her view simplistically as the candidate who “wants to repair relations with police. That relationship has to be rebuilt, and there’s also some places where … we can’t deny that there has been overpolicing.”
“But we also know that they are a piece of the public safety” picture, she continued, adding that ideally, “we’d have our EMTs responding to medical, medical emergencies, we’d have health care providers or social workers responding to our unhoused neighbor… and we’d have [police] responding to potentially violent crimes.”
If elected, Hollingsworth would be the only Black councilmember since Harrell left the council in 2019, and one of the only queer Black women in the council’s history. She said her identity as a Black queer woman would add an important perspective to the council, because “a lot of the policies… we’re trying to do are based on dismantling systemic racism, and that comes from anti-Blackness.” But, she added, “I don’t want to be just the Black candidate, I want to be the best candidate. Being black is just a part of who I am, being queer is part of who I am, being a female is just part of who am. It’s my identity, but it doesn’t define me.”
Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Sherry Harris was the first out queer Black woman on the council, as a commenter pointed out.
Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to the Seattle Times’ endorsement of a “no” vote on Initiative 135, a Seattle ballot measure that would create a new public development authority (PDA) to build, acquire, and operate publicly owned, permanently affordable mixed-income housing in Seattle. The PDA would be run by a majority-renter board, giving residents a direct influence over issues that impact their community.
The Times’ editorial made a number of bombastic, questionable statements in its argument against the initiative, including many PublICola found misleading. We offered advocates for the initiative an opportunity to respond to some of the factual claims the Times made in its editorial advocating a “no” vote on this measure.
Initiative 135 will be on the February 14, 2023 ballot in Seattle.
By House Our Neighbors! Coalition
The Seattle Times editorial board decided they were against Initiative 135 before the endorsement interview even started. It seems as though they simply worked backwards from their “no” position to find reasons that they were going to present to the public, including many they didn’t even ask about during the endorsement interview. The editorial board has yet again contradicted itself, holding I-135 to a completely different set of standards than past measures it has supported while flaunting the deeply flawed arguments we’ve highlighted here.
“I-135 has no funding and no accountability for public dollars.” When they raised this concern, we reminded the editorial board that they didn’t have concerns about the lack of funding in the proposal for Charter Amendment 29—the “Compassion Seattle” initiative, which would have required the city to add thousands of new housing or shelter beds with no additional funding—which they endorsed.
Unlike the CA29 campaign, we’ve been honest with the public from day one that state law prevented us from including a funding source for the Seattle Social Housing Developer in the language of the initiative. We made it clear to the editorial board that public development authorities do not have taxing authority. In fact, it would be illegal to give a PDA taxing authority. However, the new PDA would receive bonding authority, creating leverage to finance new housing without large infusions of funding.
While we couldn’t provide ongoing funding for the PDA, we wanted to secure some start-up funds so it wouldn’t start out with no financial support. This is why we included 18 months of in-kind support from the city, which the city’s own budget office has estimated at a cost of just $750,000— a sliver of the $7.4 billion annual budget the council recently passed. It is important to note that from day one, the PDA has the authority to seek out funding on its own from private foundations and all levels of government, including the state.
The Times also complains that Washington State already spends millions of taxpayer dollars on housing, which is precisely the point: Social housing, which includes housing affordable to people making between 0 and 120 percent of median income, is a model that leverages rental income to reduce the need for outside funding.
While the housing I-135 would create wouldn’t be considered “homelessness housing” in a legal sense, it would nonetheless be housing that would be available to people coming out of homelessness or transitioning out of the city’s limited supply of permanent supportive housing, including families with housing vouchers that many private landlords won’t accept.
“Housing experts say it ultimately doesn’t pencil.” The editorial board makes this claim without saying who they consulted with, nor what numbers they used to reach this conclusion. There are no examples of social housing in Seattle, so it could not have been from here.
Furthermore, our research shows that the social housing model would indeed work in Seattle. Utilizing publicly accessible financial statements from an existing recently constructed housing development, affordable housing expert and PhD candidate Julie Howe, as well as economists Paul Williams and John Burbank, assisted in the creation of a pro forma that demonstrates the model remaining financially sustainable for more than 80 years.
“The theory is that people would be willing to pay above market rates to subsidize the lower rents of their neighbors in the same building.” Where did they get this from? Whose theory is this?
Let’s root this assertion in an actual pro forma, drafted from the financial statements and construction costs of a recently constructed apartment complex, the Station House.
If this were a social housing building, renters making 120 percent of the area median income would pay $2700 a month, compared to the current market rate of $2800 a month with utilities. They would be living next to the light rail station in a high-quality Passivhaus building. Their building would have a resident governance board, and community spaces dedicated inside the building. They would be living in a space with no fear of retaliatory evictions or drastic rent increases, a place with inherent protections from the typical practices of predatory private property owners. Additionally, their rent would be going directly to the social housing developer to buy and build more housing (especially after the 30-year loan is paid off), not a private equity firm or for-profit rental corporation.
“Real Change has traditionally focused on advocating for those who are experiencing homelessness” and is straying from its mission. This is simply laughable and further cements the disdain the Seattle Times editorial Board has for Real Change. The board describes Real Change as “a social justice advocacy group that runs a newspaper.” The editorial board is well aware that Real Change has an Advocacy department and a separate Editorial department, and that journalists staff, and write, our paper. Real Change also served on the Times’ Project Homeless community advisory board, until the paper disbanded that board last year.
The editorial board takes umbrage with the fact the I-135 “ordinance does not concern homelessness housing” exclusively—instead, it would enable new housing for people making between 0 and 120 percent of the Seattle median income. This criticism shows how little they know about what is permissible in ballot initiatives and what isn’t. Housing for people experiencing homelessness is the direct purview of the City Council and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and cannot be superseded in a ballot initiative. Our lawyer advised us to make this point explicit so it couldn’t be seen “to interfere with or exercise the City Council’s powers” under state law, including the state law about homelessness housing.
And while the housing I-135 would create wouldn’t be considered “homelessness housing” in a legal sense, it would nonetheless be housing that would be available to people coming out of homelessness or transitioning out of the city’s limited supply of permanent supportive housing, including families with housing vouchers that many private landlords won’t accept. What’s more, it would help keep additional families from being pushed into homelessness by creating more affordable housing options for those struggling with unrelenting increases in housing costs.
We have to be honest with the public that our current affordable housing production levels will never meet the scale of our need. We need a new model.
We are deeply curious what the Seattle Times Editorial Board thinks the city should be doing to address the homelessness and housing crisis. They repeatedly push for the criminalization of homelessness. They speak out against increasing the housing levy so that affordable housing providers can do more. They don’t find it wise to increase our debt limit to build more affordable housing across the state. In spite of overwhelming evidence that homelessness is primarily an economic issue, they continue propping up the narrative that the homelessness crisis is actually a drug crisis. They take issue with the fact that I-135 would make it harder to evict people, in spite of clear evidence that evictions overwhelmingly lead to homelessness. They support the unlawful placement of eco-blocks in public rights-of-way, which make it harder and harder for our unhoused neighbors living in RVs to find a safe place to sleep.
Unlike the Seattle Times Editorial Board, here at Real Change we have the privilege of interacting with our unhoused, and low-income, neighbors and hearing directly from them. We know that they want deeply affordable, quality housing that won’t lose if they start making a little bit more money.
Here is what some of our Real Change vendors have to say about the need for social housing:
Darrell Wrenn, “The whole process is outdated. Housing needs to be reimagined and housing needs to be a human right. Things can’t change without social housing and Initiative 135.”
Susan McRoy: “It’s not something that is an experiment or a dream. It’s being put in place around the world. And Seattle can step up to the plate and say ‘We don’t need to be victims of gentrification. We can do something where we have stability in our community.”
Carl Nakajima: “We need to create more affordable housing for people at every income level, not only low-income, but all-income housing.”
At Real Change, we know that homelessness is a housing issue. While there are several non-profits and current public developers doing tremendous work to house our neighbors, we have to be honest with the public that our current affordable housing production levels will never meet the scale of our need. We need a new model. One that works in tandem with current affordable housing developers, to rapidly scale up housing outside the private market. Housing that is owned, and operated, as a public good. Housing that more Seattleites are eligible for. We can create a Seattle where all can afford to live and thrive. We can create this vision with social housing.
House Our Neighbors! is a political committee of Real Change.