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.