Seattle City Council Elections: The Candidates in Their Own Words
Co-authored by Emily Darling, Alexander Froehlich, and Anton Dekom.
With election day fast approaching, races for seven of Seattle’s nine City Council seats are entering the final stretch. Over the last weeks and months, many of the candidates have described their positions at in-person candidate forums and in online questionnaires. There is a lot of information out there to digest, and we thought it would be valuable to aggregate some of what council candidates have said on issues related to housing affordability and homelessness.
What follows is really the most abbreviated, compact version of what the candidates have to say on these topics, and we’ve curated their responses to make this a quick, information-dense read. We encourage you to follow links to hear more about the candidates’ full positions as well as their statements on other important issues.
We’ve also included recommendations for each race, and those recommendations are — across the board — for the more progressive candidates. While much has been made of this election being an ideological battle for “the soul of Seattle,” and while many have characterized the races as representing a hyper-polarized struggle between far left socialists and far right business stooges, hearing what the candidates actually say can paint a more nuanced picture.
When we look at how the candidates talk about these issues — whether they lay out concrete policy prescriptions or whether they are vague about their proposed solutions — we see that it is typically the progressive candidates who offer the more honest and pragmatic analysis. In general it is the progressive candidates who are willing to talk about real solutions, even when those solutions (like proposed taxation) can be a bitter pill to swallow for many voters.
With with regard to the homelessness crisis: the candidates are nearly unanimous in their agreement that more services and supportive housing are needed. With regard to housing affordability for low and middle income residents: there is also broad agreement among virtually all of the candidates that displacement is bad and that more housing must be built.
Given that all of the candidates share this common baseline, it is important that they go beyond generalized support for these outcomes and articulate the mechanics of how they will bring them about. We all know that the housing crisis and the homelessness crisis are big, tough problems to solve, so blanket statements like “more efficient spending” or “more accountability” simply don’t pass muster. It is incumbent upon candidates to lay out specifically how they would implement strategies that address these urgent and far-reaching issues, and this is even more true of those candidates who label the current council as “dysfunctional” or “unaccountable.”
While it is our intention to evaluate candidates on their merits rather than outside forces, we must also call attention to how much money and influence large corporations are wielding in many of these races. All but one of these recommendations are for candidates who have rejected that influence, and while we believe most of them are qualified for the positions they’re seeking, it’s worth thinking about how the inflation of their opponents robs us of an honest choice.
We’ve made our recommendations based on our personal experiences advocating for affordable housing, volunteering in the community, talking with people who have experienced homelessness, speaking with service providers, engaging in urban policy discussions, and researching approaches to both housing and homelessness that are proven to work.
These recommendations are our own and do not represent the views of any organization.
Recommendation: Lisa Herbold
Lisa Herbold, the incumbent in this race, has a track record of leading progressive causes. In her last term as councilmember, Herbold has continued to keep the issue of displacement front and center with each bill that has come before council. She has also lead the effort (at the recommendation of the City Auditor) to require the City to provide adequate oversight of the Navigation Team. Herbold has also shown interest in finding new progressive sources of revenue to fund housing and homelessness programs. Phil Tavel, who unsuccessfully ran against Herbold in the 2015 primary, has been on the opposite side of housing affordability in recent years. As a member of the anti-density group SCALE (Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability & Equity), he helped to delay the city’s passage of Mandatory Housing Affordability for years, legislation that increased density in urban villages and that promises to generate millions of public dollars for affordable housing. Tavel has criticized non-profit homeless service providers, suggesting without evidence that they are using public dollars inefficiently and are without accountability. Tavel opposes sweeps in favor of providing services, but has no clear strategy to fund those services (it’s unlikely at best that gains in “efficiency” and “accountability” will be enough to serve the thousands of people who are living on the streets). As the only candidate in the District 1 race with a firm grasp on both the issues and solutions, the clear choice is Lisa Herbold.
The candidates in their own words:
Herbold: “So it is true that the numbers of people who are living outside of sheltered are increasing. It is also simultaneously true that we are moving more people out of homelessness into permanent housing more quickly than we ever have. So we have both things that can be true. Both things are true because more people are becoming homeless at a more rapid rate. A study of the Seattle housing market shows that for every five percent of rent increases result in an additional 288 people become homeless. Our rent in the last ten years in the city of Seattle has increased by 69 percent. There is a direct correlation between the increase in the cost of housing and an increase in the number of homeless people becoming homeless. […] There is no dispute that whereas there may be different causes of homelessness the answer to homelessness is always going to be shelter and housing. The model of shelter that is most successful is enhanced shelter. It is 24/7 as opposed to mats on the floor and you have to leave at 7:00 in the morning. You have a place to leave your belongings. You have ongoing access to case management. And the model of housing that we need to have maximum investment in is called permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing is successful for folks regardless of what the underlying issues are.”
Tavel: “If we continue to define this problem as an issue of housing, we are going to continue to fail. That is absolutely part of it but we have to have better housing choices for people. Enhanced shelter, permanent supportive housing, those things are really good but if we overlook the fact that this is about mental health issues that are going untreated, substance abuse issues that are going untreated, a criminal justice system that is failing to be an adequate safety net for people who are going through that over and over again. Specifically we talked about Mayor Murray declaring an emergency. I still have yet to feel as though the city is moving with an urgency. They talk about it and I know that it triggers certain access to certain federal funds, but it doesn’t solve the problem. When I get out and I see these people on the street and I talk to them, this is not just about the fact that they were fifty dollars away from making their rent. There are amazing groups like the west Seattle helpline that help people meet that and we can do that. But we have to address the real root cause of this problem, and is that the city is failing to help people. A lot of the service providers have hijacked this whole conversation. I know I talk to someone about the fact that the DESC was started back in the early sixties. With ninety dollars. They now have asset holdings of over sixty million dollars. We need service providers to do a good job and hold them accountable we need to address the situation as it is, which is a mental health and substance abuse and counseling.”
Accountability of Homeless Service Providers
Herbold: “I lead the council in passing an ordinance to require results based on accountability. A couple years ago about 75 percent of our service providers were participating in what’s called results-based accountability, it’s a way of designing the contracts and measuring the outcomes. In the legislation that I worked with counsel and the mayor (at that time) on requires that 100 percent of our contracts are now results-based accountability. The Human Services department has found that there is a question about whether or not the outcomes that they’re expecting of providers are really realistic in our housing market right now. It’s hard to hold people accountable to move folks out of shelter and into permanent housing if there is no permanent housing to move into and the waiting list it is too long. It’s important to note recognize that the rent assistance organizations that Phil mentioned don’t nearly have enough dollars to meet the need of people being evicted. Usually those organizations run out of funds within the first week of the month. So the need is much greater, and the way we have to address it is with additional resources.”
Tavel: We have homeless service providers that are allowed to report what their outcomes are we can’t allow that to happen. And I’ve had people from the department of Human Services talk about the fact that there have been times when they are trying to cut the funding to a homeless service provider that is not doing a good job, and that the funding just gets turned back on by council. And there are people concerned with this issue and I think there is a tremendous lack of accountability and a lack of political will to be able to say ‘Look, we gave you money to do this, you failed, and now we now need to move on to somebody else.’ When I see people at Mary’s place and I see people at union gospel mission achieving amazing outcomes and not getting the same level of support from the city, I want to see that change.”
Tavel: “There must a more significant effort to identify and provide shelter and treatment options for those who want it. Instead of so-called ‘sweeps’ where people are simply moved from one area to another, we need to be making authentic contact with individuals so they can receive life-changing help. Snohomish County has had great success embedding social workers with law enforcement, putting an emphasis on helping people rather than arresting them. […] Simply removing camps isn’t the answer. Scapegoating businesses and taxing jobs isn’t the answer either. I will use my experience in the criminal justice system as a public defender to launch programs that will lead to a steady reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness, plans that require teamwork and collaboration. I will also thoroughly review the progress and effectiveness of existing programs and policies to ensure effectiveness.”
Herbold: “I’ve been working on implementing the recommendations of the city auditor, particularly on hygiene and garbage pickup. So for instance, I helped pilot the purple bag program [which provides purple trash bags and trash pickup to some encampments], but [Seattle Public Utilities] only visits 12 sites at any given time. I believe that our need to prioritize sites for removal might be mitigated if we make it possible for people that are living unsheltered to pick up their own garbage. […] There’s also a slate of recommendations related to hygiene that the city auditor made. We have some of our community centers that have showers that have made them available to all members of the public, whether or not you’re signed up for programs, and so one of the recommendations is to open all of them. Another recommendation is to staff a couple of the standalone bathrooms in parks. And then of course there’s making sure that our permanent Urban Rest Stops are able to find spaces.”
Herbold: “You know, even though I had severe PTSD talking about the employee hours tax for the first year after the repeal, I’m starting to say to people more and more that the discussion around progressive revenue is not going away. The mechanism may not be the head tax. If you recall, what the council eventually voted on was an employee hours tax that turns into a payroll tax. And maybe we won’t have to talk about a payroll tax or employee tax at all if we get the income tax on the affluent [which was just upheld by the state Court of Appeals and is heading to the state Supreme Court]. I mean, that’s $140 million. And let’s talk about rolling back some property tax rollback and a rollback of city sales tax while we’re at it.”
Tavel: “It’s not that they have enough, so much as that it feels like there could be enough, but until we know what’s actually spent and what’s returned and what’s that gap, we don’t know. This is partially from my own sense as just a citizen, not as a candidate. […] The amount of money we have to spend on these things does keep growing and we just need to have a better understanding of what’s there. What are we getting back? It was [National Alliance on Mental Illness founder] Eleanor Owen, actually, at the NAMI panel that we did, who sort of chastised all the candidates [by] saying, ‘You do realize who’s making out in this whole thing? It’s the providers. Look at how much money we spend on administration and bureaucracy that doesn’t get to that person who’s really in need.’ And that resonated with me and I had a really long conversation with her about that.”
Recommendation: Tammy Morales
While Tammy Morales and Mark Solomon both support extensive services for people who are experiencing homelessness, there is quite a bit of daylight between the two candidates with regard to how they plan to pay for and provide those services to the more than 3,500 unsheltered individuals and more than 4,000 sheltered individuals who are living without permanent housing here in Seattle. While Morales is willing to consider progressive revenue sources to fund services (including revisiting the repealed Employee Hours Tax) Solomon does not support additional taxation. Like many of the more conservative candidates running in this election, Solomon believes that more efficient and accountable spending of the existing City budget can vastly extend the reach of ongoing city programs. But given the enormity of the homelessness crisis, this approach should at best be considered well-intentioned naivete. Solomon also supports “sweeps” of homeless encampments, calling them “outreach” despite the fact that less than 10% of navigation team contacts result in an individual utilizing shelter. With a more compassionate and realistic approach to the issue of homelessness, Tammy Morales is highly recommended in this race.
The candidates in their own words:
Morales: “Removing encampments is inhumane. It’s unjust. It strips people of their dignity. It’s a waste of public dollars because anybody you talk to who has watched a sweep happen, even business owners in Georgetown, will say that they’re back within hours. […] So instead, we should be spending that resource on expanding [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion], which — while it takes longer — has been effective at moving people into more stable situations. It takes 12 months or 18 months, but that’s because the case managers are building relationships with the people who are on the streets.”
Solomon: “Having been to the encampments, having walked in there, having been around those who are living in RVs not fit for human habitation: leaving them in those conditions is not humane. We need to move people into places that are safe and provide them with wraparound services immediately so that they can change their homeless circumstance. So what you are for two as sweeps I refer to as outreach. And when you refer to we need to do LEAD as opposed to the navigation team, realize that law enforcement assisted diversion.”
Solomon: “I favor looking at where we’re already spending our existing fund, making sure that we have a good accountability for those funds, and putting those resources towards those efforts that we know work. Outreach works. Case management works. Let’s invest in those first. And when it comes to looking for additional resources, rather than going to tax well, I’m looking at public-private partnerships. What can we do working together, working with folks in our community? As I said working with our faith communities, working with our business communities, many of whom are willing to step and assist.”
Morales: “There are people dying on our streets because we don’t have the resources and while it’s great that we might have some philanthropy, philanthropy is not accountable to the government, it’s not accountable to taxpayers, and we can’t simply rely on public-private partnerships to solve this problem. This is the role of government it is the role of the public sector to find solutions and make the investment that’s needed to make sure that the most vulnerable people in our community are. So I would definitely say that we need to have this conversation [about the Employee Hours Tax] again.”
Morales: “We’re not going to find operational efficiencies to solve this problem. […] we need more permanent supportive housing. We need more wraparound services. We need eviction reform. We need more workforce housing and low-income housing units to be built.”
Morales: “We’re talking about inclusionary zoning — revisiting that and making it mandatory to include some percentage [of affordable housing on-site at new developments] rather than chipping into a pot of funds. We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure long term affordability for rental or homeownership opportunities, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings or something that people can’t afford anymore. So I think there are a slew of things that we could be doing to acknowledge that we can’t keep pushing out low-income folks out of the city.”
Solomon: “Looking at the MHA that just passed, my concern is that there may be some unintended consequences with that. Specifically with the upzones, and how that impacts property zones around them. For example, my house. If I am in an upzoned area, my property taxes will go up not because of what I have done to the property but because what I could potentially do to the property. We need to examine that and make sure that any unintended consequences on single family homes can be mitigated. […] I want those [MHA in-lieu] fees paid to the fund by that developer to go back to district in which they’re building. If they are building in District 2, I want the funds that they put in that pot to go back to affordable housing in District 2.”
Morales: “Upzoning is one step toward increasing housing options with garage, basement, or small-scale apartment buildings, but the work can’t stop there. The goal must also address racial equity to repair the harm done to our communities of color. We should be sure that low-income communities and communities of color are part of decision-making if they will be impacted by the change. In Rainier Beach, for example, upzoning would allow for the kind of commercial/light industrial development that meets the neighborhood need for employment centers. While we want more housing that is affordable for low-income families, we also want the upzone to allow for community-identified projects — in our case for employment centers. Additionally, upzoning should be happening in every part of the city. Upzoning only in low-income neighborhoods or only along transit corridors contributes to gentrification planning and will only trigger more displacement.”
Solomon: “Doing multifamily zoning makes sense in transit-oriented areas. I’m a proponent of transit-oriented development. So, I would like to see those kind of units, especially upzoned units be located around transit nodes, shopping, other community amenities so that people do not have to rely on their individual vehicles. At the same time, I want to try to preserve the character of neighborhoods. Just use the example of my street. I don’t live on a bus line; I don’t live near a bus line. So, putting a 14-story unit there where there’s no grocery around for about six blocks doesn’t necessarily make sense. But six blocks away, where it is on a transit line, and where you do have access not only to bus and light rail and shopping, it does make more sense.”
Recommendation: Kshama Sawant
Kshama Sawant is a Councilmember who can be counted on to start difficult conversations, and has been a reliable champion for low and middle income residents and for new sources of progressive revenue. Whether the successful campaign for a $15 minimum wage, renters rights, tiny home villages, or new funding sources for building affordable housing, Sawant has spearheaded many campaigns that help the working class and the most vulnerable in this city. She’s been a harsh critic of encampment sweeps, and recently proposed defunding them. She voted for MHA upzones, was the fiercest defender of the Employee Hours Tax, and supports density while combating displacement. She finds allies when they exist, but is not afraid of being the only dissenting voice on the dias. While often derided for inviting protesters into the council chambers, the tactics speak to a political strategy not seen in the city council of building a citizen movement to combat the influence of outside spending on politics.
Sawant’s opponent, Egan Orion, has a history with the LGBTQ community and small businesses in Capitol Hill, and his website says his priority is to “focus urgently on those who are suffering the most, our chronic homeless.” He is nominally aligned with Sawant on some issues (both support using the City’s bonding capacity to build affordable housing, both oppose forced removals of homeless encampments), but is generally vague about the details of his plans and how they will be paid for. Orion tends to emphasize market rather than public strategies, and has called for finding efficiencies within the existing city budget rather than finding new revenue sources. While nothing of this opposition to more radical candidates is new, it should be noted that this race has been subject to the greatest amount of corporate campaign contributions of any race, to which Orion has largely pleaded innocence. Whether he’s being naive or disingenuous, this attitude paves the way for the voice of Seattleites to be overshadowed by the growing influence of large corporations.
Sawant has a strong record on housing & homelessness issues, and her values are clear. Sawant has the vision and conviction that Seattle needs. Vote Sawant.
— Anton & Emily
The candidates in their own words:
Revenue for Housing and Homelessness
Sawant: “Studies have shown that every time rent skyrockets you have homelessness going up simply because people are getting economically evicted because they cannot pay their rents not because they have other issues. So what we need is affordable housing and we cannot just talk about the supply of housing. We have to talk about how is affordable housing going to be generated and I don’t think it would be sensible to hold our breath that the for-profit market would increase affordability. That is why we’re talking about a massive expansion of publicly affordable social housing and to fund that we need a tax on big business […]”
Orion: “I also think we’re spending a lot of money right now on the homelessness and affordability crises and just cycling people in and out of a system that’s not working. So I do want to make sure that we go back and make sure that the way that we’re spending the money is the best use of taxpayer money. […] And you know what, I have no doubt that we are going to need more in the way of revenue at some point in the future. And we need to solve this regressive tax system that we live under. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the state Supreme Court says about the high earners income tax and how that can frame the discussion in Olympia.”
Upzoning and Density
Orion: “I was in support of the MHA upzone. I believe that we should be creating denser neighborhoods, especially when they have access to services and transportation. […] I also think that neighborhoods across the city should be sharing in this density. You’ve actually been seeing our single family neighborhoods get less dense over time rather than more dense. So I’m actually proposing that we shift housing policy so that we can allow for duplexes and triplexes and fourplexes — ones that actually look like houses so they fit in with those neighborhoods — so that all of Seattle can participate in this need for density.”
Sawant: “Absolutely we need a serious approach to density because if we are to bring sustainability, if we are to bring the Green New Deal, then we need a denser city. But the question is affordability. Just building trickle-down-economics-based and for-profit-based housing hasn’t helped us. There is a 10 percent vacancy rate in this city. People are being pushed out at the same time that there has been a construction boom. So we need an expansion of social housing by taxing big business and we’ll also create construction and maintenance jobs.”
Market Housing Affordability
Sawant: “Seattle has been the construction crane capital of the nation four years running. construction is booming but what kind of construction it is the for-profit construction market has been booming and in the same period what we have observed is that housing especially as rental housing as we are talking about for the majority of renters has become less affordable not more affordable in other words the for profit housing market has not only failed to solve the problem of affordability it is actually the culprit in exacerbating the affordability crisis”
Orion: “We’ve been building building building these last few years and the proposition is if we build enough then the rents will stabilize. That’s the for-market incentive structure. And last year you saw that Seattle had the least amount of rent increase of most major metropolitan areas. We just went up by an average one percent less than inflation and so it’s working. The data also show that if you build apartments, for example, at all levels (housing of any sort at all levels) you’ll see that people will start to move their way up, and then it releases those more affordable units, that there’s this mobility within the housing market. We just need more housing and it needs to be at every level and that’s what we’re we’re starting to see.”
Sawant: “It is crucial that we immediately stop the sweeps and ensure that the $10 million that are being spent on it annually be focused on providing services that work.”
Orion: “I think that unless we have shelter or permanent housing for people, we should not be sweeping anybody unless it’s for a direct threat to public health […] I think it’s a waste of money. I think it’s retraumatizing people that have already experienced a massive amount of trauma.”
Orion: “[…] at the end of the day, if we’re sweeping people from a public place where they’re camping and we’re not providing any place for them to go, I see that as inhumane and a waste of money, because they’re just going to pop up somewhere else and then we’re just going to spend the money to sweep them somewhere else. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Recommendation: Shaun Scott
Shaun Scott has an agenda for Seattle based not on what’s politically expedient, but a vision for what’s necessary to make this a city for all it’s residents. Scott shows up to forums, responds to inquiries, and has shown himself to be a compassionate and empathetic listener. His opponent Alex Pederson seems to avoid responding or showing up to much of anything. This matters, not only because of how clearly Scott has articulated his platform, but also by demonstrating his strength and integrity by attending things like the Police Officers Guild Forum, wearing a Black Lives Matter hoodie, and answering questions thoughtfully and honestly. This is not someone who will back down from a challenge, or simply ignore a request because he disagrees.
Pederson leans pretty hard on “experience,” which in addition to frequently coming across as a dog-whistle smear against Scott, doesn’t pass the sniff test. Scott in fact has an extensive CV, (particularly in community organizing, demonstrating lucidity on how power works), and in the context of a local and national housing crisis, “experience” at Clinton’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (which finished Ronald Regan’s work, putting the final nails in the coffin for public housing) is hardly a good thing. Scott, by contrast, lists public housing at the top of his platform and routinely advocates for social housing of all types; public housing, purchasing private housing, or working in greater partnership with nonprofits.
Scott connects issues like homelessness, labor rights, housing, sustainability, and law enforcement with a coherent political ideology, while his opponent lists seemingly unrelated policy positions. This is perhaps most evident on climate issues; Scott sees issues of transportation and housing equity as interconnected and systemic, whereas Pederson delivers a list including electric cars, tree canopy, and “leveraging our data and technology,” as if a couple clever ideas is all we need.
There is a huge gulf between these two candidates. While Pedersen seems to resent having to explain his lackluster nostalgia for boomer-era politics, Scott is connecting the dots in front of us, laying out a bold vision for how we can take action on global issues locally, and transform Seattle into a city for everyone.
The candidates in their own words:
Scott: “Some people refer to the process that you’re you’re describing as ‘homeless sweeps,’ others prefer the euphemism of ‘engagement.’ I think either way the data is pretty clear that it’s a failed policy and we know this because members of the navigation team that have been responsible for executing these sweeps of homeless encampments have protested the lack of efficacy of these sweeps, and also the lack of empathy as a means towards getting people actually housed. I do not support the sweeps, I do not support mayor Durkan’s apology for what was called ‘broken windows’ policing when she announced the ramp up of the intensity and frequency of these sweeps some months ago. I think that we have to have a housing first approach, and we have to go in the direction of an approach that does not waste ten million dollars a year to the tune of six to the tune of sixty million dollars over six years. looking back we would have to think that we would rather have that money spent on something like supportive housing, have that money spent on expanding our community service officer program, have that money spent on a data-driven and data-proven solution like safe injection sites. No I do not support the sweeps.”
Pedersen: “I do support Mayor Durkan’s policy, I think it’s balanced, she’s been incrementally increasing the response so that we can help more people. They do need to get into shelter. I do agree with the housing first policy, people do need a permanent sense of housing so that they can deal with the challenges they’re facing.”
Seattle Green New Deal
Scott: “I do actually think it’s the time for a panic. I think that cities have a role in combating climate change. I think that part of the reason why every environmental organization that’s endorsed in this race has gone our way is because we recognize the urgency around this question. We’re in a city where 66% of our carbon emissions come from transportation, most of those are from people on their workday commutes, driving really long distances because they could not find housing close to the city core. So you have to think that the fact that multi-family housing duplexes triplex is the kind of housing that you see when you come to East Lake and district 4 is illegal in upwards of 80 percent of the city has something to do with that fact. So we have to be very very clear-eyed about the root causes for the climate crisis and what cities like Seattle are doing to contribute to it. A lot of that has to do with making sure that we have an approach that makes affordable — and not just affordable but social and public housing — as accessible to people who need it as possible.”
Pederson: “Yes we need to go beyond the climate action plan the city has. We also need to go beyond the new Green Deal resolution that the City Council just passed because they left out a couple of key things such as getting our city’s fleet of vehicles to get to zero emissions faster. They also left out the fact that we need to defeat Tim Eyman’s initiative 976, which is on the ballot in November. You’ve got to defeat I-976. For some reason they left that out. I’ve got an 18-point plan please go to my website and check it out on climate action. I’ll read them quickly while my time is here: we need to lead the world and leveraging our data and technology for best practices, encourage more use of solar, protect and expand our tree canopy, convert our city fleet faster, get more people to ride Sound Transit, renew the supplemental bus tax levy, require large institutions to do more for their employers commuting, phase-out gas powered two-stroke leaf blowers (Something I’ve talked about for months, I’m glad to see my opponent that’s signed on.)”
Scott: “I believe in a housing-first approach for people experiencing homelessness; the city should go into debt to build the housing it needs to address the state of emergency that was declared years ago. We should create a land bank in which the city would purchase land as it becomes available on the market and specifically designate it for public, dense, (actually) affordable housing. This can be done by pursuing and implementing the revenue options outlined in its ‘Progressive Revenue Taskforce on Housing and Homelessness’ and also use its bonding capacity to get the funding we need for an ambitious investment in public housing. The revenue options we must pursue include a tax on mansion sales and on vacant luxury real estate developments.”
Pedersen: “We need to do a better job with homelessness in Seattle. We’ve seen homelessness increase even while the spending is increasing. My experience at HUD and in the private sector on affordable housing, I want city council to adhere to the best practices proven to reduce homelessness. We’ve seen homelessness go down throughout the country. The right to shelter is something we should support statewide. Statewide we also need those progressive tax revenues. We have the most regressive tax system in the state of Washington. We need our state legislature to get this done next session so that we can get those revenues that we need. In the meantime City Council needs to get its fiscal house in order so that we can fund the best strategies, the most compassionate effective strategies to get people into shelter […] We need to adhere to the best practices proven to reduce homelessness. The City Council has failed to do this, and we need experience to get that done. The McKinsey report is very light on data and it’s likely we do need more resources, especially to increase permanent supportive housing, which is one of the best practices that we need to implement. But we also need to get our fiscal house in order, first, at the city government. We have a $6.5 billion city budget, when mayor Durkan proposed it — she increased it from last year — and I think that trying to go straight to the McKinsey report is not practical because, again, we’re does a source of funding come from? And I think why we again need this statewide progressive tax reform.”
Recommendation: Debora Juarez
While Juarez is not our favorite councilmember, her approach is principled and coherent, and that’s a lot more than can be said about her opponent. Juarez has often been a swing-vote on progressive priorities on the council, and generally seems to have more faith than we do that more of the same traditional policies (“tough love” policing, public-private partnerships, etc.) will make progress. She voted against the Employee Hours Tax more times than she voted for it, has been a fierce advocate for the new police station for the north precinct, and has taken mixed positions on new bike infrastructure. She’s also proposed expanding the navigation team at a recent budget hearing. That said, she’s helped hold the line on upzones, was very in favor of MHA, and (at least in rhetoric) speaks for more compassionate and equitable city policies. While this might seem milquetoast, her opponent would be a move in the wrong direction.
Ann Davison Sattler, also an attorney from North Seattle, appears to get much of her news from the comment sections of Safe Seattle Facebook pages and promotes drastic changes towards more inhumane and aggressive criminalization on homelessness. Her signature policy proposal for addressing homelessness is forcibly relocating every person living on the street into FEMA-style tents. She says that these shelters should include bathrooms and services, as well as lead to more permanent shelter down the road. “Having one proposed location for emergency shelter while we simultaneously constructed dormitory-style housing on another location would allow us to transition to that permanent housing,” Sattler told the Stranger. It’s a little unclear if Sattler is just nostalgic for the glory days of SRO’s or actually wants the city to build the thousands of units that this would require, but she’s not in favor of raising any additional revenue for it (“we do not need to be talking about additional funding now, we need to be talking about adequate spending of the dollars that we have”), so it’s hard to believe any of these comments are in good faith.
Again, Juarez could be a lot better on homelessness and housing. But in this race, having someone who at least brings up the history of redlining when asked about single-family zoning; is willing to discuss new, progressive revenue sources; willing to discuss Safe Consumption Sites; and who seems to understand that this city needs to be better and make room for newcomers is a lot better than the alternative.
The candidates in their own words:
Juarez: “If people are selling drugs, if they are assaulting people, if they are raping people, if they are running a sex ring which we had on Lake City Way, they should be arrested. I don’t care if you are in a tent or a house. But I don’t think that just because a bunch of neighbors are pissed off that someone put up two tents because they have nowhere to go, that you should send out three officers to remove them.”
Sattler: “I have been there when people call me for problems. I have Andy somewhere in the audience call me and he’s just like ‘hey there’s an encampment going on down the road from us’ I’m like, ‘I’ll be there in 10 minutes.’ And it doesn’t mean that just because I have X Y & Z going on, right? Because that’s the job. This is the second highest paid full-time City Council position of the fortieth largest city in America. It is not unreasonable to expect an answer from your full-time council member or their full-time staff.”
Sattler: “We do need to provide a place that people can access safety because right now the streets are not the place to have people on. Again I go back to the proposal that I have on my website of three proposed red cross-like shelter locations. A vehicle is not a safe place to stay. I understand that is a sense of ownership and privacy but we know that they need more than that. So I want to go beyond encouraging just vehicular homeownership. That is not a way for people to live. We have better resources. We have an ample budget. We have people with energy and commitment and compassion and commitment. So we need to get people into shelter, not living in a car.”
Single-Family Zoning & Density
Sattler: “I think that right now what is great about Seattle and what we all love is our distinctive neighborhoods and part of that is the homes and the businesses that are part of those hubs in those neighborhoods […] I want to see a variety of living styles. That means we make not big places, we make small places that are available for people that are affordable. We make different sizes, we have single room occupancy back again so that people can have an affordable place to live where there’s built-in community. And that means we also have some single-family homes as well because we have a variety of people. Therefore we should have a variety of housing styles. And we can be green at the same time.”
Sattler: “When I was out door knocking *scans room* (and pardon me — I’m gonna make sure there’s no young minds in the room at the moment) I cannot count the number of condoms that I saw all along my walk door-knocking, right there on Linden, almost at every single house. And that’s what I hear from neighbors at their doors, is the complaints and the problems about prostitution. It’s very concerning. And we can actually do that. If we were to block the left-hand turns, we would make sure that people cannot turn into the neighborhoods off of Aurora. We would be moving it somewhat until we get enough officers on the ground.”
Sattler: “I am familiar with labor negotiations as well. I think it’s a critical piece that this was done in a way that we make sure that labor understands we hear their voice and that management also hears it has a voice as well. Like, for example, the renter’s Commission that we recently formed. We don’t even have one landlord on that Commission. We need to make sure we have both parties at the table making sure that the equal voice is heard.”
Juarez: “I was very proud to cast a vote for MHA. Private companies and developers benefit from our growing economy. They have a role in ensuring new development provides additional affordable housing units so we are not displacing low income people in Seattle. Such entities should participate in the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program; I prefer performance rather than payment. MHA was a first step to creating more density and affordable housing; I look forward to expanding it to other areas in the future.”
Sattler: “I want to make sure that we have the housing available. That means we are expediting permitting processes we have affordable housing online. We do not need people paying a development fee and then doing it later. We needed it yesterday. We needed it last year. We needed it the entire term of [Juarez] being on the council. That’s what I want.”
Recommendation: Dan Strauss
Compared to some of the other races, the District 6 candidates are both very careful to avoid controversy. When questioned on issues of housing and homelessness (and specifically when talking about new sources of revenue) both Dan Strauss and Heidi Wills often pass the buck, calling for additional resources from the state and county. While every level of government certainly has a role to play, we’re looking to our local elected officials to push uniquely local policies. Strauss is at least willing to talk about new taxes, but has steered clear of revisiting the Employee Hours Tax. Strauss has also been critical of forced encampment removals, whereas Wills appears to be supportive. When pressed in one forum if the number of sweeps should be increased, Wills dodged the question and did not say “no”. Strauss said he supports looking at single family zones for additional density, whereas Wills is vague and noncommittal on this question, saying only that more housing “of all shapes and sizes” is needed. While this race hardly fits into the prevailing narrative of extreme candidates, it is nevertheless an important one that has seen large amounts of outside money. It’s a race and a district that will benefit from a progressive candidate that takes nuanced positions on each issue, and that candidate is Dan Strauss.
The candidates in their own words:
Wills: “I’m a supporter of density. I supported it when I was on the council, and I support it now, especially where we have transportation to support it. What’s concerning to people [about the six-story buildings at 15th and Market], and it’s a reasonable concern, is that it’s not human in scale. If we had courtyards. If we had setbacks, if it felt human in scope, not like a canyon, I think that people would welcome more density. So I think that’s really too bad that that was built in a way to maximize footprint.”
Strauss: “We need to have affordable housing and that affordable housing needs to be cheap to build, which means that we need to build it in single-family zoning. Do I think that we need to just wipe everything off the table? No, we absolutely have to be thoughtful. If you’re not being thoughtful with your policy-making, you’re just being rash. In Ballard that’s the other thing, is we have duplexes and triplexes and places that are now zoned single-family because in the 1960s and ’70s we had different zoning and we built duplexes and triplexes, and then the zoning changed. There’s a lot of opportunity to build duplexes and triplexes throughout our city.”
Wills: “We need more housing of all shapes and sizes for people of all incomes. And the reason why that’s really important is because we need to ensure people can live close to where they work.”
Strauss: “the Navigation Team, in its essence, is supposed to navigate people to services and to a safe, warm, dry place to live. And the problem is that we don’t have enough of those resources, right? So if we did have enough places with four walls and a door that someone can lock, that has the services on site, the Navigation Team would be effective. In the short term, we need to treat this like the emergency that it is. The fact that it’s taking three to five years for the modular houses from King County to come online — that’s not satisfactory. We know what the solutions are and that we need to get going, and we need to put this at the front of the queue.”
Wills: “I think that we need to ensure that people have a place that’s safe and warm and dry to sleep, and sleeping in unsanctioned tent encampments are unsafe and unhygienic for a lot of people, particularly women and children. I think that the people living in tents in parks and in open spaces without hygienic facilities is really problematic, and I think that we need to ensure that there’s a place, of course, for people to go.”
Strauss: “I’m against [sweeps]. I think we need to ensure that we’re protecting safety. I’ve seen people in my community prey on people experiencing homelessness. I’ve seen them prey on people who live in homes. I’ve seen predators hide behind people experiencing homelessness. Sweeping your stuff and throwing away all your stuff just sets you back, creates more trauma. If you are regularly attending services and you need an I.D. to access those services and your I.D. gets swept, start over. If all your things are taken, no wonder you want to keep everything that you can keep.”
Strauss: “Unless there’s a public safety or public health reason [to sweep people] we’re just using our dollars inefficiently […] We need to have a place for navigation teams to be graduating people into. Otherwise navigation teams are just spending our money unnecessarily, and that’s money that we could be building housing, building transitional housing, and providing the services that I’ve heard from our community that are needed.
Wills: “Sweeps I feel like is a loaded term. And I think what’s needed is people moving out of homelessness into a continuum of care to find themselves exiting homelessness and we know what works permanent supportive housing. We know it till we have enough permanent supportive housing to the people who need it, we need temporary housing. We need 24 hour, 7 days a week shelter for people. We need low barrier shelter for people. We need to places where people can bring their pets and couples can go. In order to move people on that continuum of care, we need the navigation teams to go to work.
Strauss: “There’s no way around [finding new revenue]. The ride share tax that [Mayor Jenny Durkan just proposed] — that’s another revenue source. I would love to see the state do more. I’d love to see the county do more. I’d love to work with my colleagues to develop good proposals that aren’t putting the burden on property or sales tax. What I would love to see is us fully use our bonding capacity. In my perfect world, we would be bonding against our existing tax streams, using our total bonding capacity to build the housing we need today. We’re in an emergency — we’re just straight-up in an emergency. If there is any untapped [bonding] capacity, that needs to be used.”
Wills: “I think that, as I’ve been finding in District 6, people want to have an understanding of where the funds are currently going. And, because housing affordability is such a crisis and some people are having a hard time even making their property tax payments, and that also gets passed down to renters with property tax increases, that we need to be really mindful of public spending and be accountable and transparent with those dollars. I think that once those programs are communicated to the public, that builds trust with the public. That might set the stage for a regional tax package to address housing and human service needs in our community with a regional approach. It might be beyond just King County, like with transportation, which is a regional issue as well.”
Strauss on revenue: “First and foremost, we need to flip the regressive tax system in our state where we have the richest people in the world, and we have the most regressive taxes. […]
When we look here in the city, there’s unearned income. There was a proposal that’s been very interesting to me that’s a vacancy tax on units that are not rented, whether that’s commercial or residential.”
Strauss: “We need to have a housing first approach and that means bringing people inside four walls and a door that they can lock that’s connected to services they need. Whether that’s managed encampments or transitional housing, we know that we need to stabilize folks and connect them with services so that we don’t continue having folks fall into crisis, then intervening with them, and then them falling back into crisis in a circular manner, continually re-intervening with people. We need to stabilize people and get them the services that the need. That’s for chemical dependency, that’s for mental health. Folks need to be able to feel comfortable, safe in a warm and dry place. The current system that we’re engaging with isn’t working. We need permanent supportive housing, and we need affordable housing.”
Wills: “We know that the system is too fragmented, and it’s even hard for case workers to navigate the system. The city needs to work more collaboratively with regional and state leaders to address the root causes of homelessness. We need to rely on the state for more funding for mental health. We are 49th out of 50 states on how much we are spending on mental health. That’s unacceptable. We need to have more mental health counselors in our public schools. We need to start early with youth. […] We also need more short term solutions of modular homes and more long term solutions of permanent supportive housing.”
Strauss: “You know there’s always efficiencies to be found, and we need to continue looking at those efficiencies. […] We need to have performance metrics so that we can identify which programs are working well and which ones aren’t and continue to fund the ones that are only working.”
Wills: “When I was on the city council we were spending about $10 million to address homelessness. I was vice chair of the housing and human services committee. Now the city is spending $94 million. I think people would like to have more accountability and transparency with that spending. They want to know what’s working and what’s not. We need and deserve data driven solutions so that we’re really helping people who need it most in our community.”
Solutions to Homelessness
Strauss: “We need to build more housing. We need more affordable housing and we need more permanent supportive housing. We know that 50 percent of the area median income is about $38,000. The kids that I grew up with here in our community can’t afford to live in our community. I can barely afford to rent in my community. […] That’s in part why mandatory housing affordability was so important. That’s why the housing trust fund from the state was funded at historic levels. We need to build deeply affordable housing that’s [affordable to people making] 30–60 percent of the area median income and we need to have permanent supportive housing so that people who are chronically homeless don’t continue to fall into that situation. People are dying in the streets, and we seem to be fiddling our thumbs.”
Wills: “We know that that number of people experiencing homelessness on our streets have disabilities, that they are veterans, that they are people experiencing mental illness, and they are utilizing our emergency numbers which costly to the public because they don’t have any alternatives. […] Everyone deserves to be safe warm and dry and health care and to be warm at night when they sleep and not worry about someone stealing their belongings or harming them. We know permanent supportive housing is what’s needed in order to address the root causes of homelessness.”
Wills: “It’s the same exact issues we were dealing with 20 years ago. We’re not making headway and we need to come up with short-term solutions. I don’t believe that the city condoning people sleeping in tents in our parks and open spaces is a solution. And we have about 300 unsanctioned encampments around Seattle now. We don’t have enough sharps containers, we don’t have enough running water, we don’t have enough port-a-potties to serve the people that are currently living in these deplorable conditions. We need to double down on temporary shelter. Modular homes are one way to go. Council member Teresa Mosqueda also talked about a big tent — like a FEMA-style tent [that could serve as a temporary shelter.] These are real solutions. Why is the council not better tuned into these issues?”
Recommendation: Andrew Lewis
The differences between Jim Pugel and Andrew Lewis are harder to spot than other races — tracking each other on many issues, and competing for some of the most conservative voting blocs in the city — but we believe that Andrew Lewis is more likely to treat housing and homelessness issues with the measured and compassionate responses they deserve.
At a recent forum at the American Institute of Architects, Lewis indicated two locations for increased residential density: Fort Lawton and the Interbay Armory site. While this is a good start, this is no bold position. The city is finally moving forward with 235 units at the Fort Lawton site after decades of neighborhood opposition. And while we’d all rather see housing than military vehicles on the armory site, there’s no reason to believe that the transfer, community input, rezoning, and development processes will proceed with any greater urgency than Fort Lawton. Unfortunately, Pugel doesn’t even go that far, claiming that “Queen Anne was unzoned in the 50s and 60s, and it got so dense up there […] it had gotten out of control.” Lewis has at least indicated some interest in modest density increases to single-family zones, in the form of duplexes and triplexes. The reality is that the entirety of District 7 is served extremely well by transit, is close to downtown, has high access to opportunity, and has low risk of displacement (see “Growth and Equity” sections of the Mandatory Housing Affordability Final Environmental Impact Statement). As we’re seeing upzoning and development in high-displacement areas across other districts, whoever takes the seat for District 7 should look at where in the vast swaths of well-served single-family zoned land we can accomodate much more growth.
UNITE HERE Local 8 sent out a troubling mailer in support of Lewis while also attacking ADU/DADUs, though Andrew Lewis later distanced himself from it, and has gone on record supporting ADU/DADU legislation, which Pugel does not (also, Pugel’s supporters include some much more troubling groups). While we’re not convinced that backyard cottages will meet affordable housing needs with any great urgency, there is no good reason to oppose their legalization.
On safe consumption sites, Lewis gives lukewarm support, saying “certainly we could benefit from it.” Pugel (who deserves some credit for supporting a different harm-reduction site at DESC’s 1811 Eastlake project) opposes SCS. We were also disappointed to see that at a Seattle City Club debate, neither candidate rejected any of Eric “Seattle is Dying” Johnson’s repeated questions on drugs, crime, drugs, and crime. While they both support LEAD, both say they support more patrolling, support the SPOG contract, and more sweeps. Notably absent is any mention that 1 in 5 people in jail are homeless.
While neither have demonstrated great progressive values on housing or homelessness, Lewis has hinted at more. Given that we can’t go back and convince Cary Moon to run for the district, here’s hoping that Andrew Lewis, the young cyclist, renter, and self-described pro-housing candidate can be convinced to side with more progressive factions of a future council.
The candidates in their own words:
Single-Family Zoning and Density
Pugel: “I would say that we always have to look at increased density, but the main areas that we have to look at increased density is on existing transportation routes and planned transportation routes whether bus or Sound Transit […] If you guys get bored, go into the 1800 block of 9th Avenue West: it’s the most hodgepodge mess of single-family homes that have triplexes and back[yard] accessory dwelling units, detached accessory dwelling units — none of which are affordable, none of which there’s parking provided for, and several families are moving out. And they’re good families. And they love density, but it’s gone too far. We have to involve the neighborhood’s. We have to involve the Department of construction and inspections and come together in a neighborhood focused on what works best for you, the neighborhood. It can’t be forced from the top down.”
Lewis: “As I’ve gone around I’ve noticed there’s an awful lot of them that are existing illegally there unsanctioned because folks have made them and our current laws are overly restrictive and they’re not on the books […]The people that I meet in those houses are nurses, they’re firefighters, they’re police officers, they’re the people that need to have a space in the city. If they work in the city they should be able to live in the city. We need to do this as a neighbourhood, as a community, and we do need to have neighborhood planning about where the growth is going to go. We’ve got to stipulate that we’ve got to make room for the working families in the city, we’ve got to make room for more affordable housing […] I think that they should [be in] more neighborhoods and I think they’re already there right now.”
Pugel: “Queen Anne was unzoned in the 50s and 60s, and it got so dense up there — and it still is, where many people have converted single-family homes into fourplexes — that they rezoned it to single-family in the 1970s because it had gotten out of control. All you had to do was build the zone. So we have to make sure that the neighborhoods are involved.”
Pugel: “Well they just put [a bike lane] in across the street from where the key arena is being reconstructed on First Avenue West. They didn’t do a good job of talking with the businesses, so now those businesses lost their parking, and they’re hurting. I think we need to do a better job of reaching out with the neighborhoods.”
Lewis: “This is a personal question for me because I don’t have a car. A bike is my primary method of transportation aside from walking […] I want to get from point A to point B safely. I believe in vision zero. The only way we’re going to get to vision zero is if we have grade-separated or protected bike lanes and we need to make a commitment to that. There’s a lot of people in the city that use biking as a viable commute to get to work. They shouldn’t be putting themselves in harm’s way every time they go out there to do it.”
Pugel: “We definitely need more shelter space, we definitely need more supportive housing, and we need permanent supportive housing for those who are mentally ill or have co-occurring disorders of addiction along with mental illness. I sat on many committees in both the city of Seattle in my time with King County called Familiar Faces. We need to get these people out of these terrible homeless camps which are unsafe for them and unsafe for the people that work or walk around them. We owe it to everyone. I know after being a police officer how much crime goes on in those, and how often the homeless are the victim of other homeless people which is only a small percentage — about eight to twelve percent, I call them the ‘will nots’ — they will not take any services. They prey on all the other homeless, some pretty violent crimes, and we have to protect everyone out there. Bottom line is we need more affordable housing, low income housing, and permanent supportive housing.”
Lewis: “I do think a lot of these encampments are hazards that need to be removed, regardless of the shelter situation. There are encampments that are on on-ramps for freeways that put the people in them a great risk of being hurt or killed. There are encampments that are in public parks, which is not an appropriate place to have an encampment. But we need to have a triage and we need to have some priority on where we’re going and what camps we are removing. Should we categorically be sweeping every camp without a promise of shelter? No. But should we be focusing on the ones that are hazards and magnets for crime? Yes.”
Seattle Green New Deal
Lewis: “We need to be using more cross laminated timber in the buildings we build. You know, Bill Gates was quoted a few months ago saying any plan to reduce CO2 it’s got to start with the massive CO2 impact of steel and concrete. Fourteen percent of global CO2 emissions come from steel and concrete. Cross laminated timber was in the paper the other day. This is a low-carbon way that we can be building more of our mid rise development. I fully support it.”
Pugel: “Number one let’s increase our tree canopy and let’s stop cutting down the trees that we have. We need those, and that’s not just in Seattle. We have to work with the King County Council to get that done and cooperatively with the 38 other cities in the region. We also have to protect Puget Sound and I agree: work with the Port of Seattle not just with the airplanes, not just with the kelp beds, but with the cruise ships that come in. Get those electrified in short supply — they’re still burning oil as they idle there for hours at a time we’ve got to cut that out. Last thing: I had coffee this morning with some detectives they would love to try out some Teslas, and we can electrify the fleet. No I’m serious — we have 4,000 cars in the city only 400 are electrified. Let’s get cops in Teslas”
Pugel: “The police officers do a good job focusing on who the prolific offenders are — there’s about 150 to 200. Years ago we called them ‘high-impact offenders,’ ‘familiar faces,’ ‘high risk offenders’ — I don’t care what we call them. If they get arrested let’s fast track those cases. I have a plan to create a task force of detectives not only Seattle, but King County Metro Transit, and Sound Transit police that police the same corridors; embed a city attorney and one of Dan Satterberg’s state attorneys and let’s focus on this group and build vertical prosecutions. Not a filing deputy, not a prosecuting deputy, not a deputy over here to look over parole or appeal, but one deputy carries these people on. It’s only 150 people, we know who they are, give them treatment, give them an opportunity to divert, but if they don’t want them, do them the old-fashioned way and prosecute.”
Pugel: “We have to focus on these repeat offenders and get them, if they don’t take treatment, if they don’t take diversion, if they don’t take reasonable offers to correct themselves, we have to incapacitate them. And do it constitutionally, and there’s a constitutional way to do it, but we have to do it”
Lewis: “I support aspiring to be like Vienna, Austria, wherein 60% of the population lives in some kind of public housing. We should be building publicly owned buildings operated by the Seattle Housing Authority on top of transit oriented sites offering units with at-cost rents to pay off the bonding. We could, functionally, create a public option for housing allowing families at 60%-80% AMI to pay into housing where there is no profit motive.”
Pugel: “King County Assessor John Wilson has already identified many publicly owned, surplus property in the city that can be converted to public housing at little or no cost. This would be a huge step forward in creating adequate affordable housing for all workers. The city has got to stop selling public land to developers for an amount that rarely ever gets translated into affordable housing. I also support increasing housing along transportation routes and near employment centers in consultation with the communities and neighborhoods affected.”