by Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley (City of Seattle Councilmembers)
Seattle is facing a crisis of displacement that disproportionately falls on communities of color, immigrants refugees, seniors, transgender and disabled residents. We know that as our City continues to experience a boom in population and wealth, these communities are disproportionately being pushed out of Seattle.
These costly and destabilizing moves, often to areas with limited transportation access and reduced economic opportunity, push families deeper into poverty. Rapidly rising rents and housing prices caused by our economic boom is also pushing people entirely out of housing and into vehicles, tents, shelters or doorways. This recognition is not anti-business, this is facing reality. We need more creative and progressive revenue sources to solve our displacement and homelessness crises, and the time to act is now.
By Thanksgiving, the Seattle City Council must take a series of actions that can start to correct some of the inequities in our system. We need to reduce the number of new housing units that get diverted from the housing market into vacation rentals, and create a revenue stream to fund community-led anti-displacement investments through the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI). We support the proposal to restrict the number of units for short term rentals to an individual’s primary residence plus one additional property, and dedicate the first $5 million per year from this tax to the EDI.
While this anti-displacement work is critically important, it is distinct from the needs of our neighbors who are unsheltered – also disproportionately people of color. For their safety, we must significantly increase our investment in emergency shelter and subsidized housing. That is why we also support the HOMES proposal – a 5-cent employee hours tax on the top 10% of businesses that will generate at least $20 million per year. This will allow us to make important investments in 2018 to both 24-7 emergency shelter and permanent housing, as well as expand outreach services that are so critical to our homelessness response, such as the nationally-recognized Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD) program.
In addition, through the City’s ability to bond against this new revenue in the future, starting in 2018 we can begin to invest nearly $50 million each year and create 2000 additional units of affordable housing over four years for both low-wage working families and formerly homeless individuals. This would more than double what the Housing Levy funds each year.
By funding Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES), this revenue stream allows us to create true “Pathways Home” for people living unsheltered. We need to take bold and creative action for those most vulnerable to losing their homes and communities. That is why we support dedicated revenue for the Equitable Development Initiative, and the HOMES proposal. Together, we can take a significant step towards addressing our housing and homelessness crisis with a fair and progressive approach.
Signatories to the above statement:
Former Washington State Representative, 46th District
Washington State Representative, 46th District
Washington State Senate, 37th District
President, Catalyst Strategies