South Seattle Emerald contributors met with candidates running for Seattle City Council’s District 2 seat. Incumbent Bruce Harrell announced in January he would not run, and seven candidates filed to take over his vacant seat. This week the Emerald will publish interviews the candidates talking about their campaigns in their own words. Today, Emerald contributor Guy Oron speaks with Tammy Morales. Click here to read all of the candidate interviews published so far.
by Guy Oron
Tammy Morales is longtime advocate of economic justice and is running for the Seattle City Council’s District 2 position, which encompasses Southeast Seattle and the International District. Tammy started her career working in policy-making as a legislative director in the Texas House of Representatives for Rep. Garnet Coleman. There she “saw firsthand what happens when community isn’t participating in those conversations about how government spends our money.”
After going to graduate school in planning, Tammy moved to Seattle about 20 years ago and has worked in community development, tackling issues such as affordable housing and food security. Most recently, she has served on the Seattle Human Rights Commission and worked for United Food and Commercial Workers local 21 and Rainier Beach Action Coalition. In 2015, Tammy ran for the same position, losing by just a couple hundred votes to the incumbent Bruce Harrell, who is not running for re-election this year.
Guy Oron: Over the past decade, we’ve seen skyrocketing rents and housing prices, leading to so many people, especially Black folks and people of color being pushed out and rampant gentrification. What solutions are you running on to address those issues, such as potentially affordable housing investments or rezoning? What type of changes are you proposing?
Tammy Morales: We’ve seen a real concentration of wealth in this city. For me, especially working in organizing spaces lately, I’ve also seen how it feels like power is really centralized. City leadership is listening to lobbyists and political strategists more than they’re listening to our community and to constituents. So I feel like a lot of the solutions that could be having a real, acute impact on our community are there. People have been talking about smart solutions for years, it’s just that they’re not being listened to.
For example, we have a homeless crisis, and we have a real clear understanding that part of what we need to do is to protect renters better, so that they don’t get evicted for being a few days late or even a few weeks late. There’s more we can do to support the landlord-tenant relationship so that people don’t get pushed out of their housing. Because that is a big factor in why there are people who end up homeless. If we can prevent evictions, I think that would go a long way toward helping address [homelessness].
I will be developing a full proposal over the course of the campaign after we’ve talked to people and really had a chance to share our motivations and ideas with the community. [Tammy has since published her proposal for addressing homelessness and housing on her website]. I think we all know that we need much more housing. We need to invest in not just more market rate housing and allowing permits for that, but we need to invest in housing for low-income families, for seniors. We need to do more to make sure that our communities of color don’t continue to get displaced. That requires us to think carefully about repairing the harm that’s already been done to our communities of color, and mitigating any further displacement and further damage to our neighborhoods.
GO: I appreciate that when you were answering that question, you connected housing and homelessness. Is there a reason why you see those as linked issues?
TM: I’ve been on the human rights commission now for three years. One of the things that I find really frustrating is that Seattle has declared itself a human rights city, but when it comes to action on the ground, there’s a real hypocrisy. A lot of times these declarations around human rights and holding up our race and social justice initiative as something we’re so proud of — It feels those are empty declarations when we are changing our policy to push people off of one side of the sidewalk to the other. I think those kinds of policies don’t align with the values that we claim to hold in this city.
For me it is very obvious that if market rate [housing] is now something like $1,900 a month, and especially in our communities of color, wages aren’t keeping pace, the natural consequence is that people are gonna to get evicted, people are gonna to be pushed out of their own homes, they’re gonna have trouble paying increased property taxes — and that really has a disparate impact on communities of color.
So I do see all of this as connected and the way we start to address some of that is by acknowledging that we need to do more to support working families. Whether that’s with housing, or affordable childcare, or providing support for community organizations to build more housing for our neighbors, it’s gonna take a big investment and we have to just acknowledge that and find the political courage to do the right thing.
GO: I saw you’ve been working on the Human Rights Commission around sweeps. Would you, as a legislator, support or propose a ban or moratorium on sweeps, and if so, what would you seek as an alternative?
TM: I don’t think that we’re solving anything by pushing people around from one block to the next. We’re spending millions of dollars on police staff time, on fencing, on things that don’t actually solve the problem of helping move people into housing. And the fact that the mayor just changed those rules to make all of that happen faster, to pay for nine more police officers but no new social workers, really is, to me, a complete abdication of our human rights responsibility for taking care of the most vulnerable in our city. I don’t believe that [sweeps] is an effective strategy.
I understand that if someone is blocking the sidewalk, or if there’s an imminent risk for either the person who’s on the street or people who are trying to pass, there are some things that can be done to mitigate. But this kind of wholesale sweep of people who have their whole lives in a tent I just feel is completely wrong.
We need to invest more in preventing homelessness in the first place. We need to invest more in making sure that we have coordinated entry systems that work, that we have a place for people to go and real services to offer them so that we can try to stabilize their living situation for people who are experiencing homelessness. But we’re not really gonna solve this problem until we actually have places for people to go. We need to get on that because it’s gonna take a while to reach the production that we need.
GO: All these issues are intersecting, and we see how some of the inequities around education or policing translate also into environmental justice, especially around climate change and climate justice. I think a lot of us this summer and last summer, we’re seeing a lot of ash coming from the forest fires. Are there ways we can perhaps mitigate that effect, especially since it hits poor people and communities of color the most, especially in the south end?
TM: I think what we really need to think about is how is the way that the city is growing is going to impact communities of color, how is it gonna to impact our clean air, our clean water. There’s a lot of effort to try to increase transit ridership, for example, so that we can reduce reliance on cars and all that that means with regard to fossil fuel and greenhouse gasses. In District 2 we have an airport that is also contributing to poor air quality for Georgetown and South Park residents and really, for parts of Beacon Hill too. So there are things we can pay more attention to here. I think honestly, I don’t have an answer for what seems to be a regular fire season here now. But we do know that [forest fires] compounds the impact. If we already have poor air quality and then we have something like that happening on top of it, that certainly doesn’t help.
We have organizations, in South Seattle especially, who are very committed to making sure that communities of color are at the table when we are thinking about better transit options, housing that doesn’t push people out so that they don’t have to increase their commutes, making sure that the Duwamish [River] is cleaned and that the expenses for that are not passed on to the surrounding neighborhoods or businesses that are in the area. There is clearly a lot of work to be done.
Featured photo courtesy Tammy Morales.