Photo of Seattle City Hall name on brick wall

Community Expresses Support for Investing Federal Relief Funds in Black Community

by Chamidae Ford

On Tuesday evening, May 4, the Seattle City Council held a public comment forum to hear how the community would like to see $239 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding spent. 

The forum lasted two and a half hours, featuring nearly 80 community members calling in to voice their opinions.

Councilmember Tammy Morales, who was in attendance last night, was pleased with the turnout.

“I’m glad folks are paying attention,” Councilmember Morales said. “This is a unique opportunity to really invest in community with this federal funding. And my hope is that as a council, we really look at how we allocate this significant funding. I think we need to not fall back into kind of business-as-usual funding, the kinds of organizations that we typically fund, and look at this as an opportunity to invest in a different kind of way. In a way that really advocates and supports racial equity, in a way that puts our money where our mouth is the way we’ve been talking in the last year.”

During the course of the evening, suggestions for projects to apply the COVID-19 relief funds varied from creating a bike lane on Aurora Ave. near Greenlake to investing in tiny house villages and create parking lots for people who live in their vehicles. There were requests that none of the funding be directed into the police force. But the overwhelming suggestion from multiple speakers was to have $100 million of the ARPA funding directed into the Black community.

TraeAnna Holiday, a community member who spoke during the public comment session, was one of these people.

“The Black community is owed. Period. Point-blank,” Holiday said. “Right now Seattle City Council has the opportunity to do what is right and right the wrongs, right the harms of our past. We have to be able to find ways to educate our people, to utilize resources that are led by us. We know what to do best.”

Isaac Joy, a member of King County Equity Now (KCEN), one of the organizations leading the charge for the $100 million to be directed into the Black community, spoke about four reasons behind that request. Joy highlighted the history of anti-Blackness in the United States and Seattle; the moral obligation to the Black community for the lack of past support; the wealth disparities that have already existed due to racism and which have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and the opportunity for the Black community to use this money to support their community in concrete ways. 

Joy also addressed that KECN would like to see these funds reinvested holistically. 

“There’s an opportunity here for the Black community to approach these services in a completely unique, different type of way,” Joy said. “To not just do shelter services, but also do food programs, also do early childhood education, also do job training, educating, and bringing folks into cultural spaces that are already existing, where people can be healed and replanted in community. Because when we think about these types of services, it’s not just about providing affordable housing or a very specific type of service. It’s about us holistically coming around our community top to bottom, through education, through social services, through business, through community ownership, and having vibrant thriving communities. And in order to do that, the Black community desperately needs investment and it needs investment so that we can be the leaders for our own people. Which historically has also been a driver of much of America’s social progress.” 

The Council is expected to decide on how to spend the funding in the next few weeks. According to Morales, some councilmembers have been meeting with other municipal councils nationwide to discuss how they intend to spend their ARPA funds. 

“We heard from a council member from Denver,  two or three weeks ago,” Morales said. “And that was very exciting because Denver is taking the approach of, ‘let’s use this as an opportunity to think differently about how we invest in community. And let’s use this as an opportunity, to listen more deeply and to think about the outcomes that we’re looking for,’” Councilmember Morales said. “Not just what do we invest in, but how do we invest in it and how do we do it so that it meets the goals that we’re talking about right now?”

Mayor Durkan’s spokesperson, Kamaria Hightower, released a statement to the Emerald via email that suggested the Mayor’s office will support whatever decision the City Council reaches. 

“The Mayor’s office is working in concert with the City Council and County partners to leverage all local, state, and federal funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. We plan to jointly announce Seattle’s detailed plan with Council later this month for using this one-time investment that will be spread across a broad range of areas, including jobs, housing and homelessness, childcare and education, food access, and more.” 

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Seattle City Hall by Daniel X. O’Neill via Flickr under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.

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