Accessory Dwelling Units – What’s Happened and Looking Ahead

December 10th, 2018

I appreciate the ongoing interest and excitement around backyard cottages and basement units. My office continues to hear every day from folks eager to move forward with projects and be a part of addressing our current housing crisis. Please watch my video below to learn what’s happened and next steps as 2018 comes to an end.

For more information, please visit the recently updated Accessory Dwelling Units website here.

Update on Conversations with ADU Final EIS Appellant

November 21st, 2018

As many of my constituents probably know, I have been working for over 3 years on legislation to make it easier for property owners to create accessory dwelling units (backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments). On October 18, 2018, the Queen Anne Community Council, represented by Marty Kaplan, appealed the adequacy of the Final Environmental Impact Statement with the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner. The timing for City Council consideration of proposed legislation is uncertain while the appeal is ongoing.

On Monday I met with Marty Kaplan to discuss our proposed Backyard Cottage legislation.  I am always interested in meeting with constituents – even constituents who I have disagreements with.  I believe it is critically important to all policy makers to have a good understanding of all perspectives on an issue before we make policy decisions, and this issue is no different.

I want to share with the public both what transpired in that friendly meeting as well as facts on how this process will move forward.

Let me start by explaining what Marty’s challenge to the EIS means and, in that context, what a settlement negotiation would entail.   This appeal process is not where decisions are made about forthcoming legislation, but where the Examiner evaluates the adequacy of our analysis about the impacts of a range of policy alternatives.  Marty and his organization appealed, and a hearing has been set for the week of March 25th, with a decision expected soon after from the Hearing Examiner’s office.  That decision will articulate if more analysis is needed for the EIS, or if the EIS is adequate such that the Council can move forward with legislation.  Assuming a positive outcome from the Examiner appeal, my plan would be to introduce legislation based on the Preferred Alternative defined in the Final EIS as a starting point for our legislative process.

Following a favorable resolution of the Examiner’s appeal process, we will begin the legislative process.  We will have multiple committee meetings and a public hearing over the course of a few months to discuss the legislation.  Once we start debating at City Council, we will begin what is in effect a public negotiation with ALL members of our communities who are interested in this legislation.  We will get public comments at meetings, we will get emails and phone calls, and likely most Councilmembers will take private meetings with different groups advocating for different approaches to the policy.  In addition to our committee process, I plan to hold topical discussions leading up to legislation being introduced, where my colleagues and I can get feedback on some of the more debated aspects of the Preferred Alternative, such as the floor area ratio (FAR) requirements, and my ideas around owner occupancy requirements.  My goal with this and any legislation is to make the process public, transparent, and accessible to everyone interested in having their voice heard, regardless of whether they can afford attorneys. 

As far as negotiations for an appeal to the adequacy of our environmental review, the leverage Marty has in a negotiation is that he could drop the appeal, at which point we would be able to proceed to pass legislation on a faster timeline.  Why would Marty choose to drop his appeal?  Presumably only if he got something he wanted, and what he wants is different legislation than what is proposed in the Preferred Alternative of the EIS.

I explained to Marty that while the legislation I plan to introduce was likely to reflect the Preferred Alternative in the EIS, I am open to changes to that legislation as we work through the legislative process.  Furthermore, even if I disagree with certain changes to the legislation, a majority of the Council, not me alone, make the decisions about what changes are acceptable.  I also assured him that whatever likely passes the full Council at the end of the process will almost certainly be different than what I introduce, as I am not aware of any complex piece of land use legislation that doesn’t go through some changes in the legislative process.

If Marty was asking me to cut a special, secret deal with him so that he would drop the lawsuit, I made it clear to him that I am completely opposed to that type of back room dealing.  But I also informed him that he would have plenty of opportunities to present his concerns about my proposed legislation in public forums and that I would remain open to understanding why people have different opinions and consider different approaches we could explore to pursue my objectives of creating more housing opportunities.

In our conversation, I asked Marty what kind of changes he would like to see in the legislation, especially to address his complaint that it is a “one-size fits all” bill.  He proposed having different rules depending on lot size or street width.  I informed him that the underlying legislation already contemplates different heights allowed for backyard cottages based on lot size, but that I would be interested in hearing a different proposal if he had a different framework on lot size or street width to bring forward.  He didn’t have anything specific to share on Monday, but I encouraged him to develop a plan and bring his ideas to me, other Councilmembers, and committee discussions as they get underway in the new year.

Despite what Marty claims in his email blasts, I explained the many doors that remain open throughout the upcoming process to influence the outcome of the legislation.

I want to close with a quick note on the tenor of city politics that Marty is playing on in all of his communications.  I have known Marty for a decade, and I appreciated meeting with him on Monday. We clearly disagree on some policy issues but were still able to carry out a thoughtful and intelligent discussion.  It felt like an example of what is good about Seattle politics.  But I have since learned that Marty has publicly represented our friendly conversation as a divisive fight.  Instead of communicating where we have common ground and where we differ, explaining the opportunities to influence the process and sharing my willingness to remain open to alternative approaches during the legislative process, Marty choose instead to double down on a mean-spirited and polarizing approach, representing the worst of our current tone in politics.  As a community, we must decide if we are going to let divisiveness prevail and be the new way we govern, or re-embrace what I have known my entire life in Seattle: a collaborative approach to policy making.

The legislative process exists for a reason, and just because people seem to be leaning one way at the moment, including me, as we learn more from community members during the legislative process, we often change direction.  I encourage Marty Kaplan, and anyone else, to bring the best arguments forward in that public and transparent forum.

Backyard Cottages Are Key to Building Inclusive, Multi-generational Neighborhoods

October 8th, 2018

I am pleased to share we are one step closer to legislation to lower the barriers to building backyard cottages and basement units in Seattle. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been published.  The EIS evaluates the potential environmental impacts of proposed changes to the City’s Land Use Code intended to remove barriers to the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family zones (also known as backyard cottages or in-law apartments).

The results of the analysis indicate that all of the action alternatives would increase the production of ADUs and would reduce the number of teardowns of single-family homes citywide compared to the No Action alternative.  Here is a brief description of the EIS and Preferred Alternative.  The Preferred Alternative analyzed in the Final EIS represents the changes I intend to include in legislation, hopefully in early 2019.

Some key elements of my proposal will include:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot
  • Removing the off-street parking requirement
  • Allowing Detached ADUs (DADUs) on lots of at least 3,200 square feet
  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement
  • Requiring one year of continuous ownership to establish a second ADU
  • Allowing DADUs of up to 1,000 square feet, the same size currently allowed for AADUs
  • Increasing DADU height limits by 1-2 feet, with flexibility for green building strategies
  • Providing flexibility for one-story DADUs accessible to people with disabilities or limited mobility, with limitations on tree removal
  • Establishing a new floor area ratio (FAR) standard that limits the maximum size of new single-family homes and encourages ADUs

The Environmental Impact Statement, which commenced in October 2017, represents the capstone on a multi-year effort to explore policy changes that would spur creation of ADUs.

Based on comments we received and the analysis that was conducted, we believe that backyard cottages will allow homeowners to increase the number and variety of housing choices in single-family zones. What’s more, the addition of ADUs will afford homeowners and renters alike a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at a variety of incomes. This includes family members who want to age ‘in place’, or increase their income through a long-term rental.

Without an appeal to the EIS, we would plan to introduce legislation and take Council action in early 2019.  If the EIS is appealed, Council cannot take action and the timeline becomes more uncertain, depending on the complexity of the appeal and scheduling availability.

I am eager to move forward with legislation and have heard from hundreds of people over the last few years who are ready and waiting for us to move forward.

The Final EIS is available here on our project website and you can also view this piece is a piece published about the EIS in the Seattle Times.

Transit Savings – How Employees and Employers Could Save Money

September 19th, 2018

Employees and employers could save money through pre-tax commuter benefits.

For many Seattle families, public transit costs are a major household expense. National data shows that transportation costs are the second highest household cost after housing, affecting cost-burdened households in Seattle.  But few people know they can set aside money for transit expenses through a pre-tax payroll deduction. That money can be used to commute via bus, rail, ferry, or water taxi.

Pre-tax commuter benefits save employees and employers money in the long run by allowing workers to allocate up to $255 for transit costs before taxes are applied. For a Seattle worker making between $38,700 to $82,500 per year and deducting $100 per month in pre-tax commuter benefits, that Seattle worker would save $356 a year in taxes.

Commuter benefits also save businesses money. By offering the pre-tax benefit, businesses save about 8% on payroll taxes because the commuter benefits are allocated before taxes are applied. In the example above, the business would save $92 per year for that one employee.

This is a rare opportunity to reduce taxes for both employees and employers, and the tax discount is significant enough that more people may be encouraged to take public transit, which in turn reduces our impact on the environment. The City of Seattle would be following other cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington D.C., Oakland and New York City.

So why do so few people take advantage of pre-tax commuter benefits, which are available for everyone in the country?  Often, it’s because employers and employees don’t know it’s available.

Since September of 2017, I’ve been working on a mechanism to require businesses to offer commuter benefits to their employees.  The first step in my work was to allocate funding in the 2018 City Budget for the non-profit Commute Seattle to conduct outreach to Seattle businesses and educate them on pre-tax commuter benefits. Commute Seattle is an organization available to all businesses to provide outreach, education and technical assistance on many transit issues including pre-tax commuter benefits. My office has also conducted extensive business outreach throughout the summer, including working with leaders from Mayor Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council.

Through my Sustainability and Transportation Committee, I introduced a Commuter Benefit Ordinance (Council Bill 119329), which would require Seattle businesses with 20 or more employees to offer an option to use this pre-tax commuter benefit.

Businesses won’t go it alone, of course. They will receive advice and assistance from Commute Seattle. Based on feedback from members of the Small Business Advisory Council, I have decided to move the implementation date from July 2019 to January 2020 and the enforcement date from July 2020 to January 2021 to ensure businesses have ample time to successfully implement this ordinance.

The proposed Commuter Benefit Ordinance passed my committee on Sept. 18, 2018, and will be considered by the full City Council on Monday, October 1.

By allowing employees to reduce their commuting costs and lowering businesses tax liability, the Commuter Benefit Ordinance will save money and can help reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

How the Sweetened Beverage Tax Allows Families to Stretch their Food Dollars Further

September 7th, 2018

When I think of the sweetened beverage tax, I picture the face of Nora Jenkins.

Jenkins shops at the Columbia City Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and picks up her favorite vegetable – collard greens.

She receives SNAP assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but through a program called Fresh Bucks, she’s able to double the amount of money she spends on fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s because Fresh Bucks provide a dollar-for-dollar match to shoppers who make purchases with SNAP benefits at farmers markets, market stands and neighborhood grocery stores.

Fresh Bucks in Seattle is now primarily funded by the city’s Sweetened Beverage Tax.

When my Council colleagues and I passed the Sweetened Beverage Tax last year, we heard clearly from community members that it was important the money collected was reinvested back into the city’s lower income communities, communities of color, and communities with food deserts. Low-income communities and communities of color bear the burden of poor health outcomes in the city.  Communities of color have long been targets of the soda industry, leading to higher rates of consumption, and thus, are paying more of the tax.  For this tax to be fair, revenue must be reinvested into the health of these communities. The Council’s number one funding priority was resources for increasing food access, and expanding those opportunities for people in the food security gap.  

“There are 122,000 families in King County who work and earn a living wage, but struggle to put healthy food on the table. They’re not eligible for food benefits such as EBT or SNAP, and there aren’t many additional programs to help those families buy more fruits and vegetables. Next year, revenue from the Sweetened Beverage Tax will expand access to Fresh Bucks, allowing food insecure families to take advantage of our matching program at local farmers markets,” said Tanika Thompson, food access organizer for Got Green and member of the Food Access Coalition.

The legislation also established a Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board (CAB). The board is made up of community members involved in grassroots solutions to food justice issues, and public health and education experts working with low income communities and communities of color. The CAB works collaboratively with the community to make recommendations on where money collected through the tax should go.

The Community Advisory Board will present their recommendations to my committee on Friday at 2:00 p.m.

In the first and second quarters of this year, the city collected $10.7 million through the Sweetened Beverage Tax. Mayor Durkan is expected to present her budget later this month, and it’s my hope to see her set a budget that is consistent with the board’s recommendations.

Jenkins said since she’s discovered the Fresh Bucks program six months ago through her church and Got Green, her health has improved. Jenkins has been able to decrease her medications because she’s eating healthier.

Nora Jenkins, right, being interviewed about Fresh Bucks.

“Food stamps only go so far and they only give you so much. Now with this program, I’m eating healthy. A lot of vegetables and fruits. My doctor is happy. My body is happy. And I’m very happy,” Jenkins said.

Fresh Bucks also helps our local farmers and their businesses. The program generated $1.5 million in business to local farmers since 2012. Clayton Burrows, Executive Director of Growing Washington, said the farmers market system in Seattle has done a wonderful job promoting and securing funding for Fresh Bucks.

“It gives people who might not be able to afford farm fresh food access, and this has been very rewarding to me. In our society food is really undervalued. When we buy cheap food, it’s harming the environment and our health because it’s often laced with chemicals. The Fresh Bucks program is a model for urban areas and a testament to the important work happening in Seattle,” Burrows said.

So far this year, we’ve also more than doubled Fresh Bucks usage compared to the same time last year. In addition, Fresh Bucks is expanding to invest further in community thanks to the Sweetened Beverage Tax. This year, Fresh Bucks has been able to:

  • Partner with 26 healthcare clinics are prescribing Fresh Bucks Rx (cash-value vouchers) to people in the food gap so they can buy more fruits and vegetables
  • Pilot partnerships with community-based organizations to distribute fruit and vegetable vouchers to people in the food gap
  • Increase the benefit available to SNAP customers by doubling their dollars for fresh produce purchases, and removed the limit on how much benefit they can earn
  • The Fresh Bucks program is about to launch in supermarkets, which will increase year-round access to the program and increase the number of retail sites where customers can use their Fresh Bucks to buy fruits and vegetables

I look forward to continuing to support these programs as they grow, to help ensure low-income families and families of color in Seattle have access to healthy food.


Safety and Costs of Bike Lanes

August 9th, 2018

Last week the city council passed Resolution #31826 committing the city to completing certain pieces of the downtown bike network in the next 18 months. I expect the City’s Department of Transportation to do their best work in identifying cost efficiencies as they finalize designs for these projects so that we can get the safety improvements as affordably as possible.  I will be continually monitoring their work to ensure this occurs.

I also recognize that certain improvements may come with significant costs because of the existing road design or other existing deficiencies that will need to be addressed.  In these instances, if the project is still the best solution to address safety needs, I will also support these projects. It is important that we not sacrifice the safety of some people simply to save money and we must also be aware that sometimes the cost of doing nothing can be significantly more than a safety investment.

This challenge has recently come to light as the city opened a couple of new protected bike lanes in downtown Seattle:

  • On 2nd Avenue, the city spent nearly $11 million to extend the existing protected bike lane from Pike St to Denny Ave.
  • On 7th Avenue the city spent $3.8 million to build a protected bike lane from Westlake to Pike Street.

A breakdown of some of the costs were detailed in the Seattle Times two months ago.

This has raised questions such as why some bike lanes cost as much as they do and what is the appropriate amount to invest in safety projects for various roadway users. I want to address both of these questions.

First, why are some safety projects so expensive? The context in which we make safety investments plays a huge role in how expensive the projects are. For decades our road system has been designed to move cars, often at the detriment of other road users, and the cost to retrofit that system can be expensive in some circumstances.  In the case of 2nd Avenue, to make that roadway function for all users required a complete upgrade to the traffic signal system that was decades old and in need of being replaced at some point regardless of this project. Forty percent of the project costs were to cover the signal replacement which was mostly to manage car traffic.  When safety projects require broader system upgrades that would ultimately be necessary regardless, it can make those safety projects look more expensive than they would otherwise be.

An alternative example to this are the safety investments made along Pike and Pine streets between 2ndt Ave and 7th Ave.  Because modern signal infrastructure was already in place and the existing curb infrastructure could accommodate the safety improvements, SDOT was able to install 7 blocks of protected bike lanes in 2017 for only $325,000.

Sometimes decisions that are not directly related to the safety improvement have a cost impact on the project.  For example, on Second Avenue, a decision was made to minimize the disruption to Pike Place Market during the summer months by not partially tearing up that road to determine the exact location of other infrastructure.  This was an intentional and well considered decision and it resulted in greater costs to the safety project.

The second question I field in my office is also a fair one: what is the appropriate amount to spend on safety improvements?  We need to be smart and thoughtful about what are the appropriate investments to make at this time, but it is also critical that we make significant strides to meeting our Vision Zero goals  to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.  We have a comprehensive strategy to achieve this goal that includes investment in roadway infrastructure to ensure safety for all road users. In some cases we can make low cost investments that deliver the necessary safety improvements, like we were able to do on Pike and Pine streets.  Other times there are significant costs to make the necessary safety improvements, such as was the case on 2nd Ave.

Above all, it is also important to recognize that there can be significant costs to not making necessary safety improvements.  In the case of 2nd Ave., a cyclists and new mother, Sher Kung, was struck and killed four years ago while biking. The city paid a $3.1 million settlement in that death, but the incalculable loss to her family and community goes far beyond dollars.

As we work to make investments so that all road users are safe, we need to be smart in finding the most cost-effective ways to deliver the necessary safety improvements and in some locations there will be projects where it will require significant investments to correct a design that is inherently dangerous.  To meet our Vision Zero goals, I will continue to support safety improvements for all users.

Creating a Connected, Protected Bicycle Lane Network in Downtown

July 18th, 2018

Riding a bike is proven to keep communities healthy, and to reduce climate pollution, and approximately 60% of Seattleites want to bike more than they do now.  But today we heard loud and clear that the lack of safe, connected routes is cited as the number one reason why they don’t. In recent years there have been a series of commitments made about specific investments downtown, but many projects have been postponed putting Seattle behind our targets on ridership.

During the meeting of Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, which I chair, we introduced Resolution #31826 which memorializes the Seattle Center City Bike Network, and establishes an 18-month implementation schedule for creating a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle by the end of 2019.

I was joined by advocates from the Seattle Bike Advisory Board, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Cascade Bicycle Club and other people who ride bikes to express broad community support for a Bike Network that everyone can feel safe using.  Photos from today’s event are available online.

Together we reaffirmed our commitment to establishing a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle.  We also restated our commitment to achieve zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.  

The goal with today’s resolution is to single out safe infrastructure downtown which is the start or end of many trips in this city, and oftentimes the reason why many folks can’t or don’t ride a bike.  Today’s resolution is also the culmination of a series of conversations with advocates and SDOT, and building on our bike master plan that represents a larger commitment to riders in Seattle.

Given what’s at stake, it’s too expensive not to make these critical investments in completing the bike network for all to utilize and enjoy.

Expanding LEAD to North Seattle

July 3rd, 2018

Less than seven years ago, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, was little more than a local experiment aimed at breaking the cycle of arrest and incarceration. Initially launched with private foundation funds, the $950,000-a-year, four-year pilot program offered carefully chosen participants individualized alternatives to arrest.

Today, LEAD is one of the City’s ‘crown jewels’ with a proven track record of reducing crime and disorder through targeted outreach and social services to individuals.  Last week, Council’s Human Services, Equitable Development and Renters’ Rights committee heard a briefing on the Council’s intentto extend the hugely successful program to North Seattle with some emphasis on people living inside vehicles.  While LEAD is not specifically a homeless program, many participants experience homelessness and the program increases public safety and health for the whole community.

LEAD provides a tool for Seattle Police officers to refer individuals engaged in low level drug and sex work offenses to an intensive social services intervention program in lieu of arrest and prosecution. The impetus forLEAD spawned in 2005when the Public Defenders Association (PDA) collaborated with the Seattle Police Department, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the City of Seattle Attorney’s Office to address enforcement of disproportionately high numbers of Black people into incarceration.

Since its inception, community advocates have championed LEAD as a possible alternative to failed “tough on crime” policies plaguing North Seattle. In my district, and in neighboring districts of my colleaguesCouncilmember JohnsonandCouncilmember Juarezwe expect the LEAD expansion in North Seattle will allow police officers to connect people with social services instead of sending them to jail that can ensure more public safety. For people who live in their vehicles and others in North Seattle living in extreme poverty, this public safety program has the potential to reduce recidivism rates for individuals who commit low-level crimes.

The program cuts out the criminal-justice system and assigns voluntary participants to case workers, who can provide immediate help — a safe place to sleep or vehicular assistance to force compliance with parking laws, for instance — and longer-term services such as substance use treatment. Evergreen Treatment Services, a private nonprofit founded in 1973 with treatment facilities in Seattle and Olympia, was awarded the contract to develop and execute intervention plans for LEAD participants. In exchange for their participation, no criminal charges will be filed, even if someone later relapses.

According to the PDA,  there are presently approximately 350 active LEAD participants and an additional 2,000 people at any given time in Seattle who would be appropriate LEAD participants.  PDA has requested funding for a modest increase to allow a launch in 2018 in the North and South or Southwest Precincts, plus a plan to complete expansion over a period of 2-3 years, rather than take LEAD to scale citywide.

Despite widespread support for LEAD in North Seattle, there has been insufficient funding for case management and office space required to offer the program to new referrals in the North Precincts – until now. LEAD’s proven method of helping people in crisis on our streets is critical to our neighborhood stability.  Enthusiasm for LEAD has grown in neighborhoods like mine who are longing for a meaningful response to problems stemming from behavioral health needs and extreme poverty.

Changes to the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and what it means for your commute

June 26th, 2018

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted on  legislation that expands the uses of the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), which has generated approximately $50 million each year to meet demand for transit since 2015.

You may remember voting for Proposition 1, creating the STBD, in 2014. We invested big time in public transportation, and got big results. Now, 64% of Seattle residents are within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better transit service, compared to 25 percent two years ago. In District 6, the City’s investments in King County Metro improved weekday peak service on the D Line and 5/5x. We added new morning and evening trips on the 15, 17, 18 and 28 routes. We improved reliability and frequency on the D Line, 5/5x, 17, 18, 28, 40 and 45 routes. About 31 percent of all STBD investments thus far have benefited routes serving Ballard and Crown Hill.

The legislation would do a couple of things:

First, it would allow for STBD dollars to provide free ORCA passes to all Seattle high school students and low-income middle schoolers.

I’m proud of the work my committee has done to expand the Youth ORCA Pilot Program. During the 2017-2018 school year, 3,000 ORCA cards were given to middle and high school students. That equated to 408,000 trips, which saved the average student $206 during the school year.

This new legislation would fund the expansion of ORCA passes to 19,000 students. I believe every young person should have access to transit, regardless of where they live, what their income level is or where they go to school. When students have free access to public transit, they can better attend school, social activities, and seek employment opportunities.

Second, the legislation allows us to use more Seattle Transportation Benefit District dollars to increase the frequency and reliability of our most-used bus routes.

As more people have shifted their commutes to public transit, we’ve seen an increase in the demand for transit service. Routes in Seattle continue to be in high-demand, with many bus aisles overcrowded with standing-only riders. Unfortunately, King County Metro, which services many of Seattle’s routes, aren’t able to add many more buses, and they can’t hire and train new drivers fast enough.

This legislation will address those growing pains. It will allow the city to invest in routes with 65 percent of stops in Seattle city limits, instead of 80 percent. This is important because it enables us to fund more routes coming from outside city limits, which also serves the outer limits of our City. The E Line is an example of a route we can now improve using STBD dollars, when we couldn’t before.

The legislation will also allow STBD dollars to be used for capital investments that help buses move faster. These investments could include transit-only lanes, queue jumps, transit signal priority, and other strategies. Capital investments could also be made to enhance the passenger experience, such as off-board fare payment and stop improvements.

For more information about these changes, you can see the Seattle Department of Transportation’s presentation to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee here.






My Vote on the Employee Hours Tax

June 14th, 2018

Earlier today, I voted to repeal the proposed employee hours tax on Seattle’s top-grossing 3 percent of businesses. While the need hasn’t changed in the months since we started this conversation, it’s clear that we need to come together for the common good of our city.

My vote is not something I take lightly. I truly believe that the next 6 months of this fight would have been incredibly damaging to this City. From what I’ve heard over the last few weeks, it seems that the majority of Seattle residents would prefer to take a step back and “hit the reset button” on this issue.

A contentious ballot measure would have set the City up for a months-long battle that was not clear would be successful, and would have further paralyzed our ability to move forward with any kind of plan.

To be clear, the original proposal did have a plan. The City Council was ready to invest in solutions that have shown the most success in helping folks out of homelessness.

For example, we know that our affordable housing investments are making a difference, and are rigorously scrutinized as seen in the Office of Housing’s 2017 Annual Investments report, where they reported awarding $93.44 million in 2017 to build and preserve 1,450 affordable homes in neighborhoods across Seattle. We also have been implementing the “Pathways Home” recommendations of Barb Poppe, and in last year’s budget revamped our investments with an RFP that focused on extended-hour shelters and permanent supportive housing. Last year, King County saw a 35 percent increase in exits from homelessness over 2016, and the system permanently housed 8,100 households in 2017. The proposed spending plan would have built on those investments and expert recommendations, with the vast majority of funding recommended to go towards housing.

Many people ask: If we have these demonstrated successes, why is homelessness growing? A large factor is our lack of affordable housing. Over the past 7 years, average rents have increased in Seattle by 42 percent, fueled by unprecedented population growth in high wage earners (Rent Jungle, EOI). The lack of affordable housing means that a large rent increase, eviction, the loss of a job, or change in a family situation is more likely to put someone out on the street than in years past.

The 2018 Point in Time Count of Persons Experiencing Homelessness  demonstrates that the vast majority of homeless individuals come from the Seattle/King County area. Approximately 52 percent of survey respondents reported living in Seattle immediately prior to their loss of housing. An additional 31 percent of survey respondents reported living in broader King County, while 11 percent lived in another Washington county prior to their loss of housing.

Given these factors that contribute to our homelessness crisis, the recent McKinsey Report, produced for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, concluded that we need to dramatically increase our investments as a region in affordable housing.

I believed a proposal asking the top-grossing 3 percent of businesses to pay 14 cents an hour for every employee was a sensible down payment on addressing the broader regional homelessness needs in an environment where Washington State does not allow for income or capital gains taxes. And that it was particularly appropriate given that businesses received a 40 percent federal tax cut after the Federal Tax Bill passed in December 2017, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

So I call upon the businesses and community leaders who led the charge against the employee hours tax to join in a productive conversation that will help address the concerns we all share.

In this conversation, I hope that they will recognize the efforts the City has made to support business growth, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested over the last few years in improvements to South Lake Union, significant investments in transit service to our job centers, and a city-wide rezoning effort, the need for which is fueled by the growth in the tech sector. Our investments also include a new Denny electricity substation, costing over $200 million, which will deliver highly reliable electricity service that high tech businesses need to operate in our City.

Similar to our partnerships with businesses on all these efforts, I believe large businesses can and should invest in affordable housing as an integral part of our City infrastructure that allows everyone to thrive. If the business community does not agree with investing in the Pathways Home strategy, I look forward to seeing their other ideas, which will perhaps be reflected in the Mayor’s proposed budget this Fall.

My door is always open to anyone who wants to engage in a solutions-oriented approach to this crisis. In the absence of the employee hours tax, I will start immediately working on ideas for alternative revenue streams to fund the necessary investments in housing and homeless services. I also expect the Mayor to play a leadership role in bringing the city together around a shared vision to reduce the crisis. In the meantime, I will continue to work on the policies and programs that I believe will help with the crisis. These policies and programs include: LEAD expansion to the North Precinct; establishing a Community Service Officer Program; ongoing work to support tenants’ rights, among other efforts.

As always, thank you for your continued engagement with my office.

© 1995-2018 City of Seattle