As council members fight for their last opportunity to fund their favorite projects in the City’s 2023-2024 budget, this week Council Member Tammy Morales submitted a plan to save her green housing program from the chopping block. Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda left that program out of her balancing package in favor of existing projects and recommendations from the Green New Deal oversight board. But, as the climate crisis and affordability crisis persist, that rationale failed to appease Morales and other green housing champions.
To find the money for green housing, Morales now seeks to cut funding for the Mayor’s #OneSeattle volunteer day and a street clean-up program.
“[Mosqueda’s reasoning is] not compelling at all,” said Tiffani McCoy, co-chair of House Our Neighbors (HON), which runs I-135, the ballot initiative to establish a public housing developer.
“We're not anywhere near meeting our climate goals, nor are we anywhere near scratching the surface of digging ourselves out of our affordability crisis,” McCoy said. “Deficit or not, these are priorities that should never be kicked down the road.”
The Road to More Affordable Housing
Morales’s rejected amendment would spend a little more than $1 million over two years to establish a Municipal Housing Administration program. The funding pays for four full-time employees that would develop, acquire, and maintain “permanently affordable, mixed-income” housing that the City government owns, essentially saving some housing stock from market whims and setting up infrastructure for I-135.
As I-135 supporter and Transit Riders Union General Secretary Katie Wilson said in a phone interview, Morales’s amendment and I-135 wouldn’t just address the housing crisis. Those policies would help combat the climate crisis as well. That’s because any kind of affordable housing would allow people to live close to where they work, making it easier for them to rely on public transit, which is better for the environment. Additionally, I-135 would force the public development authority to adopt strict environmental standards known as “Passivhaus.”
Green social housing is not just Morales’s pet project. Thousands of signatures for I-135 suggest a desire for these projects, and the support from the amendment’s co-sponsors, Council Members Alex Pedersen and Andrew Lewis, show it appeals to more than just the progressives.
Why Mosqueda Skipped it Anyway
But as the City grapples with a huge operating deficit and a grim revenue forecast, the budget cannot include all of the Mayor’s priorities nor all 100 amendments proposed by the council. Mosqueda made that reality crystal clear in her remarks when she unveiled her compromise budget last Monday. In that press conference, Mosqueda said she took a red pen to proposals she deemed “nice-to-haves” to keep the necessities and also cut most new programs in order to maintain existing ones.
Besides, Mosqueda funded other programs to help the dual housing and environmental crises. Her two-year balancing package allocates a “historic” $253 million into the Office of Housing for affordable housing and $40 million in Green New Deal Investments.
McCoy called bullshit on Mosqueda’s “nice-to-have” explanation, arguing the City can do more.
“There's ample money, there's just not a political will to cut from the fat where it is,” she said.
A supporter of the Solidarity Budget, McCoy said the council could start by cutting funding from the Seattle Police Department, particularly for unfillable “ghost cop,” positions. Though the council already eliminated 80 unfillable positions in its balancing package, the organizers behind the Solidarity Budget called for the council to cut 40 more.
McCoy also suggested the council skip the months-long progressive revenue task force and just implement one of the ideas that the 2018 task force already recommended to get more money faster.
“You're never going to convince me that addressing the climate crisis and affordability crisis needs to wait,” McCoy said.
Wilson echoed a similar sentiment. While sympathetic to the City’s financial situation, she thought that Morales’s proposal represented a “modest expense.”
Soooo, What’s the Plan?
On Wednesday, Morales submitted a proposal to save her program from the scythe. Her plan would cut $500,000 in spending over two years from the Mayor’s Day of Service, which is a day where Seattleites can wear matching T-shirts and pick up litter. It would also cut just over $500,000 in spending from a Durkan-era street cleaning program that used to get federal funding. The Mayor’s Fellow Program, which gives students public service internships, would also get slashed, saving $28,000 for housing.
Social housing advocates liked the sound of that.
“Maybe instead of the Mayor’s one day feel-good volunteer thing, we should be setting ourselves up for a massive affordable housing expansion,” Wilson said.
It’s possible that other council members will target the same funding sources for their own priorities, especially the volunteer day program. It’s sort of low-hanging fruit. But those fights will unfold during Monday’s budget meeting.