Last night, Seattle's slate of mayoral candidates participated in a housing and homelessness candidate forum sponsored by We Are In, a self-described "education and awareness project" funded by the "Campion Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Raikes Foundation, and Ballmer Group, with support by Microsoft Philanthropies, Vulcan, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of King County."
The city's homelessness response ranks as one of the top issues facing Seattle mayoral candidates as we enter year six of a homelessness civil emergency, and as the end of the eviction moratorium threatens to uproot many struggling renters.
Which candidates want to bring more people to/at/on/in The Table? Which want to build bridges (disclaimer: not the bridges we actually need)? And which want to propose actual, tangible policies? I'll spell it out for you.
Former Council President Bruce Harrell, former Chief Seattle Club executive director Colleen Echohawk, former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, architect Andrew Grant Houston, Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller, and SEED director Lance Randall discussed their vision for solving the crisis.
Council President Lorena Gonzalez did not attend the forum because her housing situation is currently unstable. (Earlier this month, a house fire killed her mother-in-law and damaged her condo.) Rep. Nicole Macri, who regularly fights for tenant protections in Olympia, gave a statement in Gonzalez's stead:
Thank you @votenicolemacri for filling in during today's forum. Here's Rep. Macri's statement. pic.twitter.com/kAnj1Gmg31
— M. Lorena González (@MLorenaGonzalez) May 26, 2021
Only one candidate brought up progressive revenue
Last year McKinsey estimated that King County needed to raise "an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion per year for the next ten years" over and above what the county currently spends in order to actually address the homelessness crisis.
Harrell said he'd use "every tax revenue" available to solve the homelessness crisis, but that only seems to include existing taxes. He claimed the city has "lost the trust of the people—and those who write the checks!" His plan for regaining the trust of those check-writers involves creating a new dashboard for people to see their dollars at work.
Houston was the only candidate to plainly say that he would look toward progressive revenue to bolster Seattle's homelessness response. In the past, Farrell has said she'd use progressive revenue to fund her "ST3 for housing," but she didn't say that last night.
How will the candidates stop evictions?
What's a mayor gotta do to stop people from losing their housing?
Sixkiller wants to give around 16,000 low-income families $500 a month through a basic income program, a solution he relied on to solve several of the evening's issues. Big Andrew Yang energy.
Harrell said he'd increase emergency rental services by investing in flex funds to get people rehoused, but he mainly talked about his familiar plan to create a Seattle jobs center, a place where people could find jobs to earn money to "fix their car" or "buy a plane ticket to reunite with their family," a sentiment that recalls a less generous version of King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn's failed Homeward Bound plan to spend $1 million on bus tickets to send some homeless people back to their out-of-town families.
Echohawk said her first move would be to extend the eviction moratorium.
Randall's plan involved the city facilitating conversations between landlords and tenants so the two could work out payment plans.
Farrell would create policies that use "creativity and pragmatism" to keep renters in their homes. No word on what those policies would be.
Houston said he'd eliminate single-family zoning, the land-use restrictions that prevent diverse, dense housing on around 70% of Seattle land. He'd also raise the minimum wage.
A quick aside on zoning
On a question specifically about single-family zoning, Harrell, Randall, and Sixkiller said they wanted to find creative solutions for denser housing in zone-restricted areas. They cited relaxing laws around Accessory Dwelling Units—or, legalizing mother-in-law cottages—as one example. Seattle already did that in 2019.
We know where Houston stands on legalizing apartments all over the city.
Echohawk said, emphasis mine, "We need to *think* about that" because new housing "needs to be deeply, *deeply* affordable."
Farrell offered abstract support for eliminating single-family zoning in places "like" the Talaris development—a hotly-contested plot of land in the ritzy part of North Seattle—so "there's affordability in a neighborhood like Laurelhurst." She didn't specify what exactly she would do with Talaris. The current debate is whether to put a bunch of mansions in the area or create affordable housing.
A special shout-out
Randall's Zoom background was a drawing of himself:
Everyone gave the answer you'd expect on the Compassion Seattle charter amendment, the prospective ballot measure to put homelessness response priorities and encampment sweeps into Seattle's constitution without specifying any new funding sources. Several lawyers have raised concerns over the amendment's legality.
Harrell, Randall, and Sixkiller supported the amendment.
Sixkiller went long, further cementing himself as the sweeps candidate.
"I think importantly [the charter amendment] underscores that a cross-section of our city wants to see more progress," Sixkiller said. "It wants to see progress now especially as we’re moving toward reopening." I interpreted this to mean that businesses don't want tents in the way as customers return to stores.
Sixkiller continued: "Parks are not places for individuals to call homes. We need to work harder at getting those individuals into safe spaces and returning those parks back to their intended uses. So far I’m the only candidate who’s committed to doing that from day one." It's true, he's the only clear pro-sweeps candidate.
Echohawk rebuked the charter amendment, calling it a bad policy because it mandated increased housing construction and adding human services without providing any funding. She also didn't like that the amendment drafters didn't consult people with lived homelessness experience.
Her response is interesting because Echohawk sang the praises of the charter amendment back in April, saying that she was "hopeful" about the plan and that it "mirrors" her own homelessness platform.
Oh boy, the spiciest part of the evening—and this is like, two drops of Cholula spicy, nothing serious—occurred when candidates responded to a question about how they'd use federal funds to move people into housing.
The background here is that Durkan reportedly did not want to use available FEMA funds to house homeless people in hotel rooms during the pandemic because she didn't believe the funds could be allocated for necessary services. Homelessness providers, city council members, and even FEMA disagreed. Sixkiller, who's in charge of the homelessness response under Durkan, patently denied that this happened. "There has been no point that the city of Seattle has left money on the sidelines," Sixkiller said, calling any other narrative "false."
Echohawk, who worked with the Durkan administration on the hoteling strategy, said she believed that "there were FEMA dollars left on the table." Again with these tables, smh.
Farrell chimed in to say Durkan should release her texts.
Houston, who works in Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda's office as a legislative aide, said that he knew the FEMA money could be used to house people.
"I'm not going to sit here and listen to another candidate lie about what the funding could or could not do," Houston said. Houston later posted a video of himself lipsyncing to Demi Lovato's "Sorry Not Sorry" with the caption "When you call out a candidate for LYING in a public forum." He also vague tweeted this video:
Sharing without comment.https://t.co/hv2bpDU0EN
— AGH: Local Gemini and Candidate for Seattle Mayor (@TheUrbanAce) May 26, 2021
We've got a long mayoral race ahead of us! Here's hoping some of these candidates drop out so nine-question forums don't last two hours anymore. Maybe the next forum could be a cage match? Just kidding, that's basically how the Stranger Election Control Board endorsement meetings already go.