On November 3, 2015, one day after the Mayor issued a Proclamation of Civil Emergency on homelessness, I joined homeless organizers, social justice activists, and social service providers to deliver a statement. I then addressed the Council on the need to produce a response that is in proportion to the crisis. View my speech below.
I’m glad to see that homelessness in Seattle is finally being recognized by City Hall for the emergency that it is. We owe a debt of gratitude to the tireless activists from Nickelsville, SHARE/WHEEL, and Real Change – many of you here – as well as the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, One Night Count volunteers, and the affordable housing and transit activists who continue to make this issue a priority.
Needless to say, I support this $5 million commitment, along with every other budget amendment this year we could possibly make to further homeless services and affordable housing. However, we also have to be clear – this $5 million is far less than one percent of the City’s budget, and is not in proportion with the scale of the crisis.
The Seattle Human Services Coalition has recommended that a bare minimum of $15 million is necessary for the Coalition to have an impact on their ability to provide basic critical services. I sincerely hope that the Council will follow up on today’s action and the spirit of this proclamation, with a commitment to take every opportunity to support homeless services – including rapidly moving on the Seattle Human Services Coalition recommendation of $15 million, keeping in mind that the $15 million is a scaled down option that they have provided. In reality we need far more than that to actually address the problem.
To put the scale of the $5 million in another context, the Seattle Police Department recently exceeded its own overtime budget without consultation with the Council by $14 million – almost three times the amount being put forward to resolve the State of Emergency for homelessness. Therefore I have sent out a letter co-signed by leaders of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), the Transit Riders Union, Seattle Human Services Coalition, the Young Christian Women’s Association, Real Change, and more, who are all saying something similar to what Councilmember Licata just said – the ‘Rainy Day Fund’ of the City should be used to address this emergency, because for many of us it’s pouring right now.
We need to build the political will to address this emergency with more than words and token amounts of funding. The City’s ‘Rainy Day Fund’ is worth $100 million, along with the Emergency Subfund. The Mayor and the City Council have now acknowledged that this is an emergency. So we should be using a significant portion of that fund to bolster services.
We should be doing other things as well. We should be revisiting proposals for progressive taxation, such as the business head tax. We need the Council to be diligent in making sure that the funds that we have already allocated by majority vote are dispersed without delays to SHARE and Nickelsville. The residents of the encampment are still waiting on the Human Services Department to release the funds that, as I have said, have been democratically allocated for affordable toilet services and garbage removal.
We should also be revisiting the bonding capacity issue to build thousands of units upfront of affordable housing. I have passed around copies of a memo (PDF) that the Office of Housing sent to Councilmember Licata’s office to investigate five funding models for non-profit organizations building affordable housing, and my Legislative Aide Adam Ziemkowski has copies for the audience. This is a very important memo. Some of these options are relatively affordable, and can be scaled up to build the thousands of units we so desperately need. And I really wanted to echo the sentiments that were stated by people who spoke in public comment – we don’t want people to have temporary shelter, we want people to have housing because it’s their right by virtue of being a human being.
We also need to continue building the movement for rent control. Our movement has already achieved a key victory – we have a majority of the Council that has already signed the resolution urging Olympia to repeal the ban on rent control. But as was mentioned by somebody in the audience earlier, economists have found a link between homelessness and rent increases. A study that was published recently by the Journal of Urban Affairs showed that, statistically speaking, on average, around the country, an increase of $100 in median rent corresponds to a 15% increase in the homeless population. I think now that we have a clear link – our experience already shows this, but economists have now shown that there is a clear link between rent increases and an increase in homelessness – it is absolutely rational and reasonable for the City of Seattle to begin looking into a serious passage of rent stabilization policy next year.
And in closing, I would say that after years of pressure and organizing, including the 2014 and 2015 People’s Budget Town Halls, we’re finally seeing initial results as the political establishment recognizes this as an important emergency situation. Now let’s make sure that elected officials seriously act on it.