My Priorities for an Employee Hours Tax

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No matter your view on the proposed employee hours tax, there’s a strong consensus that there is a homelessness crisis that needs to be solved. This crisis facing our city and our region is human and visible and growing. By the last count 8,522 people were experiencing homelessness in Seattle. While I continue to hear frustration that the City is just ‘throwing money at the problem,’ I believe that we are making strategic, results-oriented investments. In 2016, King County saw 6,128 exits to permanent housing, and through Seattle’s Office of Housing, we invested $93.4 million into 1,478 new and preserved affordable housing units in 2017.

These investments are succeeding in getting people off the streets, yet the increasing rate of homelessness is outpacing our efforts. As our city experiences historic growth we must reckon with the economic disparity it creates; studies show that a 5 percent rent increase in Seattle pushes over 250 people into homelessness. And during a time when rents and the cost of housing are skyrocketing, so too are our numbers of neighbors falling into homelessness.

Any solution to help address our homelessness crisis, in my opinion, must produce immediate results and protect the long term economic health of the city. I believe we – not just this council but the mayor and other agencies in jurisdictions up and down the west coast – have a moral obligation to offer our unsheltered neighbors safer and healthier living arrangements than our sidewalks, parks, and freeway ramps.

I want to vote in support of a solution that gets more people inside, but as I contemplate the decision around the Employee Hours Tax (EHT), I have been clear with my colleagues that my support will depend on four aspects of the proposal under consideration:

  1. I believe that the bill should include a request for affirmative renewal. The state of emergency in which we are currently operating requires us to look at all the resources available to address our homelessness crisis. But I have confidence that we will reach a time when we are no longer in that state of emergency. Thus, treating this proposed revenue more like a levy, with an affirmative renewal requirement built in, affords us a degree of flexibility that is important to me.
  2. A second priority of mine is the desire to build more affordable housing, not dedicating our limited resources towards debt service. Utilizing a pay as you go model maximizes our investments and ultimately allows us to deliver more units. This model has been a hallmark of our process as a city in building affordable housing and one I strongly support.
  3. Another clear goal I have is that we land on a revenue source that falls between $25-75 million. That was the initial goal outlined in Resolution 31782 and one I feel we should remain within. I believe a proposed $250 tax finds a good middle ground with a total impact of $40 million per year.
  4. Lastly, as one of the whereas clauses in this ordinance states, “this collaborative effort requires the active engagement of interested and affected stakeholders, including non-profit organizations, affordable housing providers, faith and civic leaders, businesses, labor, and community members.” I believe it is important that we adhere to an approach that can and will get the support of these different stakeholder groups. No matter the final number we land on through an employee hours tax, we know we need our city funds to be leveraged by a massive regional investment in affordable housing, requiring the support and engagement from these parties.

With the final vote currently anticipated to take place on Monday, May 14, I wanted to share what will be impacting my decision. I want to thank my council colleagues for their hard work on this topic and all who have been engaging with us and sharing their thoughts. We all want to succeed in bringing our neighbors inside.