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Pitting Struggling Small Business and Working People’s Needs During the COVID19 Crisis: Business as Usual for Seattle’s Political Establishment

This week, I voted against a City Council bill that takes money away from low-income affordable housing and puts those funds towards small business pandemic relief. As I said in my remarks during the meeting, working people, struggling small businesses – the majority marginalized in a system that prioritizes extreme wealth for a few – have to reject the divide and conquer strategy by the establishment. This is an incredibly wealthy city. What’s missing in City Hall is the political will to tax large corporations like Amazon to ensure the burden of the COVID-19 crisis does not fall on working people or small businesses. That’s why we will need to get organized in the grassroots.

My remarks below:

“I have concerns about this bill from the Mayor, and I have the concern that it will not be just this bill, but that it is going to start becoming a pattern from the emergency orders that come from the Mayor, and this will be an ongoing issue. I have shared my concerns with Councilmember Morales in advance, but want to share my concerns here as well and explain what I intend to do with this bill here today in terms of a vote.

It funds relief for small businesses, which I absolutely support. In fact, it was my office along with community members that was able to fight for small business within the Central District a couple of years ago, and win $650,000.00 which was unprecedented for struggling POC-owned businesses that we were able to win through organizing. There is no question that small businesses are struggling, as well as the vast majority of working people that are reeling from this crisis. 


However this bill would pay for small businesses by cutting the Low-Income Housing Fund, and I oppose that cut.  I agree with Councilmembers who said it’s accurate that it does not come from “currently planned projects”, that is true, but it takes away from the next round of projects, the projects of the 2020 Notice Of Funding Availability.

My office checked thoroughly with City Council Central Staff, and they estimate that if this million dollars [is cut], if these housing funds are not made whole, this could cost 10 individuals or families affordable homes to live in during this crisis. That is a concrete loss that could happen if we do not take care – and I do not understand why we need to do that. There is actually a lot of money in this city, it’s just in the hands of the wealthy and big business. 

It would be reasonable to ask whether the affordable housing construction was being suspended right now in accordance with social distancing guidelines, or shelter in place that is being anticipated. However, Central Staff checked with the Office of Housing, and they report that the Spring 2020 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) went out as planned, even in this crisis. So either it will affect the scheduled affordable housing for this year, or it will not affect this year but will affect affordable housing on an ongoing basis.  

Regardless of whether this $1 million comes out of the Spring or Fall NOFA, and regardless of whether or not construction was suspended, the fundamental problem that I’m objecting to, is this “robbing Peter to pay Paul” approach used by the Mayor, I am anticipating more emergency orders of this kind and the Council needs to take action. I think all of this is being done in order to avoid taking on big business and so we will have a perpetuation of this politics of scarcity, which I don’t accept. Both struggling small businesses and working families need to be supported, and their needs should not be pitted against each other.

The City of Seattle has an Emergency Fund of $66 million that is reserved explicitly for emergencies like this. We should be using those emergency funds rather than cutting affordable housing. 

Councilmembers may argue that the Emergency Fund will have many other demands on it, that is true. But we know that $66 million can only scratch the surface of what is needed to support our community at this moment. We are in a pandemic that is going to result not only in completely preventable loss of life (due to the criminal privatized healthcare system), but depression-like economic effects, with the Fed estimating a 30 percent unemployment rate in the second quarter. That is devastating. That is why Councilmember Morales and I are putting forward the Amazon Tax. Though even that won’t be enough. The City should use the Emergency Fund for immediate needs, and immediately approve the Amazon Tax to make additional funds available and we need to demand that the State also act by closing corporate tax loopholes and passing big business taxes and taxes on the wealthy at the State level.

My office checked with Central Staff about possibly amending the bill to change the source of funding to be the Emergency Fund, but because that would require a title change, it cannot legally be done in the same bill. 

That is why if Councilmember Morales or any other Councilmember were to make a motion to hold this bill from a vote today I will support that motion or I will make that motion if no other Councilmember makes it. I don’t agree if Councilmembers are going to say that such a motion holds up emergency relief, today the council could pass an Amazon Tax and make relief available, so I wouldn’t accept that excuse on its face value. Again I will make that motion if nobody else makes that motion. If that motion gets a majority vote, we would then easily put forward a replacement bill to use the Emergency Funds instead of affordable housing funds. If you agree, my office is happy to rapidly put this together.

If Councilmembers are concerned that these funds need to be CDBG (community development block grant)  money in order to legally be used for this purpose and the Emergency Fund does not come from CDBG – we all know that this problem is easily solved by using CDBG money from any other part of the budget and then back-filling it with Emergency Funds.

I will use the guidance of the council president and the city clerk to make that motion. I also want to say that if this bill goes ahead today, I unfortunately feel I have to vote No on it, for the reasons I have just explained. We cannot adequately address this crisis by simply shifting the damage back and forth between working people. We need a fundamentally different approach.”

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