The Seattle City Council voted “Yes” on Wednesday, Nov. 16 to add an additional $29 million to the 2017-18 Seattle budget—money that will help fund affordable housing.
The decision is considered a victory for those facing gentrification and homelessness, but councilmember Kshama Sawant, along with the affordable housing coalition and some community members, say it is not enough.
Councilmember Sawant rallies the crowd at Fast for Justice, a protest for workers’ rights Seattle U faculty members joined last spring.
During the City Council decision meeting, the stands were filled with community members rallying to support Sawant’s legislation to add $160 million in public funding for the housing crisis. Despite their efforts, the final vote towards the $160 million alternative—which is estimated to create one thousand additional affordable homes—was voted against by seven votes to two.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s winning plan is 18 percent of Sawant’s plan and is estimated to create an additional 200 homes. The “1000 homes” rally members held down their protest signs as the final verdict came with a simple yes or no.
As the rally members began their descent out of City Hall, a slight echo was heard from above. Members of the affordable housing coalition stood in a circle and chanted, “We are ready to fight. Housing is a human right.” They clapped, cheered and agreed to meet up again on Nov. 21, when all of the councilmembers’ changes to Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget would be voted on.
“Through Kshama Sawant’s office and more than 70 organizations, we built a phenomenal 1000 homes coalition,” said Adam Ziemkowski, legislative assistant for Sawant and member of the organization Socialist Alternative. “This debate never would have happened if not for our coalition movement, and a victory of 30 million dollars definitely wouldn’t have happened either.”
Mayor Ed Murray’s original budget proposal already includes $54 million in affordable housing. Murray opposed Sawant’s proposed reform, which councilmembers Tim Burgess and Debra Juarez called “fiscally irresponsible.”
Sawant planned to fund her proposal through housing bonds that would be paid off over the next 30 years. Burgess and Juarez argued that her use of loaned money would create financial problems for the city later on, especially through the amount of interest that would accumulate.
Sawant argues that her plan is allocating the financial plan from the North Precinct Police station remodel, giving affordable housing priority and killing the budget for the precinct altogether, calling it “unnecessary.”
The North Precinct Police Project has stirred controversy, seeing as the original plan would have used $100 million in bond money as well, and is now being reevaluated, is off next year’s budget, and 15 million is being put aside. All other councilmembers, aside from Sawant and Mike O’Brien, support the need for a new facility. However, its budget is now under review.
“They seem to have built the coalition for a 1000 excuses,” Ziemkowski said. “A powerful grassroots movement led by young people of color forced the council, forced the mayor, back on their plans to build a police precinct.”
The vote between Herbold’s and Sawant’s budget stood as a city-level movement to create urgency for the affordable housing and homelessness crisis the city is facing. The very low-income standards for Seattle make up 30-50 percent of the area median incomes. If you are in the “very low” range, an affordable rent for a 1 bedroom is $813 per month, including utilities. The average Seattle rent is $1279, excluding utilities.
“The way that we develop our budget as a city is a direct reflecting off our values,” said Amy Robinson, a volunteer director for Seattle organization, Housing Now. “You can’t address someone’s needs for unemployment, food or other things, until they have a stable place to live.”
Robinson is a Presbyterian minister. She says her interest in affordable housing stems from her belief in holistically healthy communities, and her own personal calling to help in the healing of the city. When Sawant stood during the meeting, she thanked the 70 organizations that backed her legislation, three-dozen of them being faith congregations.
“You can’t just throw money at the problem, you also can’t not throw money at the problem,” said Alex Broner, Director of Welcome Communities Washington and member of Housing Now. “We can always do more. So really bringing cutting edge building techniques, really aggressively bidding these things out, really opening up the zoning code to allow more housing to be built more cheaply, all these things can get us more bang for our buck when it comes to housing dollars.”
In order for Seattle to keep up with its growing population, it is estimated that 70,000 new units must be built within the next 20 years. 28,000 of those will need to be affordable housing for residents making 80 percent or less of the area’s median income.
On Monday, Nov. 21, the Seattle City Council passed the city’s 2017-18 budget package with an 8-1 vote. Only councilmember Sawant was opposed.
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