As the former director of the Tenants Union who abstained from a vote in the Grand Bargain, Jon Grant shaped the conversation around affordable housing early in the Seattle City Council Position 8 race with an ambitious goal: demanding that the city require 25 percent of new development to be dedicated to affordable housing, well over the 2-9 percent range.
It's a number city officials have said would slow down development and, ultimately, the progress of affordable units, pointing to other cities like San Francisco that have tried it. Grant disagrees, and said it's up to the council to set "practical" targets that challenge the status quo.
"The criticism that it's impossible doesn't come from nowhere," Grant told PubliCola. "It comes from somewhere in particular—and it comes from political candidates, and it comes from developers who support those political candidates."
Grant quit his job at Solid Ground and took over as director of the Tenants Union during a budget crisis, and for years worked "seven days a week," he said, countless hours; he said under his leadership, the organization doubled its budget, opened an office in Spokane, and successfully lobbied for the city's rental inspection ordinance as well as several bills in Olympia. The Stranger reported some employees had also been dissatisfied with his leadership.
"I didn't know if I'd still have a job three weeks into it," Grant said. And his experience at the Tenants Union "shaped my world view in a very radical way."
It's not Jon Grant's first time running for city council. Grant challenged Tim Burgess for his at-large seat in 2015—but this time, Grant says he has the Democracy Voucher program can be a game changer.
"We ran a very grassroots campaign. We got outspent eight to one," said Grant, adding that the democracy vouchers allowed candidates to push an "explicitly community-driven agenda."
Grant said he had no interest in being part of the city council—until he got to know council member Nick Licata, who inspired him to run for office.
"For a very long time, I really believed that the way that you made change is through community organizing and community pressure," Grant said. "I think Nick was Kshama before there was Kshama. ...You just knew that whatever position he was taking that he would be on the side of the community."
Grant, a democratic socialist, is vying for the far-left progressive vote and has been neck-and-neck in fundraising with his biggest challenger, Teresa Mosqueda. Grant already raised close to the limit of $300,000 up to the general election by beginning of July, and both he and Mosqueda got permission from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to spend over their limit of $150,000 for the primary.
Labor groups strongly back Mosqueda, and so do the majority of Seattle city council members (five of her would-be colleagues); and when Kshama Sawant endorsed Grant, labor leader Nicole Grant blasted the decision as a "tragedy."
In response, Grant told PubliCola he "very seriously" considered dropping out of the race when Mosqueda entered it. But Mosqueda didn't take his position on the 25 percent number for affordable housing.
"I have a great deal of respect for both Nicole Grant and Teresa Mosqueda," Grant told PubliCola. "I want to greatly increase the affordability mandate to 25 percent and thats not a position my opponent was willing to take. ...There is no one else in the race who's taking a hard line on affordability and police accountability."
Grant's been endorsed by two council members, Sawant and Lisa Herbold (who was on the Tenants Union board when it hired Grant), as well as by editorial boards The Stranger and Seattle Weekly largely for his stances on affordable housing and police accountability.
He wants collective bargaining negotiations with police unions to be public, and for the Community Police Commission to be able to instigate investigations for the inspector general and to fire the police chief. He also wants non-citizens to be able to vote in Seattle's municipal elections.
Grant took a stand on Mayor Ed Murray less than a week after sexual assault allegations surfaced against Mayor Ed Murray.
“I can’t imagine the bravery it takes for a survivor to confront an abuser. Especially when that alleged abuser is the most powerful politician in our city," Grant wrote on Facebook. "We live in a society that stacks the deck against survivors of abuse to come out publicly, which perpetuates cycles of abuse and violence. I choose to believe survivors.”
Herbold, who was a legislative aide to Licata and helped hire Grant for the Tenants Union, told PubliCola she respects Grant for his commitment to vulnerable people, and his ability to bring people together.
"There's very few people I know that work as hard as he does," Herbold said. "He knows how important it is to change, to not use the voice of advocates to push for change but to actually mobilize impacted parties to tell us themselves."