When Seattle council members in June repealed the city's head tax—which would've raised $47.4 million a year taxing the largest 3 percent of businesses—advocates who had long been pushing for more funding toward affordable housing were left with little hope that they'd ever see that money.
For those same advocates, mayor Jenny Durkan's budget proposal was a major disappointment. Durkan's budget proposal includes a total of $89.5 million for next year toward housing and homeless services, just about $3 million more than this year.
"I'm very disheartened that this budget does not appear to include any new homeless housing dollars," Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition of Homelessness, told PubliCola after the budget's release. "We need to see serious investments in housing that everybody, every informed voice on this topic agrees is the long-term answer to the affordable housing and homelessness crisis."
Now, Seattle council member Kshama Sawant is calling to cut large chunks of funding proposed for other services—$48 million worth—and instead redirect them toward affordable housing. She criticized other council members for the head tax repeal and said politicians will continue to "buckle under the bullying of Amazon," at the same time urging council members to back up her plan.
"We cannot rely on corporate politicians to get this done," Sawant said at a press conference Wednesday morning. "It's been months later and we haven't seen a plan B."
Her proposed solution would make drastic cuts in other departments: $7.7 million from homeless encampment sweeps; $7.1 million dedicated to new computers in police cars; $1 million from city street tolls; $666,000 from mayor and council member salaries; $5.1 million on city executive salaries, another $14.5 million by reducing the number of city executives; and $12 million on new officer hiring.
As the city anticipates economic growth to slow down in the next few years—and less revenue to come in—Durkan promised she won't pursue new taxes. Budget director Ben Noble has said with the money they currently anticipate, the city has enough to sustain its current services, not to add to them.
Seattle is running out of options to fund the affordable housing that advocates have been wanting for years and that experts say would address the homelessness crisis. Tim Harris, founding director of Real Change, called the head tax repeal a "betrayal" and supports Sawant's proposal to recover that funding by other means.
But the cuts would need the support from at least four other council members to pass as part of its overall budget package. Durkan will also have to sign off on the budget that the council approves.
Those are major hurdles to overcome for such major changes that could jeopardize relationships with other departments, such as Seattle Police. Sawant hasn't consulted other council members before her release Wednesday, her legislative aide Ted Virdone said.
"There's this thing I keep hearing, which is that in a city this wealthy, nobody should have to live in a tent," Harris said at the press conference Wednesday. "But it's not enough to just say that. We have to take action, we have to do something about it."