Seattle has been battered by multiple ongoing crises, exacerbated by the 16 months of pandemic restrictions.
These include mass homelessness, policing reform, affordable housing and an economy that is a shadow of itself from two years ago.
These challenges require the next mayor to be a nimble thinker, solution-seeking with the ability to bring, or herd, the city’s disparate political factions along. Seattle has much ground to make up and can ill afford a mayor unready to make progress from day one.
The homelessness crisis belongs at the top of this agenda and should be the first lens through which voters judge each candidate. The city has inexcusably flailed for years at reducing tent encampments in parks, sidewalks, roadsides and business entrances.
People living in tents deserve safer places to rebuild their lives and assistance overcoming their individual challenges. The failure to provide enough of this help is a catastrophe
A ballot proposal to write homelessness policy into the city charter elevates this crisis to the priority it deserves. Voters should approve Compassion Seattle this November. First, it puts rigid instructions into the city’s foundational law to build 2,000 individual housing units fast — within a year — and budget for more services to help people toward stability. Second, it also creates a direct mandate for leaders to act effectively, which turns up the political heat.
This proposal should drive the mayoral
debate in the weeks before the Aug. 3 primary. The editorial board asked eight leading candidates for mayor to explain whether they support Compassion Seattle, and if not, to provide their better solution.
Their answers are below, edited for length. Three support the amendment and gave insightful reasons for doing so. Two others said no, but offered counterproposals with multilayered policy heft and some merit. The others did not answer with robust proposals, casting serious doubt on their readiness for this job at this time. Their answers are listed alphabetically. The editorial board will publish its endorsement later this week.
SUPPORTING COMPASSION SEATTLE
Jessyn Farrell is a senior vice president at Civic Ventures, a public policy strategy group founded by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, and served in the Legislature from 2013-2017. She said she supports Compassion Seattle because of the “failure of elected leadership” on homelessness.
“We all agree we need more housing. We need more services. And from the housing perspective, we need both interim housing, short-term things like tiny homes, hotels — which we’ve learned in COVID are so effective — and we need to build more permanent supportive housing. And the most important part of [Compassion Seattle] to me is that, if it passes, we can stop arguing about what it is that we need to do and actually go do it. There is a critique, which is, it really is only as good as the next mayor, because it really means then that we are going to be turning toward implementation. Now, I am going to be very clear: I do not support sweeps. The language, I have looked at it very closely, creates a lot of discretion for the next mayor. But again, that is why having someone who has the experience in building broad coalitions to move forward on public policy matters so much because we broadly agree on what the solutions are, and again, Compassion Seattle lays that out very clearly.”
Bruce Harrell is an attorney, former acting mayor and former president of the Seattle City Council, on which he served from 2008-2020. He supports Compassion Seattle because “inaction is completely unacceptable” on the city’s current trajectory.
“It does fund treatment services and talks loudly about the treatment position. It does talk about open parks and public spaces, which, quite candidly, are in a state now where I think that we need urgent action. That’s one of the reasons why I was the only elected official or candidate or person speaking loudly showing up at Broadview-Thomson elementary school. It addresses the public-health and safety obligation. And it requires the publishing of a specific plan, which the voters desperately want, they want to see measurements, they want to see outcomes, they want to see cost per unit, cost per person. It requires 12% of a special dedicated fund to specify, at a minimum, those investments will be made. … It requires diversion from the criminal legal system, which is a critical component toward helping people recover. It does eliminate congregate shelters, which is something we hear repeatedly out there in the field. And it requires the regional work.”
Casey Sixkiller is a former deputy mayor of Seattle, King County chief operating officer and political consultant in Washington, D.C. He said he supports Compassion Seattle as “a wake-up call to every elected official across the state” to step up homelessness response.
“Some components of Compassion Seattle I also agree with because for the past six months, we’ve been using exactly those tools, creating emergency housing, creating safe space for people to come inside. And since the beginning of the year, we’ve gotten over 350 people inside, out of our parks, off our streets and started to return those spaces back to their intended uses. Miller Park is a great example of that. When you’re intentional in your strategy, and you invest in the things that you know work, and you do it in partnership with community organizations, and is clear eyed about what your objective is, you can do it. Compassion Seattle gives us the tools to continue to do that across the city.”
AGAINST COMPASSION SEATTLE BUT OFFERING DETAILED PLANS
Colleen Echohawk is the former executive director of the Chief Seattle Club. She initially complimented Compassion Seattle but now opposes, because “it is not grounded in the lived experience of people who’ve been experiencing homelessness.” She did not summarize her strategy for addressing homelessness during the interview. Her website lists homelessness responses including new top-level city staff, more hotel purchases for housing and contributions from corporations and state and federal governments, as well as suspension of the 72-hour limit for street parking.
“We have a 22-point plan to bring everyone inside in 14 months. It goes far, far beyond what Compassion Seattle does. I want to emphasize that because it’s a real plan that’s based on real experience with real dollars attached to it, so check it out on the website.”
M. Lorena González is an attorney and president of Seattle’s city council, where she is in her second term in council position 9, elected by voters citywide. González does not support Compassion Seattle, calling it an unfunded mandate that could require cuts to vital services.
“We have several interventions that we know are currently working. Permanent supportive housing, which is a long-term option, and then … making sure that we scale up our non-congregate shelter options, like the strategic acquisition of hotels and motels, which we’ve been doing through the JustCARE model, which is wildly popular and effective, and rapid rehousing and transitional housing. … Now we also need to scale up those short-term and long-term options in order to make sure that we have a referral place for folks that we are providing outreach and engagement services to, so that we are not just sweeping the problem across the city.”
OTHERS AGAINST OR UNDECIDED
Andrew Grant Houston is an architect and urban designer. He is against Compassion Seattle and said that it is “anti Black and anti Native,” but shares its goal of thousands more housing units quickly.
“I have focused on proposing 2,500 tiny homes. … [L]et’s give people places to actually go. The other reason for proposing that is I recognize as an architect that even if you’re trying to build permanent supportive housing starting today, it’s going to take about three years to actually design and build that housing. … [F]rom the point in time count, in terms of the actual real number of people who are unhoused, it’s been about the same for the past four years. That means, yes, the solutions that we have currently are working.”
Art Langlie is a business executive who is executive vice president at construction contractor Holmes Electric. He is opposed to Compassion Seattle, calling it “an abdication of governance,” and offers a four-part strategy on his website.
“We have to acknowledge that there’s a housing issue of this, but there’s also a giant drug and mental illness component to this that can’t be denied. And that seems to go undiscussed with regularity, despite the fact that we talk about 8,000 syringes being cleaned up in a week. And more than that on a monthly basis. We need to admit that we need to use data to decide what we’re going to do and how effective programs are. We’re clearly spending a lot of money. But my question becomes, which ones of those can you tell me are redirecting these lives the way we want them to be? … I would create new small houses as well, but not a tiny-house model, which is two a week. I’m talking about 100 a week.”
Lance Randall owns a sound-system company and is a former business services manager for the city Office of Economic Development. He said he is undecided on Compassion Seattle but has a complementary proposal.
“My project is not designed to solve the problems of homelessness, but it’s designed to fill a void that has not been addressed, and that is finding safe spaces for individuals who are living on the streets, in makeshift structures and RVs who are waiting to be transitioned into permanent housing, or into permanent supportive housing or market-rate housing or affordable housing. We have failed to provide safe places for them to exist while we continue our efforts to build housing and transition them. My plan also focuses a lot on making more investments into the issues that are causing the problems, or have resulted in this situation from being homeless, that is, drug addiction and mental health.”