Seattle government and business leaders are calling upon the state delegation to address housing, infrastructure and business recovery in the short 2022 legislative session. Meanwhile, the new administration of Mayor Bruce Harrell is going a step further, adding gun control, a statewide bank and other issues to his first legislative wish list in office.
Consistent with rising housing costs and the increasing number of unhoused residents, the top priority of the city’s government, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association in 2022 is housing.
“The governor put forth a budget that has some significant funds in it for homelessness and housing, and we need those dollars,” Seattle Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell said in a phone interview Thursday.
In December, Gov. Jay Inslee introduced a supplemental budget proposal that would include a combined $815 million in funding from the state’s operational and capital budgets for creating permanent and transitional housing, providing homelessness services, and preventing at-risk residents from losing their housing.
Leaders in Seattle share Inslee’s prioritization of housing, and are hopeful to see funding commensurate with the city’s population and need.
“We have a lot of residents in and around Seattle that need help and need support,” the deputy mayor added. “We need access to more housing, we especially need access to all income levels of housing, and we absolutely need the resources for homelessness support.”
The city’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, a facet of the mayor’s office that represents all branches and departments of the city government, is expected to discuss priorities with the City Council at a later date.
Among the city’s list of priorities for the Legislature are housing, education, infrastructure and transportation, according to a preliminary Office of Intergovernmental Relations list.
Some council members addressed specific legislation during the body’s first planning meeting of the year earlier this month.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis called for support of Senate Bill 5428, which would exempt transitional housing units like tiny homes from certain environmental review in order to expedite housing individuals. And Councilmember Kshama Sawant continued her ongoing calls for rent control, imploring the state to adopt her proposal to cap rent increases to stay at or below the rate of inflation.
In addition to prioritizing recovery for the city’s businesses, especially those owned by women and people of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, some within Seattle’s business community share the city’s concern for housing.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to continue to stay in business. For new businesses to start,” Chamber President and CEO Rachel Smith said Friday, noting that providing access to relief funds, housing and transportation were their top priorities.
The Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association are advocating for similar investments through House Washington, a coalition calling on the Legislature to use American Rescue Plan funds and state revenue to address homelessness.
In a letter last week, signed by businesses like Boeing and Microsoft and commerce groups including both the chamber and the association, the coalition urges state lawmakers to “make addressing homelessness and affordable housing a top priority.”
“We will not make progress in addressing [homelessness] in Seattle or in other parts of our state facing a similar crisis without significant leadership and investment by the state,” Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, said in an emailed statement Friday.
Infrastructure and transportation investments also ranked highly among local leaders’ legislative priorities.
“Obviously, we have failing structures that we need to have open. We need a functioning West Seattle Bridge” for example, Monisha Harrell said.
“Seattle has a unique geography in that we have great hills and bodies of water all around us, and so we have to have the infrastructure — not just for cars, but for transit
Though the administration doesn’t have a dollar figure in mind for infrastructure investments, she says, they support “every single recommended allocation in the governor’s budget” for infrastructure.
“Seattle’s not the whole state, and we understand that, but we’re not asking for an outsized amount,” Monisha Harrell said. “Seattle is still a strong economic engine of the state. So a healthy Washington state has a healthy Seattle.”
Members of the local delegation in Olympia say the state is mulling over the best way to pass transportation funding.
“I think there is ongoing discussion about the transportation issues and transportation package now, and I think everyone in the Seattle delegation would like to see a significant package,” state Rep. Gerry Pollet, a Democrat in the 46th District, said in a phone interview Friday.
Smith said in an interview Friday that the chamber will be “heavily involved” in and “strongly support” transportation investments from the state.
Mayor Harrell’s agenda
Monisha Harrell says the administration is focused on addressing a small number of key issues, like housing and infrastructure, “urgently and well” in the first session since Bruce Harrell took office, rather than trying to cram too many agenda items into the 60-day session.
“What you don’t want to do is you don’t want to take a peanut butter approach, where you just support a little bit of everything so that nothing gets done,” Monisha Harrell said.
Mayor Harrell also is focused on gun responsibility, noting his support for House Bill 1705, which would limit the purchase of “ghost guns,” or untraceable firearms, frames and receivers without registration or unique serial numbers.
Moreover, she says, the mayor is asking the state to lift a preemption law that bars localities from regulating guns more strictly than the state.
“So for example, could we keep firearms out of parks where our children are playing,” Monisha Harrell said.
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Seattle could not ban guns in parks under the current law.
The deputy mayor did not give other specifics of potential gun policies the administration would pursue but noted: “I think that it’s then up to the cities to be able to have that conversation. But right now, cities can’t even have that conversation. That’s where we are looking for a little bit of relief,” Monisha Harrell said.
Though they are only a week into the new session, some members of the local delegation backed the idea but questioned whether the issue would come up in this year’s short session.
“I don’t know what the prospects are for this session. It’s a short session and we’ve got several pretty significant bills about responding to gun violence and reducing gun violence,” Pollet said Friday.
Still, he said he would support removing the preemption law “in a heartbeat,” calling himself a “longtime supporter” of the idea. Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-37th District, said she was “all there” in supporting city’s rights to regulate guns, but also said she was unsure it would come up in this session.
Another wish list item of the new administration is to see the creation of a state public bank, an ongoing debate in the Legislature being considered in both the 2021 and 2022 sessions as Senate Bill 5188.
The deputy mayor said that the creation of a state bank would give the city “flexibility” on a number of issues, for example, the growing cannabis industry.
“It is still not legal federally for cannabis in terms of banking, and we have a substantial cannabis industry. They should have legitimate banking resources that can be done more easily through a statewide bank,” Monisha Harrell said.
Additionally, she says the bank could provide more effective lending for individuals and businesses.
“We should have ways to have strong lending for the working class that might not be met by for-profit models and that could be potentially be for emerging businesses within underserved communities,” she added.
Some members of the Seattle delegation say that they are excited to work with the new mayor.
“Look, I think there’s an overwhelming support for the mayor and a desire for him to be successful. And the state and the city are incredibly important in terms of partnership. In terms of resources and policy,” Sen. Reuven Carlyle said Friday.
“Seattle punches above its weight on every level and we want the city to be successful,” Carlyle added. “And that means a healthy, vibrant downtown that is safe and accessible and vibrant. It means a healthy small business community, and it means going to the core of the homelessness issue.”