Where should the City Council look for additional resources to address Seattle’s housing and homelessness challenges?
That was the question Councilmember M. Lorena González posed repeatedly last week as she vetted applicants to fill a council seat vacated by Rob Johnson, who recently resigned to take a job with NHL Seattle rather than serve the remainder of his District 4 term. The council is scheduled to vote Monday on the seven-month appointment, choosing from among 11 applicants.
Nearly a year has passed since González and her colleagues adopted and then quickly repealed a so-called head tax on high-grossing businesses that would have raised nearly $50 million annually for housing and homeless services.
But those needs remain top of mind, and Johnson’s replacement will help decide the city’s next budget. District 4 covers Eastlake, Wallingford, the University District and Northeast Seattle.
“I would definitely support another attempt at a head tax,” applicant Jordan Goldwarg said, responding to González’s question. “That seems to be one of the only options available.”
The appointee will serve on the council until Nov. 26, when the results of the Nov. 6 election are certified. Council President Bruce Harrell has said the council should choose a “caretaker” rather than someone seeking election this year in District 4.
During the seven-month stint, the appointee will lead the land-use and zoning committee that Johnson chaired.
That committee is slated to consider legislation that would allow taller buildings along University Way Northeast, also known as The Ave, and legislation that would ease regulations on backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments.
Several applicants have touted land-use expertise, including Seattle Planning Commission members David Goldberg and Marj Press.
As land-use chair at the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, architect Jay Lazerwitz has championed dense and affordable housing near a light-rail station scheduled to open in 2021, he said.
Community organizer Brook Brod has backed the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones, which require developers to build or pay for some low-income apartments. The council adopted a version of her proposal to allow more height when developers build two- and three-bedroom units, she said.
No applicants spoke clearly against an upzone along The Ave, which has twice been postponed because some small-business owners are worried about displacement. But Maritza Rivera, senior operations manager for Mayor Jenny Durkan, said she would tread carefully.
Rivera told the council she would leave Durkan’s office to join the council and would act based on her own convictions.
The Martin Luther King County Labor Council hasurged the council to appoint Abel Pacheco, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 4 seat and is again a candidate this year. Director of strategic engagement for a STEM program at the University of Washington, Pacheco has said he would end his campaign to serve as a temporary council member.
Some applicants — including Goldwarg, who started the local chapter of an international organization that brings Muslim, Jewish and Christian teenagers together, and Sherae Lascelles, a business manager who has campaigned for sex workers’ rights — told the council they would support a renewed push to raise money for housing and homeless services by taxing large companies.
Some other applicants, such as Darby DuComb, made no such vow. DuComb, a land-use lawyer who was chief of staff under City Attorney Pete Holmes for seven years, mentioned the city may want to bank land for the development of low-income housing with tax credits and said more low-rise buildings such as row homes should be built.
Goldwarg and Lascelles said Seattle should stop what they described as unproductive “sweeps” of unauthorized homeless encampments. DuComb said the city must sometimes shut down such camps while providing more hygiene services for people sleeping outside.
“I cleaned encampments for Mayor (Greg) Nickels,” said DuComb, who led the city’s Customer Service Bureau from 2007 to 2009.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.