Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess wants to boost spending on homeless services with a tax on short-term rentals instead of high-grossing businesses, but the suggestion is getting major pushback.

Share story

Mayor Tim Burgess is getting some pushback on his suggestion that Seattle boost spending on homelessness with a new tax on short-term rentals, like those on Airbnb.

Some advocates say the move pits people fighting gentrification against homeless people by diverting money from the former group to the latter.

Burgess on Tuesday came out against a proposal by some City Council members to raise money for homeless services and housing through an employee head tax on companies grossing more than $5 million a year. Calling that tax bad for business, Burgess said the rental tax was a better option.

Here’s the catch: Money from the short-term rental tax — which the council may approve as early as this month — is supposed to help immigrant communities and communities of color develop housing, jobs and community centers.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Howard Greenwich, a Puget Sound Sage policy adviser, said Burgess’ plan would rob Peter to pay Paul to kill the head tax.

“Communities on the front line of solutions to displacement are being undercut by Burgess carrying water for big businesses,” Greenwich said.

The hope has been that the rental tax would help projects such as a food-industry jobs center in Rainier Beach and a community center with housing for the Ethiopian community.

Transit Riders Union General Secretary Katie Wilson is a leader in the push for spending on homeless services. She also opposes the mayor’s idea and supports the head tax, also known as an employee-hours tax.

“Taking money away from these incredibly important community-driven projects is unacceptable,” she said, calling the Burgess plan shortsighted because such projects can prevent homelessness from growing.

Burgess said Wednesday the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” critique is valid. He said he’s merely pointing the council to an option.

There’s also the matter of how much money the plans would yield. The business tax supported by Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Kirsten Harris-Talley, Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold would raise up to $24 million a year.

The city would borrow $11 million next year to get started and pay that back in 2019, when the money from the tax would start to flow.

The short-term rental tax would raise $6 million yearly.Asked how much money the city would be able to spend in 2018, Burgess gave no specific answer. He said it would be up to the council to decide how much to borrow against future revenue.

The mayor Tuesday slammed supporters of the employee-hours tax, saying, “I don’t engage in anti-business rhetoric. I love jobs.”

Wilson called that argument bogus.

“We love jobs, too,” she said, pointing to inequality in booming Seattle. “There are gleaming towers and cranes and also people dying on the streets. We want to do something about that. That’s not anti-business rhetoric. That’s reality.”