Alex Pedersen

Q1. What are you hearing from voters as the most important issue facing Seattle?  In your view of that issue, what is working and what would you do differently?

I’ve knocked on the doors of over 13,000 voters in District 4 and here’s the big picture concern from residents: they typically do not trust this City Council to listen to residents, be transparent about policies or budgets, or invest their tax dollars wisely to solve problems. These residents view homelessness as the biggest problem facing Seattle.     The previous Administration successfully implemented performance-based contracts for the nonprofits working to address homelessness. But the current City Council undermines the Mayor by funding programs that do not meet their targets or do not adhere to the best practices proven to reduce homelessness in other cities. I would fund only what is proven to work and I have the experience (HUD and affordable housing finance skills) to do it. Compassion requires results.   

Q2. Please provide your perspective on how the current city council conducts its business with the public.  How would you conduct yourself as a council member?

I believe the current City Council governs too much by “megaphone” and ideological talking points, rather than by gathering the facts and leading thoughtful, deliberative discussions. The current City Council too often acts as if they know best, rather than getting input from the people they are elected to represent.    I have heard many disturbing stories from District 4 residents who took time off work to journey to City Hall to speak, but aloof Councilmembers cut them down to only 1 minute and/or unruly protestors shouted them down.  I have heard multiple complaints about e-mails and phone calls unreturned and city officials who leave meetings early without hearing from the public.     If elected, I would fully engage with my constituents: listening to all sides, sharing information, explaining pros AND cons, and incorporating sensible ideas.   

Q3. In your view is the current City Council mostly on the right track in addressing Seattle’s problems.? If yes, what do you like about the current Council’s approach? If no, what would you do differently?

I believe the City Council is NOT on track, unfortunately.     I would focus on rebuilding trust with the public. I believe we can rebuild trust by delivering greater accountability – listening, transparency, and results – especially on the basics of city government such as reducing homelessness, increasing public safety, and improving transportation.     I would avoid the grandstanding and focus on maximizing positive outcomes for the public with evidence-based programs.     I would want to foster and celebrate organizational cultures within city government that strive to save money for the taxpayers – money that we can reinvest for the general public’s priorities.     Especially on major challenges such as homelessness, I would strive to row in the same direction as the Mayor as would a productive Board of Directors – providing tools and oversight.     The resulting policies should be practical and sensible. When in doubt, I would take an incremental approach, measure/assess the data, and then continue to move forward cautiously to avoid unintended consequences or major public backlash.

Q4. Please comment on the city’s approach to unsanctioned encampments.  Would you change anything about the current policy?

I believe we need more Navigation Teams to more frequently engage more unsanctioned encampments (especially in parks), determine available space in best practice enhanced shelters (using much better technology) and exit more people experiencing homelessness to permanent housing, mental health, and addiction services.     I support Mayor Durkan’s expansion of the Navigation Teams, so that everyone gets better results on homelessness and our fire fighters can focus on their core mission.   

Q5. A recent study found a that a group of offenders with dozens of arrests, who regularly cycle through the courts and back onto the streets account for a significant amount of the property and violent crime in downtown and the neighborhood business districts. How should city government respond to these findings?

I carefully reviewed the report “System Failure”, and followed up with its author as well as with the University District Business Improvement Area (BIA) in District 4 to learn more and let them know I want to help solve these problems. The Downtown Seattle Association and BIA’s should be commended for commissioning this report– it’s something the city government should have done.     The report should have been a wake-up call to the current City Council. Yet we have not seen real action. On the one-month anniversary of that report’s publication, I issued a press release calling on the City Council to use its oversight authority from the City Charter to launch public hearings to hold the criminal justice system accountable by resolving why the worst offenders are continually released back into the community without proper help and supervision and to explore solutions. (The hearing the City Council had on May 22, 2019 was unproductive and disappointing with no action steps.)   

Q6. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities with small businesses as the backbone of our local economy. However, as the city grows the cost of doing business has also increased. As a council member what is something you would do to help businesses survive and prosper in Seattle?

First, City Council needs to be more positive about the business community which includes celebrating their contributions to the city (jobs, revenue, neighborhood character), bringing them to the table early, and not taking them for granted. Many small businesses are owned by women and people of color, affording historically marginalized groups a pathway to opportunity.    

Second, City Council needs to better understand the challenges facing business by listening to them. As someone with private sector experience, I believe I can play a productive role. City actions such as street construction, removal of customer parking, and other city policies can hurt small businesses that do not have the economies of scale to absorb lost revenue.    

Third, city government needs to manage its own costs better because rising property taxes are passed directly onto most small businesses through a triple net lease often without the market place enabling the business to raise the prices of its good and services concurrently. Similarly, the city should try to slow the rise in utility bills from Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities (because they are also passed along directly from property owners to store owners via NNN leases).    

City Council should ensure that the City’s Office of Economic Development is doing what other cities do well to retain and expand local businesses.

Q7. As the city has grown so has the cost of housing making Seattle unaffordable for many people in the workforce. What strategies do you support to increase the supply of affordable housing in Seattle?

In addition to serving at HUD during the Clinton Administration, I worked in the private sector where I led the financing of $2 billion for 30,000 units of affordable housing across the country. Therefore, I believe I speak from experience when I say we should view an affordable city holistically rather than focusing on just on the supply of housing. In other words, we also need to consider City Council policies that raise sales taxes, raise property taxes, and raise utility bills – all of which contribute to the lack of affordability. Those can be addressed with greater accountability, managing costs, and finding savings.     Regarding the supply of housing, the city has put in place many changes to increase housing stock:   

 Doubled the Seattle Housing Levy to build and preserve more rent-restricted affordable housing. (I would welcome Seattle Housing Levy projects in my district because we want to encourage economic integration and because Housing Levy projects have long-term, recorded low-income rent restrictions.) 

 Approved the construction of thousands of market-rate apartment units are already in the pipeline. 

 Upzoned all urban centers and 25 urban villages to extract affordable housing fees to be disbursed later by the Seattle Office of Housing.   

In addition, our State legislature, thankfully, liberalized the condominium liability law only weeks ago. I strongly support the construction of more condominiums which are a much more affordable path for working class people to move into homeownership.   

Other strategies for increasing affordability in general:   

 Preserve the affordable housing we already have by discouraging demolitions of naturally occurring affordable housing (which is typically older). 

 Land: I think the City government can do a better job obtaining buildable land from the private market and then providing long-term leases of that land and its own “surplus” land to nonprofits for the construction of affordable housing.  

 Encourage the production of “modular” (a.k.a. manufactured) housing, which I recently inspected in Vancouver, BC. It is permanent and high-quality, but can be built three times faster at a third of the cost.  

 Optimize the multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) program. 

 Encourage more real estate developers to build the required affordable housing onsite – faster and more economically integrated – instead of paying into a fund where the housing would be built later and farther away. 

 Advertise the property tax exemption for seniors.   

I would favor targeted “contract rezones” to build rent-restricted housing instead of broad brush approaches encompassing entire neighborhoods.  

When making decisions, policymakers should be careful about impacts on displacement and limited infrastructure (transit, schools, public safety resources) -- and we would want to avoid any unnecessary backlash among communities still absorbing recently enacted changes. An intentional and incremental approach often yields the best, most sustainable results. I believe I am the only candidate running in my district who has the relevant experience to engage in a meaningful way on affordability, so that all stakeholders feel they are making progress.

Q8. Being on the City Council is a challenging job. Please describe your specific experience or skills that qualifies you to serve as the representative of your district.

• After earning a Master of Government Administration, I worked on homelessness programs at HUD during the Clinton Administration.    

• I served as Legislative Aide to Tim Burgess when he chaired the Budget Committee and led the City Council as President. I crafted the resolution that became the popular high-quality Seattle Preschool Program enacted by voters in 2014. I shepherded efforts to fully fund Nurse Family Partnership, the evidence-based program that empowers low-income moms and their babies.   

• My career includes over 15 years in the private sector as a manager of financial analysts to fund the preservation of affordable housing.   

• To bring needed attention to the community issues and small businesses of Northeast Seattle where my family and I have lived for over a decade, I published a neighborhood newsletter for the past 5 years.