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?
From the over 5,000 doors I’ve knocked on so far, the number one issue I hear about is affordable housing. I’m saying affordable housing broadly -- I hear from seniors who worry about paying property taxes on a fixed income, from young working class families who cannot afford to pay for childcare and make mortgage payments, from renters who are rent-burdened with 50% of their income going to a shared apartment, and from all people who are in turns horrified and compassionate about people on the street with no housing at all. To date, we have been successful in creating thousands of units every year of more deeply affordable public housing, some with wraparound social services. That needs to continue. But it’s time to extend that ongoing success. We have a desperate need for housing for the workforce. We also have a looming need for more creative housing solutions for Baby Boomers facing retirement with large single family properties they no longer need, with taxes they can no longer afford. We must create dense, multi-family housing along arterials. Housing near public transit means less vehicles on the road, reducing traffic, carbon pollution, and the need for more parking. We also need to continue infilling neighborhoods by allowing backyard cottages and mother-in laws in single family zones. We need well-designed row houses and blocks of low rise for families, other abled, and older adults. In short, we need more types of housing for people of all types.
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?
For the most part, (and in my long experience) councilmembers listen respectfully to their constituents, to stakeholders, and to each other. I know most councilmembers and their staff work incredibly hard. But there remains work to be done, especially in regards to answering constituent questions and concerns in a timely manner and reaching public-facing decisions. In recent years, interactions between council members seem frozen by internal disputes - a recipe for legislative deadlock during a time when extensive, meaningful action must be taken. As a council member, I would absolutely have a physical District 4 office and staff member dedicated to local constituents, who can listen to their issues and attend local meetings. Not everyone is able or willing to come to a downtown Seattle office, and having my eyes and ears on the ground is vital to serving the public. Seattle laws require most public business to be conducted in public. In order to know more of what is going on, people need to sit through long council hearings, in person or on TV, and be able to decipher some pretty obtuse city language and protocol. I appreciate Council members who post frequent updates of what Council in general and they and their staff are working on. As a member of the public, frequent updates gave me a sense of the on-going activity and a chance to plug in to issues I care about. I’d continue this practice, as well as use other social media and online tools, frequent newsletters (paper for people who cannot use the internet). There is great power in online tools to make open meetings feel more available to everyone and to communicate to my constituents. You also asked about conduct. Civility is important to me. So is strong consensus building. My entire career -- as a long time City of Seattle planner and project manager for the Planning Commission and Seattle Parks, and then as an Executive Director of an advocacy organization focused on getting street safety improvements built for vulnerable children and adults -- has been that of deep listening and building respectful consensus. After 25 years of successfully getting new community centers built, getting parks remodeled, getting street safety improvements put in place, I’ve learned relationships matter, strong action based on evidence matters, and respect and professional conduct will be essential to making the bold changes we need to make now.
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?
No, the council is not on the right track. The massive issues that Seattle faces - climate change, housing affordability, homelessness and the need for extensive transportation improvements - require new, progressive thinking. I would be straight-forward about the problems we’re facing. Seattle has limited land and space for housing so we must build denser and smarter - up and not out. We have limited time, especially to mitigate climate change, but also for the homeless that are dying on our streets and the moderate-income people who are a paycheck away from being tossed on the streets themselves. With these issues and limitations in mind, we must work together to take bold, immediate steps. To take those bold steps, we need to be open with the public, respectful of each other, and still move with speed and determination. It’s going to be a challenging time!
Q4. Please comment on the city’s approach to unsanctioned encampments. Would you change anything about the current policy?
The city’s current approach to unsanctioned encampments is a failed policy. Those who live on the streets need the safety and health services recommended by World Health Organization (WHO). I’d follow WHO guidelines for refugees: potable water, sanitation stations, toilets, sharps containers, food, medical care, and waste containers in sufficient numbers. To provide these services, people need to be gathered in safe temporary encampment zones. Public land (not random spots under bridges or in parks and schoolyards) must be identified for temporary encampments with these WHO-designated public services and shelter provided while we build permanent housing for all people across the region. Sweeping people from Ballard, to the U-District, to downtown in vicious circles is cruel to people, costly to us taxpayers, and unsuccessful in “solving” unsanctioned encampments.
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?
People who commit violent crimes need to be incarcerated. However, most reoffenders are committing low-level property crimes to support their lives on the street. Many people living on the street have serious substance use or mental health disorders, so a one-size-fits-all approach of incarceration is expensive and will not work for everyone. Experts tell me putting a person with mental or substance use issues into full-time facility with wraparound services costs the taxpayer $20,000 a year, while jailing the same person costs upward of three times that amount, not including court costs. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program places those in need in the appropriate setting to receive the care and help required. We must fully support and fund LEAD to help those with substance use or mental health disorders. Downtown Seattle Association’s “System Failure” report showed that out of 100 frequent offenders, only about 10% were in LEAD - that number needs to be 100%. And yes, get violent offenders off the street!
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?
My neighborhood of Wallingford doesn’t have a Chamber of Commerce anymore. Business owners in my community are overworked and overtaxed and can’t manage to raise funds and organize a Chamber, which they all agree can function as a mutual-help organization. Small business owners don’t have the time or resources to form business associations that would allow them to work towards more affordable healthcare, better local advertising, or a healthier neighborhood. Dense, walkable neighborhoods need local, small businesses in order to thrive. In fact, I’m certain that small local businesses are key to addressing climate change, and building safe, healthy local communities. When elected, I will look towards the City -- the Office of Economic Development, Office of Arts & Culture, Department of Neighborhoods -- to help our smallest businesses. Our focus and funding as a City has been more on the health of our largest software and financial institutions at the expense of smaller businesses. We need a reset of that focus. The Office of Economic Development in particular can provide resources, help to organize thriving business associations, and kickstart the process of strengthening our neighborhood communities.
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?
Here are a few strategies I am exploring: First, I would propose an Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay. This would be a city-wide overlay that would allow modest increases in height and density (e.g. in districts that now allow three stories, 100% affordable housing proposals could go to four stories, etc.), and reductions in set-backs, parking requirements and other dimensional issues. The City should be negotiating with major institutions to build housing and support low cost existing housing stock near their facilities. In D4 I’m particularly looking at UW, medical institutions like Fred Hutch, Children’s Hospital, and UW Medical Center that all have a need for more workforce housing. I’d also like to raise our percentage of required affordable housing in any development over 10 apartments to 30%. That is, developers are required to rent 30% of their apartments to households that earn 80% of the Area Median Income and they must allow them to pay a rent of no more than 30% of their gross income. Additionally, I’d like to see funds put into a Land Trust by any developer putting up non-residential space (office, commercial, entertainment, hospital, laboratory educational) that is over 30,000 square feet. They can pay to the Trust Fund something like $15 per square foot before getting an occupancy permit. While I support much of the current MHA legislation, ADU/DADU contributes only a tiny bit to affordability and often new dwelling units in upzoned areas are at least as expensive as the properties they are replacing. We should explore the slow movement of housing stock out of the hands of for-profit owners and into the hands of non-profits and public agencies. It is important to recognize that housing cost (brick and mortar, labor, architects, etc.) and housing price (supply and demand) are two entirely different things. The only relation between them is that price must be a little more than cost or nobody will build any housing. But in hot markets like Seattle, price will exceed cost by a great deal. As long as for-profit owners control that housing, they will do what good capitalists are supposed to do — maximize price so they can take the profits and invest in other deals that create construction jobs and drive the economy. They are not going to leave money on the table. I worry a lot about what happens when that apartment is “home” to a household and “investment” to an owner. In the case of any conflicts, “investment” will always win. And that is not good for our cities, neighborhoods, and communities. So I would like to see ownership of our rental stock move more into the hands of public agencies and non-profits whose interest in real estate is much closer to that of the resident, including existing older housing stock. Finally, we have made it illegal to live in small units. Building microhousing in Seattle is almost impossible due to code requirements passed by Seattle Construction Code Advisory Board. If people want to live in small units or if small units can get people off the street, that should be completely legal.
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.
I have the most experience building projects for people: a track record of managing large public budgets, and bringing government, business, and community to the table to build parks, community centers, neighborhood projects, and safe streets. Seattle is changing rapidly. We need someone with my decades practical experience and long-term respectful relationships with a variety of people to make District 4 and Seattle stronger.