Jay Fathi

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?

According to the hundreds of voters I have met with, homelessness is by far the most important issue we currently face in Seattle; many voters understand affordable housing is closely linked to this problem, but the vast majority are focused on this ‘indicator,’ and very visible  ‘symptom’ of our crisis, homelessness.      One 85-year-old longtime Seattleite friend said it best:  “Jay, when it comes to homelessness, it feels like we’re failing.”  Despite the best intentions of many, and many millions of dollars invested, it seems we are in a state of paralysis when it comes to this crisis.  As a physician who has worked with vulnerable populations for much of my career, I know there is no simple diagnostic or policy solution to this extremely complex problem.  Addressing this crisis is complex, needing multifold tactics and strategies.  There are some things the city is doing that is working--the LEAD program is successful but needs significantly more funding.  We have shown success in decreasing homelessness for families with children, and veterans.  We have some permanent supportive housing but need much more.       Homelessness is the result of a multitude of factors. Abuse, significant adverse experiences, trauma either in childhood or adulthood, inadequate treatment of mental health problems, lack of strong family or support systems, addiction, job loss, unaffordable housing, and poverty are among the most common and interrelated contributors to homelessness. Because this is a complex crisis, it requires intentional interventions, at multiple levels, over time, for us to make headway. However, unsheltered individuals ‘left alone’ on the streets, in their vehicles, or in encampments is not acceptable. It is our moral obligation to do more. The Seattle City Council must take a bold leadership role to address the worsening unaffordable housing and homelessness crises. Here are the foundations of my vision for changing our approach:    

1.    We need to make a more stable, permanent, and supportive housing available for the chronically and severely mentally ill who are homeless on our streets, many of whom also have severe addiction issues.  Research and our direct experience show that the most cost-effective and sensible approach is to provide permanent supportive housing, like that provided by Plymouth Housing and DESC.  We must dedicate more funding to this--not only is it our moral obligation, but it is a sensible financial investment.  

2.    To build more supportive housing, let’s get creative to lower costs. For example, the city government should consider waiving building permit fees, expediting siting decisions, and persuading the state legislature to waive the sales tax on new construction for facilities serving the chronically homeless. 

3.    We need to better coordinate and organize our efforts around homelessness. There are currently multiple city agencies, county programs, and contracted community organizations working to resolve this crisis. Yet our own City Auditor indicates there are gaps in our plans, and that we should be studying and learning from practices in other cities and jurisdictions. The Mayor and County Executive have proposed reengineering our overall response to homelessness to introduce more efficiencies and effectiveness, and these efforts should be quickly implemented. 

4. We must continue to increase our city’s, county’s, and entire state’s investment in the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health issues.  We lack appropriate providers and facilities for evaluation and treatment of mental health and addiction diagnoses, and until we dedicate more resources toward this, we will continue to struggle with these challenges.

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?

The current way the Council is addressing problems and interacting with the public is interesting, and at times dysfunctional.  Although it was only 2 minutes, the viral video clip of the gentleman addressing the Council and asking them to stop looking at their phones and listen to him was embarrassing at a minimum.  That clip is certainly quite emblematic of what I’ve heard in my interactions across the city during the campaign-- people feel like they aren’t being heard, and that both urgent, and basic city problems are either going unsolved or being addressed with little community input. There is significant dissatisfaction, certainly across District 6, with the performance of the current Council.      Seattle needs Councilmembers who will approach issues with an open and honest mind, follow evidence, reject divisiveness and embrace collaboration to help pragmatically solve our city’s challenges and problems. It’s time for a fresh start with the Seattle City Council, with new perspectives and energy. As a Councilmember, first, I will listen. It sounds simple, but it is astounding to me to hear the number of people I am meeting in my district who say they are not being listened to. This is a failure of elected, representative government. I know that simply earnestly listening to, engaging with, and being responsive to my constituents will go a long way in restoring trust back in the council and moving toward some ‘healing’ in District 6, which needs to occur. These are core attributes of a good physician, and I believe this will be welcomed by my constituents.     I also believe the Council has sometimes failed to engage those who are most impacted by the policies they’re legislating, and that’s no way to be an effective body. I think there are elected officials who are worried that by being fully transparent about their views or the policymaking process, including when opposing sides come together to find middle ground solutions, voters won’t respect them, or understand. I don’t buy that. Seattle is the most educated city in the country. We deserve elected officials who respect that, and who communicate frankly and honestly with residents. When residents and other stakeholders are brought into the policymaking process, trust is built, people understand they were heard, and they have a better understanding of why decisions were made. Finally, I will be accessible and accountable to all my constituents as I work to achieve measurable results.

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, they are not mostly on the right track. I wouldn’t be running if I thought the Council was on the right track. For example, the Council (and City government generally) needs to be much more effective in articulating and producing tangible plans to address the homelessness and mental health crises. I’ve included above some of my ideas to solve this. Additionally, they haven’t been meeting many basic representative functions such as truly listening to and hearing their constituents, being transparent, and holding themselves accountable. Promoting ideologies has seemingly taken the place of getting things done in our city and finding progressive, evidence-based solutions.  In the same way that I’ve strived as a physician to improve health outcomes for my patients over the last 30 years, I will work to do what’s best for all Seattleites. To achieve the best outcomes for patients, physicians must listen and fully understand their history, prescribe treatments tailored to that patient that will improve their long-term health, and conduct regular check-ups to make sure those solutions are working as they should. I will take the same approach as a councilmember: listen to my constituents’ concerns, study data and determine what has worked and what hasn’t in the past, coordinate with communities and stake-holders on solutions, and make sure those solutions achieve measurable results. I know that silver bullets don’t exist for Seattle’s most pressing issues and that we must utilize a multi-pronged approach, and I will bring the same compassionate and evidence-based leadership that I did as a family physician to the Council so we can implement better accountability and a city with strong infrastructure, a continued strong economy, and a sensible and compassionate approach to our current issue with the unsheltered population.

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

If our unsheltered are living in conditions which are unsafe, unsanitary, and pose not only a public health risk but risks to the individuals in the encampments and the surrounding communities, then the city must act. Having visited homeless camps, and cared for many patients with lived experience in them, I have seen how unhealthy and dangerous the conditions can be for those living in these encampments.  If encampments evolve into squalor with human waste and garbage,  and criminal and predatory behavior is occurring, I cannot see how any rational person could ethically say that the community should not act.      As unsanctioned encampments often pose public health and safety issues both for the inhabitants and surrounding communities, it is our duty to address these issues head-on, while simultaneously continuing to urgently find other means of shelter for these individuals.  Short-term sanctioned encampments and a car/RV lot for those living out of their vehicles and additional shelter space must all be actively explored/pursued as we build more permanent supportive, and affordable, housing in Seattle. To better provide for the safety of neighbors living unsheltered, I support maintaining both safe public health and public safety standards wherever the unsheltered in our communities are residing.

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?

There appears to be a “hands-off” approach our city government is currently taking, with questionable results. We must more directly engage with individuals, including the unsheltered, who participate in criminal behaviors damaging to themselves and our community.  Let’s be very clear: criminal behavior that threatens or harms others is not acceptable. No one in our city should have to live with the fear that they will be assaulted, or that their home will be broken into, or their car vandalized or stolen. Our attention must be focused on violent and repeat offenders. King County has led reforms in prosecution and sentencing that avoids traditional and ineffective jail time for mentally ill or addicted offenders. Yet the small number of violent and repeat offenders creating the majority of public safety threats are too often returned to the street without treatment, only to commit additional crimes. Our justice system needs to fairly and compassionately address these individuals, including intense mental health and addiction treatment when needed, while also protecting our neighborhoods from continuing criminal behavior.    We also need to engage directly and partner with the City Attorney’s and County Prosecutor’s Offices to comprehensively examine our current strategies around enforcement.  Clearly there is a ‘permissive’ approach currently being utilized in Seattle, which not only seems contrary to current law, but additionally, many Seattleites struggle with understanding how the current approach is actually helping the most vulnerable and those in need, or, how the community is benefitting from this approach. We must continue to develop and implement alternatives to incarceration, or ‘doing nothing,’ as the status quo is clearly unsustainable.

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?

I believe the city can make significant improvements in working with and supporting businesses both large and small in our city.  Seattle can and should be a compassionate, innovative city, while at the same time being an amazing place for all businesses to thrive. Having a strong partnership between businesses and the city is absolutely critical for a healthy and vibrant economy, both at the neighborhood, and citywide, levels. In meeting with many different businesses of all sizes in the past several months, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact the businesses generally feel the Council has not engaged them early enough in the processes that impact them and their workers.  Our small businesses are getting especially hit hard by the rising costs of rent, property, and taxes. Similarly, some workers at businesses of all sizes are feeling very real financial pressures impacting their ability to live in Seattle. I’d like to support small and micro businesses through an expansion of the Office of Economic Development and create unique and innovative spaces for business development, business incubations, and access to markets and economic resources. I believe we have to continue to invest in the basics -- improved and increased transit options and infrastructure to address congestion, a true commitment to safe and healthy neighborhoods, including the downtown zone, and the maintenance of parks and open spaces that bring many people to Seattle. I also believe that we need to embrace the innovation that makes our region so special and implement new ideas and new ways of doing business, getting around, and building community. Finally, we need to address the homelessness challenges we have discussed above that are contributing to the concerns of employers at every level.     Unfortunately, I think the manner in which the current Council has interacted with our business community has not been productive.  Seattle’s businesses, big and small, provide jobs, and goods, and services, for hundreds of thousands of Seattleites. In addition to strong worker protections with good wages, we need the employer community to feel welcomed, and like a true partner, asset, and foundation to our city.  Excessive divisiveness is also counterproductive and ultimately hurts our city, workers, and employers.  I believe that having ongoing, open communication is key. Bidirectional, frequent, and honest conversations always result in optimal outcomes for all parties. There is absolutely no reason why Seattle can’t be viewed by the rest of the world as an exemplary city for a strong economy, outstanding worker protections, a good place to do business, and a healthy, robust partnership involving the workers, employers, and the city. I think attitude, approach, and culture are the cornerstones to that, and I look forward to bringing a more healthy dynamic in this realm to the Council and the city.

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?

Economic inequality and displacement at multiple socioeconomic levels are essentially at the core of the challenges our city is facing, impacting the equitable opportunity to live and thrive in Seattle. We must preserve the cultural diversity and richness of our neighborhoods, and end exclusionary zoning that has acted a red line around certain areas of the City for decades, which further marginalized people of color and other underserved individuals.    On doorsteps, I have spoken with young adults who talk about feeling lucky to be renting with roommates in Seattle, seniors on fixed incomes who are appropriately concerned they will no longer be able to afford the taxes on the homes where they’ve lived for decades, and sadly, some who are already actively planning on moving out of Seattle, due to the rising cost of living, and concerns about safety and sanitation they attribute to the crisis of homelessness here.    Regarding affordable housing, we have had some success in expanding our supply, but we are still far behind the demand.  We must continue to address zoning to improve density across Seattle, but in ways that preserve the unique cultural and historical elements of our neighborhoods.  Policy specifics still need to be addressed, but increasing our capacity for ADUs and DADUs, ensuring developers’ fees continue to fund affordable housing where it is needed in our city, and continuing to implement creative ways to continue to incentive density, while ensuring affordability is still preserved, need be our goals.        MHA was an important step in addressing our City’s zoning, but this impacted only 6% of Seattle and must be expanded in a sensible way. We likely need to re-examine developers’ impact fees and ensure we have a policy where the end result is affordable housing in areas being redeveloped for those who are actually displaced in the community.  There are aspects of the current legislation before the Council around ADUs and DADUs which are positive and should be implemented; these are wonderful examples of how the city can not only maintain, but increase its supply of affordable housing in our neighborhoods, and potentially put dollars back into the hands of local families and homeowners.  We must address concerning practices such as apartments being built in some upzoned areas using expensive materials and passing those expenses on to future renters, making them unaffordable for many low and middle-class renters. I’d like to zone more areas to encourage duplexes and attached and detached accessory dwelling units. These units will be more accessible for low and middle-class earners and have the additional benefit of putting rental revenues back into the hands of local families. I’d also like to explore the City’s Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) Program, which gives tax exemptions to apartment buildings that are reserving 20-25% of their homes for income and rent-restricted folk. Unfortunately, I’ve heard firsthand from workers in Seattle trying to access these apartments that the rental prices are still so significantly high that these middle-class employees don’t make enough money to qualify to rent the apartment at the discounted rate. We must continue to work on refining this program, and ensuring that it is indeed producing results which are solving the problems it was initially designed to address.

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 am a lifelong Seattleite, having lived here for the past 50 years, and in District 6 for the past 21 years; my wife and I are raising our 2 sons here, and sending them to public schools. I’ve spent my life living and working in Seattle. As a family doctor caring for folks at the NeighborCare Health 45th Street Community Clinic, I treated under- and uninsured patients, immigrants from all over the world, the LGBTQ community, and people experiencing homelessness and severe mental health and addiction problems. I’ve delivered nearly 500 babies and educated generations of future clinicians and leaders in health care.  I’m the only candidate running across the city who has nearly thirty years’ experience caring for our homeless and most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors – this issue is personal to me and, more importantly, I know which programs work and which don’t to help get folks the help and treatment they need. At Swedish Medical Center, I created the Community Health Program, and served as founding Senior Medical Director of Community Health, where I developed a medical and dental clinic with doctors from numerous specialties to serve underserved and marginalized populations, and created additional robust partnerships with regional public health and non-profit organizations dedicated to advocating for those who are often overlooked. After the Affordable Care Act passed, I served as President and CEO of a Medicaid/Exchange health plan for over 5 and ½ years with nearly 400 employees and an annual budget of nearly one billion dollars, where we expanded access and healthcare coverage to 250,000 people under Obamacare in Washington. I’ve spent my entire career devoted to advocating for those traditionally who have been left behind, and bringing together community leaders, businesses and corporations, nonprofits, and elected officials to achieve real, tangible results. My experience, skill set, passion, lived Seattle experience, and love for our city makes me very well qualified to help lead our city as a councilmember.  I’m ready.