Zachary DeWolf

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?

What I have been hearing from our neighbors, whether out on the doors, in forums, or in other meetings, is that the homelessness and affordability crises are the most formidable and urgent issues facing our city right now. First, let's focus on youth homelessness, then let's expand our investment in Diversion, and then let's create a shallow rent subsidy to prevent homelessness and keep people in their homes. Locally, 40% of our neighbors have no more than $400 dollars to their name and 50% of our neighbors spend more than 30% of their income on rent, which means they are rent burdened. And, in order for someone to afford the average rent they’d need to make more than $26/hour; a minimum wage worker would need to work 96 hours per week just to afford rent in Seattle.    The reality is grim, but not impossible for us to address. Skyrocketing rents and cost of living is pushing thousands of our neighbors out of the city. Further from their places of work, their schools, and their communities in which they have often lived for decades. This is unacceptable. The City needs to lift the stranglehold it has over our housing stock options currently, so that we can be rapidly be building housing that meets our cities needs. Youth Homelessness - We know that 48% of adults currently experiencing homelessness also experienced homelessness as a young person. That means we should be investing, more deeply, in interventions and supports for our young people. When we reduced veterans homelessness it was because of three important strategies: regional coordination, targeted investments, and a by-name list. We need to do the same with youth and young adult homelessness--we prioritize young people and we will reduce the inflow of adults into homelessness. We need to utilize the lessons from our reduction in veterans homelessness and employ them for youth, including regional coordination, targeted investments, and a by-names list.   

Diversion - Diversion is an exciting intervention as it relates to homelessness because for roughly 30% of people who experience homelessness can resolve their crisis quickly using diversion. The best part about diversion is that it was an idea that came directly from people experiencing homelessness. They said they just needed one-time support to resolve their crisis, whether conflict resolution, family reunification, mediation, or financial assistance, such as move-in and first month’s rent. This innovative approach costs, on average $1750 to exit people to housing, quickly, for much less time than other interventions. So we need to invest more in strategies like this that are working and are directly addressing racial disparities in homelessness. Shallow Rent Subsidies -  There are communities across the country getting creative with preventing displacement and keeping people in their homes. In Washington, D.C., for example, as part of the D.C. Flex Fund Program, they have a shallow rent subsidy program for folks who are living at the edge of their means. Basically, we could invest in a two-year program, where each participant gets a monthly subsidy to make sure they make their rent on time, they can stay in their homes, and begin to build their savings.

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?

Councilmembers are elected to represent the views of their district. To me, “representation” is absolutely key - we must be representing ALL of our constituents, which includes those who we may personally disagree with, because that is the job of an elected official. As a council member, my primary aim would be elevating the voices of the most vulnerable, and those most often left out of discussions and left out of positions of power. When it comes to making policy, my guiding belief is that we MUST be centering those most affected by the issue, in the creation of policy solutions. I will make myself available to everyone in our district, and our city, to hear about their needs. I’ll spend my first 90 days on a listen and learn tour throughout the district, not only to hear from neighbors about their needs, concerns, and hopes but to help build out a work plan. Next, I’d open an office in my district immediately after being elected to ensure my neighbors understand that I will listen and represent them. Beyond that, I will do what I’ve done at the school board and have meaningful relationships with constituents, walk my neighborhoods, visit with people regularly (similar to Council member Juarez’s great community events). Outside of that, in my office, I will be inclusive of all voices and stakeholders. The role of governing is to work with people, no matter their differences, on the issues deeply affecting our city because the issues matter too much—our neighbors matter too much.

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, frankly, that the incumbent in my district has done the exact opposite of what we all hoped or voted--pulling the council left. On its face, it felt empowering, but in the end what it’s meant are dead end policy ideas that make our council and leadership seem divided when we need unity. What I do like about certain council member’s approaches is that they center the people most affected by an issue in their solutions. For example, the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights was rooted in community and is a huge deal. That is good policy and good listening to constituents. These leaders, specifically Council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez who have endorsed me, are the type of leaders I appreciate on the council because they are strong, measured, pragmatic, passionate, and have a real love and care for this city and understand the importance and gravity of their roles. One lesson I learned from my experience creating the country’s first Renters Commission, with then-Council member Burgess, was pragmatism and being measured in our work. This work, serving this city, carries with it a lot of weight and gravity, and I feel that every day as a Board Director with the Seattle Public Schools, so I understand the importance. One thing I would do is make sure that no matter our differences, our entire City Council has a positive working relationship. I’ve learned this, also, on the school board. I often don’t agree with people’s ideas, vision, or values, but at the end of the day, we must work together and that collegiality is important to getting our work done. Plus, I believe we can’t be personally attacking people--we all signed up for the hard task of running for and serving publicly, so we need to maintain professionalism and respect with each other.

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

I believe sweeps are further harming already vulnerable neighbors. We have an urgent need to get people housed. In Native culture, and even evident on a recent trip to my reservation to visit my grandmother in her final days, I noticed: no one sleeps outside and no one goes hungry. One thing we need to do is make sure for these most vulnerable folks, we have resources and shelter. I would make sure social workers and nurses can be a part of the care team. We have to do what we can to reduce harm and treat these folks as our neighbors. Many have a lot of unmet needs and have distrust of the system so naturally they don’t want to engage--we need to be developing relationships with them. What we did to reduce veterans homelessness was regional coordination, targeted investments, and a by-names list. We have to recognize, that many folks have been outside people that’s the only place they know so we have work to unwind about their utilizing our services and resources. No one wants to see a neighbor sleeping outside so we should be really thoughtful. I think having enough time for folks to know if the area will be “swept” is important as long as people aren’t harmed. But often, people aren’t connected to services and resources so we just end up moving people around the city. As someone who formerly experienced homelessness and who works with and in community with people experiencing homelessness, I would be interested in asking these folks what they need and how our system can align to those needs more appropriately-then we’re building trust, we’re getting people what they actually need, and in the end we’re approaching a reality where there are less and less 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?

We need to be addressing the root causes of these problems - not just allowing this cycle to continue perpetuating itself. Let’s focus on getting these folks what they need to actually keep them off the streets in the first place. And make sure our enforcement is addressing the crisis or figure out how to support more programs such as LEAD, which I successfully expanded into Capitol Hill and the ID in 2016.

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?

Frankly, it is too difficult to start and run a small business in our city - this is especially true for our community members who are often without political and financial capital - communities of color, LGBTQ and immigrant communities in particular. I will ensure that any discussion of regulations surrounding business proactively includes these voices, so that we can continue to build equitable policy. I was grateful to hear from a friend who owns a small business recently about a great program at OED and I hope to support and expand it, called Tenant Improvement Fund.   

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?

Zoning restrictions are a major source of the strain on our current available housing stock. I was very happy to see the passage of MHA and related legislation, and would propose to continue aggressively investing in these endeavors. We must work to lift the current bans on apartment developments, and continue diversifying our housing stock by allowing construction for single-family homes, multi-family homes, apartment complexes, condos and townhomes, and that all of this construction must also be balanced out to meet the affordability needs of our neighbors. We can also look at the overly burdensome permitting process, and providing more staffing allocations in order to speed up this process.   One idea that I am interested in is is working with colleagues at Building Changes on piloting a shallow rent subsidy. Plus, we need to be doing more upstream, such as focusing on evictions and free civil legal aid similar to New York, or providing more pathways to home ownership, supporting smaller landlords that are providing affordable places for people to live. What might also be an interesting idea is to prioritize diverse housing types around our public schools. “School oriented development”   

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 currently a Director on the Seattle School Board, served four years on the Capitol Hill Community Council, two of those as President, Native American Advisory Council member, King County Long Range Transportation Planning Advisory Council member, Healthcare for the Homeless member, was a commissioner with the Seattle Housing Authority, and am deeply invested in my own neighborhood and community, and our city as a whole.