The Seattle Human Services Coalition brought candidates for mayor, city council and city attorney together last Wednesday, Sept. 20, to discuss ways they would work to help the homeless and curb racial and social inequity most greatly affecting low-income residents.
South Seattle Emerald cofounder Marcus Green moderated the 2017 Human Services Candidates Forum at the Miller Community Center, which included rounds of questions provided by the audience.
Urbanist Cary Moon and former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan had squared off on Seattle’s growth, homelessness crisis and affordable housing needs a week prior to the SHSC forum.
Durkan continued to push economic empowerment and fixing a broken system that benefits the few.
“We need to raise people up, so they don’t need affordable housing,” she said.
Creating affordable housing, however, was still a major goal for both candidates. Durkan favors leasing public properties to developers in return for long-term affordable housing.
Asked about responding to conversations around homelessness, Moon said she would listen to service providers, advocates and homeless individuals to find out what needs to be done. She said she would make sure there is racial, gender and class equity in all city boards and commissions, as well as in her administration.
A hot topic — amplified by the Trump administration — was breaking down barriers to human services for Seattle’s immigrant and refugee populations.
Moon called for greater cultural competency among city staff and better outreach to those populations, inviting them to learn about and access available services in Seattle.
“There’s a lot more we need to do beyond that,” she said, adding people living with the constant threat of deportation is “toxic stress.”
Durkan responded to a question about addressing gender-based violence by talking about her previous work combatting human trafficking as U.S. attorney, such as working on and securing funding for the multiagency Washington Advisory Committee on Trafficking.
Moon had some choice words about food security in Seattle, speaking about the loss of the Red Apple grocery store in the Central District and an incoming New Seasons in the same neighborhood. She criticized the grocer as anti-union and a company that targets low-income neighborhoods primed for gentrification.
“They are vile, and they are not a good community partner,” Moon said.
Both mayoral candidates supported the city working more with faith-based communities to provide human services. Durkan said she’s faced discrimination for being gay, and improving conditions for the LGBTQ community meant changing minds in faith-based communities.
“We would be suffering even more if it wasn’t for faith-based communities,” she said.
Moon said while she supports working with faith-based communities and philanthropies, those organizations should not be on the hook for services the city should be providing.
In response to a question about addressing institutional racism and equity, Moon praised primary opponent Nikkita Oliver and the People’s Party.
“They put this issue front and center in the mayor’s race,” she said, “and now there’s no turning back.”
Oliver has not endorsed either mayoral candidate, and plans to moderate a debate hosted by the People’s Party in the future.
Durkan talked about “post-racial America” attitudes after Barack Obama was elected.
“It doesn’t exist, and we need to admit it doesn’t exist,” she said, adding Donald Trump has emboldened racists, and Seattle needs to respond.
Both candidates said they would support adding to the $30 million homeless-service providers are currently vying for through the city.
Moon said Seattle needs progressive revenue sources, supporting Councilmember Kshama Sawants proposal for a real-estate excise tax swap to free up general funds for housing, as well as a tax on luxury housing that would require state support. So would a capital gains tax.
“This is just money that comes to them because the stock market is hot,” Moon explained. “Why are we not taxing that at the state level?”
Durkan repeated a call for 300-500 shelter beds in each council district, which she said could be accomplished through faith-based structures and Seattle’s community centers. She also wants to make affordable housing a priority for receiving city permits.
Initiative 27 has qualified for the November ballot, and would ban safe consumption spaces — places where people can safely take drugs and be connected to health care and treatment when ready.
Durkan and Moon both support safe consumption spaces, the former U.S. attorney recalling the crack-cocaine epidemic in the mid-‘80s and early ’90s.
“We incarcerated almost an entire generation of people, and it was wrong,” Durkan said, “and we’re paying for it now.”
If elected, Durkan said she will go to Seattle neighborhoods and talk to residents about the right approach to opening safe consumption spaces.
“Here’s something I almost never say: I agree with her,” Moon said, adding SCSs need to be ready to provide access to treatment immediately after someone asks for it.
“And I’ll say this: I agree with her,” Durkan said.
Council Position 8
Former Tenants Union director Jon Grant and Washington State Labor Council legislative and policy director Teresa Mosqueda are vying for Seattle City Council Position 8. Councilmember Tim Burgess — now interim mayor until a newly elected mayor takes over on Nov. 28 — is not seeking reelection this year.
Grant expressed skepticism that the federal government will be an effective partner in helping Seattle address its homelessness crisis.
“We know that the feds are not coming to help us,” he said. “They’re coming for us.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are seeking to financially punish so-called “sanctuary cities,” or places that decline to help round up and deport undocumented immigrants.
Grant said he wants to raise taxes on corporations, because Amazon is taxing Seattle’s housing supply. He also wants to stop sweeps of unsanctioned encampments and to take money funding those efforts and repurpose it for homeless services.
In August 2016, voters approved a $290 million housing levy, which is double the amount that was approved in 2009. Green said it isn’t enough to fix the housing gap, and asked what can be done to find more revenue.
“Number one, we need to stop criminalizing homelessness,” Mosqueda said.
She said taking levy dollars and bonding them to get financing immediately for more shelters and tiny houses is a good idea, adding permanent housing is also important. She supports community land trusts and making use of available public lands.
Responding to a question about tackling sexual assault issues, Grant talked about pushing for legislation to hold landlords accountable for discriminating against domestic violence victims who had filed protection orders (Senate Bill 5528).
Grant called out current city councilmembers — none specifically — for remaining mum while former Mayor Ed Murray was denying allegations of child sex-abuse from the 1980s, saying the council needs to do better, and to provide more funding to organizations that serve domestic violence survivors.
Last November voters approved Initiative 1491, which allows police and family members to request an extreme risk protection order from a judge to keep people deemed a threat to themselves or others from possessing a firearm.
Mosqueda said more needs to be done through an “intersectional lens” to spread the word about the protection orders by working with community organizations and nonprofits. She also wants the city to invest more in those organizations that serve clients that don’t speak English as a first language.
In order to help curb racial and social inequity in education, both candidates support expanding the Seattle Preschool Program and making the pilot permanent. Grant said children receiving early education have a better chance at success.
Mosqueda said she wants the city to have a comprehensive early learning program and to offer free college tuition.
In addressing issues of institutional racism, Grant spoke about “residential segregation” and police accountability. He said he’s calling for the creation of 5,000 housing units to help people of color and immigrants, as well as pushing for 25 percent affordability requirements on new developments.
“I’m a renter,” Mosqueda said, “and I will be the only renter on the Seattle City Council if elected.”
She said requiring 25-percent affordability on new developments is fine, but that the city needs housing now. She said she supports cohousing, co-ops, public housing and community land trusts.
The Seattle Police Department continues to investigate the fatal June 18 shooting of 30-year-old Charleena Lyles after two officers claimed she lunged at them with a knife. She had been four months pregnant.
Grant said he has no doubt those officers will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
If elected, he said he would call for a citizen review panel that would have the authority to fire Seattle’s police chief.
Council Position 9
Incumbent Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez focused on her record while on the council during Wednesday’s forum. She is being challenged by Pat Murakami, a Mount Baker resident who once fought state legislation to increase housing and commercial density around light rail stations.
Gonzalez said the city needs to fill the financial void left by the state and federal government, but Seattle should not depend on regressive taxes to do it.
The city councilmember said the city needs to look at ways to increase efficiencies, such as within the Seattle Police Department, to free up funds for human services; she added she’s already working on that during this fall’s budget process.
Murakami said of increasing density and affordable housing that she has yet to hear from a neighborhood in Seattle that is opposed to it. Downtown Seattle high-rise residents filed suit against Murray’s affordable-housing plan, but dropped it in 2016, and a number of U District residents also protested upzoning the neighborhood, which occurred earlier this year. Residents in the Chinatown/International District had also voiced concerns about displacement through rezoning.
Murakami said she will push for increased density and affordable housing in any neighborhood where it is necessary, whether residents want it or not.
“We all have to share in the increase in density, no matter where we live,” she said.
When asked about reducing gun violence, Gonzalez said funding is needed to enforce extreme risk protection orders, which is not being done adequately now. Such funding is not in Murray’s old budget, and it’s something she said she will be reintroducing.
On the need for the city and Seattle Public Schools to improve their partnership, Gonzalez conceded the relationship between the two entities historically has not been great.
She said voters need to approve reinvesting in early learning in 2018.
King County has a new veterans and human services levy up for a vote in the November general election, which Green said will not meet all of the needs for the region’s senior residents. He asked Murakami how to fill the gap.
Murakami said the City of Seattle loves cutting funding for senior centers, and that she is proposing a citizen commission that would assess the budget and find savings that could be redirected to other needed services.
“I know we’re wasting money,” she said, adding the budget went up $1 billion during Murray’s time in office without any notable improvements.
That commission would also be tasked with looking at how the city funds nonprofits, Murakami said. She believes some of those organizations’ executives are taking home a large paycheck without doing enough for the communities they are meant to serve.
Gonzalez said she rejected the notion that agencies are not using their limited resources wisely. The forum was sponsored by numerous human service organizations, including the YWCA, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and University District Food Bank.
“You are all doing God’s work,” Gonzalez said, “whether you believe in God or not.”
She said the city needs to do a better job preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, and that Seattle needs to demand the federal government pay its fair share.
“I don’t believe we’re going to get that kind of accountability with the Trump administration,” Gonzalez said.
Murakami said she wasn’t implying any agencies were doing a bad job, but the city is funding 141 agencies to combat homelessness and the situation seems to be getting worse.
Things got heated when it came time for incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes and challenger Scott Lindsay to talk about how they would approach homelessness from a legal standpoint, both critical of each other’s tenure with the city. Lindsay had been the public safety advisor and special assistant for police reform for Murray prior to stepping down to focus on his campaign for city attorney.
“After eight years in office, where’s the beef?” Lindsay said of Holmes’ time as city attorney.
While Holmes highlighted his creation of a pre-filing diversion program, which is meant to keep young offenders from facing a criminal record by completing a certain set of requirements, Lindsay said $300,000 has been spent so far and only 19 diversions have occurred.
He also criticized Holmes and his involvement in the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, saying the city attorney only just started participating this year.
Holmes fired back that he was one of the founding members of LEAD, which started in 2011.
“Mr. Lindsay didn’t even live in the city of Seattle when this program got its start,” he said.
Holmes said his office finally received funding last year to hire a prosecutor to oversee LEAD meetings.
In the case of the shooting death of Charleena Lyles, Holmes said the police officers involved should have been wearing body cameras.
Lindsay said Lyles was suffering from a mental health crisis two weeks prior to her death, and rather than receiving help she was arrested by police and prosecuted by Holmes’ office. That did not help her mental status, he said.
Holmes said his push to hold police accountable is why he has been unable to secure an endorsement from the M. L. King County Labor Council, though the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) is only one of 150 labor unions on that council. The city attorney wants to be able to implement some reforms in the SPD without bargaining with SPOG, which has been working with an expired contract since 2015.
Lindsay said Seattle has a “streets-to-jail system” that needs to be stopped, and that people are not being diverted out or connected to needed treatment and social services.
Holmes has had eight years to make a difference, Lindsay said, but hasn’t.
The two candidates sparred over the city’s sweeps of unsanctioned homeless encampments. Holmes said Lindsay played a large part in the program, which used “prison labor” to clean up the sites.
“That’s gross and untrue,” Lindsay said, though he later added the city had been using “community corrections labor” for a decade before Murray asked him to look at improving the city’s response to encampments.
Lindsay took credit for creating the city’s navigation team, which is staffed by police and outreach workers that meet with homeless individuals and attempt to connect them with shelter. He said he pushed that policy be to not remove people from unsanctioned encampments unless there are shelter options available at the time, a rule that was put into effect in April.
The city and the Washington State Department of Transportation are currently dealing with a lawsuit by homeless campers with claims dating back to January 2016 that their belongings were seized and destroyed during sweeps and that more than half of those evictions did not include the 72-hour notice the city had promised. As city attorney, Holmes is tasked with defending the city’s handling of sweeps of unsanctioned encampments.
Lindsay said if he were city attorney he would oppose criminalizing public spaces, but added the city has a responsibility to manage those areas.
The city recently cleared a homeless encampment in the International District where a woman was critically injured — she later died at the hospital.
“It was a raging open-air drug market,” Lindsay said of the encampment.
Holmes made a similar jab at Lindsay’s record near the end of the forum, stating the former public safety advisor spent three years in the mayor’s office and did little to help the situation.