The candidates for Seattle Mayor – Lorena González and Bruce Harrell – spent an hour this afternoon answering questions about homelessness and housing, and are scheduled to take on the same topic at another event tonight.
We watched the noontime forum, presented by the Resolution to End Homelessness. Its founder/board president Kyle Bergquist moderated. The organization recorded the event; the video is below, followed by our notes:
Except for what’s within quote marks, what you see below is our paraphrasing or summary of what the candidates said. Both candidates were given time to answer each question, and then took turns with rebuttal/elaboration.
In introductory remarks, González said she believes homelessness can be solved by addressing its “root causes,” which she listed as poverty and income inequality. She called herself “the progressive choice in this race.”
Harrell said he believes causes also include “the underfunding of mental illness and drug and alcohol treatment.” He said he believes Seattle is “starving for the kind of leadership” he would offer.
QUESTION: Many people make frequent references to ending homelessness. What does this mean to you and what paths are there toward (ending it)?
Harrell: “The buck stops with me – I have to present the plan,” and he would bring everyone together. He said that the blame game has never been his style. He believes the city does have the resources to spend what’s needed. He will have a cabinet-level position to ensure that “we have all the state and federal funds possible.” He promises an attack on “the regressive tax system that we have.” He also vows to gather the philanthropic community around the problem, to “embrace” it. He would get people “the treatment they need” and promises to clean parks and open spaces.
González: “To me, ending homelessness means we are creating true health and opportunities” for everyone. She also spoke of “creating the housing infrastructure that prevents people from entering into housing instability in the first place” as well as providing “a safe place to heal and build stability for themselves and their well-being.” She spoke of the “record number of people suffering,” living unsheltered, and that government “must step up our response … truly responsive to the level of the crisis … on our streets.” She said “we have to acknowledge that housing … is the most sustainable path to ending homelessness.” She said that “bringing people inside” is complex. She promised “swift action in the first 100 days” including shelter and housing.
Harrell: “Housing … is good” but “housing someone is clearly short of the only thing we must do,” so he’s creating an initiative to “make sure everyone has health care” and he’s also creating a new “Seattle Job Center” department.
González: She reiterated that “access to a safer place to be” is the first step for everyone, and then they can focus “on healing and recovery.” She also promised to fight displacement and gentrification.
Harrell: He promised a “very deep dive” to “see why BIPOC communities” are disparately affected.
QUESTION: Regarding funding – the state budget has grown by $19 billion in the past six years; homelessness in Puget Sound could be solvable for less than $1.5 billion. What are your funding thoughts?
González: “There is no one single source that’s going to solve the entirety of the issue” but she believes we don’t currently have sufficient resources, and that’s why “we see more people pushed into homelessness.” The funding plan must leverage federal and state dollars as well as local, and the mayor would go to Olympia and lobby for everything possible. How do we identify new city resources? She and three councilmembers sponsored the JumpStart payroll tax to help bring in more money. She wants to build on the capital-gains tax and revisit the issue of an income tax as well as “gettng a wealth tax passed across the state.”
Harrell: “I didn’t hear anything I didn’t agree with from my opponent,” but the reality is that they’re already spending almost a billion dollars, government and private funds – “there will never be enough money.” So “you have to take some principles of business into play … and do an inventory …” He says waiting for a new revenue source isn’t feasible. “My approach is not only exhausting progressive revenue sources” but also tapping private funding.
González: “This crisis doesn’t give us the luxury of waiting for new progressive revenue sources.” She said corporations aren’t paying enough. She promised to work “on day 1” with “community leaders and council” to “rebalance the tax code.”
Harrell: Again mentioned his planned “cabinet-level position” to ensure all funding is found.
González: She said they’ve already audited the city’s homelessness spending. “It’s about making sure the regional homelessness authority has the funding it needs” and she believes that means finding more, especially from “suburban cities.”
QUESTION: Tens of thousands of renters are behind. The eviction moratorium eventually will end. What are your thoughts in this ptoential spike in homelessness?
Harrell: “We’ll be creative as possible” in working with both landlords and renters. He said HALA a few years ago included tools for ensuring people can stay in their homes.
González: Large corporations posted historic profits during the pandemic, while average renters were falling behind. “The answer here is to make sure we are working across every level of the government to make sure we are allocating a significant amount of dollars toward tenant assistance … and also (help) landlords.” But “strong tenant protection laws” are vital too. And “we are not out of the woods” in the pandemic, so she thinks it’ll be necessary in January to extend the eviction moratorium again.
The moderator asked a followup – what about the landlords?
Harrell: He said that he cares about that part of the “ecosystem” and believes that “emergency rental assistance” will help the landlords.
González: “The risk associated with the tenants is quite different … it literally means losing your home,” while the landlord “has many more tools available to them” such as federal mortgage relief and “in most instances landlords are going to remain housed.” So preventing renters from becoming homeless “must be our primary focus.”
Harrell: He says that it’s important to recognize that if small landlords can’t afford the mortgage, they will be forced to sell – “many don’t have the cushions” to do anything else, and so that will put the tenants on the street too.
QUESTION: Current city policy restricts the development of “congregate housing” [microhousing with some shared areas such as kitchens] Would you remove the restrictions?
González: “It’s really important to increase all types of housing choices across the city” so the next mayor “must really acknowledge that need. ,.. Let’s build a city that isn’t exclusive.”
Harrell: Yes, he supports “re-legaliz(ing)” congregate housing (aka microhousing). He also supports evaluating how to help people in building more ADUs and DADUs, and streamlining residential design review “to encourage the kind of building we want to see.”
González: She mentions her concern that so much of the city is restricted to single-family-housing development.
Attendee questions started here. First: Regarding camping in public spaces, what’s your position on sweeps and other visible homelessness?
Harrell: He doesn’t like the term “sweeps.” But “we will get people out of parks and sidewalks and tents around playgrounds … that is inhumane, we can’t be numb to that, we have to house them.” $116 million in unanticipated federal funds should help with that. He is going to set up a way for people to donate money and time. “We shouldn’t have to look at the human suffering of other people.”
González: “I do not support sweeps (or) the forcible removal of people against their will.” For one, that’s a violation of their constitutional rights. “Moving people from one neighborhood to another neighborhood like we’ve been doing … is ineffective” and “scaling up shelter options that people will accept” is the solution.
QUESTION: BIPOC individuals are disproportionately represented in people experiencing homelessness but BIPOC organizations are underfunded. How will you change that?
Gonzalez: Will work with community representatives to guide policy. She promises fast action to “rapidly rehouse” people and “meet their behavioral-health needs.” She says staying committed to “trauma-informed” policies is vital.
Harrell: “The question (is) why” the BIPOC community is disproportionately affected. He believes drugs “pouring into our communities” is a major problem, because of “the failed war on drugs.” And too many people “lost the safety net around them.” He said he continues to “read everything I can” on how to end homelessness.
QUESTION: It’s hard for people to be empathetic and compassionate when drugs and addiction are so prevalent in visible homelessness. What do you say about that?
Harrell: “The work becomes harder” because of the decades of abuse that so many have suffered – including physical and emotional. He will “tap into the goodness of everyone” to solve this. And “we will make the tough decisions as well.”
González: “We need to address the realities of a shortage of behavioral-health treatment” including “substance-abuse treatment.” She. believes the next mayor can “advocate for an increased level of investment.” But “what won’t work is a law-and-order approach .. (to) replicate the war on drugs.” She would stay focused on approaches “to address the root causes and allow people to get on a path” toward treatment.
At the heart of their closing statements:
González: “Trying to cope with symptoms” without addressing the “root causes … will not succeed.”
Harrell: “Under my approach we’re going to look at the whole culture of the city” so that “everyone will feel safe.”
TONIGHT’S FORUM: The Seattle Times is co-sponsoring candidate forums about homelessness tonight and tomorrow night. Tonight at 7 pm, it’s the mayoral candidates. Go here to register.
WHAT’S NEXT: Ballots will be mailed two weeks from today, and voting begins as soon as you get yours.