Thursday night’s second online city-candidate debate on homelessness featured the two candidates for Seattle City Council citywide Position 9, the spot that Lorena González is leaving to run for mayor. The event concluded the series presented by The Seattle Times and We’re All In. Here’s what Sara Nelson and Nikkita Oliver had to say, in response to questions asked by Times reporter Sydney Brownstone. Note that everything below is our paraphrase/summary, not a direct quote unless it’s within quotation marks.
QUESTION: You’ve both said you want to end single-family zoning in some form. What’s your vision for housing and how soon would you bring this forward?
Oliver: The real question here is, are we going to end exclusionary zoning … “this is really an intersectional issue that has a lot of moving parts” … we need to look at the ability to build deeply affordable housing. This means we can have density throughout the city and to push back against gentrification,
Nelson: I have always been in full support of density and more growth (but) “we have taken steps to end single-family zoning already,” with ADUs/DADUs enabling 3 units on a lot, but when we talk about ending single-family zoning, what does that really mean? Remove all restrictions? There is more we can do.
QUESTION: Allowing for more multifamily housing still doesn’t guarantee very-low-income housing. Outside of zoning reform, how would you increase housing stock for people earning 0-30 percent of AMI (Average Mean Income)?
Nelson: We have affordable-housing providers, and that’s their job, Maybe change MFTE (Multi-Family Tax Exemption) and MHA (Mandatory Housing Affordability) policies, We need more workforce housing, Microhousing stopped because of code revisions.
Oliver: “If we open up all of the zoning and do nothing for targeted development … private development” will build whatever they want to. Need “progressive revenue-generating options”” to raise the money for low-income housing. Need to fast-track affordable-housing development, Working on co-ops and Community Land Trusts can help, “and putting incentives in place for developers” to build 0-30 AMI.
QUESTION: Reader sees drugs as part of homelessness crisis. How are you going to address drugs?
Oliver: People often find themselves in drug trouble after crises that leave them homeless. Housed people fight addiction too. Homelessness is a matter of affordability. What would it look like if city addressed behavioral-health options with progressive revenue source? The city should help address behavioral-health needs,
Nelson: “We have to directly fund (treatment). ,.. This is crucial that the city focus on this. ,,, We should allocate some of JumpStart money toward this.” She believes that encampments are a problem “because they create the opportunity for people to fall deeper into” drug/alcohol problems if they have that tendency. She says that saying homelessness is just about affordability is naive.
Oliver: “There are plenty of folks who hold jobs and housing who experience addiction” … “we have a fundamental issue of affordability.”
QUESTION: When encampment removals happen, people often set up blocks away. How do you change that?
Nelson: A policy that “encampments are inhumane” and saturate outreach ,,, those workers need to be city employees ‘an army of people with clipboards, boots on the ground, knowledge of housing available right now … we’re not doing anybody any favors by saying we’re not doing anything about encampments” until there’s enough shelter.
QUESTION: Oliver says stop the sweeps. How do you mitigate damage done by large encampments and those living near them?
Oliver: They quote a person talking about cleaning the sites but not sweeping the people. They proposed “Radical accessibility” for trash, hygiene stations, laundry, “peer navigators” and to “have enough housing/shelter” for people to go inside. “We sweep people without” there being anywhere for them to go.
Nelson: Yes, “there are good neighbors in encampments” but Oliver’s “radical accessibility” would allow parks to continue being used for housing.
Oliver: “This is not about saying we’re comfortable about people living in parks, it’s about saying we’re uncomfortable with sweeping people without anywhere to go.”
QUESTION: Last year a consultant estimated addressing homelessness would cost at least $400 million more. Do you agree city should spend more?
Nelson: It’s very possible, but “before we talk about new revenue, let’s talk about results.”
Oliver: “Absolutely, Seattle should be spending more … if we were spending enough, we would have eliminated the crisis. .. We need to ramp up our acquisition of property” and of building what’s needed, “It’s going to take revenue to get out of the crisis.”
QUESTION: Would Nelson consider new sources of revenue, which Oliver mentioned?
Nelson: We need to first have a plan, find out how much it will cost – “before we talk about new revenue, we need to talk about what is the plan.” Her opponent and others think that “if we just tax people more … the problem will jut go away.”
Oliver: “To say we don’t need progressive revenue generating options …ignores the fact that if we had enough money to invest in getting out of this crisis we probably would have.”
QUESTION: Seattle has invested $23 million in programs like CoLEAD and JustCARE but many have gone back to the streets. Are these acceptable outcomes?
Nelson: No. “We need to look at other cities that are doing it better. … We need followthrough.” Just taking people from an encampment and putting them in a shelter is not a good option. We need wraparound services. Also talking about jobs.
Oliver: They talked to a program rep who explained that hotels can be isolating, separating people from the community they had on the streets, “What we need is a solution that is low-barrier, housing first,” offering options, so that “every option .,. has another pathway behind it” toward permanent housing. “Ensuring peer navigators establish rapport with people” is vital too.
QUESTION: Re: tiny-house villages, some including new Regional Authority head don’t support them. Should Seattle keep expanding number it has?
Nelson: City shouldn’t make the plan when it will be up to regional authority. What we need to do is just get in line with our regional partners.”
Oliver: “We should bring online the projects that are already in the pipeline” but realize that tiny-house villages are not the solution, Also, there needs to be a clear pathway every time we get someone into something – next step on their pathway to housing. They also favor working closely with Regional Authority.
QUESTION: Seattle fell behind other cities in offering sanitation to encampments etc, Should city increase these services?
Nelson: City needs to focus on getting people into stable housing. Everything else is “frittering away money” that should be going to solutions, “We have to make sure we’re not getting distracted from the goal.”
Oliver: “We have to increase hygiene resources to encampments ,,, it’s a public health crisis.” They mention a hepatitis outbreak while the city was delaying getting money for this, As we get more inside, won’t have to do so much toward this, While people are still living outside, we have an obligation from a public-health perspective.”
QUESTION: Who are you voting for in city attorney’s race and why?
Oliver: Thomas-Kennedy. “She understands importance of driving solutions toward public safety that meet the needs of our residents” “We should invest a lot more people in keeping out of the criminal pipeline.” Also believes Thomas-Kennedy will defend “progressive tax option” when they’re challenged in court.
Nelson: Not saying. “Both have good qualities … I’m going to keep my mind open.”
VIDEO … is in the Times coverage of the Thursday night forums, which were preceded by two King County Council candidates whose race is not on our area’s ballot; next came City Attorney candidates (here’s our recap), before this.
FUTURE FORUMS: The only in-person West Seattle forum that we know of is coming up October 18th at Our Lady of Guadalupe, with candidates in both City Council races.
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