Seattle is pulling the plug on the $275 million property tax levy to tackle the city’s homelessness problem in favor of a King County sales tax measure to deal with the problem.
The Seattle initiative was championed by venture capitalist and activist Nick Hanauer, who brought the issue to Murray and worked with the city on drafting the Seattle initiative.
The new measure will be on the ballot in 2018, and it will involve raising $68 million per year on a 0.1 percent sales tax increase at the county level.
“We know homelessness is an emergency not contained just in Seattle,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said at a news conference on Monday. “We know that acting collectively must mean acting regionally. The crisis is not bound by artificial borders, and our compassion cannot be restricted to political borders.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the countywide measure will be crafted in the coming months, and it will be paired with a vote this year to extend the county’s Veterans and Human Services Levy to tackle homelessness issues. Seattle and King County leaders did not announce a lot of specific policies, but the overall goals of the new alliance and sales tax measure are to help homeless people find shelters and permanent housing, to prevent more people from becoming homeless and to create programs that deal with the root causes of homelessness.
Homelessness is a complex issue requiring creative and collaborative approaches. Today we announce a regional effort to tackle what the city or county cannot do alone: more effectively deliver individualized solutions to get more of our unsheltered population into stable, permanent housing.
Posted by Mayor Ed Murray on Monday, April 3, 2017
As the Seattle initiative came together, through conversations with service providers around the county, Hanauer, Murray and others working on the measure realized they needed to shift to a regional plan. Hanauer, the first outside investor in Amazon.com and an early backer of companies like Insitu, Juno Therapeutics and aQuantive, said he was sorry to see the Seattle plan go.
“I must admit I am a little sad to not be moving forward with our city initiative, but we will be no less committed to ensuring that the county plan is as big, as effective and as accountable as it needs to be and this region deserves,” Hanauer said.
The Seattle property tax initiative aimed to raise $275 million over five years — or $55 million per year — and was set for an August vote. Murray first announced the proposal, which would have doubled city spending on homelessness, at his State of the City address in February.
Homelessness isn't just an issue in Seattle. It's grown in cities throughout the county and state – requiring regional solutions.
— Ed Murray (@MayorEdMurray) April 3, 2017
Help from the federal government to confront homelessness didn't come, so we will work together at the local level to create solutions.
— Dow Constantine (@kcexec) April 3, 2017
The bulk of the Seattle property tax levy, $195 million, was set go to “expanded housing options.” If Hanauer’s comments at the news conference are any indication, housing options will continue to be a focus of the new measure as well. He painted Seattle’s homelessness problem as one of a lack of low-income housing and income inequality.
“It’s not just that many people are poor,” Hanauer said. “It’s that many of us in fast growing cities like Seattle earn a great deal and can afford any kind of housing we wish, and it is that dynamic that pushes the price of housing up for everyone, particularly the poor.”