Election Day in all its postmark-required glory is only a week away — Tuesday, November 3rd. Lots of questions have been asked of District 3 candidates City Council incumbent Kshama Sawant and challenger Pamela Banks — but not all of them. Last week, we asked CHS readers to vote on 5 final questions for the candidates. The top questions — and answers from the Sawant and Banks campaigns — are below. CHS is also having final conversations with the candidates — more on those, soon.
1) Pick a model city/neighborhood somewhere else and explain why we should emulate them
|B: People compare Seattle to Portland, Boston and Denmark. I don’t like that thinking, honestly, Seattle isn’t Portland or Denmark. We have our own unique history, resources, and challenges, and we need to focus on the future of our city. We need to push our own limits to keep Seattle the diverse, vibrant, creative, inclusive, booming city we know it can be – a model to the rest of the country and the world.|
|S: I am running for re-election because I believe our city should be affordable and livable for everyone who works here. We cannot allow Seattle to be turned into a playground for the rich, or allow thousands of working people and people of color to continue to be displaced from our city.But the problems of Seattle are not an exception. As long as the Billionaire Class dominates our society in its interests, we will continue to see widespread social ills, and economic and racial inequality everywhere.|
But there are examples.
Vienna has made major gains for affordable housing in its history. Particularly when a strong socialist movement led to the taxing of developers to build the Gemeindebauten, which are public housing projects of high quality and high density. Karl Marx Hof is one of the most well-known examples of this, and it’s built with transit in mind, next to a major rail station. At one point the high quality public homes in Vienna housed a majority of working people. Vienna also has rent control. Unfortunately, in recent decades the Austrian and Viennese governments have embraced the politics of austerity, as forced on all of Europe by the investor class and its institutions. As a result, funding for the construction of these types of housing projects have been cut, along with many other essential services. The SPÖ (Socialist Party of Austria) has proposed a program to restore funding for those types of housing: http://www.viennareview.net/news/austria/reining-in-the-rents
Or there’s Berlin, a dense city well-served by transit. They adopted rent control very recently, in July 2015, and it has already brought down rents by 3%. The city is also building 30,000 new housing units over the next decade, which is a start but they clearly need to do more. More here: http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/07/berlins-brand-new-rent-control-laws-are-already-working/398087/
2) How many miles a week do you log traveling through our neighborhood in something other than a car? Bus, bike, foot, skateboard, etc.
|B: I walk a lot and take the bus several time a week. I moved into my neighborhood specifically so I would have that luxury. My office, my grocery store, my favorite coffee shop are all within walking distance. Now that I’m out canvassing for the campaign, I’m probably doing an extra 3-4 miles a day. It’s a great workout.|
|S: I get around the city on foot, by bus and by carpool. I almost never drive alone. But the key transportation issues facing our neighborhoods and our city are terrible traffic and underfunded mass transit. Seattle faces the fourth worst traffic in the nation. We need to create viable and safe alternatives to car-based transit so people can stop driving. We need to fund a major expansion of bus and rail service, paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. We need a Millionaire’s Tax, Business Head Tax, increased Commercial Parking Fees, and excise taxes on big box stores and banks. The Move Seattle levy is also critical to this discussion. While I disagree with property taxes as the sole funding source, I strongly support this levy. It is expected to fund important public infrastructure projects, many of which, including building and repairing sidewalks, are long overdue. It also devotes money to vital street upgrades which will make neighborhood intersections safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users.|
3) In lieu of bemoaning change/newcomers, give examples of how you will integrate newcomers to D3’s cultural & physical neighborhoods
|B: Seattleites love to talk about “the old days” and everything that’s changing. I think fundamentally, it’s not a problem of new people moving into the city. Seattle is a great city, it’s an amazing place to live, work and play, of course people want to live here. Honestly how could you come here and see Mt. Rainier commuting south on Rainier or from I-90, we’re surrounded by water, with mild weather who wouldn’t want to live here?I’ve said this a lot, I’ve lived in the Central District for 20 years. I’ve watched it change. People move into this neighborhood because the houses were affordable and close to downtown. They moved here because they like the neighborhood. It was diverse, it’s got great restaurants, great parks and cultural significant and buildings. I attend many community meetings and over time it’s becoming clear that we’re having problems bringing long time residents and the new residents together. If you attend an East Pac meeting the attendance is 95% white, if you attend the African American Advisory Council is 95% Black. They’re both discussing similar issue however the attendance reflects the serious issues of gentrification that has occurred throughout the district and across this city.|
This is the part where I’m supposed to say that there’s a simple fix. We can host block parties, have cultural specific events, attend National Night Out and have the best outreach and inclusion plans to get old and new residents to come together as one, BUT this is not the reality. Until people are ready to get out of their “comfort zones” and have discussions on race, class, equity and social justice we will be dealing with these issues.
|S: Affordable housing is essential to ensuring newcomers have an opportunity to be welcomed into District 3, and give more people a chance to live here. We need to build tens of thousands of new affordable housing units by taxing developers with the maximum “linkage fee” and using the city’s excess bonding capacity.We need to defend low income housing as our movement did in defeating the “Stepping Forward” proposal at Seattle Housing Authority, stopping 400% rent hikes for 7,000 of our community members, including many East African immigrants.|
We need rent control to end economic evictions and protect existing affordable housing, and stop the gentrification of historically diverse neighborhoods like the Central District.
We need an LGBTQ community center in Capitol Hill, the historic home of the LGBTQ community in our city. Seattle is the only major city in the U.S. without one.
We need to support small businesses and make our community more walkable, with projects like the pedestrian plaza pilot project on Pike, which can also help create a shared sense of community.
4) How would you fix the city’s Design Review process?
|B: It’s all about access and input. This process should be easier, more engaging, and faster. It’s absurd that people can’t comment online. Most people don’t have time to spare to come to meetings, especially on short notice. It’s an easy fix to give people more notice of meetings, to put out information in simple language instead of technical jargon, and to put a questionnaire online.We also need to think of projects more holistically, how do projects fit into the neighborhood? What do they offer in terms of living space, retail, arts space, culture, meeting spots, nightlife? How do they look? We have a rigid set of guidelines that focus on dimensions. This leads developers to build the biggest thing they can on the property and we get a glut of ugly grey and beige boxes taking over neighborhoods. People wouldn’t be so resistant to increasing density if the projects enhanced the character of the neighborhood. I think the 12th Ave Arts building is a good example. It’s visually interesting and the mix of affordable housing, retail, and arts space is a perfect fit for the area.|
|S: The city’s current process can sometimes take far too long, and can be bureaucratic. While it needs serious adjustment, the design process is essential because it’s the only opportunity communities have to weigh in on what goes in their neighborhood. I support review and improvement of the current process. And that review must be fully accountable to ordinary working people, because big developers would like to use arguments for expediency to remove all oversight.|
5) How do your policies improve the lives of District 3 residents who own their homes?
|B: This is such an important question. A lot of times when we’re thinking about affordability, we only think about rents, especially in terms of District 3 because we a large rental population. But we also have homeowners who are facing difficulty because of gentrification and property taxes. That’s one major cause of the loss of African-American culture in the Central District. I bought my house 20 years ago. It’s now worth about double what I paid for it. It doesn’t sound like a problem, but for older people or people on fixed incomes the tax increases that come with that hit really hard. And then there are realtors and/or developers coming around, preying on people to purchase their homes with cash. I get a note in the mail at least once a week offering to buy my house.At the Urban League, the housing program helps people who have received default or foreclosure notices get their mortgage get back on track. We have programs to help new homeowners find mortgages and get any assistance they need. We definitely need more programs at the city level that help people stay in their homes by lowering property taxes for low-income homeowners, offering services to help people get out from underwater mortgages, give young people the tools they need to buy a first home.|
But we also need policies that make our neighborhoods great places to live over the long haul. In District 3 we have real problems with safety; gun violence, property crimes, and hate crimes are all on the rise. We need our police officers to be responsive and engaged, and we need a councilmember who will demand that accountability. In terms of transportation, our streets are a mess in so many ways. We’re dropping the ball when it comes to transit projects and street improvements. We’re doing so many things – trolleys, bike lanes, rapid ride. They’re all great in theory, but the execution hasn’t always been right. There are two problems here. First, the coordination isn’t there. We’re not thinking about how the pedestrians and cyclists and cars and trucks and trolleys interact with each other. Second, the city isn’t asking the people who use these streets every day for input. I talk to people along 23rd or in Montlake and they’re very frustrated with the process.
|S: Many District 3 homeowners, especially those in the Central Area, faced the threat of foreclosure during the 2008 financial crisis. This produced a dramatic increase in gentrification, and many D3 residents lost their homes or struggled to keep them: http://www.seattlestar.net/2015/05/foreclosure-crisis-fueled-dramatic-rise-of-racial-segregation-study/The city’s own study found that this threat still exists, with mortgage companies having committed fraud in mortgage documents that could call into question a homeowner’s title to their own property.|
We need mortgage relief for homeowners. Over 16,500 Seattle families have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2008. The city needs to stop dragging its feet and finally implement a principal reduction program for underwater homeowners to keep more families from losing their homes.