As hundreds gathered in downtown Seattle last week to protest the killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, Andre Taylor was walking through the crowd handing out flyers on Initiative 873.
Since the day his brother Che Taylor was shot and killed by Seattle Police in February, Taylor has been working to get the measure on the ballot that aims to make it easier to prosecute police for killing people in the line of duty. Specifically, the initiative would amend RCW 9A.16.040, which holds one of the highest standards in the country for prosecuting police misconduct.
A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.
Candidates for the 43rd District House seat all agree: Washington state needs I-873. But the candidates have differing views on how best to address societal issues around last week’s violence, civil rights, and equity. And, because it’s Seattle 2016, much of the discussion comes down to affordability and displacement.
“We have to recognize that Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and dozens of others like them, were killed because they were black,” Democratic party organizer and 43rd District candidate Scott Forbes said. Forbes told CHS he would champion making police body cameras required in all law enforcement departments statewide.
“Our state should be leading the country when it comes to reforming deadly force standards,” labor organizer Marcus Courtney, meanwhile, said in a statement supporting I-873 sent to media this week.
Civil rights issues in the 43rd race go beyond police violence. In addition to supporting I-873, environmental activist Sameer Ranade outlined ideas he would like to take to Olympia: require all police officers to undergo “social justice training” and require all departments to establish community relations divisions.
At a candidates forum Saturday hosted by the Coalition of Immigrants Refugees and Communities of Color, the discussion about inequity in Seattle for the 43rd candidates kept coming back to affordability.
“Education, unfortunately, is not the equalizer,” housing policy advocate Nicole Macri said Saturday.
“We have had a big growth in the numbers of families of color in King County. At the same time, we’ve had a decrease in the numbers of families of color in Seattle. That should be causing great alarm for all of us,” she said. Her solutions? Build affordable housing, promote investment in family size development, strongly enforce fair housing, and increase state “direct investment” in affordable housing.
For many affordable housing advocates in Seattle, Olympia has recently been more of a burden than a blessing. Repealing the ban on rent control has been a non-starter and House speaker Frank Chopp, who represents the 43rd District, killed an proposal backed by Mayor Ed Murray for a property tax break aimed at incentivizing building owners to make existing units income restricted. Chopp said it was a giveaway to landlords.
Most candidates running to join Chopp as a 43rd District rep said they supported the incentive. Many also said best way to create more affordability in the legislature is to increase investment in the state Housing Trust Fund — a program Chopp helped launch in 1987. The fund makes competitive grants available to developers of income-restricted units. More than 70 projects in the 43rd district alone that have benefitted from the fund, including 12th Avenue Arts.
With rents continuing to rise at breakneck rates on Capitol Hill, we asked candidates what they would do in Olympia to help curb what many officials have called an affordability crisis in the city.
Touting his approach as the boldest of all the candidates, labor organizer Marcus Courtney told CHS he wants to create an entirely new state department to deal with housing issues. Courtney envisions a department that could marshall federal resources towards housing and homelessness and be and advocate for repealing the state ban on rent control.
Saturday, John Eddy, the 43rd’s Twitter candidate, said he believed rent control was the key component to addressing affordability and displacement in Seattle.
As the strongest environmentalist of the bunch, environmental advocate Sameer Ranade ties affordability to environmental sustainability in some interesting ways. Ranade supports a carbon tax and thinks a portion of those revenues should be tied to affordable housing efforts, like the Housing Trust Fund.
“Climate change is overlooking all of this. We need to be more resource efficient,” he said. “The way to do that is to have denser, multi family housing.” Ranade is also a supporter of replaying the state ban on rent control and implementing some variation of it in Seattle.
For the past decade Nicole Macri has toiled in the nitty-gritty of housing policy, likely making her the most qualified housing expert in the field. Macri says she would prioritize funding for affordable housing through state spending on Medicaid and general fund infrastructure spending, normally reserved for road and bridge projects. To do it, Macri wants to set an expectation that at least 10% of the state’s capital budget goes to housing.
“There is no more basic infrastructure need in our state than making sure every one has a place to live,” she said.
In our conversations with candidates, Macri was the only one to raise the idea of tightening state regulations on housing discrimination, like a statewide measure to outlaw landlords from refusing prospective tenants based on their source of income.
Seattle attorney Dan Shih also had some detailed ideas on what could be done to increase the city’s stock of affordable housing. By helping to facilitate “social impact bonds,” Shih said private real estate investors could be encouraged to make investments into affordable housing projects. He also proposed an interesting reboot to Murray’s real estate tax incentive: Allow property owners to bid on the incentives by showing how many units they would set aside as income restrict. “That way you know you’re not leaving a lot of money on the table,” he said.
Saturday at the CIRCC candidates forum, Shih said more affordability efforts needed to be directed toward areas like South Seattle. “We do need to be prioritizing some of our resources for affordability in areas where there is diversity.” Shi said the “cooperative” development of Yesler Terrace with the Seattle Housing Authority was a good example of the kinds of projects the city needs.
For longtime Democratic party organizer Scott Forbes, getting state prohibitions out of the way of local initiatives is key for getting more affordable housing in Seattle. In a move that would put him at odds with Chopp, Forbes said he would revive the Preservation Tax Exemption to set aside income restricted units in existing buildings.
While he favors repealing the ban on rent control at the state level, he is skeptical of the promises made by its most ardent supporters. “Ultimately we’re not going to be able to create more housing using rent control,” Forbes said. “We are going to have to build higher density and we are going to have to build up.”
Saturday, Forbes said it was wrong to position development as an enemy of social justice. “One of the best things we can do to fight structural racism is diversity,” he said at the CIRCC candidates forum. “So the displacement issue is really one that is driving us in the wrong direction because we are seeing in the neighborhoods around the 43rd, especially, becoming less diverse because of people being priced out of the district and being priced out of Seattle.”
Thomas Pitchford, who worked to pass the state’s marriage equality law in 2012, said he too would like to revive the property tax incentive measure. Pitchford also wants to increase spending in the housing trust fund. To do it, he has promised to work tirelessly to convince Republicans to raise taxes. “If we can educate them on this, they might come to our way of looking at it,” he said.
As the only Republican and self-described libertarian in the race, Zachary Zaerr is the only candidate who does not support lifting the state preemption on rent control. “If fewer people are willing/able to work in the city at low wages companies will be forced to adjust and pay an adequate level of income,” he said.
Saturday, Zaerr said affordability “is more of a city issue,” saying “Big Government” has limited how much density can be created in Seattle.
LGBTQ concerns, too
The shooting at a gay club in Orlando and the assault of a trans person on Capitol Hill have also strengthened a focus on LGBTQ rights in the race.
“The recent attacks on Capitol Hill are a stark reminder of how much work needs to be done,” said Courtney, who wants LGBTQ issues added to the public school curriculum statewide. Courtney also said he would work to direct state funding to LGBT homeless population in the district.
Pitchford, who worked as an organizer for the state’s marriage equality campaign, said he wants to fill the void in LGBTQ leadership in Olympia created after Ed Murray left to run for mayor.
“When he left and we won the marriage campaign, I think a lot of us assumed the momentum had given us a shift in culture,” Pitchford said. “We have trans hate crimes legislation, but there needs to be some teeth.”
Shih likely has the strongest grasp of the state’s anti-discrimination laws given his experience as a board member with the ACLU of Washington and volunteer attorney for the LGBTQ nonprofit Lambda Legal. While Washington stacks up well against other states in anti-discrimination protections, he said gaps still exist. For instance, Shih cited the absence of medical and family leave protections which can greatly affect workplace disparities for women.
Echoing public art campaigns like last year’s #CapitolHillPSA, homeless and housing policy advocate Macri pointed to rapid gentrification as contributing to anti-LGBT crimes. “When we see a rapid shift in demographics … I think these ideas of otherness become more common,” she said.
UPDATE: The Seattle Municipal League has released its ratings on the 43rd candidates. Congratulations to candidates Shih and Macri for their “outstanding” and “very good” marks. Sorry, candidate Eddy. You’re “not qualified.”