Jon Grant ran for the seat in 2015, and this year he’s going for the same City Council Position 8 with a platform focused on affordable housing and tenant rights — and being one of the first publicly financed candidates ever in Seattle.
Grant, former director of the Tenants Union, announced his bid back in November with a challenge to supporters to raise 400 $10 donations in the city’s new Democracy Voucher program. He exceeded that by getting 560 vouchers averaging $16 to fund his campaign.
“We had a tremendous response,” Grant said. Grant has already received more donations for this campaign than his entire 10-month campaign in 2015.
Here’s how the voucher program works. Earlier this month, registered voters began getting four $25 in vouchers in the mail. Seattle residents who are at least 18 years old and are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident can apply online for vouchers. Each voucher has the election year, resident’s name, a voucher identification number, and may have a voter ID number and barcode to help with signature verification. All contributions are public information.
Nope, vouchers cannot be sold on Craigslist. According to enacted Initiative 122, “Assignment or transfer for cash or any consideration is prohibited. Offering to purchase, buy or sell a Democracy Voucher is prohibited. No person may give or gift a Democracy Voucher to another person, except by assigning it to a candidate.”
Residents can give eligible candidates as many of their vouchers as they want, and candidates can redeem vouchers between Jan. 3 and Nov. 30, 2017. So those wanting to hang onto their vouchers until the races take more shape can do that. The program only applies to city council and city attorney candidates this year.
The program, administered and audited by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, is funded by a $3 million per year property tax increase for the next 10 years.
Grant thinks Seattleites are supporting him with vouchers for the at-large seat in part because the city hasn’t done enough to address affordable housing.
“What I hope to bring is that we can actually build a progressive majority on the council so that we can build a city that is going to be affordable (and) equitable because that’s what our community needs,” Grant told CHS.
In Grant’s previous campaign, he ran calling for public campaign financing. Now he’s using the city’s new Democracy Voucher program to finance his campaign. The program, along with veteran council member Tim Burgess deciding he will not run for re-election, provides an open arena for grassroots candidates such as himself, Grant said.
“With public financing, the playing field is more level,” Grant said, which he speculated influenced Burgess’s decision not to run this year.
Along with Grant one other candidate, Mac S. McGregor, running for Position 8 is currently eligible for Democracy Vouchers. The longtime activist, personal safety advocate, and LGBTQ personality hopes to be a transgender political pioneer:
— Mac S. McGregor (@Mckick) January 5, 2017
We’ll have more on McGregor’s candidacy soon.
The center of Grant’s platform consists of three pillars, he says. creating an Office of the Tenant Advocate, establishing collective bargaining rights for tenants, and requiring 25% of all new housing to be affordable.
Grant is proposing creating an Office of the Tenant Advocate because he said the current laws don’t have anyone to enforce them. “(The laws) aren’t worth the paper that they’re printed on if we don’t actually have strong enforcement,” Grant said.
The collective bargaining rights are a more radical idea, Grant said, as a way for the city to address rising rents. As an example, Grant said if a new owner took over an existing apartment building, the tenants would have a say in proposed changes.
“This could be an alternative way for tenants to build power in their own buildings to negotiate long-term rental contracts to keep rents low,” Grant said.
Grant is also proposing that new developments be required to make 25% of their units affordable for workers and low-income people.
“If we don’t have any affordability requirements or strong affordability requirements, they’re going to build to a luxury market,” Grant said. “… So I think a 25% mandatory inclusionary zoning proposal is common sense.”
The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda just doesn’t go far enough with its affordability requirements, Grant, who served on the HALA committee, said. While HALA has many good pieces, he abstained from voting on the agenda and released a counter-proposal in 2015 because he felt the percentage of affordable units for new developments should be higher.
Creating transit-oriented development, such as the planned projects around Capitol Hill Station, also needs to be a priority for the city, he said.
While people are still being priced out of Capitol Hill, Grant doesn’t think affordability is a lost cause for the neighborhood. He points to a slow response from the city for Capitol Hill and other neighborhood’s rising rents.
Along with housing affordability and tenant rights, Grant is also pushing for police reform and changes to how the city is handling the homelessness crisis. “We have heard time and time again from the community that we do not want a youth jail, we do not want a massive police bunker in the north end,” Grant said. As for the city’s plans on homelessness, Grant said moving encampments from one place to another isn’t the way to go, and the mixed messages from some city employees saying they’re going to help to others saying people need to move out of their encampment also needs to stop. Sanctioning existing encampments is a better answer as affordable housing is developed, he said.
Grant said voices from grassroots movements are needed to address these issues. He’s glad the voucher program was put in place in time to help power his new campaign to represent the city.