O’Brien and Harris-Talley: Tax Seattle businesses for homelessness

In a press conference Thursday morning, Seattle City Council members Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley announced the core of a new proposed budget for the city: making the top 10% grossing businesses pay a tax of less than five cents per hour per full-time employee. The H.O.M.E.S. proposal — Housing, Outreach and Mass-Entry Shelter — would gather $20 to $25 million every year which to be applied to homelessness services, permanent housing, and vouchers.

“I’m afraid our current budget sets us up for failure,” O’Brien said. “This is not enough to solve the crisis. We will be asking the new mayor, whoever she is, to come up with a new plan in the first few months.”

Under the proposal, businesses that gross in excess of $5 million a year would pay the tax. The council members calculated each business would pay approximately $100 per full time employee a year.

“We have very limited tools for raising revenue in this city,” said Harris-Talley. She said it’s necessary to look at who’s benefitting and who’s disproportionately impacted by that. “There’s no reason they shouldn’t have an opportunity to give back to the folks who are impacted by them being here.”

Would the tax produce a chilling effect on big businesses like Amazon?

“Big businesses are here, big businesses have always been here,” Harris-Talley said. “Amazon is not the end all be all of big businesses coming here.”

So where would this money go? They’re not exactly sure, but it will go toward shelter, housing, vouchers, and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). There are plans to expand LEAD into the North Precinct so that it may divert low-level drug offenders and prostitutes to better services. CHS wrote about LEAD’s expansion to Capitol Hill in 2016.

When it comes to vouchers, however, Seattle already has Section 8 vouchers which are provided for anywhere between three to six months. O’Brien and Harris-Talley don’t seek to replace this program, but add to it.

“Our vision is that if we have someone who is going to need a voucher for the rest of their life to stay house, then we need to provide them a voucher to keep them housed,” O’Brien said. “Right now, we put a lot of constraints on what we expect of folks and how soon they need to move into housing.”

He said that even the Navigation Center has a 90 day limit.

Both O’Brien and Harris-Talley made it clear that the plan is not enough to fully solve Seattle’s homelessness and housing affordability crisis. Harris-Talley said she wants something that’s sustainable every year.

“While the mayor’s budget included some good marginal investments, there was not the scale of new investments that I think this crisis calls for,” O’Brien said. “I know folks in the business community don’t like to be taxed, so they’re going to criticize it. I’m asking them to come forward with an alternative path.”

“What I can’t do is say ‘let’s sit around the table for another year and talk about a property tax next fall that may produce some housing two or three years from now,'” O’Brien said. “I need to address this now. We’ve been waiting two years in a state of emergency.”

District 3 rep Kshama Sawant has talked with the two and O’Brien said he wouldn’t be surprised if she asked for even higher numbers. Sawant is currently prepping for The People’s Budget.

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6 thoughts on “O’Brien and Harris-Talley: Tax Seattle businesses for homelessness

  1. There has been a lot of talk recently about the homeless situation here in Seattle. The City opened another resource center for the homeless just a few weeks ago. I agree that the homeless should be helped, but here is the issue-if we build it, will they come? Will they come from Tacoma, Olympia, Bellevue, Spokane, Portland, Pasco, Walla Walla and Humptulips? There was a report a couple months ago in which 11% of the homeless surveyed said they came to Seattle BECAUSE of the services. So more help equals more to help, which means more money which leads to even more people. This cannot be a local issue, it has to be regional at least. I am afraid that our citizens generosity only exacerbates the problem.

  2. No. Not unless it is coupled with a requirement to spend only on evidence-based practices.

    We need a right-to-shelter law that funds 24 hour shelter with services, and a huge expansion of rental assistance and access to mental health services. Pair immediate access to shelter and services with enforcement of our existing laws and we could make a lot of progess.

    This is what other cities do and it works. We spend a ton already so it wouldn’t cost much more.

    Instead we throw good money after bad on half measures and things that don’t work while the situation deteriorates around us and people suffer needlessly. It’s a disgrace.

  3. Like the proposed Seattle income tax on the wealthy, this is another “tax the rich” scheme by our leftist City Council persons. Both proposals are certain to be tied up in court for years.