If it survives a voter referendum cooked up this week by business and economic groups opposing the plan… And if the spending plan put forward by the City Council somehow can survive mayoral opposition…
How much of the roughly $237 million over five years in head tax revenue will come to Capitol Hill? The short answer is, some, but it’s too early to say exactly. A Seattle City Council resolution, however, gives a starting point. Along with the head tax, the council approved a companion resolution that laid out broad preliminary plans for the windfall of cash.
The resolution is non-binding and could change during the council’s budget process in the fall. Additionally, the Mayor Jenny Durkin’s office has indicated that she opposes the preliminary spending plans, council staff say.
In the broadest of terms, about 66% of the money would go to the construction and maintenance of new housing. Another 32% would go to more immediate programs, such as rental and subsidy programs, sanitation services, parking spaces for people living in cars, public health services and more. The remaining 2% will cover administrative costs.
More specifically, the resolution called for spending $27.5 million in the first year – ratcheting up to $29.2 by year five – to build 591 housing units. An additional $3 – $5.1 million would provide maintainence and assistance to 302 of those units.
- It allocates $1.9 – $3.4 million for rental assistance, leasing and subsidies, which would serve 289 units.
- It would create 70 shelter beds for about $500,000 in each of the first two years.
- Funding for enhanced shelters, costing $4.6 to $3.6 million over five years would create 180 beds in the first year, plus another 50 in year two. Enhanced shelters are often open 24-hours, and have amenities such as showers and lockers, as opposed to standard shelters which are only open overnight, and do not typically have any sort of secure storage.
- Temporary housing would be funded for two years to the tune of $1.6 and $2.4 million, which would allow for two encampments which could include things like tiny house, buddy shelters or shelter tents to serve 54.
- About $300,000 in each of the first two years would go to laundry, shower trailers, toilets and handwashing.
- Between $1.2 and $1.4 million would go to trash removal over five years. This funding would supplement the existing budget for trash removal when the city engages in sweeps of homeless camps.
- From $847,000 to $1.1 million is earmarked for people living in cars, creating 153 safe parking spaces. Included in that is funding for criminal justice diversion funding which would serve 310 people.
- Public health services, including women’s reproductive health, communicable disease response and addiction services would get between $1 and $1.4 million.
- Staffing for outreach services would range from $731,000 to $894,000.
- Finally, $2.5 million to $2.7 million is set aside to give 4 percent raises to “city-funded homelessness direct service providers.” The resolution suggests the money would reduce turnover in those positions.
Earlier this month, the Seattle City Council approved the plan for a tax on its largest businesses to help pay for housing and homelessness. The legislation will implement a $275 per full-time employee tax on companies reporting $20 million or greater in annual “taxable gross receipts.” Mayor Jenny Durkan — who brought an eleventh hour plan forward calling for a smaller tax to help sooth concerns from large employers like Amazon — signed off on the tax following the vote but she has not signed the approved legislation’s spending plan.
If and when she does, the money will end up being spread citywide, but some of it will likely find its way here.
“Capitol Hill is definitely going to see some of that investment,” a staff member in the office of citywide Council member Teresa Mosqueda told CHS. “If we look at where the need is, Capitol Hill definitely has the need.”
Staff note projects such as the Youthcare homeless youth center planned at Broadway and Pine, or a proposed LGBTQ+ friendly senior housing project at 14th and Union as examples of projects that could potentially see money from the head tax. It’s important to note that neither of those have been officially funded, something that would possibly happen through the budget process this fall.
The money would be a good start said Devin Silvernail. Silvernail serves on the Capitol Hill Community Council, and is executive director of Be:Seattle, a nonprofit which provides services to people experiencing homelessness.
Silvernail was disappointed that the head tax number was lower than homeless advocates had been pushing for, but he acknowledged there are some good things in the funding resolution.
“The most exciting thing is obviously the thing that the movement was demanding: housing for houseless neighbors,” he said.
He said that while the funding for new home construction and more shelter beds will certainly help some, it’s not nearly enough to keep up with demand.
Similarly, he was happy to see funding for safe parking spaces, but again noted that it wasn’t enough to meet the demand.
“On hundred fifty-three spots is barely an improvement, but again, it’s better than nothing. We have a lot of neighbors who live in cars or RVs, so it would be great to see the city invest in more parking programs,” he said.
Silvernail was also happy to see funding for hygiene services, which he said are needed, and until recently looked like they might be defunded completely.
He was disappointed to see that there might be more money for “housing navigation and outreach.” He equated these teams with the sweeps of homeless camps, which he opposes.
Mosqueda’s office noted that funding for additional sweeps was something they have been opposed to. Any funding for that is not for more sweeps, but for existing sweeps to have resources to removes trash and hazardous waste, which might otherwise be left on the site.
As far as programs that might come to the neighborhood, Silvernail has some ideas for which programs might be a good fit.
“I think, on Capitol Hill, we can be advocating for a hygiene facility, safe parking spaces, some of these affordable units, and a chunk of these beds going toward the proposed youth shelter at Broadway and Pine,” he said.
The outreach money interests some in the local business community. Egan Orion, administrator of the Broadway Business Improvement Area, said his group was, even before the head tax passed, planning to ask for help with outreach services. The program Orion is looking for are not sweeps, but the one-on-one outreach which had been provided by the city until last March.
He said his group, along with businesses from First Hill and the International District was developing an effort to lobby City Council members to ask for restoring funding for that program. He was encouraged that the head tax revenue might mean a larger pot of available funds.
“More money would make for a more compelling case,” Orion said.
But before neighborhoods like Capitol Hill start to make plans for new funding from the tax, there is also another barrier beyond referendums and mayoral opposition. In their most recent Regional Economy and General Fund Revenue Overview report, City Hall beancounters foreshadowed what is coming next for the Seattle boom — an inevitable slowdown. If things cool off as much as predicted, it’s just as likely any head tax revenue goes to pay for supporting Seattle’s existing homelessness and affordability efforts, leaving any new spending on the planning board.
The new tax is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2019. The first funds could become available when businesses file their quarterly taxes that year.