Up against a wall of *if*, here’s *how* Seattle head tax money would be spent on Capitol Hill


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.

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20 thoughts on “Up against a wall of *if*, here’s *how* Seattle head tax money would be spent on Capitol Hill

  1. I am stunned by the cost of these bullet pointed items. For example, bullet point four calls for funding fifty four tiny houses or shelter tents. The projected cost in year two? $2.4 million. That equates to $50,000 per tiny house/tent shelter. How can we possibly solve our existing problems with cost estimates like these?

    • Yes. This approach is extremely expensive. And for that price people don’t get electricity or running water, and they are not helped to find housing, get mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, or employment.

      This is the whole problem with Seattle’s approach to homelessness- it’s not serious. Tiny houses are cool, man! Who cares if they cost a fortune, provide inadequate living conditions, and do nothing to either get people back o their feet or provide the long term support they will need?

  2. Certianly not only business interests that are not in favor of this new tax. The costs are out of control and the last $53M just made the problem worse.

  3. Treatment gets way to little in this equation… treatment should be first and foremost – for addictions and mental health issues. I don’t believe for a moment that these are not the causes of homelessness for an overwhelming majority of those who are chronically on the streets and we do nothing for them but enable them to stay there while they continue to suffer their illnesses.

    This is the only way you will find me in support of giving the city any more money than it already uses.

    • Exactly, “housing first” sounds great, but there has to “treatment second” that follows quickly (and mandatory) behind. But the SCC view of the world is that treatment = oppression, so rather than “housing first” what they really are offering is sanctioned warehousing of individuals who are incapable of caring for themselves. I would be much more likely to support a $75M levy to fund mental health and addiction treatment. Spend the money to move people out of the temporary housing we already have rather than just increasing our ability to store them. Or in more Seattle terms, lets focus on recycling programs to get people with health issues back into society and not just build a bigger dump to toss them away in.

      • “Mandatory treatment,” in addition to seeming cruel and likely unconstitutional, implies that this something which can be applied to people–sprayed on them, injected into them, or otherwise foisted upon them.

        My layman’s understanding is that it doesn’t work that way, and that treatment is almost certainly ineffective on people unless and until they are ready, willing, and able to take part in it. If so, then making it mandatory would at best result in a waste of resources. I think simply making it available and letting people know about it is about as far as we can go from an outside perspective.

    • “Treatment gets way to little in this equation”

      And what if they refuse, then what? The last sweeps under the Jungle only 12% of those contacted accepted drug or mental health care being offered for free, along with housing. That’s 1 in 8. The rest? Moved to Ballard I suspect.

      You’re talking about people that don’t want to change and like most weepy eyed Seattle leftists you refuse to acknowledge that basic reality.

      Carrots don’t work without sticks.

      • Make assumptions much there, my dear?

        Just where did I say I don’t think that treatment should be mandatory? Hmmmm don’t see that – *but* at this point how can we even consider it when there are simply not the facilities that can even start to handle the need? There are what – 16 detox beds – that’s right 16 in King co…

        We don’t even have a stick…

  4. Until our civil commitment laws are reformed, people who are either too high or too mentally ill to make good decisions for themselves will continue to control their own destiny – and will continue to pose a threat to themselves and others.

  5. Not one penny mentioned (unless I missed it) on helping people acquire employable job skills, for those who are homeless for that reason. Without a way to be (or become) relevant in the economy as it is today, their ranks will never decline. We’ll be trying to find ways to care for people forever.

  6. A hygiene center, parking spaces, maybe a little housing, and beds for the “shelter at Broadway and Pine” that had previously been described as space for housing and education/ employment services. With assurances from Youthcare that it wouldn’t replicate the basic needs stuff already happening at Orion, just a few blocks away.

    And people wonder why I don’t think this will do much to address the crisis. These are exactly the approaches every expert is recommending we move away from!

    No thanks on the tax and especially especially especially this example of a nonsensical and counterproductive spending plan that doubles down on what’s already failing.

    Also, what does Be:Seattle do and why do we need new non-profits to address the needs of the homeless population when more than 100 existing non-profits are funded to do it already?

  7. KUOW reported that the city budget is in the red this year by $28.5 million, mostly because of extra spending on homelessness. Where is the balance in this article for people who have legitimate criticisms of this spending plan? It seems like only cheerleaders of this new law were spoken to.

  8. OK, here’s a likely scenario: A homeless addict/alcoholic or mentally ill person is placed into one of the newly-built apartments (assuming he agrees to go, which is not so likely). There are no mental health or addiction services available as part of the deal, or mandatory requirements for participation in such treatments. How successful do you think this is going to be? Who pays for the ongoing rent?

  9. Well every time we spend more money, we get more hobos. So just divide the total collected by $10,000 per head, and that’s how many new hobos Seattle has just ordered in from around the country.

  10. There were not this many homeless here even during the last downturn. We are in a perfect storm of bad policy, bad leadership, poorly managed growth, and too much money going to groups who have stated they want to simply legitimatize homelessness. Almost every single street camper I see appears to be in the grip of a well advanced addiction and/or mental health issues. Tiny houses just move their misery under a roof.

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