Congratulations to the victors! There was a big City Council election earlier this month, and it’s likely to set the course of the city for the next decade.
This isn’t the slate of leaders I’d have preferred. I’ve been clear about my own moderate political views on this blog, and this is not a moderate council. However, I do very much wish for their success. They now set the laws in a city I love.
Above all, I hope their imagined model of human behavior actually exists. Because from that, all else flows.
I hope that the key to ending homelessness is delivering publicly owned, affordable or even free-to-the-residents shelter, and that near-exclusive focus on that vis-a-vis homelessness pays the dividends they feel it will. That is, I hope that directing very little of our attention to treatment continues to be appropriate, and that results will show addiction to be mostly a second-order effect that can be — relatively speaking — ignored.
I hope the true addiction rate among those experiencing homelessness is in fact roughly what is self-reported (i.e., “only” about 35%, about 4 times rate for the housed.) I hope even that is high, by some mistake or something. Maybe lots of people who are not addicted are reporting that they are. I don’t know why they would, but it sure would be great if that’s the case. I hope a much higher level of addiction than 35% among the unhoused isn’t reality, because it would justify the near-silence on this topic at Seattle City Council hearings, and it would almost even justify the name-calling of anyone who dares to raise addiction and drug use as concerns worthy of addressing.
I hope it is the much easier-to-address problem of affordability, not addiction or mental health, that has driven and perpetuated the rapid rise in homelessness that we’ve been seeing over the past decade. Because 75,000 new units are currently under construction in Seattle, the $290 million Affordable Housing Levy is still in effect, HALA and MHA have passed with aims of creating 6,200 new affordable units, and the new slate of leaders will be pressing the accelerator very hard on affordable housing.
We will very likely try the Employee Hours Tax (EHT) and other taxes again, likely more aggressively than attempted in 2018. But this time, the group overseeing it will be a slightly different collection of resource-allocators, so perhaps the plans will be more comprehensive and robust — perhaps there will actually be a plan. But if it’s focused pretty much exclusively on building out publicly-owned housing as the first EHT was, I hope those who are addicted, if given warm shelter, get well largely on their own, because I hear a lot more about addressing affordability from these new overseers than I do the critical importance of establishing wraparound services such as treatment, pilot treatment programs with measurements, or frankly any kind of asks or gentle requirements for beneficiaries of these programs to try over time to get well.
I hope the crime and assaults which have been on the rise are truly driven by poverty and expensive rent, not by drug use or mental health. Because, once they have affordable or even free shelter, these second-order problems will greatly diminish. I hope that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has largely been lying to us about the drug trade being a major source of property crime. Maybe it too is mostly about poverty.
I hope that “compassion” and “lenience” are pretty much interchangeable concepts, and that by doubling down on lenience, we create a more compassionate City for all who have been negatively impacted by assaults and other forms of crime.
I hope that by investing heavily in solving affordability with publicly owned housing and far more tiny villages in 12+ new areas, metrics like addiction rates, discarded needles, property crime and assault drift downward. That is to say, I hope Washington DC’s failed experiment in focusing on housing only was a complete anomaly, and I hope we’ve learned how to implement it better from Licton Springs.
I hope laws of supply and demand don’t apply to services. I hope that by funding a regionally and nationally generous set of policies without limits or requirements (“barriers”, in the parlance) in a mobile society, it doesn’t simply bring in more demand, taking us back to where we started. I really hope that it is indeed true that the term “Freattle” is just a hateful, invented pejorative spewed by the uncompassionate, and bears no connection to reality. Put another way, I hope that the laws of supply and demand are somehow suspended when it comes to services, and that there’s no such thing as magnet policies.
Or alternatively, if the laws of supply and demand are still in play, I hope we have a near-infinite capacity to fund shelter and services after the first 15,000 are served, because not a single one of the new city council leaders has really put forward any kind of limitations on service, nor are we prepared to discuss them without name-calling. Speaking of name-calling, I hope the whole “Seattle Is Dying” piece was mostly just staged and heavily edited to push an utterly false and hateful narrative, and that Sinclair somehow profits wildly by fabricating stories wholecloth. It would be a relief to discover it was fiction.
I hope that the third party service providers we taxpayers fund all sincerely want to do the right things by their clients and feel an obligation to make the most of taxpayer dollars, and don’t need much of any oversight, accountability or checks and balances. I hope it’s simply more funding that’s needed to have better results. Because with the exception of one new Council Member, I didn’t hear much about service provider accountability, measurements, audits, or any kind of payment-tied-to-results orientation.
I hope that it’s true that the best use of city-owned land is to put a few dozen tiny homes on it and allow more RVs inbound on city streets without really monitoring or caring about what anyone chooses to do with those spaces, or any kind of third party checks on who resides there. I hope for the sake of those subject to human trafficking, that an affordable place to live makes RV ranching and crime rings centered in some of those spaces disappear.
I hope it really does work that diverting repeat offenders away from punishment (like jail and drug court) and into lenient counseling really means they’re no longer likely to offend again, because it sure sounds like the compassionate thing to do, and who doesn’t want to be compassionate? I hope those diversion programs really do have tremendously beneficial harm reduction impacts on the communities where they’re deployed, even though that data’s not been made available, and what now 5-years-old data has been shared on recidivism suggests no statistical difference when “failure to appear in court” warrants are removed.
I hope that every time rent-control has been tried, its failure has been because it’s simply not been implemented right. I hope that this time it’ll be different, that a few tweaks will make it work, and that new renters won’t find all the most desirable affordable spaces taken out of inventory, and landlords won’t skimp on basic improvements for existing rent-controlled apartments, the way it has gone pretty much every time rent control has ever been tried.
I hope it’s actually true that among the highest and best uses of City Council time is to conduct and tolerate circus-like demonstrations in favor of, or protesting, various national and global issues which will never be decided within City limits, because I know that a great deal more “pack City Hall” events to “make statements” are in our near future.
I also hope their imagined economic model works, that lots of new taxes can be imposed on surgically-defined entities and segments without much unintended blowback, like regressive price increases on consumer goods and services, reductions in the number of people employed within Seattle city limits, companies or small businesses picking up and moving, reductions in levels of investment in new initiatives and resultant revenue-generation for our city, likelihood of attracting innovators here, or prices kept affordable on basic items like groceries, delivery and fuel. I hope shoplifting becomes less of a problem for retailers like Uwaijimaya and Bartells through our compassion, lenience and surging investments in housing.
I hope the MIT PhD candidate made lots of errors when he found that upzoning actually often sends prices upward, not downward.
I would be ecstatic to be pleasantly surprised about all this, so I do root for their success and not their failure, as they are our new duly elected lawmakers. We may even get a chance to see how well their model and formula all works through a national or global recession, which by and large is not something within our local control here in Seattle; we may only have a few months to a couple years to establish the set of programs we want when that arrives.
Though I disagree with a large number of proscribed policies this new group of lawmakers has espoused, we do fully align on many of the goals sought — i.e., far fewer people homeless, a safer city for all (at least I assume we align there), greater opportunity for all, fewer people addicted and living in tents, cars and RVs, a green city that protects its environment and welcomes newcomers with affordability, and much more.
The new Council absolutely has a chance (and no question, the votes) to fully establish the vision they want. That’s why I’m rooting for their success and for my fears to be dead wrong.
Meanwhile, we will don the labcoats. Because this is going to be an interesting several years of experimentation with a lot of things no city in this nation has really tried. We will be in the vanguard, we will be pioneering our own way, and it will be ambitious. Maybe it’s different here. We will watch and see how the various metrics respond: crime and public safety rates, within-city-limits employment, levels of addiction, care for our green spaces, ecology, mental health, affordability, activity of repeat offenders, public health and more, all play out. If human behavior really is as they imagine it, we’re in for some major improvements.
Steve’s a Seattle-based entrepreneur and software leader, husband and father of three. He’s half Canadian, and east-coast born and raised. Steve has made the Pacific Northwest his home since 1991, when he moved here to work for Microsoft. He’s started and sold multiple Internet companies. Politically independent, he writes on occasion about city politics and national issues, and created Alignvote in the 2019 election cycle. He holds a BS in Applied Math (Computer Science) and Business from Carnegie Mellon University, a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, where he graduated a George F. Baker Scholar. Steve volunteers when time allows with Habitat for Humanity, University District Food Bank, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and other organizations in Seattle.