Homelessness is a crisis across downtown, our city and county, and it impacts all of us. Throughout our history, the Downtown Seattle Association has developed, supported and funded efforts to help the most vulnerable in our community. In 1980, DSA leaders established Seattle Housing Resources Group (now Bellwether Housing) to develop housing in and around downtown for low-income individuals. In 1999, DSA formed our second-chance employment program that helps those who are homeless or have been involved with the criminal justice system get a job as a cleaning ambassador. We’ve supported Seattle’s Low Income Housing Levy since its inception and helped lead the effort to double the levy in 2016.
Today, the scale of the homelessness emergency we face requires everyone to do more in order to provide for those who have the least among us. Together, we must increase low-income housing and expand effective programs to help our neighbors who are homeless, including individuals sleeping on the streets of downtown and those struggling with mental illness and substance-use disorder.
In 2018, DSA opposed legislation adopted by the Seattle City Council to tax jobs and led the effort to repeal the legislation. We opposed Seattle’s jobs tax for several reasons: it lacked a detailed spending and accountability plan; was to be levied only in Seattle — potentially putting our city at an economic disadvantage in the region; didn’t include investment in treatment, job training and shelter; and would have impacted low-margin companies and low-wage workers. Simply put, it was a rushed, risky, incomplete and unaccountable measure.
Since 2018, the city and county have taken important strides to create a new Regional Homelessness Authority to centralize the responsibility and accountability for reducing homelessness in our community.
At its meeting yesterday, DSA’s board of directors unanimously adopted principles to inform the development of a countywide homeless tax measure and investment strategy for 2020.
DSA enthusiastically supports a countywide tax and homelessness investment plan that meets set principles, including:
- The tax may be based on employment/payroll (not on total jobs) and include a progressive application and protection of small businesses, grocery businesses and lower/medium-wage employment
- In a county using this tax, similar local (city) taxes are preempted
- An annual spending plan be required, with oversight by The King County Regional Homelessness Authority
- Spending is restricted to permanent supportive housing, enhanced shelter, behavioral healthcare, job training and transition employment programs
- Programs must center the voice of the consumer (community members who have lived experience) and address race disparity by adopting anti-racist policies
- Semi-annual reporting be required, including progress on specific metrics
- All reports and audits are to be available to the public on the county website
The complete list of principles adopted by the DSA board can be found here.
The Washington State Legislature is currently considering a bill to authorize a King County tax measure to expand low-income housing, treatment and job training to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community. The details of the initial legislation were released yesterday.
We look forward to communicating our position and principles to local and state leaders today to help inform the development of a responsible and effective investment plan that reduces homelessness in downtown Seattle and across King County.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
President & CEO