Proposed legislation released today would raise $75 million per year for low-income housing, shelter, and services through a tax on Seattle’s largest businesses. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Lorena González, Mike O’Brien, and Teresa Mosqueda are co-sponsors of the bill.
This groundbreaking legislation emerges after months of advocacy and movement-building by the Housing For All Coalition and allies, begun during last fall’s budget process. It represents a huge victory for houseless activists, community-based organizations, and people in every neighborhood of Seattle who have come together to urge an effective and compassionate response to our city’s homelessness state of emergency.
The proposed legislation cleaves closely to the recommendations of the Progressive Revenue Task Force in some respects, while departing in others. The $20 million exemption threshold – double the $10 million recommended by the task force – would restrict the new tax to only the very largest businesses. Under this proposal, only approximately 500 of the highest-grossing businesses in Seattle will pay anything at all.
A fee proposed by the task force to apply to businesses below the exemption threshold was also dropped. “From the beginning, we at Real Change opposed the ‘skin in the game’ fee on small businesses,” said Tiffani McCoy, lead organizer at Real Change. “The idea of everyone having skin in the game is a nice one, but we know that Washington State is the most regressive state for taxes, with Seattle being the most regressive city in the state. We desperately need new, sustainable, dedicated revenue to build up our affordable housing stock, and this revenue should come from those most able to contribute like Amazon and the biggest businesses.”
The Housing For All Coalition enthusiastically endorses the main points of the legislation, especially the dedication of 75% of new revenue to housing. “It alleviates the homelessness crisis by providing housing, dignity and a future,” said Garrett Smith, a resident of SHARE/WHEEL’s Tent City 5.
“For too long our city and county have been trying to end homelessness without truly reckoning with the affordable housing shortage” said Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union. “All the navigation teams and navigations centers in the world aren’t going to help people out of homelessness if there is no affordable, accessible housing for them to move into. Right now there just isn’t.”
“I live in a Tiny House at Nickelsville’s Georgetown Village,” said Andrew Constantino. “It probably saved my life, and gave me a chance to support the Employee Hour Tax Campaign too. The legislation proposed today is another good step in the struggle, and I support it. Once it’s passed we’re putting our focus on making sure all $75 million dollars goes where it’s needed.”
“Being able to provide affordable housing in the city is a win on many fronts,” said Rebecca Monteleone, Chair of the Sierra Club Seattle Group. “When more people can live in a dense city where it’s easier to bike, walk, and take transit, it’s a win for the climate. A city that pushes people with fewer resources out of the city is not only terribly unjust, it’s also bad for the environment.”
While strongly supporting the proposed legislation, the Housing For All Coalition acknowledges that this is only a first step, given the magnitude of the “housing gap” and the need for shelter and services to keep people stable and safe until housing is available. Creating sufficient housing to end the homelessness crisis is a massive infrastructure project, calling for investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year over a sustained period. Members of Housing For All intend to push the City to pursue other progressive revenue options to find at least another $75 million per year, as recommended by the task force.
As the big business tax legislation moves through committee and on to the full council, the Housing For All Coalition will consider supporting amendments to improve it, while fighting against any attempts to weaken or undermine it.
“This movement has been clear from day one that it wanted to tax big business to fund affordable housing and services. We should celebrate this victory, but we will need to stay active and engaged in this fight until the ink is dry to make sure there are no last minute changes that would undermine our work,” said Emily McArthur from Socialist Alternative.
A full council vote is expected on May 14th.