As promised, here is the result of my interview with mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan. Due to Jenny’s busy campaign schedule, we were unable to sit down to talk face-to-face so I sent her my questions and she provided the following responses to them. I want to thank Jenny and her campaign team for the great communication and cooperation. You can learn more about Jenny Durkan and her campaign at http://www.jennyforseattle.com
Glenn: Your opponent has been described as a “Progressive Urbanist”. How would you describe yourself and why would this make you a good mayor?
Jenny: I would describe myself as a Proven Progressive Leader who knows how to make the tough choices that a mayor has to make and how to deliver tangible, positive results. It’s easy during a campaign to promise the moon, to repeat platitudes or tell voters you’re going to develop plans and systems to deal with the biggest problems.
But we’re in the last days of this campaign, so let’s get real about what needs to get done and what the next mayor is going to face. Seattle is facing big challenges—housing affordability, a homelessness crisis, and transportation gridlock. We need a leader in the mayor’s office who has built coalitions, knows how to bring people together to tackle tough challenges, and who has a proven track record of delivering results. As a leader, I listen, learn, and empower others. I sweat the details. I am a progressive fighter, a fierce advocate, and an experienced and inclusive leader. That’s who I am and that’s who I will be as your mayor.
Glenn: Why do you support HALA in its current form?
Jenny: Seattle is facing an affordability crisis and we need to harness a way to have growth pay for growth. We simply cannot create enough affordable housing without a mechanism to have developers pay for affordable housing. People move to Seattle for jobs, opportunity, and the ability to live in such a beautiful city. That’s great. They should feel welcomed and see Seattle as a place to call home; this is the reality of our city. But we must make Seattle more affordable, and we need to get started creating more affordable housing now before we fall even further behind.
HALA is not perfect—nor was it meant to be the final word on affordable housing. We need to work to improve upon the foundation of the Mandatory Housing Affordability requirement (MHA) in addition to exploring HALA’s other recommendations and other innovative ways of adding density. We must not let up on pushing toward the goal of 20,000 new affordable housing units if we are going to be serious about addressing the housing crisis in our city.
There must be focused, thoughtful oversight to ensure that HALA delivers the public benefits expected and mitigates the impacts of growth. We also must ensure the “L” of livability is not forgotten. That is essential to the city we are building for the future.
Glenn: What do you mean when you said referencing HALA, “I will fight any attempts to go backwards”?
Jenny: For weeks my opponent was saying that she would “restart” the HALA process if she is elected mayor. Now she is backing away from that, so I’m not sure anymore where she stands on HALA. I believe “restarting” the HALA process would be a major mistake and would delay our affordable housing efforts by years. If we “restart,” we lose the commitment of developers, housing advocates, neighborhoods, and other stakeholders who forged the historic agreement. It would take us years of “Seattle process” to get back on track.
That does not mean that we should roll out a one size fits all upzone, or ignore impacts on and input of neighborhoods and communities. I have consistently said we need to engage more and ensure that impacts and benefits are measured.
Glenn: You also said that you will make sure that special “in-lieu” funds are used wisely. Exactly what do you mean by this statement and how would you accomplish this?
Jenny: What I mean by this statement is that we need to make sure these funds are used efficiently and maximize the benefit to communities. For example, one developer owed the City of Seattle more than $3 million that the city had initially failed to collect. We have to make sure these developers pay and are held accountable for what they owe. More importantly, we need to make sure these investments result in the maximum amount of housing, particularly for the communities most impacted.
Glenn: Wallingford residents are concerned that developers will choose to pay “in-lieu” fees rather than build affordable units and only “market rate” units will be built in Wallingford. Your comments on this issue, please.
Jenny: We need to have a mix. In the end, we want to ensure affordability in every part of our city. A benefit of paying the fees is that those funds can be leveraged to increase the funds available to build housing. However, we want to incentivize developers to build more affordable housing units on site. This can speed up the creation of available housing and reduce the economic segregation of housing projects.
The concern that only market-rate housing will be built is a valid one. I’ll work with the residential housing development community to prioritize the creation of on-site housing over in-lieu payments.
The bottom line is that we have an affordability crisis that is hitting our lowest-income residents the hardest, but this crisis also affects middle-income people as well. We know we need low-income housing, both for the homeless and for those who are one emergency away from homelessness. But we also must build a lot more middle-income and workforce housing, because too many people who work in Seattle are finding it increasingly difficult to live in Seattle. We want our workers, including teachers, firefighters, baristas, and health care workers, to be able to afford to live in this city.
Glenn: Are you in favor of impact fees? Why or why not?
Jenny: Yes, I am in favor of using impact fees. I believe growth needs to pay for growth. The MHA requirement in HALA is essentially an impact fee directed for affordable housing. That said, there are some strict legal limits on what impact fees can be used for, and we need to ensure that impact fees we create do not have an unintended consequence of reducing the construction of affordable and workforce housing.
Glenn: Many Wallingford residents are concerned that existing infrastructure such as sewers, police and fire services, schools, and parks are not sufficient to handle the proposed growth in density in the Wallingford Urban Village. How would you respond to this concern?
Jenny: Our infrastructure has not kept up with the pace and growth of our city. We need to invest smartly in our infrastructure to make sure our basic services are accounted for in the future. When it comes to public safety, we need to continue supporting first responders and the safety needs of our residents. The City must ensure that we obtain the promised benefits from both expansions in public transit and housing, so that real infrastructure improvements are delivered and public safety needs are met throughout the city. Fair growth requires an investment back in those same communities and neighborhoods where development occurs. This must be part of any strategy in planning for increased density and growth.
Seattle taxpayers have repeatedly shown their generosity and commitment to our community by voting at the ballot to provide funding for parks, schools, libraries, transit, and transportation improvements. We need to deliver real results—from filling potholes, clearing snow and ice, maintaining library hours, caring for our parks, and to improving schools. We still have a maintenance backlog on our infrastructure, including our streets, bridges, and sidewalks. My experience in government and as an executive and an administrator, makes me the candidate in this race who is qualified to manage effectively the more than 11,000 employees and the $5 billion budget at the mayor’s disposal to get results. That is one of the things that sets me apart from my opponent.
Glenn: The reduction and/or elimination of required parking spaces in new construction has Wallingford residents concerned that street parking will become overwhelmed and will also negatively affect commercial businesses. What is your position on this issue?
Jenny: Parking is a topic I hear about wherever I go. I have been on neighborhood walking tours in nearly 30 different neighborhoods throughout the city over the last few months, and this is a huge issue everywhere from West Seattle to the University District to Columbia City to Wallingford. As mayor, I will make sure we engage with neighborhoods, residents, and business owners before we implement policies and that we explore all unintended consequences in hopes of minimizing these impacts. This is why if elected I will establish a Small Business Advisory council, to explore the impacts of these policies and make recommendations directly to the mayor.
This does not change the fact that we also must reduce our dependency on single occupancy vehicles. As mayor, I will work for a transit-oriented city where there is good, reliable public transit and communities are more walkable and bikeable.
Glenn: Mayor Murray eliminated Neighborhood Councils and the existing HALA recommendations didn’t include much neighborhood input. Do you have any plans to reinstate a formal process to obtain neighborhood input on such critical issues as upzoning, parking, infrastructure, transportation, etc.?
Jenny: We cannot have effective or equitable policies without broad, meaningful, and sustained community engagement. City Hall has become too top-down; I want to move to a more grassroots-up model of engagement. You simply cannot do neighborhood or community planning just from downtown.
I believe Mayor Murray was wrong to eliminate the neighborhood councils. I share the concern that we cannot have an engagement process that does not include the experiences and voices of our diverse city. But instead of eliminating input, we need to develop ways to engage more people and more diverse voices. I certainly want to look at formalizing a way for neighborhoods to give input on these critical issues. The structure of this will include a culture of regular outreach meetings, including walking tours in neighborhoods, especially when there are proposed changes to zoning. Throughout my campaign, I have conducted walking tours, community meetings, and listening sessions in almost 30 different neighborhoods. This has been critical to my understanding of the changes occurring in our city and how they are actually affecting people who live and work in each neighborhood. If elected, I (and my staff and City Departments) will continue this practice and will govern with the guiding principle that city government should be going to the neighborhoods and communities, not the other way around.
Glenn: We all know that homelessness is a major problem in Seattle. In spite of previous administrations’ efforts to solve this problem, it has still grown to enormous proportions. What are your plans to manage this critical issue facing the city? How would you fund this strategy?
Jenny: There are nearly 3,900 unsheltered people living on the streets, in tents, abandoned buildings and vehicles in Seattle. There are another 4,700 people in shelters and transitional housing who need to find permanent homes. That’s unacceptable. We are a generous and compassionate city but some of us are getting left behind. The homelessness crisis in Seattle continues to grow. As mayor, I will make it a top priority to move more people off the streets and into permanent housing.
Above all else, homeless families and individuals need a safe and stable home and must be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity. As I have said repeatedly, we must add more affordable housing in Seattle. This is not only needed for those who are unsheltered, we need to prevent people from falling into homelessness. Many are just one illness, job loss, or personal challenge away from losing their home.
Adding more housing will take some time, but there are some smart approaches that we can put into place quickly that will make a real difference. I will focus on several strategies to address homelessness. If elected, I will work to provide up to 700 additional shelter beds across the city, in community centers, churches, and other locations. I’ll also make a serious effort to implement a regional consolidation of homelessness services. And I have committed to adding 1,000 micro-houses (defined as small, low-cost units that will have heat, insulation, and basic utilities) in my first year so we can move people out of dangerous and unhealthy encampments into a better, safer living situation. Experience has shown that this effort will be most effective if developed through a process of meaningful community engagement.
I will also bring a special focus to homeless families living on the street, in cars and RVs, and in tents, partnering with schools and social services to get them into stable living and school environments. Early in the campaign, I proposed creating a specially trained navigation team specifically tasked with outreach to people living in vehicles, and I am pleased to see the Council is currently considering including that in the budget.
We must also work to make sure that more people don’t end up homeless. I have proposed a comprehensive city rental voucher program to help people who are currently housed but at risk of displacement to stay in their homes. And while my opponent’s solutions rely upon Olympia for funding or statewide tax reform, I have identified funding sources that the city can leverage right now.
For more details on my funding plans, visit: https://jennyforseattle.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/More-Housing-Now.pdf
Glenn: Is it OK for the homeless to camp in Green Lake and Woodland Parks? Please explain your answer.
Jenny: No, we should not allow camping in our public parks. We must provide other housing options and give people better, safer alternative places to go. This is why I have proposed adding 700 new shelter beds and 1,000 units of micro housing, so we can provide the necessary additional shelter while new affordable housing is built. This is an area where I differ significantly from my opponent.
Glenn: Do you agree with Mike O’Brien’s proposal to relax parking enforcement for people living in cars and RVs? Why?
Jenny: No; this is another area where I differ from my opponent. Homeless families and individuals need a safe and stable home. As I mentioned above, regarding people living in RVs and cars—a population that jumped more than 70 percent in the last One Night Count—months ago I proposed adding an additional Navigation Team specifically focused on conducting outreach to people living in vehicles. This team will help connect people with housing and services, and I’m pleased to see that the City Council is considering including funding for such a team in the current budget process.
Glenn: Wallingford residents just learned that Ballard’s city-sanctioned homeless camp is moving to Wallingford at 38th and Fourth Avenue—just one block away from the John Stanford school. Does this make sense to you? Do you have any concerns about this?
Jenny: We are trying to obtain more information about this location, the community safety plan, and the siting process that designated this area. I do know that the sanctioned encampments work very hard to build relationships with their neighbors and to make sure they are all equally committed to the safety and livability of the neighborhood. I have had feedback from other areas of the city that were skeptical of sanctioned encampments but found that the community could be part of the solution.
Glenn: Property taxes in Seattle have risen to the point where many cannot afford to stay in their homes. Currently, levies account for approximately 50 percent of property taxes. What is your position on new property tax levy proposals?
Jenny: We need to provide more property tax relief for seniors and low-income families. Currently, seniors earning $40,000 annually or less can qualify for reduced property taxes. We will work to raise that threshold so more Seattle seniors—who are facing the crunch of rising home values and increased property taxes—qualify for the exemption and will be able to afford to remain in their homes. This will take bipartisan support in Olympia, but the legislature has done it before and we believe there is a strong case to be made given the McCleary resolution.
I, unlike my opponent, have also said that if the city income tax withstands the current court challenge and begins to generate revenue, that I will use those a significant portion of those revenues to offset existing regressive taxes, such as property taxes.
Additionally, we need to provide property tax relief for landlords who commit to keeping their rents down. We need to explore other alternatives and incentives, including potential rent subsidies and property tax reductions for affordable housing. More data is coming available from other cities’ programs. We need to benefit from that data, bring all parties to the table and find a range of solutions.
Throughout my campaign, I have said that I will not raise taxes until I scrub the budget and assess whether or not tax dollars are being used effectively. However, I may need to come back to voters for additional revenue to invest in mental health and addiction treatment services. We are severely underfunding these programs in our county and our state, and it is having a huge impact on our homelessness crisis. If this is necessary, I hope to work with the County and other stakeholders on a regional proposal.
Glenn: You said that you advocate property tax reform for older homeowners, lower income owners and landlords providing affordable housing. Why not advocate tax reform for all property owners?
Jenny: I do believe in comprehensive statewide tax reform – that’s why I voted for Initiative 1098, which was the statewide income tax. Our state’s tax system is far too regressive, but this battle may take years. In the meantime, we need targeted tax breaks to ease the sharpest impacts of our affordability crisis. I have proposed reducing property taxes for older homeowners to try and provide some relief and help them stay in their homes. I have also said that if the city income tax is upheld by the court, we must use part of that revenue to reduce regressive taxes on others in Seattle.
Glenn: You are proposing many new programs and initiatives. How are you planning to pay for them? Please be as specific as you can.
Jenny: This is a place of contrast between me and my opponent. My opponent has proposed almost $1 billion in new programs with no details on how she would pay for them, except a proposal for capital gains and other taxes that would require action by Olympia and are unlikely to be approved there in the near future.
In comparison, I have proposed bold new programs to address the affordability challenges facing Seattle and I have laid out how we pay for those programs in my proposals. You can go to my website at www.JennyforSeattle.com for details. One example, I proposed providing two years of free college to all Seattle Public Schools graduates at a cost of less than $5 million the first year, and $7 million per year at full implementation. I identified three potential funding sources including expansion of the 2018 Families & Education Levy, revenues from the new sweetened beverage tax, or the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account created by Sound Transit 3.
Glenn: What expertise and experience do you have in the area of fiscal management? By this I mean prioritizing budgets, identifying “needs vs. wants” and implementing budget cuts when and where needed?
Jenny: I have worked in the Executive Branch of state and federal government. As U.S. Attorney, I managed a budget and two offices through some of the incredibly challenging budget cycles. Indeed, when my original four-year term expired, the federal government was locked in budget disputes and a government shutdown. On multiple occasions, I had to close my office and send people home. My office faced a rising vacancy rate because of a long-term hiring freeze, but I was able to guide the office through those budget challenges—while expanding priority programs, such as civil rights. I know how to prioritize budgets, evaluate what programs are needed, which are working, which are not working effectively, and how to maximize the efficiency of city government.
Glenn: Lake Union and public access to the lake are important to Wallingford residents. What would you do to increase public access to waterways of Lake Union, especially waterways #20 and #23?
Jenny: Public access to our waterways and shorelines are important for all residents. I look forward to learning more about how the city can be a better partner to neighborhoods and communities on this issue.
Glenn: Who is your favorite Seahawk and why?
Jenny: Russell Wilson. He is a leader. I love it when someone defies or beats the odds, or proves conventional wisdom wrong. He was told he was too short, too slow, and not versatile enough for professional football, but he has proven folks wrong, time and time again. He is a leader that inspires by believing in himself, his team and by never giving up. I do wish, however, that we were not a 4th quarter team quite so often.
He also believes in community. His work (quietly) at Children’s Hospital speaks volumes about his priorities.