Following the appointment of Kirstin Harris-Talley to the Seattle City Council, there were some who were less than enthused. Geov Parrish referred to her as "inexperienced enough that she could be useful to the others for their own personal reasons, none of which have to do wtih supporting her priorities," after implying she wasn't smart enough to do good work on council. Over on Twitter, I was informed that Kirstin Harris-Talley's appointment is a "win" for big business. Thankfully, the list of folks whose parroted this belief structure was limited.
The thing is that Council Member Harris-Talley knows a thing or two about budgeting, coalition building, and expanding and lifting the voices that are heard in halls of power. And if folks thought that Harris-Talley was going to be a boon for big business, the news this week that she was joining with Mike O'Brien in sponsoring legislation to bring back the "head tax" to help fund human services will hopefully clamp down the dog-whistle bullshit.
See, if the council is going to pass this measure, there will need to be community pressure. And that community pressure has to be more than the usual folks who we expect to show up at council meetings. Passage will rest not on how many people S.A. can turn out to chant in chambers, or how many older white homeowners come out to advocate for big business to pay more. It needs more folks whose voices we don't typically hear in council, and Harris-Talley, frankly, is more likely to be able to work to build that broader coalition - even if it's only in a few weeks.
So let's take a peek at this proposal. It's pretty simple - a $0.048 per hour, per employee tax on businesses with gross revenue that exceeds $5,000,000.00 per year, or $100 per employee in Seattle per year for said businesses. From Amazon, that means a lot of money. For my employer, it's about $1,000.00 per year in years where our gross revenue crosses that $5 mm mark.
The estimate from the council members is that such a proposal will generate approximately $24,000,000 in revenue per year. This would go to fund emergency shelters, rapid-rehousing vouchers, and additional housing assistance to transition folks from homeless to housed.
Folks love to point to numbers to say that the city isn't failing on homelessness intervention and prevention. But, as Daniel Malone from DESC recently told Erica C. Barnett, the biggest factor is a lack of places for folks to go when exiting homelessness. There simply isn't enough existing housing, particularly for those "hardest to house," and there isn't enough being built at fast enough of a clip.
This infusion would add to the amount of money available to purchase existing structures that may be well-suited for permanent housing options, as well as development of new homes for folks experiencing homelessness. Combined with a city policy focused on using city-owned property for affordable and supportive housing, this can help streamline and speed up the construction and conversion of affordable housing and supportive housing. There is also the added funds to support prevention efforts and immediate interventions (ie: rapid rehousing).
There is bound to be push-back against this proposal. An assertion that it will discourage employers from opening up shop in Seattle, because the additional monthly cost of $8.33 per employee is excessively cumbersome, and the big earners don't want to give up a latte and a half per month. A better argument would be that an employee hours tax would better be used to fund transit and transportation improvements, childcare and early learning facilities, and/or steady revenue for the Office of Labor Standards.
But to that I say bollocks. Every time the measure has been proposed for transit at $25 per employee per year, it's been shelved. We need more diverse revenue streams, particularly ones that are sustainable. This is a sustainable stream that can be used now to address a crisis, and really involve all parties in Seattle.
This also means the city must be a good steward of the funds raised, and continue looking at how we spend on human services, and what types of housing we're building to transition folks into. I believe this means working with folks in THVs across Seattle, and having some guarantees on how long someone will have safe shelter in a single unit. There's work to do. But this infusion of funds to pay for it is a smart move, and I'm excited it's coming forward. And the long-term savings of this investment will open room for greater investments in transit and parks, while reducing the cost associated with our neighbors experiencing chronic homelessness. This could be a big win.
And to get this measure passed, we will need a broader coalition than what we typically see. I'm excited to see CM Harris-Talley lead on bringing that coalition together.