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caption: Heidi Wills and Dan Strauss hold agree on a topic during the lightning round of Saturday's CityClub debate for Seattle City Council District 6.
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Heidi Wills and Dan Strauss hold agree on a topic during the lightning round of Saturday's CityClub debate for Seattle City Council District 6.
Credit: KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter

5 questions: City council candidates in Ballard and NW Seattle

In August, we asked Seattle residents what they wanted the candidates for city council to talk about as they campaign for votes?

We received over 650 responses. Analyzing the data, it was clear that homelessness, housing affordability, and roads and transit were the biggest concerns.

Using these responses, we wrote up five questions for the candidates. Below are the unedited answers from District 6, which encompasses northwest Seattle ... Ballard, Phinney Ridge, and parts of Fremont and Greenwood.

No incumbent. Candidates are Heidi Wills and Dan Strauss.

Dan Strauss

Homelessness and visibility: How will you address the unsanctioned encampments on city streets, underneath highways, and other public spaces?

We need to treat this as the state of emergency which it is, with 24/7 shelter and transitional housing at the scale of the crisis. We need to provide the opportunity for every person experiencing homelessness to come inside into four walls and a door they can lock, connected to the services they need. This includes mental health, chemical dependency, and social services.

We know when a person is stabilized with housing, we can address the other issues they are experiencing, whether it is mental health, addiction, or trouble navigating disability or social security.

The Navigation Team only works if we have appropriate services and Housing First shelter space available. On most days, this is not the case. In San Francisco, Homeless Outreach Teams have had success moving people experiencing homelessness into pre-identified spots in Navigation Centers, which are 24/7 shelters with intensive services onsite and staff members who help them find more long-term stable homes.

We need to focus on creating enhanced shelters with all-day access and storage, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing for the Navigation Team to be successful.

Homelessness and housing: What is your plan to find permanent homes for the homeless?

We need some form of temporary shelter while long-term solutions are built. Enhanced shelters provide 24/7 access and storage with case managers on duty working to connect people with permanent homes.

By scaling up this data-proven solution, we create the shelter space people will use. With the needed political will, we can bring more enhanced shelters online within six months, providing visible reductions in people living in tents throughout our city. I will bring this political will to the Council.

Study after study has shown the only way we can break the cycle of chronic homelessness is to provide Permanent Supportive Housing, which are permanent homes with wraparound services.

A home and consistent care for those who need it enables people to get back up on their feet. The approximately 2,000 Permanent Supportive homes in Seattle have a 99% success rate at keeping residents from re-entering homelessness. I will fully invest in Permanent Supportive Housing and scale up production to meet our needs.

Emergency rental assistance is also a critical tool for people who are on the brink of falling into homelessness or have recently fallen into homelessness.

Not everyone who is homeless is in need of full wraparound services - some just need a little help to get back home. Rental Assistance allows providers like Ballard Food Bank to cover someone being short on rent by paying a landlord directly. This keeps people in their home and ensures one hard month does not lead to living homeless.

Currently, there are dozens of rental assistance providers, each with separate application requirements and processes for getting help.

I will work with the providers to create a single intake point and set of requirements, so people know exactly where to go for help.

Homelessness and drugs/mental health: How do you plan on addressing drug use and mental health treatment options for the homeless population?

I have been a strong supporter of the Housing First model since the beginning of my campaign. People experiencing homelessness cannot begin to overcome their mental health or chemical dependency until they are stabilized in a warm, safe, and dry place to live.

This is why we need to focus on bringing people inside first, at which point we can help them address these issues through on-site services. I am excited for the new inpatient mental health facility being planned at the University of Washington and hope this will attract more mental health providers to our region.

Through collaborative efforts with community health clinics, I believe we can help as a city connect more low-income households with access to mental health in their neighborhoods. It is also important to continue efforts to de-stigmatize mental health disorders broadly in hopes of more people accessing mental health treatment when they need it.

Housing and growth: What is your plan to make Seattle more affordable and livable for low- to middle-income residents?

We need to scale up the production of income-restricted homes in Seattle. One tool we can use is expanding the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) to include renovations of existing buildings, not just new construction.

MFTE provides a tax exemption in exchange for setting aside 20-25% of the units as income- and rent-restricted. If a property owner wants to renovate their building, they should have the option of using this program to create more affordable homes.

I will use my relationships in the state legislature to advocate for this change and strengthen the program to ensure our communities see the most gain possible from it.

We also need more rent-restricted properties like the Louisa Hotel, the 12th Avenue Arts Building, and the Liberty Bank Building. These buildings combine income-restricted units with commercial establishments, creating mixed-use development which provides amenities and opportunities for residents.

We also need to have mixed-income buildings which have deeply affordable housing to above-market-rate units in the same building. Having an economic spectrum of people in the same building helps create a strong community and helps make projects pencil.

The Louisa Hotel is an example of how we can integrate classic Seattle architecture with the need for more affordable homes. I will look for other opportunities to create mixed-use affordable housing in places of cultural significance around the city.

Another option for increasing the supply of affordable housing is to use the City’s bonding authority.

The City has the opportunity to borrow money at preferential rates and can explore issuing bonds against the rents collected on finished mixed-income public housing.

The City should also use excess revenue generated to acquire land and build homes affordable for teachers, childcare providers, baristas, bus drivers, and many more of the workers which make our neighborhoods thrive.

I will leverage this tool to its fullest extent to build more of the income-restricted housing our community needs, limiting reliance on regressive taxes and fees.

Finally, we need to re-legalize duplexes and triplexes throughout the city. Duplexes and triplexes were legal throughout the city until the 1950s, when residential zones across the city were down-zoned.

This has led to a decrease in family-sized housing, and more abrupt and significant zoning changes to communities across Seattle. In District 6, we’re already familiar with modest density: many blocks have duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) which pre-date the 1950s ban.

Using this moderate density option creates more opportunity for family-owned homebuilders to thrive in Seattle. It also creates more family-size units near schools and parks, homeownership opportunities for moderate-income households, and a way for seniors to downsize while staying in the neighborhoods they love.

Transit and traffic: Out of all the transportation options, which one is a priority for improvement?

I will prioritize improving our bus network. I am excited about ST3 and the speed and convenience light rail will bring to the district, and we can’t wait 16 years for better transit. I live on three bus lines.

Only one runs in the middle of the day, and if I have to work past 6:15pm, my 20-minute bus commute becomes an hour commute with a transfer.

Ridesharing costs as much as parking downtown, at which point I may as well drive to work, even though I’d prefer not to.

I hear this and similar experiences from countless people at the doors. We need more frequent buses and dedicated bus lanes across the city to give people the opportunity to opt out of driving.

A citywide network of dedicated bus lanes will transform Seattle’s public transit - buses with dedicated lanes are fast and reliable and would give people a viable alternative to driving.

People should be able to go to their bus stop, wait no more than 10 minutes, and get where they are going without getting stuck in traffic. Multiple studies nationally and world-wide have shown that when designed correctly, a citywide network of buses with dedicated lanes can be nearly as efficient and effective as light rail.

We can put these routes into service fast, using coaches we already have.

A connected network of bus lanes will also help streamline freight delivery. We know the last 50 feet is the biggest challenge for freight, and by allowing access to bus only lanes during off-hours, we can use a connected bus lane network to keep our economy moving.

We also need to be able to use traffic cameras to enforce bus-only lanes. This is currently not allowed in Washington, and I will use my relationships in the state legislature to advocate for a law allowing it. Ensuring bus lanes stay clear for buses is critical to building a smoothly flowing transit system.

Heidi Wills

Homelessness and visibility: How will you address the unsanctioned encampments on city streets, underneath highways, and other public spaces?

Individuals experiencing homelessness who live in unmanaged tent encampments are living in unsafe and unhygienic conditions for them and for the people living around them.

It’s a public health concern and the city needs to respond to the homelessness crisis like the emergency that it is.

No one, and especially not families and children, should live in such deplorable conditions. Often times, it’s vulnerable people in tent encampments who are at the greatest risk of being victims of unlawful and dangerous behavior.

I support the work of the city’s navigation teams to move people into shelter and connect them to the services they need. Even more, the city council should not look to defund the important work being done by the navigation teams. Rather for me, it is just the opposite. I would work to expand their funding.

Individuals do not get the care they needs because services are fragmented, duplicative and overall inefficient. It’s hard for even case managers to navigate the system.

In order to move people out of tents, they need somewhere to go. For too long, the city has not prioritized the right services. Our region needs a comprehensive action plan to address homelessness.

There are about the same number of shelter beds being used now as there were 10 years ago, and yet the numbers of people experiencing homelessness has increased exponentially.

We need more 24/7 and low-barrier shelters. We need more shelters that welcome pets and where couples can stay together. People experiencing homelessness are not one monolithic group and we need an array of services to help people move on a continuum of care to successfully exit homelessness. Collaboration between the city and the county that is finally underway is a good first step.

I worked at King County for 6 years prior to serving on the City Council 20 years ago, and I bring a regional perspective. In fact, I was the coordinator of the tri-county salmon restoration efforts under then King County Executive Ron Sims, and I helped with the first Sound Transit package.

I’ve addressed regional issues before. Seattle can’t solve homelessness in a silo. I have the needed experience to help engage our regional partners in being part of the solution.

Homelessness and housing: What is your plan to find permanent homes for the homeless?

The most humane, cost-effective and successful way to help people who are chronically homeless is permanent supportive housing. In fact, it costs the same amount for a person to spend 3 days in an emergency room, 3 months in jail, or to house them for one year in permanent supportive housing. Permanent, supportive housing is the answer.

We have many service providers with high success rates in housing people who are hardest to serve, from Plymouth Housing Group to the Downtown Emergency Services Center. It’s great to see many private citizens and major companies stepping up to fund more permanent supportive housing, starting with the recent $5M donations each by Providence, Premera, and Swedish Health Services to Plymouth Housing Group.

I would bring a collaborative leadership style to engage the business community in continuing to be part of funding solutions. As a small business owner, I am uniquely qualified here to be a collaborative voice.

Seattle is full of incredibly intelligent and compassionate people who have more to give to address this problem.

People I’ve met in my district want to understand how they can help and how their contributions would fit into an overall regional plan. Seattle leaders should collaborate with regional and state partners to develop a regional plan to end homelessness.

Too much, Seattle operates in a silo on this and other issues. A solution could encompass three counties like Sound Transit does, or even four if we add Kitsap. It won’t be easy, just as the tri-salmon restoration effort wasn’t easy, nor was Sound Transit, but it can and should be done.

Seattle’s leaders must engage with regional partners. King County is comprised of 39 cities and towns. We need to step back and think bigger and bolder to end homelessness. If elected, I have the skill set and experience to help gain traction in that effort.

Homelessness and drugs/mental health: How do you plan on addressing drug use and mental health treatment options for the homeless population?

Most people I’ve talked to in District 6 recognize that we must address the root causes of homelessness to solve this crisis and that housing alone is sometimes not enough to keep someone housed.

A systems approach is needed here as it is needed with solving homelessness. Our state woefully underfunds mental health.

Washington state ranks 45th out of the 50 states in how much it contributes to mental health and it shows on our streets.

It’s unacceptable for a state as progressive as ours is to allow vulnerable people living in squalor because they are not receiving the mental health services they need.

Our state has only 729 public mental health beds. Clearly, city leaders in Seattle need to work with our state partners to address the need for more mental health services.

We also need counselors in every school. One in three children now are showing signs of anxiety disorder which is higher than it’s ever been. Let’s prioritize mental health for all people, including children. We need more funding for drug treatment.

As a mom, it’s sad when I hear stories of family members who have had loved ones struggle with substance abuse disorder and when they are finally ready for treatment, there’s no availability and they miss that window of opportunity.

Again, city leaders need to work with partners at the state and at the county level to provide more services to people suffering from substance abuse disorders. I am proud to have the support of King County Executive Dow Constantine and many state leaders including State Senators Reuven Carlyle and Jamie Pedersen, and State Reps.

Gael Tarleton, Javier Valdez and many others. Seattle’s city leaders have operated in a silo for too long to address these challenges and if elected, I will work with state and regional leaders to address what is a regional issue.

Housing and growth: What is your plan to make Seattle more affordable and livable for low- to middle-income residents?

Affordable housing in our urban core is a necessity so individuals can access services and employment. Being close to transit and our public transportation network opens opportunities at minimal costs.

Personal transportation from distant, suburban communities adds to our carbon footprint and is expensive. The average cost of owning a vehicle is $10,000/ year.

I will be a leader who engages the community in how we integrate new housing opportunities into our neighborhoods to ensure people at all income levels have homes in our city.

I support Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a gentle way to integrate modest housing opportunities in our neighborhoods. I support extending the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Credit to existing buildings so we don’t lose thousands of affordable units.

And I support converting surplus public property to affordable housing. We have over 1000 surplus properties in our city. That’s a lot of potential affordable housing.

In fact, two parcels (one in Phinney Ridge and one in Loyal Heights) are about to become the first parcels developed for affordable housing in District 6 for people who make 80% of area median income or less.

While these examples are exciting, we need much more affordable housing so that nurses, teachers, firefighters and other workers can live close to where they work. I support bringing back neighborhood planning to add housing in our urban centers with amenities to go with it, including increased transit service and more parks.

Too many decisions in City Hall are top-down. We need more bottom-up decision-making by empowering people in our communities to address development impacts including setbacks, parking issues, tree canopy, courtyards and improved design.

Many people I talk to in District 6 would like to see affordable housing integrated into new developments with one-for-one replacement to address important concerns with displacement.

Transit and traffic: Out of all the transportation options, which one is a priority for improvement?

Transit and traffic are inter-related! If we can have more reliable and convenient transit options for residents, we will see more people take transit and then traffic congestion on our limited roadways will improve.

This is the rationale I used when I championed the U-PASS bus pass program at the UW as student body president 30 years ago which gave every student a bus pass on the back of their student ID card.

Public transit is critically important for seniors, young people, people who are sight or mobility impaired, and for others who cannot or choose not to drive a personal vehicle.

We need more investments in transit as a common good. There are many parts of District 6 which do not have adequate transit options outside of peak times which restricts mobility and opportunity.

I served on the board of Transportation Choices Coalition, and I will work to ensure residents have more transportation options to easily and affordably get around our city.

The most important issue on the ballot is defeating Initiative 976. Voting “no” on I-976 is much more important than any candidate on the ballot this November.