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Shaun Scott (left) and Alex Pedersen are among dozens of Seattle City Council candidates seeking democracy vouchers.
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Shaun Scott (left) and Alex Pedersen are among dozens of Seattle City Council candidates seeking democracy vouchers.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

5 questions: City council candidates in NE 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 4, which includes northeast Seattle neighborhoods, Laurelhurst, Ravenna, View Ridge, parts of Fremont, and Wallingford.

No incumbent. Candidates are Shaun Scott and Alex Pedersen.

Want to hear what the candidates sound like? Listen to this short clip.

District 4: Shaun Scott vs. Alex Pedersen

Shaun Scott

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

The chief division on the question of homelessness is the divide between compassion and cruelty.

A cruel approach to “solving” homelessness involves mass-criminalization, sweeps of homeless encampments, and “emphasis patrols” implemented by the Mayor’s Office.

While these approaches serve as a conduit of anger and frustration, they do nothing to actually address the root causes of homelessnness or to house the homeless. Even Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has said that the city of Seattle cannot “arrest its way out of” its current homelessness epidemic.

It is clear that the approach that Seattle has taken to address our housing and homelessness crisis has not yielded the appropriate results.

Worse, committing tens of millions of dollars per year to the sweeps of homeless encampments has been violent, cruel, and inhumane. Not only is this ongoing approach expensive and ineffective, sweeps and arrests are major contributors to the psychological trauma our houseless neighbors experience.

If elected to City Council, I would call for an immediate end to the sweeps, and instead redirect the funds that are wasted on these sweeps towards efforts that support the building of permanent affordable housing.

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

I believe in a housing-first approach for people experiencing homelessness; the city should go into debt to build the housing it needs to address the state of emergency that was declared years ago.

We should create a land bank in which the city would purchase land as it becomes available on the market and specifically designate it for public, dense, (actually) affordable housing.

This can be done by pursuing and implementing the revenue options outlined in its “Progressive Revenue Taskforce on Housing and Homelessness” and also use its bonding capacity to get the funding we need for an ambitious investment in public housing.

The revenue options we must pursue include a tax on mansion sales and on vacant luxury real estate developments. With political courage and fiscal clarity, we can build the housing we need for working families, students, renters, and people of color at risk of being displaced.

Ensuring the most marginalized members of society can afford to live in Seattle is at the heart of my campaign. Current affordable housing programs are not enough, and absolutely do not ensure the survival of those making less than designated median incomes for existing programs.

For too long, we have left our housing supply up to the whims of the market and they haven’t provided the housing that communities need. Housing should be treated as a social good, and not just a commodity to be bought and sold.

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

Compassionate approaches to solving homelessness involve addressing the problems at the root, and not criminalizing poverty.

On my campaign, I have called for reinstating and expanding the city’s Community Service Officer program to help direct and steward our houseless neighbors, especially those who struggle with addiction, to services and housing.

It involves alleviating the economic stressors (loss of job, rent increases) that lead to homeless, and also addressing the the fact that homelessness disproportionately impacts communities of color and LGBTQIA+ people.

As a former editor of Real Change News, I am committed to a compassionate approaches to solving homelessness. I would partner with councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzales to identify safe consumption facilities that will allow houseless folks to get the treatment that they need; as police officers are allowed to use naloxone to treat citizens suffering from opiate withdrawals, we should scale that approach to actual facilities that will reduce the amount of drug use we see in streets, parks, and greenways.

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

Seattle’s regressive zoning regime is the invisible ink of inequity in the city. Exclusive single family zoning has created proto-suburban neighborhoods within our city limits.

Even if the city were to maximize the amount of housing it put in urban villages and areas designated for “upzones,” we won’t come close to building the amount of housing we need unless we rezone large swaths of the city, specifically blanket rezones in wealthy white neighborhoods.

We need to provide incentives to residents within certain precincts to voluntarily rezone their own lots so that they can become affordable housing in the event that those lots hit the market.

Additionally, with a number of light rail stations opening in the coming years (including two in District 4), the city must spearhead transit-centered development. By rezoning the city, we are taking strides in making the city more equitable.

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

I believe the #1 transit priority in the city of Seattle should be making public transportation free.

There are a number of individual transit projects--building Rapid Ride through Eastlake, the implementation of the bike master plan, completion of the center city streetcar connector--which I believe will be important to District 4 and the city as a whole.

But I believe we must start with making universally accessible public transit part of the culture of what it means to be a Seattleite.

Working in coalition with groups like Transit Riders Union, Seattle Subway, and Sierra Club, I would work, as a city councilmember, towards the substantive and symbolic achievement of free public transit. I believe such an achievement would whet the public appetite for increased civic commitment to transit projects in the near and short term.

Alex Pedersen

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

Experience Matters: I have extensive experience in the affordable housing arena having served the Clinton Administration at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce homelessness, 15 years in the private sector managing teams of financial analysts to preserve affordable housing, and as Legislative Aide where I worked on programs that created funds for affordable housing without regressive taxes.

It takes experience and collaboration to tackle the complex problems underpinning our regional homelessness crisis.

Support Navigation Teams: I support Mayor Durkan’s approach to expand and improve our Navigation Teams to connect more frequently with unsanctioned homeless encampments. I do NOT believe people should be allowed to camp anywhere they want. Compassion requires that we increase efforts to engage with people experiencing homelessness to offer housing and services.

Navigation Teams need better technology to make sure people who accept offers of shelter actually arrive and stay at the shelter to get the assistance they need. For the best results, Navigation Teams should connect more quickly with people who are newer to homelessness, so that we can divert them back to housing more quickly.

Expand Shelter with Services: Ideally, we can increase our capacity of “enhanced” shelter buildings that have case management services on site and successfully “exit” as many people at possible to permanent housing solutions.

More at: https://electalexpedersen.org/accountability-and-homelessness/

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

Our federal government used to help more people experiencing homeless by funding more government-owned “public housing” and privately owned apartments subsidized by Section 8 project-based contracts or portable tenant-based voucher.

Unfortunately, cuts to those programs have unwisely and unfairly shifted the burdens to state and local governments.

We should continue to push the federal government (especially once we elect a Democrat to the White House) to restore that funding and expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit which helps to produce affordable housing.

Here are some additional strategies:

Doubled Seattle Housing Levy: While I have been cautious about certain tax levies that are regressive and/or lack accountability, I was proud to serve on the task force that recommended doubling the Seattle Housing Levy.

The Housing Levy provides permanent supportive housing and services for people with low or no income, including those who used to be homeless.

Many of those projects are coming on line now.

Increased Incentive Zoning Fees: When I served as a Legislative Aide at City Council four years ago, I helped to increase incentive zoning fees which provided tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing that is building built today, including in our District 4.

Expand Cheaper Modular Housing: Trying to construct new apartments that cost $400,000 per unit to house every extremely low-income person is not sustainable.

Modular apartment buildings, which I recently inspected in Vancouver B.C., are cheaper because it is built in a factory and assembled on site. It can be attractive and good quality while costing less — and it is constructed much faster than traditional housing so we can get people experiencing homelessness into housing quickly.

We should expand where modular housing can be built. Housing Connector and Preserving Existing Affordable Housing: A successful program called “Landlord-Liaison” was recently reinvigorated into “Housing Connector” which makes it easier for social service providers to connect some of their homeless clients to affordable housing in existing apartment buildings.

It’s important the City Council not incentivize the demolition of “naturally occurring” (un-subsidized) affordable housing because we need to preserve what we have.

More at: https://electalexpedersen.org/accountability-and-homelessness/

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

Coordinating with King County: I will work collaboratively and persistently with our Mayor to achieve the necessary coordination with King County on mental health and drug addiction programs.

Behavioral Health program dollars flow through King County, which makes it vital for our city to coordinate with them so that people get the help they need when they need it.

For example, we must:

Work more closely with King County to leverage their promising Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) program.

Fully fund Project LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) while continuing to ensure it is implemented correctly and evaluated for continued success based on measurable outcomes.

Intervene to make sure people suffering from serious mental health challenges including substance use disorder (commonly referred to as drug abuse) get the treatment they need.

This is especially urgent if the person has become involved with our criminal justice system. Housing First.

An approach proven to work well is to get people into a permanent place of housing so they have the space and safe surroundings to tackle some of the challenges that may have caused them to become homeless in the first place.

More State Government Resources: I will advocate for our state legislators and Governor to provide more funding for mental health treatment and the Housing Trust Fund for permanent supportive housing (in addition to the boost they thankfully provided in April 2019).

I’m endorsed by key state legislators whose districts overlap our District 4 and look forward to collaborating with them on mental health funding.

More at: https://electalexpedersen.org/accountability-and-homelessness/

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

Fiscal Responsibility: Our city is becoming less affordable.

The people of Seattle are generous, but they are feeling the cumulative financial burden of their taxes, rents, fees, and bills going up without seeing a more livable city.

Many longtime residents and neighborhood businesses can no longer afford to stay. I believe greater accountability is needed to foster affordability.

City officials must do more to prevent the demolition of affordable housing and the economic displacement of vulnerable people. Only a City Council producing fiscally responsible solutions can ensure that seniors, middle class families, small businesses, and all our neighbors can afford to stay and thrive in the city we all love.

Taming the City Budget: While our city’s population increased by 15% from 2014 to 2019, the entire city budget increased by 34% — and the “Administration” piece of the budget pie increased by a whopping 60% during the same time period.

A primary role of the City Council is to review and amend the $6 billion budget. New Councilmembers need relevant experience and financial expertise to do this effectively.

As an aide to the former Budget Committee chair, I have this experience.

Utility Bills: The City Council should beef up the City Auditor’s Office and then engage that office to conduct periodic financial audits and performance audits.

Savings can either be reinvested in programs proven to work or, if found in the utility operations, returned to ratepayers in the form of lower utility bills. Unlike many other cities, Seattle is fortunate to have significant control over how we manage utilities to keep the lights on, provide clean water, and recycle.

But Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities are each $1 billion companies which comprise nearly 40% of the city budget (all funds).

As part of getting back to the basics, our City Council needs to better manage utility rates. Utility bills are regressive (lower income families pay a greater portion of their income). Truly progressive leaders should focus more on controlling those costs so that all customers – including seniors on fixed incomes, families with children, and others on tight budgets — are not overwhelmed by increasing costs that make our city less affordable.

Developer Impact Fees: Real Estate Developer Impact Fees are authorized under State law and already in effect in over 70 other Washington State jurisdictions (but not yet in Seattle).

These fees can be used to enhance livability as our increased construction makes our city more dense. Impact Fees can fund schools, parks, fire stations, and transportation capital projects.

We have to be careful, however, that cumulative fees do not discourage the new development we want, because City Hall might need to increase the mandatory housing affordability fees to encourage more affordable housing to be constructed within the “urban villages” recently upzoned.

Please also see answers to the previous question on creating permanent affordable housing. More at: https://electalexpedersen.org/accountability-for-affordability/

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

Buses to Light Rail: All people — including seniors and families with children — need to be mobile to work, shop, play, and thrive in our city.

But our city’s traffic and roads are a mess. With meaningful input from residents, City Hall must focus its limited resources to ensure we have reliable roads, transit, and sidewalks to safely move the most people — while enabling freight to move efficiently throughout our region to benefit our economy.

At the same time, City Hall can do more to leverage innovations and data to reduce carbon emissions to protect our environment.

Improving our bus connections to light rail – with two new stations opening in District 4 in 2021 (U District and Roosevelt) – will be a priority.

This includes making it possible for buses to use Brooklyn Avenue for a seamless transfer to that forthcoming light rail station. Defeat Tim Eyman’s Harmful I-976.

Together we must oppose Tim Eyman’s harmful proposal to reduce car tabs to a flat fee (Initiative 976) because flat fees are regressive and the low amount would decimate Sound Transit – and our Transportation Benefit District which provides more bus service to Seattle.

We want and need more people to ride light rail to maximize the public’s investment, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to keep people moving throughout our region. No on I-976.

More at: https://electalexpedersen.org/accountability-and-transportation-climate/