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caption: A homeless encampment in Seattle's Rainier Valley, taken March 2016.
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A homeless encampment in Seattle's Rainier Valley, taken March 2016.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

To pay for homeless services, Seattle considers new business tax

Seattle City Council members are considering a tax on big business to fund services for homelessness.

This kind of tax is often known as a “head tax” or “employee hours tax.” And it’s actually nothing new for Seattle. The city had something like it for transportation funding, until it was repealed in 2009.

This time around, the goal is to create a steady stream of money to help people with the greatest housing needs. Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley said it could help with rental assistance and safe lots for people living in vehicles.

“While not ideal, there are folks who are able right now to survive in RVs and cars and other things where they know that they’re safe,” said Harris-Talley. “And it gives them the mobility that they need. And so we want to create as much safety and protection for those folks as well.”

In a statement, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce said allowing people to live in RVs is not a long-term solution and called it immoral.

The tax would fall on approximately 250 businesses, including companies like Amazon. The online retailer did not respond to a request for comment.

The tax is estimated to cost affected business about $100 per employee per year and is expected to generate around $20 million a year.

Clarification 10/17/17: The audio for this story has been updated to reflect the fact that the tax would cost the affected businesses about $100 per employee, per year.

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