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caption: Incumbent Lisa Herbold and challenger Phil Tavel faced off in a debate in their District 1 Seattle City Council race.
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Incumbent Lisa Herbold and challenger Phil Tavel faced off in a debate in their District 1 Seattle City Council race.
Credit: KUOW photo/David Hyde

5 questions: City council candidates in West Seattle and South Park

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 1, which encompasses West Seattle and South Park.

Lisa Herbold is the incumbent; Phil Tavel is the challenger.

Phil Tavel

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

I support our Navigation Teams and their outreach services to make sure we are effectively reaching those who are currently living outside.

Unsanctioned encampments are public health and safety concern, however just moving people from place to place is not the solution. We need to address both the issues of outreach and service connection as well as health and safety impacts of unkept encampments.

I would like the Navigation Team’s work to be expanded, as they are the boots on the ground efforts of our City. We need more low barrier shelters so people are willing to move inside, and make sure our City’s laws are enforced to be able to utilize the criminal justice system as the safety net is designed to be -- addressing the root causes of homelessness.

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

Our City is not only in a state of emergency on homelessness, but also in the midst of a housing crisis. We need to increase the in-lieu-of fees under Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) so that developers are building affordable units within their complexes, or so that our City is able to build affordable housing faster.

Right now, Seattle, King County, Sound Cities, and other partners are deciding how to best combine our efforts under a regional entity to address homelessness as a whole.

I have always argued that housing alone will not work – wraparound services, like what we see in permanent supportive housing, are vital to our short- and long-term success. However, the housing programs operating countywide that report data to All Home are not performing well enough to solve the issue. What we’ve seen from Seattle and King County so far seems to be a policy of perpetual funding regardless of outcomes.

Thousands of human lives hang in the balance – it’s time to finally treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves.

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

Addressing substance abuse and mental health issues are traditionally state and county policy issues, but that is not an excuse for us as a City to stand idly by and wait for solutions to come down the line.

There has been a lot of talk about supervised injection sites (SISs) as something to implement as a harm reduction strategy. While I support harm reduction, I do not support SISs. There are plenty of tools that we can use under a harm reduction model to address overdose, death, and bloodborne disease transfer.

One-for-one needle exchange, safe disposal, naloxone distribution, outreach and education, peer support programs, and awareness campaigns are all things we should be looking into and expanding. Outside of harm reduction, I support community-based detox programs and rehabilitation.

When it comes to behavioral health as a whole, we need programs that focus on resilience and recovery, practices that are evidence/research/consensus based, or at the very least based in best practice.

It’s past time we recognize the needs of underserved populations and improve access to mental health and substance abuse services. I know there are several pieces of legislation on these issues that will be on the table in Olympia next session. I will work the state and county to find and implement the best ways forward.

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

We need to make sure we are building and retaining affordable housing. It’s unrealistic, though, to expect all affordable housing to be built.

First, we need to make sure we are preserving and upkeeping our current affordable housing stock. Any time you tear something down and build something new, it will be more expensive than it was before.

We have units that are affordable now that are at risk of selling and disappearing. Seattle has implemented a process where tenants have first-right-to-purchase the buildings in which they live.

I would like to also see a program similar to that passed in San Francisco, where non-profits can get involved and purchase properties before they are released on the open market. Expanding cooperative and non-profit housing, are great ways to retain our currently affordable housing stock.

As it stands, Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) in Seattle is anything but mandatory and the provision of affordable housing is falling further behind.

If elected, I plan to increase the payments in-lieu-of fees developers are allowed to pay to the City. This will both create more of an incentive for affordable housing production by big developers and improve production using in-lieu-of dollars.

Lastly, I will work to streamline and expedite our permitting process. The longer it takes to build a new complex the more expensive it is to build.

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

The transportation option we should prioritize for improvement is bus service.

Not just expanding availability but expanding accessibility as well. Providing an equitable, clean mass transit network is an excellent way to reduce emissions, travel times, and cost.

In September, I was the only Seattle City Council candidate to attend the launch for “ORCA for All” launched by the Transit Riders Union. ORCA for All is the latest push from an organization that fought for low-income reduced fare (ORCA LIFT), expanding and improving the Human Services Bus Ticket program, and supported free transit passes for Rainier Beach High School and subsidized passes for UW staff and students.

Larger regional employers should absorb part of the cost of mass transit to subsidize passes for their workers. There are already employers that do this and there are policies like Commute Trip Reduction and the Commuter Benefits Ordinance that have the same goal in mind – but they are not enough. Between engaging with the County to get more bus service for our communities and programs like ORCA for All, we can improve the availability and accessibility of cleaner transportation options for everyone in our city.

Lisa Herbold

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

The unauthorized encampment removal policy is intended to mitigate the safety and health risks for people living unsheltered, prioritize connecting people to services and housing, and allow the city to manage public spaces.

I am currently advancing budget proposals to: expand access to public bathrooms and drop-in showers so that people living unsheltered have more hygiene options, fund Mobile Pit Stops for all people to use the bathroom so that people aren’t forced to do so in public, and expand the reach of the Purple Bag program to help people manage garbage accumulation in encampments not prioritized for removal.

Until we have enough affordable housing in our communities and the capacity to move people experiencing homelessness into shelter, tiny homes, and permanent housing, removing encampments alone isn’t an effective strategy to solve our homelessness crisis.

While it is not legal to camp on public property, the Navigation Team’s Theory of Change is intended to balance the impact to public spaces of homelessness, disrupting peoples’ lives, and moving people to housing and services; the data shows that an increasing number of encampment removals are being conducted without 72-hours notice which doesn’t create an opportunity for outreach workers to refer people living unsheltered to services and housing. I’ve advocated for HSD to adopt the recommendations of the City Auditor to improve this.

As I did in 2019, I’ve proposed a proviso on Navigation Team funds requiring the Human Services Department (HSD) to report their progress and implementation of the City Auditor’s recommendations to ensure quality improvement in our encampment removal policy, and ensure greater accountability and fidelity to these goals when deploying our Navigation Team.

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

The McKinsey Report demonstrates that Seattle and the region are inadequately investing in our homelessness intervention system and quantifies the deficit of affordable housing in our region.

The data shows that we are moving more people more quickly out of homelessness and into permanent housing, but people today are also entering into homelessness at much faster rates, specifically people on working-wage jobs affected by a sudden rent increase or other destabilizing situation.

The Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness has brought to my attention that people using federal assistance programs like SSI are slipping into homelessness because they can’t afford even subsidized rents on fixed incomes.

I am looking to co-sponsor legislation to help this population secure and maintain housing. In 2019 over $190 million in housing projects (projected to produce around 2300 units) were provided in the Office of Housing’s Intent to Apply application round, but because I and others learned that City only had the capacity to fund about a quarter of those projects, we worked to institute the new authority granted by the state to retain a portion of Seattle’s sales tax that goes to grow our bonding capacity to build more affordable housing and generate new money to supplement our Housing Levy, incentive zoning, and MHA dollars.

This new revenue source and others under consideration in the current budget process will allow us to double our affordable housing production. The McKinsey report also directs policymakers to pay attention to how effectively our region is funding the service providers that make up our homelessness intervention system.

In order to receive Federal dollars with the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act our region is required to participate in the Coordinated Entry system. To more effectively use those dollars we need greater alignment between Seattle and King County’s homelessness intervention system.

I will work to support the development of a coordinated regional entity for Seattle and King County. I intend to advocate for improving our performance metrics to help people facing the greatest barriers to accessing resources available in the system.

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

Substance-use and behavioral health disabilities caused by the trauma of living unsheltered need to be addressed simultaneously. Housing First, with access to wrap around mental health and drug treatment services, is the preferred approach to do so.

While substance-use is present for some people living unsheltered, it is connected with other issues that need to be addressed as well. The 2019 Count Us In report showed that nearly a third of respondents surveyed in Seattle-King County had a substance use disorder, while 35% reported post-traumatic stress disorder, and 36% reported psychiatric or emotional conditions.

There is likely overlap in these conditions, sometimes called co-occurring disorders, that can lead to and/or increase substance-use.

From a policy perspective, reliance upon a law enforcement response alone is incompatible with helping someone become stably housed because of the greater barriers for criminal justice involved individuals in accessing housing. Further, lack of housing is one of the greatest determinators of recidivism. In other words, in failing to help people get housed we are creating increased public safety challenges for our community.

Harm reduction is the evidence-based intervention with the greatest positive outcomes for people with substance abuse and behavioral health disabilities as well as positive outcomes for communities.

A Randomized Control Trial, by the UW research team that did the initial Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program proof of concept study, shows that a harm reduction-based approach is effective in reducing alcohol use in a homeless population. This is gold standard research, and provides further validation that strategies of sustained engagement with substance users without an abstinence framework are effective in reducing use, particularly in highly marginalized groups.

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

a. Build new affordable housing, focusing on the greatest needs first, through the 2016 Housing Levy renewal and the enactment of stronger low income housing production regulations for developers, as well as new financing tools like a new City Housing Bond.

b. Emphasize housing preservation as a more important component of our affordable housing strategy. I worked on the design, passage, funding of the City's Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance.

This innovative program will result in the investment in maintenance of rental housing that will result in the preservation of our housing stock, making older housing less vulnerable to speculative redevelopment. I support the development of a broader preservation program that identifies both subsidized and non-­subsidized rental housing that is likely to be redeveloped into more costly housing without preservation.

I believe this should be a funding focus of the 2016 Housing Levy. I also have legislation to require developers who tear down existing “naturally affordable housing” to fund replacement of that housing.

c. Improve tenant protections like a stronger Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, closing the loopholes in the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, and support efforts to repeal the state prohibition of local rent regulations.

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

Seattle voters adopted Proposition 1 in 2014 to fund additional bus service in Seattle, from 2015 to 2020.

This has broad positive effects; the voter-approved bus service measure has resulted in 67 percent of Seattle households being within a 10-minute walk from 10-minute service, compared to 25% in 2015 and 51% in 2016.

This is noteworthy progress, and an efficient use of resources. The number of vehicle miles traveled per resident is also declining because of this. It reduces carbon reduction as well: 66% of our emissions are from transportation.

Funding for this program must be re-authorized at the ballot in 2020--otherwise we risk losing this measurable progress. This service must be maintained. If there is support for a countywide approach to expand service, that could work as well, but we absolutely can’t go backwards on the service we’ve added in Seattle.

This is a high priority for me, as a bus commuter myself, as well as a representative of the District that contains the Rapid Ride C route - the route responsible for a total 1/3 increase in systemwide ridership.

Working with Sound Transit to get light rail built to West Seattle by 2030 is another critical step. Coordination with King County Metro to ensure seamless transfers between bus and rail is critical. It’s one reason I have supported the Pigeon Ridge option for a station in the West Seattle neighborhood of Youngstown in North Delridge.

This option offers the best transfers from the south (identified by Sound Transit as an important race and social justice issue). I supported this during Level 2 discussions at the Sound Transit Elected Leadership Group; unfortunately it didn’t get support, and was eliminated.

I felt strongly about it, so I brought it up again, in Level 3, and it moved forward as a potential option for study, with a slightly different alignment (renamed the “Pigeon Point” option), and a station ideal for transfers. The Sound Transit Board has approved it for initial study to determine if they want to consider it in the Environmental Impact Statement.

Even if this option isn’t included in the EIS, prioritizing ease of transfers is a key issue moving forward. Close coordination with King County Metro will be essential for this; these stations will be where the rest of the peninsula, and areas to the south of Seattle, connect to light rail. I supported amending the criteria for Proposition 1, to allow additional Seattle funding for the 120 in Delridge.

The 120 is one of King COunty Metro’s top ten most utilized routes in King County. I’ve also closely monitored the City’s Delridge Rapid Ride Corridor project, done to increase the speed and ease of access for the forthcoming Rapid Ride H Line.

This was done as part of the improved capital project oversight procedures I sponsored, requiring quarterly reporting to the City Council for designated projects, to track schedule, costs, and other factors, to ensure success. The Madison and Roosevelt RapidRide Corridor projects are also included in the 2019 list for quarterly accountability and oversight updates to the Council.