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caption: Crowds of homeless people often gather on the sidewalks of downtown Seattle near social-service providers.
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Crowds of homeless people often gather on the sidewalks of downtown Seattle near social-service providers.
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Seattle Mayor drops $275M homeless levy plan, joins county in sales tax proposal

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is walking away from his proposal for a property tax increase that would generate $275 million over five years for homeless services.

Instead, he’s now joining King County officials in proposing a county-wide sales tax increase of 0.1 percent.

Murray said it makes sense to work with the county, and the new tax would raise more money.

"This crisis remains a national failure on the part of our federal government. So rather than proposing a local property tax, we have an opportunity to make a more dramatic impact."

Murray said the city will be working more closely with King County to create a coordinated approach that makes sure that people get off the streets.

For his part, King County Executive Dow Constantine said homelessness affects a wide range of areas, not just big cities.

He said it’s a regional problem that needs a regional solution.

"More than 10,000 people on any given day are unsheltered across King County. And rising rents make finding and keeping a stable home more difficult. Homelessness is not normal, it is NOT inevitable. And it cannot be accepted."

Officials aim to get the new proposal on the 2018 ballot. They say it would raise approximately $68 million per year for homeless services across the county.

Both Constantine and Murray said they understand some people will be frustrated with the delay – Murray’s original proposal was already collecting signatures to qualify for the August ballot.

However, they say the extra time will allow for reforms to take place within the homeless services system. They also say it will ensure a plan that puts money towards programs with proven results.

Officials said they wished they had a more progressive option, noting that a sales tax increase will disproportionately affect lower income households.

But they say there aren't other alternatives.

There are no details yet on how the money would be spent, but officials say there would still be a focus on getting people into stable housing.