Editor’s note: Almost 80% of likely Seattle voters in a new Crosscut-Elway Poll said the city’s homelessness crisis was important as they consider their choice for mayor. We asked the two candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot about their approaches.
Q: What three actions would you take within the first 100 days to create a more effective city response to homelessness?
M. Lorena González: I’ll be taking office in midwinter and will move to rapidly assess encampments and who we can move immediately into vacant hotel rooms and other spaces. We need bold leadership to take an all-hands-on deck approach that leaves no solution off the table. We need to expand our emergency response to the crisis, and my plan does that starting day one. But if we are going to truly solve this problem, we also need to address the underlying causes that force people into homelessness in the first place. My administration will take swift action in the first 100 days on all fronts.
First, we need to build a lot of housing fast. Finding the funding to rapidly build permanent housing, with services, for Seattle residents experiencing homelessness is my first priority.
Second, we need better services for unhoused Seattleites. I will push for more wraparound mental health services, treatment for addiction, skills and career training programs, and a pilot universal basic income program so Seattle residents experiencing homelessness can restart their lives on sound footing.
Third, I will provide the leadership we need in the mayor’s office — and have long lacked — to work with the council to tackle the skyrocketing cost of living and housing in Seattle. We need to limit rent hikes in unsafe, unhealthy and unlivable housing, require four months’ notice for significant rent increases, provide rental assistance to Seattle residents who need it the most, and allow more multifamily housing to be built throughout the city.
The only way we can do this is if big corporations and the very wealthy finally pay their fair share. I will work with the Council and community leaders to start rebalancing the tax code so it’s not just regular Seattleites footing the bill anymore.
Bruce Harrell: When I take office, you will see urgency, action and accountability for addressing homelessness — informed by data, evidence-based best practices and a commitment to ending this humanitarian crisis in our city.
On Day One, we’ll get to work: identifying the first 1,000 units we will have operational in the first six months; bringing outreach and programs to scale that help people in inhumane conditions transition from parks and sidewalks to housing and services; prioritizing areas that need immediate engagement, including school and park properties that are incompatible with encampments. We will dedicate immediate funds for expedited sanitation and cleanup of public spaces — making our parks and green spaces clean, safe and welcoming.
We must also commit resources to emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention — the best and most cost-effective way to reduce homelessness is to prevent it from happening.
Second, to continue this momentum, I will order a thorough analysis identifying where we can add supportive housing units and build overdue affordable housing. We will compile current housing unit and service provider availability and collect the data that will populate our publicly accessible dashboard and inform future plans.
Third, we will also put together a budget for distribution of the second disbursement of American Rescue Plan Act funds. I called on the current City Council to appropriate the majority of the first portion of ARPA funds to addressing homelessness; however, they chose a different direction. Under my leadership, the majority of these funds must go to the greatest challenge we face — homelessness. This one-time infusion of over $60 million will allow us to make a major and immediate impact.
Continuing the status quo is inhumane — we need action, accountability and engagement. As mayor, this new approach will be clear from my first day in office.
Q: What specific data would you use to measure success?
González: The metrics that matter are how many people we have successfully moved into suitable shelter and how many people we have moved from shelter into permanent housing, providing the services and support they need to restart their lives. We will assess our progress addressing the root causes of homelessness by looking at how affordable our city becomes — whether we lower overall housing costs, how economically diverse neighborhoods become as we invest in them, whether we lower the unemployment rate and increase the percentage of our population working jobs that pay a living wage.
Harrell: Seattle needs an accessible dashboard to demonstrate its metrics of success. Seattleites must trust our plans and our progress.
Some key metrics will be cost per unit of housing, service costs, estimated number of people living on the street and number of encampments, average time spent in shelter or permanent supportive housing, rates of success in staying out of homelessness — by housing type and by provider. We’ll look at this data broadly and granularly on a case-by-case basis.
Through my proposed Race and Data Initiative, we’ll analyze disparities in who is being best served — by ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexuality and other factors. Using that data, we’ll invest in culturally competent and equitable services that get results. Our data will be public, and we will evaluate the impressions of residents, neighborhoods and community members to understand their perception of the city’s effectiveness at addressing the homelessness crisis.
Q: How would you hold programs and providers accountable for results?
González: We will ensure that we are funding programs that effectively transition people to shelter and housing and not waste taxpayer resources on those that don’t. Programs like the Navigation Team, which only had a 6% success rate placing people into shelter, are a waste of taxpayer dollars and should not be funded. My administration will provide leadership, guidance and metrics to the council, whose job it is to fund programs and conduct oversight to effectively allocate dollars to programs that work.
Harrell: Transparency is key. Through our dashboard and accessible plan, and by opening up the data, the public can be part of this process. When programs are working, we should double down. When they aren’t, we’ll make changes and drive efficiency and share best practices within the provider community.
Our response will show a new level of hands-on, involved and invested participation to ensure progress is being made. My administration will bring true collaboration with service providers on our shared goal — ending homelessness. To do that, we’ll work closely with service providers to develop clear, mutual expectations around deliverables, costs and rates of success. When results don’t match those promises and expectations, we’ll make adjustments.
We’re not going to be afraid to explore new options and innovations. We will look to the latest research from around the country — and the world — to inform new solutions and drive better outcomes.