It has been quite the eventful last few weeks in the Emerald City. The Seattle City Council voted for a scaled back employee hours tax (EHT) to the tune of $275 per full-time employee for Seattle’s largest corporations. The amended proposal was substantially less than the initial $500 proposal, which Mayor Jenny Durkan threatened to veto.
A few weeks prior, Amazon, Seattle’s largest corporation, threatened to halt further construction projects because of the EHT. In the following days, The Seattle Times published an op-ed by the Seattle Hotel Association, which opposed the tax. Further, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has also made it known that they vociferously oppose the EHT.
Amidst the warring sociopolitical factions, the basic essence of the argument has been discarded like week-old, expired milk. What these conflicting entities forget is that we are presently in a state of emergency. The city of Seattle proclaimed this malady back in late 2015. It has been nearly three years since the declaration, and we are still collectively trying to address this very serious human concern.
Evidently, what is good for Amazon may not be what is good for Seattle.
The housing crisis is a multitiered issue. People of color disproportionately bear the brunt of this crisis. According to the most recently published count of unsheltered people in King County (January 2017), African-Americans made up approximately 29 percent of the homeless population, despite only being 6 percent of the total population in King County. Latinxs count for 14 percent of the homeless population, versus making up only 9 percent of the total county population. Numbers point likewise with the American-Indian population, 6 percent of the homeless population, in contrast with 1 percent of the total county population.
Another concern is the forced economic relocation for many marginalized community members. Seattle’s Sanctuary City status is a nearly meaningless distinction when many immigrants are pushed out and can’t afford to live in the same city in which they work. A troublesome prospect under Trump’s virulently anti-immigrant regime.
The exodus of working class people out of Seattle also means increased traffic and vehicle emissions from work commutes in and out of town. The carbon footprint is incrementally expanding as a result. This is also not advantageous for our air quality.
It is for these reasons that we must look to offer immediate relief for those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity, while also providing for housing infrastructure that allows affordable units to be available. Access to affordable housing impacts not only our environment and neighborhoods, but also our most vulnerable community members. Housing is a human right! I just hope those who legitimately care heed the urgent need. Inaction is literally killing people who are unsheltered.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
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