Proponents of affordable housing turned out in force at Monday’s King County Council meeting. They were there to speak against a proposal to spend roughly $180 million in taxpayer dollars on upgrades to Safeco Field, insisting that more of the money be used to build housing instead.
The Mariners, the local baseball team that holds the lease on the publicly owned venue, have threatened to walk away unless the county coughs up the cash.
The money in question comes from a 2 percent tax on hotel and motel stays that will become available in 2021. Under state law, at least 75 percent of those funds are already spoken for – at least 37.5 percent is earmarked for cultural institutions, museums and performing arts, and another 37.5 percent must be spent on housing or services for homeless youth.
Whatever remains can be spent on the historical beneficiary of the lodging tax, which is tourism – but doesn’t have to be. Speakers in favor of affordable housing urged their councilmembers to heed that specific part of the law and spend more than the minimum on housing development, reducing the amount allocated for tourism.
On the other side of the aisle, boosters for local tourism like Tom Norwalk of Visit Seattle questioned putting so much money toward the stadium, saying that the tourism industry had other needs that deserved consideration.
Nicole Vallestero Keenan-Lai, executive director of Puget Sound Sage, told the council that if they wanted to boost the economy, they should do it by spending more on affordable housing.
“The economic input and output of a baseball team is essentially the same as a midsized department store,” Vallestero Keenan-Lai said, arguing that the economic impact of putting more money in people’s pockets by making housing more affordable could produce greater dividends.
Monday’s meeting was the first public forum to discuss the spending proposal. The King County Council will hold a second meeting and potentially a committee vote on Aug. 29.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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