Bellingham’s sales and use tax will increase in the next few months by 0.001% to fund low-income housing. The Bellingham City Council held a special meeting on the issue March 15 and a final vote March 22, voting for it unanimously, 7-0.
The tax is explicitly for housing and related services and behavioral health facilities and services and will support a five-year plan that began in 2018 and is required by the federal office of Housing and Urban Development. The Council and community members set the objectives: increase affordable housing supply, address homelessness, assist special needs populations, preserve existing housing, promote neighborhood equity and coordinate effective delivery of services.
COVID-19 data check
The Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 statistics continue to yield stark findings. Cumulatively, 23% of Washingtonians hospitalized for the virus have been Hispanic people, though this racial group is only 13% of the state’s population. For non-white groups, there have been higher hospitalization and death rates at times in the past year, but the rates for non-Hispanic people have evened out in proportion to the groups’ population percentages. Hispanic people now account for 12% of fatalities, not higher than their 13% of the overall population.
Data studies by age also show notable disparities. The 20 to 34 age group has the highest infection rate: 30% of total Washington cases in this year-plus. The second-highest infection rate is among 35 to 49-year-olds: 24%. The impact is felt most by older people. COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates are highest for people who are 50 or above, accounting for 74% of hospitalizations and 96% of deaths. Of people 50 and up, 61% have been fully vaccinated as of March 20.
Tim Burgess, who was on the Seattle City Council from 2007-17 and worked against homeless encampments and panhandling, is reemerging with similar ideas. On Jan. 29, The Seattle Times published an op-ed by Burgess in which he spoke against a Council proposal to expand lawful encampments. In the years since Burgess left public office, The Times has turned to him for opinions on pressing issues. Burgess has also increasingly posted his perspective of city initiatives on his blog.
At an event out of Queen Anne March 10, Burgess unveiled an initiative to change the city's new direction on homelessness, including a return to Navigation Team work, sweeping away encampments, which has been considered a cruel failure by many active homelessness advocates in the city.
There is specualtion among pundits that Burgess is angling for a city leaderhsip role. He was the interim mayor for 71 days in 2017, appointed to that role by the then-Council when Ed Murray resigned.
Burgess comes from a working-class background in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, where his family’s home was foreclosed when he was 12. He grew up to work in Seattle as a journalist, covering criminal justice, then a police officer and in public relations for the police department. He has risen as a moderately-branded politician — but conservative leaning, in comparison to the general direction of the city.
Read more in the Mar. 24-30, 2021 issue.