Real Change asked all candidates in major King County races to talk with us about how they would deal with the housing crisis and answer the needs of people experiencing homelessness. In this written interview, Kenneth Wilson shared his plans for Seattle City Council Position 8.
One of our vendors was concerned about the disconnect between elected officials and folks experiencing homelessness. What personal experience qualifies you to create policies on the unhoused community?
My personal experience with the crisis of homelessness comes from trying for years to directly aid my younger brother, Brian. He has been on-and-off homeless for almost 10 years. He is 42 years old and, with my parents’ assistance, has been continuously fighting addictions since junior high school. He was housed with me, my wife and our young daughter for months many years ago and was going to meetings but without solution. When my mother passed away, my father bought a property and nice three-bed/two-bath trailer home for him to live in Montana not far from cousins. Unfortunately, because of addictions and bad behavior, he made the property unlivable and moved out to rent an apartment he could not afford, and, within a year, they were forced to sell the property to pay taxes and rent. After odd jobs and in/out of homes, he came again to Seattle, was living and working with the Salvation Army’s program and appeared to be winning his battle. However, with one set-back or another, he was back to homeless, moved away to Montana again, to be near his daughter, and is still homeless today and begging along the roadside.
The advocacy arm at Real Change is firmly against Charter Amendment 29 because it would continue the cruel practice of sweeping encampments and displacing our unhoused neighbors. Do you support the now-defunct Charter Amendment 29 and thus sweeps? Why or why not?
I do not support Charter Amendment 29 and a fixed budget allocation to housing and services. However, allowing encampments exposed/outside and along the edges of roads, parks and schools is not compassionate for the homeless or for the city. I would work to immediately support the enforcement of existing laws, as Seattle can’t continue to allow unplanned homeless camps in parks and public properties.
My plan is to provide permanent pathways that deliver community value for their tax-dollar investment and life-long opportunities for the homeless individuals to graduate out of homelessness through goal-oriented rehabilitation with a realistic 18- to 24-month transitional housing, job training and counseling support. We must:
- Accept long-term responsibility — it takes time.
- Provide real housing for the transition.
- Be disciplined and show commitment.
- Create successful paths for those in need.
Importantly, the city’s assistance must be thoughtfully planned, with separate and distinctly different facilities for families and homeless that are simply in financial distress and therefore need a different kind of assistance. The way, the plan, the values and the benefits must be made clear, so that those in need feel aided and confident without feeling captured and incarcerated. We must eliminate council’s past mistakes and press for a dependable city administration of long-term transitional infrastructure that is efficient, right and fair.
Would you propose any new policies addressing homelessness? What would you try that we haven’t tried before as the crisis rapidly grows in large cities like Seattle?
I would propose new facilities and the realization that homelessness is a long-term problem that we need permanent assets to help graduate individuals out of.
In particular, at Northgate, the new light-rail station replaces the King County metro station, which was to be provided for developers that may include affordable housing. This is a mistake, and the current nearly-$50 million spent on outreach and tiny houses should be allocated to build a permanent vertical multi-story/multi-use homeless housing and rehabilitation facility focused at Northgate and permanently owned by the city. Homelessness rehabilitation must be goal-oriented toward realistic 18- to 24-month transition housing necessary to heal from the root causes.
Here, we would build a life-long plan with on-site professional support provided for those with addiction and mental needs, as well as job training and career counseling, including classroom time through the adjacent North Seattle College, now just across the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge. This gives those homeless in need a real plan, realistic time to transition, pride in themselves for a path forward and value to the community. This building facility, created at the obsolete public station, would also provide permanent direct access to light-rail transportation for jobs throughout the region, supporting the planned transition without need for vehicles. This location is also immediately across the street from other beneficial medical professionals and is commercially zoned, so that unlike previous plans, it does not unnecessarily focus personal rehabilitation challenges as a bubble within the city’s various neighborhoods or school zones.
One of our vendors can’t pay their rent. They have been living in the city since 1962, but rising rent has made it so they can no longer afford their current apartment in Cap Hill. What would you do to keep Seattle affordable?
I am not in support of rent control or increased rental regulations. For rentals, our city is highly regulated, and I feel maintaining a stable or less regulated system and reduced taxes will reduce rental costs. Landlords are a business, often a small business, and provide an essential service for our community. They need the flexibility to successfully and individually operate their businesses to the best of their ability and must work to retain their tenants. I support Section 8 and even (American) Rescue Plan funding as direct support to tenants, so that they can use this financial position to individually provide themselves with their best housing situation. I also believe that our continued transportation push, progress and connectivity with Sound Transit is extremely beneficial for our region and creates values where tenants have greater freedom to choose and locate near other connected transit centers that provide them with the best housing and values for their individual situation.
Housing justice advocates fear that as the rental moratorium ends, we will experience a historic wave of homelessness. How will you keep the many Seattleites who are behind on rent in their homes?
The moratorium was created to off-set a government-required shutdown of business with direct impacts to an individual’s and a business owner’s opportunity to earn a living. Rescue Plan funding can and should be used to provide direct support to tenants so that they can start making payments, and a moratorium on evictions is no longer warranted. Increased homelessness is in no one’s interests — owner or tenant — and the parties of their original agreement should have been talking and working together to make individually tailored solutions. Asking a government to blankly continue a rental moratorium or to create generic laws other than to provide direct financial assistance will only damage one side and injure our recovery.
Homelessness is one of the most talked about issues in city elections. Why in a wealthy city like Seattle, home to the two richest men in the world, are people homeless?
I don’t think that the comparisons are proportional or equivalent. Financially, the amazing wealth created for Seattle by these and other very successful and hardworking individuals have provided world value and increased Seattle’s standard of living. Even our major, valuable regional transportation projects would not be possible without our area’s kind of success. Homelessness is and will occur as it has throughout the ages. I believe the problems of homelessness come from many different reasons, and our response needs to be organized to identify and develop solutions, bring them to action, and continuously provide feedback. This is a planning-level problem and something we engineers take on always. I welcome the chance to work on our city’s problems.
Read more of the Sept. 29 - Oct. 5, 2021 issue.