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. Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs Seattle City Council’s Finance and Housing Committee, shared in this spoken interview her plans if she is re-elected to 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?
I think what’s important is having elected officials to lead with the voice, recommendations and direction of those with lived experience, in whatever the issue is. And that’s how I’ve always done my public policymaking, and so I think what helps qualify me for the role that I’m seeking for reelection is that continued commitment to follow the lead of those who have lived experience, whether that is living unsheltered, whether that’s living in housing instability and economic instability or having the experience of being harmed by systems that have, in theory, been there to help people navigate ways into additional housing, recognizing the past harm and trauma that so many have faced, whether it’s in a shelter specifically or in foster care in the past or in any other form of interaction with government, recognizing that those past harms are also an impediment to helping to solve our compounding crises, hearing the ways in which we can identify solutions by those who have experienced or are experiencing houselessness. That is something I am committed to, and so I hope that that helps qualify me to continue to be in this role, to serve to address those issues through the lens and voice of those who have that experience.
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 I’ve been actively opposed to sweeps in my time on council and before. I don’t support the charter amendment, because I don’t think that it is an honest assessment of both what we need to provide housing on demand and health services on demand. The proponents who say that that’s what they want this initiative to do failed to recognize that that requires revenue. There is no new revenue associated with this amendment. We know that it is going to take additional funding, like the kind that I fought for — thanks to the members of Real Change for your support for JumpStart Seattle, that has over $214 million coming in, and about two-thirds of that fund is going directly to housing. This is a step towards what we need to do to in order to solve this most pressing crisis in our city, of both homelessness and housing unaffordability. If we are serious about trying to create more places for people to have appropriate housing and shelter and the necessary health services, we must recognize that necessitates new revenue. Furthermore, as you noted, there’s a huge question mark about whether or not this will either permit or encourage sweeps, and there’s been different legal opinions. I know that Katie Wilson, through Crosscut, has identified various legal analyses that get to different conclusions. If there is any ambiguity about whether or not this perpetuates sweeps, then we must not support it. This will only allow for that question mark to be then in statute and further raise the concern that additional sweeps will be conducted under the name of Amendment 29. What we need to do instead is reaffirm our commitment to housing folks first, providing necessary health services and doing what council has already authorized, with the leadership and support of folks at Real Change: creating safe lots, creating tiny houses and creating safe and noncongregate shelter options — especially during a pandemic — for folks to live in indoors and to be able to access necessary health services. Charter Amendment 29, further, does not expand the dollar amount that the city would be spending on homelessness services. We currently spend almost 12% of our existing budget on homeless services. So, what we need to be doing is actually figuring out ways to have secure resources to invest in homeless services. When we get things like support from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act or support from our state legislature, like we did with the $2 million to create three new tiny houses, when the council passes it and the mayor signs it into law — we need an expectation that the mayor actually follows through on implementing what has been signed into law, and that is where we are facing roadblocks right now. So, I am going to continue to stand with folks who are calling for true solutions and additional revenue to go with those.
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 think it’s important for us to get more of the tiny houses and the RV safe lots that we have authorized implemented. I also think that we should be doing more around the hotel-sheltering model. This is another area where we had objections from the mayor’s office for the first part of 2020. And now that we have sort of unanimous agreement that hotels are an excellent noncongregate shelter option, we need to make sure that we’re opening more of those. I applaud King County, which has opened up a large number of the hotel-sheltering options. We need to do a better job of being a partner and standing up noncongregate hotel shelter options.
Something else that I’d like to see us do more of is more acquisition of existing multifamily structures, so I have authorized additional funding for the city to purchase things like hotels and apartment buildings and turn those into both temporary emergency housing but then longer-term affordable housing units as well.
Some other innovative ideas that I’ve seen across the West Coast that I’d be interested in hearing more from those who have experienced and are experiencing homelessness whether or not we should be doing is what Tacoma has done: the large tent concept. At least then people have a dry place to have their tent located and a safe place, access to sanitary service at sanitation services and case management services if they need it. I visited the large tent they had in Tacoma, and I was very impressed by that. So, I’ve been advocating for that as part of our solutions here as well.
And I also think that we need places for people to park their vehicles. We know a lot of families are still living in vehicles and, in addition to the RV safe lot that I funded, we’d like to see if that’s something else that we can do in Seattle. I think what we need to do is is layer on all these ideas and stop having paralysis by analysis and actually create multiple ways for people to get housed.
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?
This is another one where I’m going to give you multiple layers and answers. First is we have not built the housing that we need in this city; we have not allowed for the housing to be built in our currently single-family, restrictive zoning covenants, so I would like to work to create more multifamily structures across our city to allow for greater density and housing options. That helps to relieve this pressure in the market that is causing housing prices to continue to skyrocket over $800,000 for a single home. But that alone is not enough; the market alone is not going to solve our problem, but we absolutely need more housing. The second thing to address the cost of increased market rate housing is to do the acquisition and the development of new housing. We’ve given the Office of Housing a tremendous amount of money and are about to give $135 million more through JumpStart (Seattle) to make sure that we’re building more affordable housing units in Seattle specifically targeted at those who earn 0% to 30% of the area median income. That will help: creating more housing units, both apartment units and multifamily dwelling structures, but also purchasing. If there’s an apartment building or a hotel, for example, that’s going up on the market, the city should be first in line to purchase that to create more publicly owned housing. We’ve also done things like told the city to stop selling off its public land to the highest bidder. After the Mercer Mega Block sale, I came into office in 2018, and one of the first things that we did in 2018 was pass legislation so that city departments like the Office of Housing would be first in line to purchase those. To use underutilized city property, instead of selling it to the highest bidder. And if the city no longer wants it, then we should put nonprofit housing developers second in line, so that we can keep this land available for affordable housing.
In addition to that, I support other rent stabilization efforts and have actively been scaling up additional access to rental assistance, especially in this time of crisis, which I know is your next question. But we need to both create more housing, permit more multifamily structures and provide the funding necessary for that to be done to community organizations who are rooted in communities who are experiencing the highest risk of displacement and housing instability so that there can be true liberty and self-determination for communities and community partners to be able to build the housing for communities they’re serving. And then we need to make housing more affordable by subsidizing the costs and creating more publicly owned housing to really interrupt the market.
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?
We need to create continued extensions of the eviction moratorium until we’re truly out of this crisis. We actually don’t know when the next wave is coming, and if you saw those charts in the revenue forecast council meeting that we had earlier this week (in late August), we are back up at same similar COVID levels from the first incredibly high spike of COVID. We have no assurances that the economy is truly going to be stabilized. There has been a whole host of companies that have profited during this pandemic, and the widening inequities and the income gap that we see in Seattle has only worsened. And so I think we need to keep the moratorium in effect and continue to support small landlords through the rental assistance dollars and continue to support renters to be able to keep their contracts through rental assistance dollars which we’ve given out the door. We need to do more of that so more people can stay stably housed. Many other countries with similar economies have given folks wage replacement of like 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% of their wages so that actually economies can be stable right now; we haven’t done that in the US. In lieu of that, we’ve done things like cash assistance and rental assistance; those need to continue.
I also think that it would be important for us to continue to find much more affordable rental units for those who are already paying far higher than 30% of their income on housing. So, that was a crisis before COVID and has only gotten worse, and that’s why I think we need additional housing, so that people truly have a rental option that is more affordable and publicly owned, in some cases or run by our nonprofit community partners that are rooted in communities that they’re serving. To be able to get folks into more affordable units overall I think, is, is an important goal in the wake of COVID.
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?
Capitalism, and our upside-down tax system, and, you know, in addition to that, the housing zoning restrictions that I mentioned before, but let’s just focus on our tax system for a second since the question notes the two richest individuals here. You all know that we are in the state with the most regressive tax system in the country and in the city in that state that has the highest wealth, and we don’t have an income tax, we don’t have a corporate income tax and we just barely now have capital gains at the state level. I was proud to have passed the payroll tax here in Seattle, the JumpStart (Seattle tax), a progressive payroll tax so that at least those largest companies, with the largest salaries — it’s progressive, right? — it’s the largest companies with the highest payroll — over $7 million — and then it’s on the highest salaries — so it’s progressive in that nature, too — that they start paying into community services that actually create a stronger local economy as well. Part of, I think, the reason that we continue to see growing homelessness in Seattle is that wealth inequality continues to grow and people who are coming here for these good, good jobs in high paid industries are able to afford that $800,000 for a home, which is just driving up the cost of housing, when we as a community, as a city and as government haven’t created the housing for everybody who needs to be here. I want to be a welcoming city for those who are coming as new residents. I also want to make sure that people aren’t getting displaced, either from the city or into the street in Seattle, because they don’t have a place to live and call home. So, really, I think it comes down to our inequitable revenue system. I think it comes down to our lack of housing and affordable housing that we’ve built, and I think it also comes down to our economic instability, because we don’t have enough good living, union-wage jobs to offer to folks who have various career pathways to make sure that they can remain economically stable and housed in the city so multilayered, but I’ll just focus on a few of them.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Sept. 29 - Oct. 5, 2021 issue.