As part of our endorsement process at The Urbanist, we ask candidates to complete a standard questionnaire to better understand and evaluate their positions on housing, land use, transportation, and other important issues. We then share this information with our readers to help inform their own voting decisions.
This year we are considering 19 candidates running for Seattle City Council positions 8 and 9, Seattle Mayor, and Port of Seattle Commission positions 1 and 4. We are publishing the questionnaires in full this week, concluding with our official primary election endorsements in mid-July.
The following questionnaire was submitted by Nikkita Oliver, running for Mayor of Seattle.
Do you consider yourself an urbanist? Why/Why not?
By definition an “urbanist” is an advocate or expert in city planning.
By definition I am not an “urbanist” rather I am an “urban dweller” and have been for my entire life. I was born in raised in Indianapolis, IN, a midwestern city, and have lived in Seattle, WA for nearly 14 years. I am not an expert in city planning, though I am advocate for evidenced strategic planning that serves the overall goals of our city of affordability, equity and justice. These goals must be achieved in all facets of our city; including our urban planning. I do also have significant experience in research, community development, and systems transformation work. I am deeply impacted in my daily life as a renter by city planning.
Additionally, when I first moved to Seattle I did not own a car and exclusively used public transportation. Now, I work with youth who almost exclusively use public transportation and use public transportation personally when I need to go downtown because I cannot afford to park. I moved to Seattle because I love city-life, the green, the sound, the rain, and the culture. I know our city is growing rapidly with sometimes 1,000 people moving here per a week. I have a vision for our city that not only allows us to grow, have strategic density, and stop displacement, but that also preserves the character and culture of the many neighborhoods that make Seattle an incredible place to live.
What is your strategy for making housing more affordable both for very low income and middle-class workers?
We cannot depend solely on the private market to solve this issue. We need a multi-faceted strategy which feeds into a vision of an affordable, accessible and equitable Seattle for all. Nikkita and the Peoples Party are for pro-strategic and equitable density policies and support policies which prevent displacement.
- partnerships with the private market (developers) and non-profits to build housing;
- market intervention strategies such as rent stabilization and speculative capital taxes;
- reworking HALA;
- leveraging public lands and city properties to build public housing, 24/7 storage, and temporary housing;
- building public housing that is exclusively for workforce housing and the lowest income residents of our city;
- re-zoning for mother-in-laws;
- incentivizing landlords to rent to residents with section 8 vouchers;
- ordinances to prevent housing discrimination for old foreclosures and evictions; and
- ordinances to prevent housing discrimination for older criminal records.
We have to strengthen HALA. Funding has to be increased for our low-income and affordable housing development. 20-25% must be the on-site affordable housing inclusionary requirement for all apartment and condo developments over 10 units. We should also explore a similar affordability inclusion for multi-dwelling townhome developments–the city can provide subsidies to make the numbers work. This would actually cut costs when compared to having to build entire developments from scratch. While rent stabilization would require some legal challenges, it is worth the work. We need to find ways to ensure that residents are not pushed from their homes by skyrocketing rents. (We must pair rent stabilization with other market intervention strategies and thoughtfulness about how rent stabilization is constructed in order to insure that small landlords are able to remain functional and profit at the level they require to effectively manage their properties.)
Additionally, we should explore, as other cities are beginning to, the expansion of community land trusts where residents, tenants, and communities can be self-determined in owning property to maintain affordability. Community Land trust ownership programs keep families in their affordable housing and create paths to equitable/co-operative ownership, which successfully curbs gentrification.
What strategies would you adopt to address the homelessness crisis?
Low Barrier Shelters/Transitional Housing (Housing First):The evidence shows that Housing First strategy, with immediate, permanent, low-barrier, supportive housing to chronically homeless people, yields high rates of housing retention, vis a vis continuum-of-care or linear residential housing. We are always open to new and better evidence, however there is no question that getting rid of the moral policing that accompanies many non-Housing First models produces better outcomes for our homeless populations.
Build More Housing of all types–shelters, transitional, and permanent. Simply put, there needs to be more accessible housing.
Coordinated care is not working effectively for us. It is unfortunately bottlenecking the resources. We need to re-assess how we get people connected to housing and support. Navigation Centers. The San Francisco model for Navigation Centers, which are places where people can take a shower, use the bathroom, access laundry and dining facilities, and store their belongings, will improve the lives of people living outside in Seattle. Importantly, Navigation Centers include round-the-clock case management, mental and behavioral health services, and connections to benefit programs and housing. In order to ensure success, it is imperative that neighborhoods understand and agree that Navigation Centers should become part of their communities. Ultimately, there must be neighborhood buy-in in order for Navigation Centers to successfully serve people in need.
Stop sweeps and divert those funds to providing resources to encampments including garbage removal, water, compost toilets, on-site mobile units with case managers, etc. I have personally met with members from the encampment communities and with case managers and all say that the City has been entirely unwilling to effectively work with them. In fact, they City has made deals with them and failed to deliver what they agreed to and all while continuing the sweeps.
There are a myriad of multiple funding sources for these programs. For example, the proposed (and rescinded) $275 million mortgage levy is one possible way (though we recognize the continued leveraging of property taxes is and will effectively put some seniors and families out of their homes and as a result is not a sustainable revenue generating option).
Another is with a progressive luxury tax on earners over $200K per year.
The Peoples Party supports the Trump Proof Tax, led by the Transit Riders Union, and actually believe it a fair and progressive idea to also possibly address the homelessness crisis in Seattle. We recognize 1) the levies based on property taxes are not sustainable revenue sources and harm cash-poor communities; 2) it may take 3-5 years to effectively institute a progressive tax structure given the high likelihood of suit due to the restrictions of Washington state law; and 3) we must explore a luxury tax on the super wealthy of our city, as a handful of other cities have implemented and were successful in creating equitable revenue for their respective cities.
What is your strategy for equitable development in Seattle?
We like healthy growth. Healthy growth is natural, growth theoretically can go hand in hand with a more equitable city. We appreciate the larger corporations within Seattle. That said, with no disrespect to Amazon or other big businesses, those companies are here because there are compelling reasons to locate a corporation within Seattle–the environment here, both ecologically as well as technologically and creatively assures that they will be fine. We need to make sure that they are likewise being good neighbors and civically engaged in the city they are calling “home.” To be at “home” in a place is to also contribute and invest in that place.
We must make sure that these corporate neighbors are mitigating the impacts that they create within the neighborhoods, schools, parks, streets and environment; which includes asking for impact fees and additional investments from developers (such as revamping HALA/MHA to ask for more when it comes to affordable housing). Ultimately, there must be a balancing of the equities to see what they owe for developing in such a rich City. Equity means that if one has more, one contributes more. Otherwise, the growing income inequality gap in this city will continue to grow.
Moreover, as Mayor I will look into creating a community/city committees that are formed in each neighborhood to facilitate the process of negotiating benefit packages as well as expanding the Public Development Authority program so that every neighborhood has one. The more input our community members have in deciding what is being built in their community, the more inclusive our communities can become. That said, every neighborhood, where ecologically sustainable and geologically possible, should take on the some of the weight of development and density. Equity means we all bare the costs and the weight at the label we are capable.
Further, only responsible contractors should be hired to execute projects for the city. It never slips my mind that the people of Seattle entrust us, as public servants, with the responsibility to transparently and efficiently utilize tax dollars for the greatest benefit of our communities. Therefore, the standard must be higher when it comes to the contractors we solicit. Not only should good jobs, living wages, benefits, and access to a grievance process should be a part of the discussion; but we must also consider pressures of gentrification and the widening income gap for locals, long-term residents, and people of color when compared to wealthier transplants. I would empower my team and departments to look into a regional local hire requirement for contractors–that would withstand legal scrutiny–to make sure our neighbors and communities have access to these good jobs and aren’t given to people who are being imported only for the work. We have amazing talent and people in Seattle capable of doing the work needed, and they should have priority to the work.
What tax policies would you advocate for in Seattle?
It is becoming more clear that an increasing sales taxes and property taxes are just increasing regressive taxes on the cash-poor. We believe that every Seattleite wants to invest in an equitable Seattle with services for everyone. We believe that our wealthy neighbors have just as much interest in equity and opportunity for everyone as the most cash vulnerable Seattleite and understands that regressive taxes put an asymmetrical burden on the poor. Therefore, in order to effectuate a more equitable taxing structure we would enact:
a) Luxury sales tax. For goods purchased above $100k, there should be an escalated sales tax. As the price of goods increase above $100k, the tax should steadily increase as well.
b) Luxury real estate tax. There should be a tax on the absurd amount of money being spent on purchasing homes, which almost zero middle-class and low income residents can afford. For any home sold over $1MM, there should be an escalating tax.
Both of these proposals would bring significant amount of revenue to the cit for the priority of creating affordability
We should also explore a corporate capital gains tax, allowing the the city to create revenue from corporations that are benefiting from the city infrastructure, transportation, schools, and people.
We need a comprehensive tax reform that moves towards a comprehensive progressive tax structure. We need our wealthier residents to be willing to contribute more equitably to our city. If one has more, one should contribute more.
What are your preferred policies to improve access to public transportation?
With an ever increasing population, at an alarming rate of over 3,000 new residents per month, we must look at the industries that are attracting these new residents and how they, the companies can contribute to the infrastructure of our whole city to help offset costs and maintain an affordable transit system. We must explore how tech companies and other similarly situated companies can pay a share of the burden to meet the demands of the population influx they are attracting.
Impact fees can help in the expansion of our very necessary transportation system which needs to be ineffective not just for the riders but to also ensure we can decrease the City’s overall environmental impact and carbon footprint. Outside of impact fees we can also partner with corporations and businesses to develop employees and business incentive programs to encourage investment in and use of public transportation. That said, we must acknowledge that if our transportation system is not effective and user friendly people will not use it. This will require some additional upfront investment on our end, but it will inevitably pay off for our City and the environment.
Additionally, continuation, and hopefully expansion, of the youth orca program is essential to ensuring all youth can get to school safely and on-time. The current 3,000 first-come first-serve orca cards is not enough and will continue to not be enough as our city grows. Asking the corporations and developers to invest in our public transportation infrastructure is going to be a must if we are to keep up with transportation needs as density and population increases.
Finally, we have to be diligent in serving our low-wage and poor populations that rely on public transportation as an everyday necessity. It is not a just a benefit for them, it is a way to achieve a livelihood and a form of self-determination. We cannot invest entirely in the light rail, without investing in expanding our bus routes that serve the south end and west side, where many of our working class and cash-poor communities live.
How will you balance community input with effective and equitable policy-making?
The two are not mutually exclusive. We cannot have effective and equitable policy-making in a democratic society without community input. Additionally, in a city with one of the highest (and most racialized) income inequality gaps in the country making the two mutually exclusive will effectively exclude those who lack power and privilege in Seattle currently.
Grassroots democracy is what has proven to be the most true and effective form of democracy. A democracy of direct input and consensus. A democracy of accountability, humility, and transparency. With this campaign and the Peoples Party, Grassroots Democracy is the underpinnings of what we stand for. We do not make decisions without the collective. We hold each other accountable, while still uplifting the power of our autonomy and individual cultures.
The main goal and purpose of the Peoples Party and this campaign is to decentralize power and create a participatory democracy where Seattle residents know their ability and power to effect change. We must be clear, this work is not easy. We stumble, make mistakes, and sometimes make the wrong decisions, but what is more important is that there was a collective process that allows everyone involved to be held accountable.
Accountability is not what we currently have in our city politics, even though we deserve it. The only way to achieve this accountability is through Grassroots Democracy. I look forward to working with the GPWA to further this vision of Grassroots Democracy. We must have participatory budgeting and policy making. We must have a government that actually serves the people.
Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. What policies do you support to work towards this goal?
In 2015, the City of Seattle launched Vision Zero. Vision Zero is a plan to end pedestrian deaths and serious injuries by 2030. That goal would be accomplished by smarter street design, targeted enforcement, and thoughtful public engagement.
The fact is that the vast majority of the planners who made city streets were not originally concerned with pedestrians and bicyclists. They were concerned with automobiles. Obviously times have changed and circumstances require that, especially in dense cities, there be a plan that contemplates pedestrians, bicyclists and moped users.
The Seattle Peoples Party is concerned with measures that have been proven to work for both 1) life-saving, but also 2) economical reasons. There is substantial evidence regarding what sort of measures will work in highly pedestrianed areas. For example, there is a wide body of evidence that shows lowering traffic speeds decreases the frequency of crashes. Lowering traffic speeds also decreases the rates of fatalities and injuries due to vehicle collisions irrespective of whether those collision happen on urban and residential roads. Therefore, lowering default speed limits in Seattle makes sense. It works.
Moreover, “traffic calming” measures likewise have been shown to work. Speed humps in residential neighborhoods, concrete bump-outs (curb extensions) in the road and pedestrian islands (or refuges) have been shown to reduce fatalities and serious injuries. Regarding enforcement, the presence of signs that show the drivers’ speeds, and/or an officer being present are also considerations. There are a battery of tools and mechanisms which will likely save lives”.
Do you support the HALA Grand Bargain?
Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single-family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth?
Do you support increasing progressive taxes (B&O, income or capital gains) to pay for affordable housing?
Do you support construction of the Children and Family Justice Center (“youth jail”)?
Do you support construction of the new North Precinct station?
Do you support inclusion of the Community Package associated with Washington State Convention Center Addition’s street and alleyway vacation public benefits?
Will you push to make municipal broadband a reality in Seattle?
Do you support establishing a municipal bank?
Will you work to ensure the state and its contractors, not the City of Seattle, is responsible for all cost overruns for the Highway 99 waterfront tunnel?
Photo courtesy of Nikkita Oliver campaign.