Andrew Grant Houston was one of the first candidates to jump into race to replace outgoing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Well known in urbanist circles as Ace of @TheUrbanAce handle on Twitter, Houston is a queer Black and Latino architect, environmental advocate, housing activist, and a high-risk individual who lives on Capitol Hill. He’s a member of Share The Cities, the Sunrise Movement, and Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council. He also is a boardmember with Futurewise and recently served as interim Policy Manager for Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. Check out his campaign website for more information.
The Urbanist Election Committee wrote and distributed questionnaires to all the candidates and followed up with Zoom interviews this month. We’ll roll out the rest of the Mayoral questionnaires this week and continuing releasing questionnaires in other races. The Urbanist will release its Primary Endorsements in early July. Primary ballots are due August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.
Below are Andrew Grant Houston’s questionnaire responses.
What does being an urbanist mean to you?
I believe that being an urbanist means being in favor of the benefits that come with living in a city: walkable, vibrant, full of culture. Being a good urbanist means fully acknowledging and putting the effort in to correct the grotesque, and in many ways still ongoing, history of urban renewal and top-down planning that actively eliminated Black and Brown communities. It means providing space for all while reducing commutes and pollution. It means ending exclusionary zoning. It means accessibility for everyone.
What strategies would you adopt to address the homelessness and housing affordability crisis in Seattle, and do you support the charter amendment proposed by Compassion Seattle?
I do not support the charter amendment or Compassion Seattle, period. People experiencing homelessness need one thing: affordable housing. I will create more permanently affordable housing at the scale we need to help those our current systems fail. This requires ending exclusionary zoning. When we allow all types of housing in every neighborhood of Seattle we will finally see a decrease in houselessness.
Still, I recognize that even if we cut every piece of red tape tomorrow, it will still take three years for new housing to come online. So I will immediately expand tiny homes as a short-term measure to alleviate homelessness, treating it like the emergency it is. Without housing, people lack stability and safety. In that same vein, I will immediately stop any encampment sweeps. Forcing people to move from one unsheltered place to another while tossing so many of the items they worked so hard to retain does nothing but harm.
My office will be housing-first and people-centered. In the long term, preventing homelessness also requires better social services and livable wages. We will work to make sure policies even beyond housing prevent people from slipping through the cracks and into homelessness.
How do you envision the relationship between the city and Seattle Police Department changing? How do you plan to look after the safety/well-being of Seattle’s residents, especially those in communities who have faced disproportionate use of force from police?
The relationship will change for the better, and that means less police interactions and using our scarce dollars for true public safety. Between 2010 and 2020, we nearly doubled SPD’s budget but are not twice as safe. On top of that, the City bargained away accountability measures fought for by the community while increasing officer pay. We even pay extra to officers for wearing body cameras, which they’re already required to do! Reform of the department is necessary, however we must build public safety alternatives outside of the department for true public safety.
What is your strategy for equitable development in Seattle and how will that guide your approach to the Major Update to the Comprehensive Plan in 2024?
The next Major Update is our one shot to address two major problems: housing affordability and the climate crisis. With that, I must be clear: the Urban Village strategy is a continuation of the racist past of redlining and exclusionary zoning. It has resulted in disparate health impacts for some communities of color while others have been pushed out by the influx of new Seattleites and the developments created for them and not by the communities already there.
So my strategy for equitable development looks like land use reform where we eliminate the apartment ban and allow more housing on every residential lot in the city. That said, I recognize that this strategy is more equal than equitable. That is why I am pushing for residential and commercial rent control as well as a developer displacement mitigation fee. The latter will require developers to pay a fee to move tenants from existing housing on a per bedroom basis, thereby incentivizing the creation of new housing from single-family houses as opposed to existing apartment buildings.
What is your plan to help businesses recover from the pandemic? What has the pandemic taught you about what small businesses and their employees need?
I will help small businesses recover through commercial rent control (“inflation plus 2%” or 4%, whichever is higher), and my Just Transition Tax policy which will help fund Business & Occupancy (B&O) tax relief, focused on categories that disproportionately cover small-, woman-owned, and BIPOC-owned businesses. The pandemic made clear the dire need for every workplace to have a union so they can fight for things like hazard pay, sick leave, a living wage, childcare, and more. It also highlighted how our essential workers are somehow the ones often least protected, supported, and paid. From homecare to grocery store workers, every place needs a union, especially in the face of future emergencies related to the climate crisis. Resiliency must be provided not just for the City, but for our businesses and their workers as well.
What tax policies would you advocate for in Seattle?
I would advocate for my Just Transition Tax plan. Seattle allows for a 1% income tax, which according to the Economic Opportunity Institute, could create up to $400 million dollars a year in revenue. I would propose that those funds be divided into four categories: Green apprenticeships, a new housing Public Development Authority (PDA), B&O Tax Relief, and Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) Investments. Moreover, I would also advocate for taxing the rich in order to reduce our reliance on sales tax.
What are your preferred policies to improve access to public transportation?
In order to improve access to transportation, we must improve our first- and last-mile infrastructure so transit riders can safely and reliably access their stops. In addition I am focused on restoring transit service to at least pre-pandemic levels so our region is in a better position to recover from COVID-19, as well as allowing more housing in the places we currently have fast, frequent, and reliable transit service.
“The time for letting existing wealthy neighbors say no to new neighbors who are less wealthy is over” — Do you agree and what is your plan to address this issue?
I agree! I plan to eliminate the existing apartment ban across the city during the next Major Update of the Comprehensive Plan so that we no longer have exclusionary, wealthy neighborhoods for the few and so the barista who works in Magnolia can afford to live in Magnolia. I am also focused on creating a “net-zero exemption” for buildings from the Design Review process, recognizing that many of the rules currently in place go against best practices for sustainable design. That coupled with raising the threshold on when Design Review is required will help speed up the production of housing.
More specifically, do you support and would you commit to rezoning wealthy neighborhoods like Madison Valley, Montlake, and Laurelhurst to have robust urban villages, especially with frequent transit, university jobs, and multiple hospitals nearby?
Yes, especially as someone who was directly involved in the Madison PCC project that has yet to start construction six years later. I support and commit to rezoning wealthy neighborhoods to have robust urban villages that put density near green spaces, community centers, jobs, and healthcare. We are not going to “chicken-or-egg” housing and transit anymore, we will simply move forward doing both as expeditiously as possible. Our climate depends on it.
How will you balance community input with effective and equitable policy-making?
I will improve our outreach process to expand language access to our planning processes and bring back true neighborhood planning through what I am calling the Urban Neighborhood Advocates. These will be city planners who do continuous (instead of one-off) outreach, collaboration, and work with communities in every single one of Seattle’s 140+ neighborhoods (as defined by the City Clerk after some outreach and mapping). Similar to the creation of an ongoing participatory budgeting process, this team would directly create ongoing, small-area neighborhood planning. The Advocates would serve as neighborhood partners and facilitators responsible for planning and construction; using their technical expertise and community connections to make the plans look like the future each neighborhood would want to see. They would also lift up the ideas of community groups and bring them directly to the Council and the Planning Commission as we develop city-wide plans.
Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth?
Yes, and it is my intent to allow up to eight units (with an option for commercial on the ground floor) to be built up to four floors on every residential parcel in the city.
Do you support increasing progressive taxes (income or capital gains) to pay for affordable housing?
Yes, Seattle has the ability to implement a 1% flat income tax which I would use funds from to create a new Public Development Authority focused on developing sustainable public housing. That income tax would also put $100M into the Equitable Development Initiative, allowing BIPOC communities to self-develop their own affordable housing.
Will you push to make municipal broadband a reality in Seattle?
The internet has become a necessary utility for our everyday lives, and if we are going to be a first class tech hub city then we need to ensure all families and small businesses have access to the internet at the speed they need and at a price they can pay. I would expand Seattle City Light to cover both light and broadband to close the digital divide, reduce the cost of operations for small businesses, and even cut the operating costs for startups so Seattle can become the Clean Tech Capital.
Do you support establishing a municipal bank?
In order to address our housing affordability crisis, we are going to need more Seattleites creating housing, and in order to ensure equitable lending practices for those projects, we need a municipal bank. In addition, by creating a municipal bank, the City can divest from banks that finance fossil fuel projects.
The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting urbanism, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live. The Elections Committee consists of community volunteers and staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.