Nikkita is a Black woman. She wears rainbow hoop earrings. her curly hair to the side, and a big smile.
Nikkita Oliver is running for Seattle City Council. (Photo by Alex Garland and courtesy of Nikkita for Nine)

Nikkita Oliver ran for mayor in 2017 on the Seattle People’s Party platform and finished a close third behind Cary Moon in the primary. This cycle, Oliver opted to run for Seattle City Council instead of running for mayor again, targeting Position 9 citywide seat vacated by Council President Lorena González’s run for mayor. Since their last run, Oliver has continued working with youth entangled in our criminal justice system as executive director of Creative Justice. During a summer of widespread protests against police brutality in 2020, Oliver emerged as a leader and helped articulate demands that the City invest in Black and brown communities and divest money being squandered on an unaccountable Seattle Police Department. Upon jumping in the Council race in March, Oliver’s first hire was urbanist luminary Shaun Scott as campaign coordinator. Check out their campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee wrote and distributed questionnaires to the candidates and followed up with Zoom interviews this month. In late June, the election committee released our Primary Endorsements and endorsed Oliver. The Primary voting period starts July 16th; ballots must be postmarked by 8pm August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Nikkita Oliver’s questionnaire responses. 

Do you support the charter amendment proposed by Compassion Seattle? Why or why not?

No. This amendment will further criminalize poverty and houselessness, instead of providing a solution that responds to the root causes of those conditions. “Compassion Seattle” would codify sweeps in our city charter, making them permanent. And its provision for 2000 units of “emergency or permanent housing” takes place on a timeline that will not allow for the construction of permanent housing.

The amendment mandates a minimum 12 percent of the city’s general fund go to  fund inside the Human Services Department to pay for shelter, housing, and supportive services such as counseling and drug treatment. This year, the city will spend 11 percent of its general fund on the Human Services Department. “Compassion Seattle” admits this formula for the 2021 city budget would have produced a fund of $192 million — $16 million more than what was actually budgeted. 

Most damningly, “Compassion Seattle” doesn’t propose any new revenue. A 2018 study by McKinsey concluded that King County would need to spend $400 million every year on housing—not temporary shelter—to provide affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, mental health facilities, and public hygiene services to ameliorate King County’s homelessness crisis. We need a real solution, and “Compassion Seattle” isn’t it.

Goldilocks question: The Seattle Police Department’s budget is too big, too small, or just right. Explain your answer and the trajectory you’d like to see.

SPD’s budget is too big. We need to continue defunding AND we must continue the work of building community-based and -led responses to harm and supports as well as key violence prevention and intervention strategies.

When people’s basic needs are met, we build safety. Meeting basic needs is a baseline for community safety. Our city deserves better options than violent policing and mass incarceration as our only choices for public safety. The majority of what we call crime happens because people do not have their basic needs met.

In order for us to create the safer city we imagine, we need affordable and social housing, equitable transportation, affordable childcare, fully funded schools with school counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and health services, more culturally responsive and accessible youth programs, health and sex education that teaches healthy relationships, accessible mental health supports, an array of community-based options for supporting domestic violence survivors and restorative and transformative responses for those who cause harm, civilianized 911, community-based drug user supports, and thriving wage employment opportunities. 

We must make investments in mobile mental health and crisis support teams immediately, so we can get the right care to people experiencing emergencies when they need it.

The 2018 police contract repealed accountability measures, gave officers a big raise plus backpay, and eight of nine City Councilmembers voted for it. What does the next police contract need to have in order to earn your vote of approval?

The next contract the City enters into with Seattle Police Department must reflect a deep value for protecting the lives and rights of residents from police violence (especially QTBIPOC communities and communities impacted by over policing and police brutality), it cannot impede the Council’s ability to continue the work of defunding an ineffective model of “public safety” and effectively fund and develop a model that works for everyone, and it cannot allow officers to evade accountability (including firing) when they commit acts of misconduct. Furthermore, the contract must not put any additional dollars into policing for more training nor additional failed systems of accountability. 

Rather than continuing to focus on police reform or officer retraining, the City needs to reconsider fundamentally how we actually create safety in our City and the reality that the institution of policing is woefully ineffective at delivering on its promise of public safety and in many instances actually erodes the possibility of true public safety for all.

Would you vote to increase social housing funding and what is your preferred funding mechanism? 

Yes. The funding from Jumpstart Seattle is one place to start. We are currently generating only half of the revenue that we could from the big business tax (a bit over $200 million per a year). 

We must bring our housing supply to scale to actually meet the crisis facing our City. We need approximately $400 million per a year (1 billion per a year in King County) of affordable housing to meet the need. The City can no longer wait on the private market to address a crisis from which they benefit (and therein have no economic incentive to help end). As a result, Seattle needs to get deeper into social affordable housing.

Other funding options I support using are capital gains taxes, a Seattle local estate tax, raise the REET, speculative real estate tax, vacant and unoccupied properties tax, second homes tax, and taxes on exceptionally high compensation. These funding possibilities were identified by the Seattle City Council in its 2018 “Taskforce on Progressive Revenue for Housing and Homelessness,” but are as yet unimplemented.

Seattle has about 30 square miles dedicated to single family homes versus just 10 square miles for apartments. Those 10 square miles have absorbed more than 85% of Seattle’s growth. Would you vote to repeal apartment bans? What is the right balance? Where do you believe density is needed most?

Yes, I would vote to repeal the apartment bans. Our development needs to be thoughtful–density must be shared across the City, we must stop urban sprawl, improve public transportation access and equity, make more areas of the City walkable, improve access to key amenities and services for all Seattleites, and we must have in place anti-displacement and anti-gentrification policies as well as opportunities for BIPOC families to generate equity as many BIPOC families have been historically and presently excluded from wealth building opportunities.

Density should be shared across the City. Priority areas for urban villages and urban enclaves are areas where we know there is or will be robust public transportation. This will help us to achieve our climate goals, build targeted transportation infrastructure, and make more of the City walkable. The more people can live in the areas where they work, go to school, grocery shop, access childcare and healthcare services the less people will drive and the more accessible our City will become by public transportation, bike, or on foot. 

That above being said, we should also consider an “urban infill strategy” similar to Portland in order to develop key “missing middle” housing for workers. We also need co-ops and community land trusts in order to increase the opportunity for homeownership and equity for all Seattlites (especially those who have been presently and historically excluded from such wealth building opportunities).

What do you see as key priorities for the 2024 update to Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan? What do you see as limitations to the process, and what were notable successes or failures from the last Comp Plan update?

Key priorities for the 2024 comprehensive plan include zoning, housing affordability, climate change, liveability, equity/economic apartheid, and transportation.

1. Seattle’s land use regime has led to displacement and inequity. The City’s development has also followed historical redlining and perpetuated racist zoning policies, and also restricted the growth of affordable housing supply. We must end single family zoning as we know it, and allow our zoning code to foster a diversity of housing options including “infill strategies” for the “missing middle” and multifamily buildings.

2. We must expand urban villages and share growth with areas that historically have not absorbed growth. Constructing high-density social housing throughout the city must be paired with high-quality transportation, walkability, and more multimodal transit options.

3. Co-ops and Community Land Trusts will help families build equity through homeownership. Homeownership is presently not a possibility for all but those with the highest income (income inequity which is also highly racialized). In our region, Black, Native, and Latinx families have the least opportunity for home ownership and have the least access to high-earning jobs. As a result, Seattle is perpetuating racialized economic apartheid. The 2024 Comprehensive Plan presents an opportunity to address and solve much of this issue.

How should we increase transit usage? How should we pay for upgrades and how does the Move Seattle Levy expiring in 2024 play into your plans?

One of the things the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that in a crisis public transportation can and should be free permanently. We must also make public transportation more accessible and efficient for more residents. We can do this through a combination of building more housing density in key areas, expanding our current transportation infrastructure, and adjusting bus routes and bus frequency. 

The Move Seattle Levy has fallen short of what was promised and it is unclear why. We first need to account for why we did not achieve what was promised, assess the challenges and let voters know what we intend to do differently if we opt for another Move Seattle Levy. We still need to replace or build key infrastructure such as sidewalks, greenways, safe bike routes and bus lanes. Areas such as north Seattle (ie. Aurora) need east/west buses and sidewalks for safety. 

While the City Auditor estimates Seattle should spend between $24 and $102 million a year to repair and maintain deteriorating bridges, we must take this as an opportunity to imagine and build infrastructure that does not center automobiles.

Do you support pedestrianizing key streets to make the city more walkable and accessible? What is your preferred approach to rededicating street space and how does the existing network of “Stay Healthy” streets rolled out during Covid fit into it?

Making streets more pedestrian and wheelchair accessible is a long overdue measure that I fully support. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a bright light on our need to create more robust public spaces outdoors through forward-thinking land use decisions that include increased pedestrianization, outdoor dining, street food, and more. I would like to hear directly from impacted residents and small businesses about what went both right and wrong with the city’s response to COVID-19. The “Stay Healthy” streets program was a good start — but it did not prevent many businesses in our city from shuddering because of the pandemic. I’m the only candidate in this race to support commercial rent control: a measure that the city has the latitude to implement, and which would have saved many businesses from closing.

Seattle is woefully short of meeting its climate goals. Seattle will have to reduce its climate emissions 17 times faster than it is currently to meet its 2030 goal from its 2013 Climate Action Plan and 30 times faster to meet its 2019 Green New Deal climate targets. What should the City be doing differently?

Climate justice has been a dream deferred in Seattle; and with every moment we don’t take bold action, the debt mounts and multiplies with interest. Climate is an issue that implicates every aspect of civic life, from transportation, to housing,to  labor, to accessibility — which makes the relative lack of action even more unacceptable. 

As transit accounts for the primary source of carbon emissions in Seattle, the city must end apartment bans and restrictive zoning to create a city where people can work and go to school closer to home. Transportation must be made free and the city must identify funding sources for its own mass transit and buses if those funds cannot be procured at the state level. The city must implement its bike master plan and create a city where multimodal transit is not just encouraged with lip service, but manifest in our land use decisions. 

We must partner with organized labor to learn more about what immediate policies we can implement to aid a just transition to sustainability. And we must divest the city’s pension fund from fossil fuels.

Fill in the blank: What the current City Council is doing best is ___________; what it needs more of is _______________________________.

What the current City Council is doing best is protecting the growing financial interests of housed, wealthy Seattlites at the expense of the most vulnerable in our City/region. What the City Council needs to do more of is address the basic needs, such as housing and healthcare, of the most vulnerable in our City. All boats may rise on a rising tide, but we do not all have boats. Let’s get everyone a boat. (Also, in the context of the climate crisis and Seattle, rising sea levels is not a good thing.).

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Elections Committee

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.