Seattle Mayor: $275 Million Tax Levy Is The 'Radical' Homelessness Response The City Needs

Mar 8, 2017

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the federal government isn't going to step in and help solve the city's homelessness crisis.

November's election, he said, made it clear that Seattle is on its own.

That's why he's asking city voters to approve $275 million in new property taxes over five years to invest in homelessness programs. He made what amounted to an opening pitch for the tax levy at a news conference Wednesday.

"This is a city that is not going to wait for a dysfunctional federal government to show up and and do something," Murray said, "because lives are being lost." 

Murray's plans for spending the tax levy represent a doubling-down on strategies the city has already embraced in a homelessness plan called "Pathways Home."

Most of the new tax revenue — about two-thirds — would go toward rental subsidies. 

That represents a heavy investment in a strategy known as "housing first," which calls for the city to get people off the streets, out of shelters, and into permanent homes as quickly as possible. Murray said the duration of the rental assistance would vary based on a person's need.

About 10 percent of the tax levy would fund behavioral health services, including 5,000 new beds for addiction treatment.

And about 20 percent would go toward shelters, outreach, and "diversion" programs that help people find alternatives to shelters. 

Murray said the "Pathways Home" plan, unveiled last year, provides a blueprint for addressing homelessness, but the city needs tax dollars to back it up. 

"To do nothing, to continue on our current course, would I believe be a divisive and conservative approach," he said. "I ask people to do something radical." 

Seattle voters last year approved a $290 million tax levy for housing as well as the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 plan.

The tax levy for homelessness is scheduled to go before voters in August.