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Mayor announces $55 million per year property tax proposal for homeless services

For 3,000 people living unsheltered, our streets have become a default, inadequate and dangerous place to live.’

Several tents under a freeway overpass Joshua Rainey/Shutterstock

In his Tuesday morning State of the City (SOTC) address, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a measure to raise $55 million per year for homelessness services through a commercial and residential property tax. The Mayor says the measure would cost the median household around $13 a month.

The Seattle Times reports that the measure will be a five-year levy, totaling $275 million.

In the address, delivered from Idris Mosque in Northgate, Murray said the funding package will be available within the next 14 days. He’s convened an advisory group of Downtown Emergency Services center director Daniel Malone, do-gooder venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, and City Council members Debora Juarez and Sally Bagshaw to develop the package.

The Mayor also announced he’d use the city’s Emergency Operations Center—typically only used during events like severe storms—to help people who are unsheltered. That “collaboration across city departments” will be led by City Operations director Fred Podesta.

Murray’s homelessness policies have drawn criticism, particularly his defense of the city and WSDOT’s homeless encampment sweeps, which prompted an ACLU lawsuit.

Murray in his prepared remarks “the clean-up of discarded debris on our sidewalks and streets,” which may refer to the sweeps, “will follow our new, transparent protocols to ensure people’s civil rights are respected.”

The Mayor lauded the Housing First elements of his Pathways Home initiative: “It mandates this one simple tenet: get people into housing.”

The reality is a little more complicated: While Housing First has been shown to be very effective, some of the finer points of Pathways Home, like budget allocations, have been more controversial among advocates and service providers.

Property taxes remain one of the least regressive revenue options available in Seattle, thanks to a lack of income or capital gains tax statewide.

Noting that the city declared a state of emergency on homelessness a full 15 months ago as an attempt to get federal funding, Murray acknowledged in the SOTC address that “little help has come.”

In addition to the property tax measure, Murray called on business leaders to raise $2.5 million “focused on disruptive innovations that will get more homeless individuals and families into housing.”

“All of us must take action to house the thousands who live in doorways, under bridges, and in cars,” he added.

This article has been updated since its original publication to include additional details from the Seattle Times.