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González vs Harrell: Solving Seattle's homelessness challenge

caption: Lorena González and Bruce Harrell are candidates on the November 2021 ballot for Seattle mayor.
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Lorena González and Bruce Harrell are candidates on the November 2021 ballot for Seattle mayor.
Photos courtesy of Lorena González and Bruce Harrell

Seattle voters are being asked to choose between Lorena González and Bruce Harrell for Seattle mayor in the November 2021 elections.

Both are Democrats and have spent time on the City Council. To help distinguish themselves on the issues, each candidate sat down with a panel of KUOW journalists, producers, and community engagement staff to discuss their approaches to the city's challenges, such as homelessness.

"We have 750,000 people in this city," Harrell told KUOW. "We have very wealthy and successful corporations in this city. And everywhere I go, they ask the same question: 'What can I do?' And the City Council and the mayor and the city bureaucracy have not figured out how to tap into the talent of this city."

"Failure is not an option here," González said. "I really want to communicate to folks that failure is is absolutely not an option. It is incumbent upon us to really take this urgently. And to address it as the crisis it is."

The following are excerpts from KUOW's interviews with González and Harrell.

González on homelessness

González told KUOW that she favors a plan that would have community service providers and housing providers creating individual service plans for each person experiencing homelessness.

"(A housing and shelter option) is safer and more appropriate for meeting their their basic needs. So again, we're not going to be able to solve entirely the issue in the first 100 days, but I'm committed to urgently and quickly making a meaningful difference for those who are currently homeless in the first 100 days by by focusing on those sort of short term rapid rehousing options."

González was asked about her stance on homeless encampments in parks and near school properties.

"I think most voters in the city of Seattle agree that forcibly removing people from one place to another place of the city ... is shifting the problem around; it's not what people want to see. We want to see people effectively housed. We want to see people transitioned out of unsafe, inappropriate places, to safer, more appropriate places."

González has proposed creating new tax avenues to further fund the city's homelessness response. The KUOW panel asked her why she felt that was the best approach when Seattle has a spotty record on passing new taxes.

"I feel that taxing the wealthiest in our city and requiring our largest, most profitable corporations to pay their fair share is the right choice, because I hear every single day from regular constituents in the city who are just exhausted about the amount of property taxes and sales taxes that they have to pay. It is increasingly becoming a city that is designed for the wealthy, and is becoming exclusive to those who can have the luxury and privilege of living in the city. And so the last thing we need to do is double down on those regressive taxes."

González says the city will have an opportunity to revisit its effort to establish an income tax. That tax was struck down by a court, but González says that a coalition can be formed to get a new version of it passed in the future.

"And of course if the capital gains tax arrives at the state level, we will have an opportunity to build on top of that and create additional revenue for the city of Seattle."

González argues that shifting taxes to larger, wealthier sources will provide relief for Seattle's low-income families and small businesses.

RELATED: Gonzalez announces homelessness plan

Harrell on homelessness

Harrell has proposed producing thousands of housing units within his first year in office.

"For example, I visited one tiny home production facility where they can make three to four homes a week for $4,000. And that is a six month transitional piece."

Harrell said that his conversations with the building and housing industry has him thinking that "once we loosen some of our regulatory standards" things could move more swiftly to build the housing. For example, with "one small nonprofit, with one paid employee, and maybe a crew of 12 volunteers with no carpentry skills using what's called a jigsaw approach, they could produce four (tiny homes) a week, just part time."

Harrell said that his administration would "implement the policies that are on the books, use the available funds that are there." He has cited using $116 million in federal funds, and the $200 million the city's general fund currently being spent homelessness. He also said he is not against purchasing hotels or other forms of housing.

Harrell said that he would expand approaches the council developed over the past few years, such as "Housing First" and "progressive individualized case management," which he says is not currently happening. He said those plans were derived from dialogue with regional leaders and consultants to develop best practices. However, he notes that the Covid pandemic "paralyzed many people in city hall" when it was time to put such plans into action.

Harrell has been criticized for his stance that some encampments should be moved off of parks and sidewalks.

"So critics of my plan, I would ask them to look at my record. And they know that my wife, who is a former CEO and president of United Way, and they know the work we've done in philanthropic communities, that there's nothing in our life that says, 'We will criminalize poverty and simply move a homeless person from one area to another.'"

Harrell argues that "the system is broke between the executive, and the city council, and the city attorney's office, and department heads ... the machine is not working."

"When they cleaned City Hall Park, as an example, that was a result of public protests. So you see that parks can be cleaned up and people could be housed when you have the political will. And so, under my approach, we're not going to make any excuses. We're going to implement the policies that are on the books, use the available funds that are there. And I think what is different is we will find an entry point for everyone in this city. That's the low hanging fruit."

RELATED: Harrell announces homelessness plan

Interviews with candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell were conducted separately with a panel that included KUOW Reporters Amy Radil and David Hyde, Producer Brandi Fullwood, Director of Community Engagement Zaki Hamid, and Web Editor Dyer Oxley.

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