Could we see a property tax proposal with a new mayor? How candidates see homeless funding

by: Ashli Blow, KIRO 7 News digital producer Updated:

Seattle mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon have repeatedly and passionately promised meaningful mental health treatment and addiction services for homeless services – if elected into office.

Throughout their campaign, they’ve mentioned additional resources may be needed. And during the Seattle People’s Party Debate on Sunday, it came up again.

“What are three things to increase services, access to housing, and the number of units available to the number of people experience homelessness and housing vulnerability?” asked moderator Nikkitia Oliver, a former candidate who narrowly missed getting into the general election.

Durkan listed:
• To build 1,000 tiny homes
• To get every part of the city to participate in solutions
• Get more revenue for mental health treatment and services

Moon listed:
• More tiny houses and sanctioned encampments
• Stop the sweeps
• To get funding at the county and state level for mental services

In both candidates’ promise for homelessness solutions, they both specifically mentioned funding for better mental services, though they slightly differ on how they would achieve getting the money.

Before former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray resigned, he proposed to raise $55 million for homelessness through residential and commercial property taxes. But that proposal was dropped.

Will Seattle see a proposal for a new property tax again to support homelessness? Read their candidates’ takes in the sections below.

What’s Durkan’s take on new taxes?

“I said that I will not talk about any new taxes,” Durkan said on Sunday to packed crowd at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church.

“But the one exception I’ve made is … We will need more revenues for people for mental health services and addiction services. The people on the street need it desperately. We need to be able to provide that to them.”

Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, and her campaign said she’s committed to scrubbing the City of Seattle budget to find cost savings for her proposals. Before calling for new taxes, Durkan would make sure the city is being efficient with its money. The city could also get funding from the city’s newly passed income tax -- if upheld.

Jenny Durkan. (AP)

But in the event the city still needs a new source of revenue for a behavioral health program, Durkan would consider a property tax -- among other revenue possibilities (read those below). When exploring the new tax, Durkan would try and reduce property taxes for older and low-income homeowners.

"I will explore ways to go to Olympia and reduce the property tax burden for older homeowners, lower income owners, and landlords providing affordable housing, but in addition to next year’s Families & Education [property tax] Levy, I would explore and possibly ask voters to support a measure to expand addiction and behavioral health services," Durkan said in an email to KIRO 7.

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As far as other possible revenue sources in funding housing affordability, Durkan said she would also consider advocating for a tax increase on home sales above $1 million and possibly taxing people who own vacant properties. These tax proposals are similar to Cary Moon’s proposal. Read her take below.

Durkan calls the current behavioral health system fragment, with King County providing the bulk of mental health services and Seattle sheltering most homeless adults. She believes it must be streamlined if the city wants to make change in the crisis.

Durkan expects $10 million for the cost of tiny houses, $13 million for the pilot phase of rental vouchers, and $1.4 million to create 700 new shelter beds. Her budget plan did not specifically lay out how much she expected for behavioral health.

What’s Moon take?

“We need to get more funding at King County and the state for mental and behavioral health This is one of the root causes of homelessness,” Moon said on Sunday.

“Being homeless throws your life further into chaos. It causes more insecurity, and more anxiety and toxic stress.”

Moon believes the city should raise money through progressive taxes rather than a regressive one like property taxes. KIRO 7 News contacted Moon’s campaign for specifics on her proposals for a progressive taxes.

Her campaign sent previously published ideas on affordable housing funding. It includes:

  • Curtail speculation by taxing corporate and non-resident owners: This means to stop or reduce foreign buyers tax, and then tax corporations and non-resident owners (people who invest as oppose to living in a property).
  • Taxing unoccupied housing: This means to tax owners who have vacant property.
  • Add an additional REET (real estate excise tax) on luxury property: This means to increase taxes on the sale of luxury real estate. The tax applies to the seller.
  • A capital gains tax on sales of non-primary residences: This means to add a capital gains taxes on the profit from the sale of a secondary home.

Moon believes that without proper funding of mental and health services, additional burdens are placed on police and first responders. She wants emergency responders to have the resources and staff to do jobs effectively in aiding those impacted by addiction and homelessness.

Moon has not specifically detailed the costs of her proposals.

Why do we keep paying through property taxes?

Without a state income tax, Washington residents make up for it in sales and property taxes. A state income tax is prohibited by state law.

King County property tax bills are already among the nation’s highest. The Seattle Times found earlier this year that the average owner of a single-family home across the county will pay $5,660 in property taxes. It’s the primary funding source for schools, public safety, parks and libraries. According to the King County assessor, as much as 50 percent of property taxes are a result of voter-approved measures.

Here’s some of them:

Sound Transit 3 to expand public transportation with 62 miles of new light rail
• School levies in the Auburn, Federal Way, Tukwila, Seattle, Renton, Mercer Island, Kent, Vashon Island, Lake Washington, and Highline school districts
• Renewal of the Low-Income Housing levy in Seattle

Seattle’s ongoing battle with homeless crisis

The City of Seattle declared a civil state of emergency in 2015.

According to a 2017 point-in-time count, around 3,800 individuals experience homelessness without shelter. Of those people, about 900 people or more lived in vehicles in Seattle.

Over the years, Seattle has added more and more homeless programs – and more funding – to help combat an issue that is now considered by the city to be a crisis. The problem has only worsened.

But after after former Mayor Murray called a “pretty shocking” decade of patchwork performance, he mandated changes for homeless shelters and programs to now proves results if they want city funding.

A program also implemented this year: the City of Seattle’s navigation team. It offers services and safer location options to homeless people living in unsanctioned camps. The navigation team has cleaned up 143 camps over the past eight months, though many of those camps quickly returned. Removal information is posted by date here.

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