New budget from Seattle mayor spends big on affordable housing, boosts funds for public safety

Sep 27, 2021, 5:20 PM | Updated: Sep 28, 2021, 6:41 am

In the final budget proposal of her administration, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan lays out spending for $190 million on affordable housing, a number which would represent a single year record.

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The historically large investment in affordable housing includes a combination of resources, such as the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, JumpStart payroll tax revenue, and federal dollars from the 2021 Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery fund. The investments will include $6 million to promote home ownership – as was recommended by Durkan’s Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force – as well nearly $16 million from a continued investment in the Strategic Investment Fund created during last year’s budget to address disparities in BIPOC communities, and will specifically be used to help those at risk of displacement.

On homelessness, there have already been significant investments made outside the budget cycle that runs through 2022. In 2021 and 2022, citywide homelessness investments will total a record $330 million.

To ensure the successful ramp-up of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, in 2022 the city will transfer $104 million to support programs contracted initially with the city. As proposed, the budget would support approximately 3,000 total shelter spaces — roughly 500 of them new, according to the Budget Office — including three new alternative shelters in non-congregate settings, such as tiny house villages, a 2.4% increase for providers, and funding to address provider organizational and workforce capacity.

Durkan also creates a new approach to help address homelessness in her budget proposal, in the form of a new program that will provide $6 million in federal rent assistance to pair emergency housing vouchers with supportive services. The mayor’s staff says this new approach will allow the Regional Homelessness Authority to more effectively serve individuals who need additional support to retain and remain in stable housing.

One of the big questions surrounds investments in public safety. Durkan proposes more spending to retain and hire Seattle police officers in order to address the gap left by the mass exodus of hundreds of officers over the last year-plus. The budget also funds 125 new officers for the Seattle Police Department (net of 35 new officers), and adds $1 million of hiring incentives to recruit new officers, despite the city council recently rejecting a similar proposal just a couple of weeks ago.

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The proposal also builds on the successful Community Service Officer program to create a total of 24 CSOs. It also continues investments in the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective, and includes $10 million for community safety programs.

At the same time, Durkan’s proposal continues to invest in citywide efforts to reimagine public safety by expanding existing programs that provide alternatives to sworn officer response and continued investments in regional safety initiatives. The mayor’s budget continues three HealthOne units and invests approximately $2 million for the new Triage One specialized triage response unit announced earlier this year. Triage One will be housed within the Seattle Fire Department and respond directly to wellness check calls identified by 911 dispatchers at the Community Safety and Communications Center as an alternative to sworn police response.

Other budget highlights include:

Investing in small businesses, workforce development, and education equity

As Seattle recovers from the economic impacts of COVID-19, Durkan proposes the city invest in new workforce development initiatives, provide stabilization grants for child care providers to ensure parents have child care options, and funding for small business owners of underinvested communities. The budget also includes more than $6 million to expand the Seattle Promise program, the city’s commitment to two years free college for Seattle Public School students.

Funding for Seattle Promise would increase equity scholarships, provide additional staff support for students, fund up to three extra quarters for students to complete their degree, and create support for students transferring to the University of Washington.

Environmental justice and Green New Deal

The proposed budget includes $8.6 million in investments to support the Duwamish Valley neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown. Investments would center on expanding youth leadership and capacity building in the Duwamish Valley, funding essential improvements to community gathering spaces, improving mobility and access to greenspace and the Duwamish River, improving air and environmental quality, and supporting local businesses and workforce development.

The budget includes more than $14 million for Green New Deal priorities outlined in the payroll tax, including $4.1 million for Duwamish Valley, $6.5 million for recommendations by the Green New Deal Advisory Board, and additional investments for oil-heat conversations and electrification priorities.

Delivering on city services

The economic slowdown and associated decline in city revenues caused by COVID-19 forced a significant reallocation of city resources in both 2020 and 2021. Mayor Durkan proposes the restoration of base funding where possible and investments in new capital and infrastructure priorities. This includes the restoration of $7.7 million in General Fund to SPR, and $5 million to Seattle Public Library. At the same time, funding for capital projects provided by real estate excise tax revenues would be restored to all three departments as this revenue stream has rapidly recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

In addition to completing the West Seattle Bridge repair in 2022, the mayor’s budget includes additional funding for Vision Zero safety projects, another $6 million for bridge projects, resources for essential transit service funded by the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and advances many Levy to Move Seattle projects, including RapidRide transit projects in partnership with King County Metro.

With new federal funding, Mayor Durkan’s Clean City initiative would look to address trash, litter, and debris, and would be fully funded with $10.4 million for critical operations that ensure public spaces are clean, safe, and accessible.

You can find the full budget proposal here.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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New budget from Seattle mayor spends big on affordable housing, boosts funds for public safety