in partnership with
King County Executive: Joe Nguyen & Dow Constantine
Zoning reform is necessary but not sufficient to address our housing needs. If elected, would you be willing to support and encourage zoning reform, what (if any) specific reforms would you like to see, and what will you do to see those reforms (if any) implemented?
Absolutely, especially in King County, zoning reform is the key to solving our housing crisis. We need to invest in infill type zoning similar to Portland where we can get a variety of more dense housing options. For instance, areas that are now predominantly single family should have options for ADUs, duplexes, and multiplexes, and areas near transit corridors like Sound Transit should have much more density, including full on high rises, in order to take advantage of the multimodal options there. This should and must be done based on the GMA, and when it comes to zoning and development in general, I believe we need to include a climate lens as part of our planning and decision making.
If re-elected, I will continue to push our partner cities to enact zoning reform that allows for increased density and additional housing supply. I’ve long been a champion for thoughtful growth management, centering growth in urban areas and preserving rural communities, farmland, and our natural areas. This should continue to be the focus across the county – preventing sprawl, while prioritizing the addition of needed housing in areas connected to transit, jobs, and other critical opportunities and amenities.
Through these efforts, we can create connected communities of increased density with appropriate housing for the area it’s in – from large apartments to duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs, and mixed-use spaces that ensure communities have ample access to jobs, childcare, and other needed resources. By focusing on areas along transit lines, we can reduce our climate impact and ensure that our region is better connected. For this work to be successful, it will require zoning reform and buy-in from our cities – I am well prepared to continue to encourage that reform and achieve real results.
While King County continues to grow, more and more communities become at risk for displacement and gentrification. If elected, what programs and policies would you pursue to preserve existing communities while encouraging the continued growth that the county needs to address our affordable housing crisis? Additionally, how would you make sure that existing and future affordable housing resources are being used in an equitable way?
Investing in surplus lands and community land trusts to provide mixed income and very low income affordable housing is essential to creating just solutions to our housing crises that don’t further displacement. In doing so, we have to be mindful that granting property tax relief for low income development also often has an unintended impact of lowering the revenue base of a particular area, so we also need to ensure that County budgets reflect the appropriate resources in areas that have been impacted by under investments, i.e. unincorporated jurisdictions. Displacement also happens when people aren’t able to access economic mobility. So in addition to focusing on housing, we also have to focus on programs that help POC businesses such as loans, grants, and support resources.
In terms of ensuring equity, there’s a pattern within King County where resources, studies, and task forces are developed, but not always listened to. In this case, there are already existing equity atlas/maps that have been created, and we need to utilize them. In addition, the County has an entire equity office that has been perpetually ignored, so meaningfully including them in our program development will be top priority in my administration.
Gentrification and displacement undermine community and erode social capital. We must confront those forces even as we encourage the creation of more housing and the realization of gain by BIPOC landowners. The loss of community, and the fraying of the social fabric that provides support networks and nurtures opportunity, is tragic and detrimental to success for individuals and our community as a whole.
In the immediate, I’ve focused on prevention efforts, including Best Starts for Kids’ Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative, and rent relief programs to prevent people facing eviction from being pushed onto the street. Through Best Starts we’ve helped keep 10,000 families from experiencing homelessness and through our COVID recovery efforts we will distribute nearly $150 million in rental relief. We are ensuring community involvement by calling on nonprofit community organizations to help distribute resources, ensuring those in most need are identified and supported by the groups that they know best, and that there is an equity lens through which funds are dedicated and delivered.
As we develop more housing, we need to pay close attention to where it is situated so that no one community, especially vulnerable communities and communities of color, takes on an unfair or disproportionate share, and that we prevent predatory private development that takes advantage of those communities. It’s critical that we build new housing in existing communities, but not in a way that drives out their existing residents.
Many of today’s housing policies from zoning to permitting have roots in racial discrimination and the long running effects of those policies continue to disproportionally harm black people and people of color. If elected, you will have an opportunity to address some of this while in office. With that in mind, how would you apply a racial equity lens to your work on the council and what specifically would you like to see that reflects that approach?
Racial injustice is inherently rooted in taking away power and resources from communities, so the answer is to give it back. The County’s current leadership talks a lot about racial equity, but it’s often used optically and not implemented in earnest. The taskforces and offices that have been set up recently have not been fully utilized despite the great leaders in these spaces. We cannot tokenize the voices of those who were marginalized; we have to empower them. I will always ensure that people of color aren’t just in the room; they are at the table making decisions.
Redlining, exclusionary zoning and the housing market in a racially biased economy have all, by design or effect, resulted in stilllargely segregated neighborhoods. To secure housing, people – and disproportionately people of color – are pushed farther from jobs. Black, Indigenous and Latinx residents are overrepresented in the unsheltered population.
Excessive limits on density prevent responding to the affordable housing crisis, exacerbate transportation costs, reduce economic opportunity and are, in operation and result, racist. We will continue to expand affordable housing and housing options and insist our 39 cities do the same. Ensuring these efforts are culturally competent and informed by lived experience, it’s been my priority to bring a racial equity lens to our work on housing and build diverse teams, in my office and in coalitions, along with seeking real input from community.
We are taking a holistic approach to this effort. For example, I diverted $16 million from King County corrections to fund housing and support for Black trans residents. I also recently visited Willowcrest in Renton, which has been developed as permanently affordable housing that is also healthy for residents and net carbon neutral. The County has supported this project to build home equity in diverse communities through affordable housing, and through the lens of equity and environmental justice, reducing climate impact and creating connected communities with closely accessible opportunities for all.
We’re excited to support more projects like this that are BIPOC-focused – and, ideally, led – specifically providing housing for communities of color in traditional neighborhoods and spaces.
The housing crisis in King County is very real and is multifaceted. No one problem or one solution can solve the entire crisis. But if you had a magic wand and could solve any one part of the affordable housing crisis, what would you do and why would you take that specific action?
Reform our zoning laws region-wide. As it exists now, even if we had a sudden influx of unlimited capital to create affordable housing, we couldn’t build the units we need where we need them due to existing restrictive zoning laws. I would love to implement land use policies that are more robust, equitable, and allow for density as needed, while always ensuring we are including the communities who are currently being pushed out of their neighborhoods due to rising costs in our vision for our housing future.
The most meaningful change would be a significant increase in affordable housing supply and the funding needed to develop it. As growth continues with our already under-resourced housing supply, the challenges we face will only worsen. Housing costs will continue to skyrocket, people will continue to be displaced from their longstanding neighborhoods, and more people will be pushed into homelessness.
In the last several years we have spent over $400 million to increase affordable housing development, enacted public-private partnerships to further drive the creation of affordable housing, and worked to preserve and maintain existing affordable housing. This work must continue, but without additional funding, especially from state and federal sources, we will not be able to meet the necessary targets to get ahead of our growth.
King County has done an admirable job in addressing the homelessness crisis with the Health Through Housing program, providing emergency and permanent supportive housing to those in need. However, affordable housing is more than just homeless shelters, permanent supportive housing, and low-cost rentals. Affordable housing also includes affordable homeownership opportunities. How do you see affordable homeownership fitting into the overall housing spectrum and what (if anything) should the county do to support it?
First of all, we have to move away from the traditional mindset that home ownership means purchasing a single family home. As we envision a more dynamic and equitable housing future, we have to consider a variety of options when it comes to home ownership. This is a great way to utilize community land trusts (CLTs). The property itself could be owned by a public entity, which would make the cost of a home more affordable, but still allow the owner to take part in the equity of the building, just at a lower price. These types of programs can be paired with education and awareness campaigns and resources, as well as creating a public infrastructure bank, which could help with access to credit and even building out affordable housing. These units could be allocated based on communities who need to partake in the economic growth who haven’t been able to in the past.
Home ownership is critically important for building generational wealth, and absolutely must be a key part of our strategy for addressing the housing crisis. As mentioned in an earlier question, we are supporting the development of permanently affordable housing through projects like Willowcrest, which are specifically designed to allow residents to build home equity. We are working with nonprofit organizations and with public resources to ensure this kind of affordable housing is built, as well as working to encourage the private sector to develop similar kinds of affordable housing where neighbors can put down their roots and build equity through homeownership.
This effort is especially critical for King County’s Black residents and other households of color, who have been unfairly and unjustly denied access for generations through redlining, lending restrictions, and racist systemic features of government and society from the primary mechanism for achieving financial security. While much of our focus has been on housing supply overall, I am committed to redressing this specific injustice and increasing Black access to home ownership, home equity, and wealth creation.
Thanks to the Health Through Housing program and other various subsidies, funding is available for affordable housing. However, the need for more affordable housing continues to grow across King County. One idea that has been discussed is the creation of a county-wide housing levy. Do you support the creation of a county-wide housing levy and if so, what would it consist of, who would be served by it, and what Area Median Income (AMI) levels would you include?
Yes, I would definitely be in support of a county-wide housing levy, but we have to make sure that the funding mechanism isn’t the same regressive sources that we’ve relied upon in the past, such as property taxes. In doing so, we are burdening the people who need help the most. We’re raising money to help people, but raising that money often hurts them even more. In searching for alternative funding sources, we have to make sure that the wealthiest in our region, who’s helping drive up these housing costs in the first place, are partaking in the solution. We can’t keep asking those who have been most harmed by rising unaffordability to also have to deal with the rising unaffordability, so instead, we should look at creating a new authority for sourcing funding.
Addressing the significant countywide housing need requires significant investment of resources at the local, state and federal level. That is why I increased funding for affordable housing in the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy and implemented the Health through Housing sales tax.
I remain committed to exploring and implementing more options to 1) reduce and prevent homelessness, 2) increase access to opportunity for low-income households, and 3) increase access to homeownership for Black, Indigenous and other households of color for households up to 80% area median income. We must put an immediate focus on 0-30% AMI providing support for the most impoverished and recognizing there is need across incomes.
Importantly, we must find more progressive ways to raise the revenue needed to secure more affordable homes for King County residents. A countywide property tax levy is an imperfect tool that I will continue to consider in combination with other more progressive options, as discussed below.
Do you support identifying and accessing new financial resources for affordable housing production outside of a levy, and if so, what would those resources be?
Yes! In fact, I was proud to champion the most progressive tax reform in Washington State history last year along with other advocates in this space, but I think we still have a long way to go. Anything from a wealth tax to payroll options based on incomes over hundreds of thousands of dollars or per square footage, there are a host of things to do to help create more revenue to invest in our communities’ futures.
I believe every person deserves a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home. The truly equitable, sustainable way to scale our region’s production of affordable homes is by increasing federal and state funding and passing more progressive, local revenue options at the state level. That is why I helped champion the progressive payroll tax for affordable housing in 2020. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to enact that option. I will continue to work with cities and the Legislature throughout 2021 and 2022 to identify and enact new local revenue options, like a Real Estate Excise Tax or payroll tax