in partnership with
King County County Council (District 5): Shukri Olow & Dave Upthegrove
Note: We sent questionnaires to all King County Council candidates. We posted all responses that we received.
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?
Yes, I am deeply supportive of zoning reform as we must recognize that exclusionary zoning is a significant driver behind the extreme disproportionalities in housing instability amongst Indigenous, Black, and Brown community members is caused by decades of racist federal and local housing policies, among others including historic redlining, blockbusting, and current waves of gentrification and displacement.
One of our primary goals is passing zoning and regulatory reforms to make it easier to build multifamily housing, especially in areas well-served by transit. This will serve a number of goals, including reducing pollution, mitigating displacement, and increasing the supply of multifamily housing that leads to vibrant communities that are more transit oriented, walkable, and bikeable neighborhoods. While transit-oriented development and investments in affordable housing are one-piece of the puzzle, a wider look at the land use and zoning policies beyond the immediate area surrounding major transit centers is crucial to sharing our region and sharing the impact of growth.
I am committed to working with the several municipalities across King County’s District 5 to advance multi-family housing policies in appropriate areas – starting with expanding single-family zoning to allow duplexes and triplexes.
We need to continue to not only allow, but also incentivize, the development of additional housing in our urban unincorporated areas. We achieve this by continuing to work with the communities in those areas to build support and incorporate greater density in our comprehensive plans and sub area updates. As we limit development in rural areas, we must facilitate housing development in our urban areas in order to meet the growing demand.
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?
Rising rents, housing costs, and scarcity of affordable housing in King County’s District 5 are the number one concern I hear from constituents. Skyrocketing rents are the primary driver of gentrification and displacement, and King County has not done nearly enough to use the powers and levers it has to provide sufficient affordable housing. Households of color are disproportionately rent burdened, putting us in the position every month of making choices between paying the rent or buying food, paying the rent or visiting the doctor, paying the rent or making the car payment. I have known these struggles, and this will be one of my top goals as King County Councilmember.
We need transit-oriented development, increased tenant protections and rent stabilization measures, and to build a collaborative relationship with cities across the County. We need progressive revenue options and support from the state and federal governments. We need support from the private sector.
To ensure that resources are being used equitably we must work with community leaders, community based organizations, and trusted messengers in the community and identify which families are in need of additional tenant protections – from economic evictions to worries around increasing property taxes – versus broad-based rent stabilization members. We must have active partnerships with BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and senior-focused housing providers to ensure that folks of all backgrounds feel confident that existing and new affordable housing is a place where they can feel safe and build community.
As we allow and facilitate density in urban areas, particularly near transit, we must do it in an equitable manner that allows the community to maintain community character and affordability. To be successful, cities and the county must be intentional and deliberate to achieve this goal. I support mandatory inclusionary zoning. I also believe we need to provide county funding to support community-owned land trusts to not only prevent displacement but also help build capital and generational wealth. Finally, I believe we should use publicly-owned properties strategically to achieve community goals, including prevention of displacement and gentrification.
We absolutely must make sure that our limited financial resources are spent in an equitable way, and we do this by involving the community in the development of annual priority strategies, targeted outreach to underrepresented communities, investments in capacity building for smaller and newer organizations serving underrepresented communities, and making sure we are using best practices for equity in our RFP and selection process.
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?
As a community organizer of 14 years with deep ties to the immigrant and refugee communities and those navigating the public housing system, I aim to bring a new level of cultural competence and anti-racism to conversations around housing policies. We need to understand that communities of color and low-income communities have a long history of being pushed aside and displaced by major projects and have a hesitancy to engage with public agencies for a number of reasons – from discrimination, ignored public input, and the criminalization of poverty that disproportionately targets BIPOC residents.
We need to center the lived experiences of those who are unsheltered or navigating homelessness by prioritizing investments in a lived experience coalition that would bring together communities across South King County. We also need to deepen our partnerships with housing providers including affordable housing, temporary and permanent providers. We should explore pathways to homeownership through models such as Habitat for Humanity and sharia-compliant home loan providers.
Lastly, we need to do a deeper assessment of land throughout King County to assess what a truly affordable, sustainable approach to building more housing could look like – know that homeownership today does not reflect what it may have been decades ago.
The legacy of slavery and white supremacy are insidious in their infection of all institutions in our nation. From redlining to segregation to imbalanced investments in neighborhoods, we have a sad history. Fortunately, King County has led the way with a county-wide equity and social justice plan. We also embedded these values throughout our comprehensive plan in our latest update. Redressing the wrongs of the past means not accepting the status-quo, and instead continuing to partner with those impacted by injustice to target funding and to shape land-use planning decisions in ways that produce systemic change and fulfill our vision of healthy, livable communities for all.
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?
Build more affordable housing. Anyone who has been deprived of housing knows, fundamentally, what “Housing First” means, even if
they don’t know the theory. Housing is a human right. Study after study has shown that the primary driver of homelessness in our region is that housing rent is going up faster than incomes, without lowest-income neighbors (<30%AMI) experiencing the biggest shortage of affordable housing options. Recent reports have stated that we need to build AT MINIMUM 37,000 units of housing that is affordable to those at the lowest end of the income scale in order to stably house everyone in the County that are either currently homeless or at risk of homelessness.
To end homelessness we need solutions that approach the scale of the problem – if our region can come together to fund billions in Sound Transit expansion, we need similar sized solutions to dramatically reduce homelessness and housing instability.
We need to finally treat homelessness as the state of emergency that it is, and act with appropriate urgency. This is what I will do.
Housing is a human right and I agree that we need to be doing more at every level of need. If I could only magically solve one part of the crisis, it would be providing housing for the chronically unsheltered. For those at the bottom of the economic ladder who are struggling to survive in the streets, it can be a matter of life and death. We have a moral responsibility to protect the health and lives of vulnerable populations. In the wealthiest nation in the world we shouldn’t have people living in the streets.
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?
We need more housing and with the way that home values are skyrocketing – especially for single-family homes – we need more diverse housing options including duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and rowhouses, and even condominiums.
Additionally, we need to explore ways to expand and build on proven programs such as Homestead Community Land Trust that have been keeping families in reliable homes and connected to community for over 20 years.
The American Dream of homeownership is out of reach for so many members of our community. Some of the most helpful tools are outside of county control, however we can play an important role. King County needs to continue to be aggressive in supporting both zoning, as well as countywide planning policies, that help facilitate an increase in production of housing. In other words, we need to help increase supply. The current huge gap between demand and supply for housing in the region is contributing to increased costs.
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 do support a county-wide housing levy. As mentioned above, I believe we need a region-wide approach on a Sound Transit-like scale. Any levy would need to consist of a number of services that target different needs and populations. Overall, we need to focus the majority of the funding on building affordable housing with a mix of housing at 60% AMI, 30% AMI, and Permanent Supportive Housing that is appropriate for chronically homeless individuals. Secondarily, increasing programs that focus on rent stabilization and keeping current tenants housed would be of critical importance. Third, increasing assistance for homebuying opportunities so that families can begin to build wealth and escape generational poverty.
I am open to the idea of a housing levy. Currently, the only tool we have is to ask voters to raise their property taxes, so we would need to ensure that any proposal has broad support. Details should be developed in conjunction with community based organizations and other community input, but clearly one of the greatest needs/gaps is the <30% AMI.
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, we need progressive revenue options such as an employer payroll tax, capital gains, and/or an income tax. However, with Washington State having the most regressive tax code in the country, this leaves local governments, such as King County with few options for ensuring that our housing (and other) services provided keep up with the astronomical growth our region is experiencing.
Our campaign definitely understands that this upside-down tax code and growth means that communities of color, like those that make up a large portion of the population in King County’s District 5, are impacted on both ends of the spectrum – all while facing rising cost of living and potential displacement.
As an elected leader, it is our responsibility to understand all available mechanisms at our disposal and to be judicious in the items that we put in front of voters. It is also incumbent upon elected leaders to continue to push for fundamental change in how our tax code is structured.
I will make it a priority for King County to work with our intergovernmental relations office to ensure we are pushing as vocally as possible for both more progressive revenue options and increased, direct funding for housing through our partners at the state and federal level.
Absolutely. In addition to using the levy tools we have available at the county, we should continue to aggressively pursue state and federal funding, as well as partner with the philanthropic sector.