SEAT­TLE HOME­LESS CRI­SIS STILL ELU­SIVE

HOME­LESS CRI­SIS STILL ELU­SIVE

The Gulf Today - Business - - FRONT PAGE -

The Seat­tle City Coun­cil’s ap­par­ent re­ver­sal of the $275-per-em­ployee head tax would de­liver a ma­jor vic­tory to busi­nesses whose po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence has waned in re­cent years, while blind-sid­ing home­less­ness ser­vices providers by wip­ing away their big­gest achieve­ment.

Lead­ers from both groups cau­tioned that while the home­less­ness re­sponse can­not slow down amid an on­go­ing emer­gency, the way for­ward was un­clear and glimpses of com­mon ground were fleet­ing.

In state­ments and in­ter­views Mon­day, busi­nesses treaded care­fully, ex­press­ing sat­is­fac­tion at the ex­pected out­come _ driven in large part by the re­peal ini­tia­tive cam­paign they fi­nanced, which tapped into vo­cal dis­sat­is­fac­tion. But they also sig­naled a de­sire to re-en­gage with re­gional govern­ment lead­ers in search of so­lu­tions to the wors­en­ing home­less­ness cri­sis.

The an­nounce­ment of the pro­posed re­peal comes two weeks af­ter King County’s an­nual home­less count re­vealed a 4 per cent in­crease, with a steep rise in peo­ple liv­ing in their ve­hi­cles.

Some ser­vice providers, who were an­tic­i­pat­ing a surge in city home­less­ness fund­ing from the head tax, lamented the ag­gres­sive cam­paign against the tax.

“The onus is very much on those who fought so hard against this so­lu­tion to iden­tify a bet­ter one, or ad­mit they’re OK with the city hav­ing shanty towns and fave­las in our pub­lic spa­ces in­def­i­nitely,” said Lisa Dau­gaard, a mem­ber of a city task force whose rec­om­men­da­tions formed the ba­sis for the head-tax pro­posal.

Oth­ers de­cried the coun­cil’s lack of po­lit­i­cal will.

“If this is not the so­lu­tion, then what? We do need to do more than just talk about it. It does need to be ad­dressed,” said Pa­tri­cia Hay­den, co-chair of the Seat­tle Hu­man Ser­vices Coali­tion and chief pro­gramme of­fi­cer for the YWCA of Seat­tle.

Mar­i­lyn Strick­land, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Metropoli­tan Seat­tle Cham­ber of Com­merce, said the cham­ber is “ready to work on so­lu­tions _ from em­ploy­ment, to tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion, to hous­ing.” How­ever, the cham­ber de­clined to par­tic­i­pate in the rev­enue task force whose find­ings led to the head tax.

Denise Moriguchi, chief ex­ec­u­tive of long­time Seat­tle gro­cery com­pany Uwa­ji­maya, has em­pha­sized that the tax would af­fect not just tech­nol­ogy gi­ants like Ama­zon _ the rhetor­i­cal tar­get of head tax sup­port­ers _ but also fam­ily-owned gro­cers and other busi­nesses.

Her com­pany, which con­trib­uted to the re­peal ini­tia­tive cam­paign, would be sub­ject to the tax, which would ap­ply in 2019 to busi­nesses with $20 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue in the city of Seat­tle.

She said Mon­day she ap­pre­ci­ates the coun­cil’s re­spon­sive­ness to con­cerns of busi­nesses and Seat­tleites who spoke out against what she called “reck­less spend­ing” and an “ill-con­ceived pro­posal to tax the very busi­nesses which pro­vide jobs, gen­er­ate tax rev­enue and pro­vide sup­port to or­ga­ni­za­tions that help ad­dress home­less­ness.

“I strongly be­lieve that there is a bet­ter way for­ward, one that im­proves cur­rent spend­ing ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness all while en­cour­ag­ing eco­nomic growth and job cre­ation,” she added.

Ama­zon, also a con­trib­u­tor to the ini­tia­tive cam­paign, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The head tax ne­go­ti­ated by Mayor Jenny Durkan and passed unan­i­mously by the coun­cil last month was low­ered to an amount that Durkan hoped would ap­pease Ama­zon. The com­pany never ex­pressed pub­lic sup­port, but it restarted a build­ing project it had paused af­ter the head tax passed.

Even with­out a head tax, Seat­tle’s busi­ness taxes are sub­stan­tially higher than those of most other Washington cities. The trade-off in­cludes the ameni­ties of a ma­jor city and the ta­lented work­force avail­able here.

But for low-mar­gin gro­cery and re­tail busi­nesses in Seat­tle, which em­ploy many en­try-level work­ers and have com­peti­tors in lower-tax ju­ris­dic­tions nearby, the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of taxes and reg­u­la­tions in re­cent years is be­com­ing a sig­nif­i­cant bur­den. They cite the $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage and soda tax, among oth­ers.

“You can’t just pass ev­ery cost that the city cre­ates on to your con­sumer when your con­sumer has other op­tions,” said Terry Halver­son, chair­man of Metropoli­tan Mar­ket, which has four of its seven lo­ca­tions in Seat­tle and would be sub­ject to the head tax. His con­cerns about previous taxes and reg­u­la­tions fell on deaf ears at City Hall, he said.

Halver­son said he’s hope­ful that the head tax turn­about is a sign that the coun­cil is be­com­ing more re­spon­sive to busi­nesses. He like­wise hopes busi­nesses will be­come more en­gaged in the home­less­ness is­sue. Metropoli­tan Mar­ket, he said, wants to join the mayor’s One Ta­ble task force, a joint ef­fort be­tween cities and King County that was partly cre­ated to find an al­ter­na­tive to tax­ing Seat­tle’s busi­nesses.

The One Ta­ble ef­fort stalled dur­ing the head-tax de­bate and an­other meet­ing of the group isn’t even sched­uled. But it stands as the only re­gional ap­proach to home­less­ness in play.

In any case, home­less ad­vo­cates say more fund­ing is needed to ad­dress the cri­sis. Dau­gaard, with the rev­enue task force, was less hope­ful be­cause the head tax was crushed with­out an al­ter­na­tive plan in place.

“In the fury over the em­ployee hours tax, op­po­nents have cast ev­ery­thing into the fire,” Dau­gaard said. “Any­one who wants to see pub­lic home­less­ness re­duced or ended is go­ing to pay for that _ and that in­cludes them.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.