Tammy Morales has come closer to being a Seattle City Council member than almost anyone else in the city. In 2015, she nearly unseated longtime council member Bruce Harrell, losing by just 424 votes. Her near-win made it no surprise when she announced her candidacy for City Council on Monday.
The surprise came on Tuesday when Harrell announced that he would not seek reelection, a decision that probably had something to do with Morales receiving early endorsements from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal and State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña. In the space of a day, the race for District 2 went from an underdog challenge against the president of the City Council to being Morales's race to lose.
I met up with Morales at the Beacon Hill Library on Tuesday. While I was waiting for the community organizer to finish an interview with KIRO 7’s Essex Porter in a side room of the library I looked around and noticed just how diverse the library’s clientele was. A group of kids were reading in the children’s area, none of them were white. The adults sitting at computers are browsing through shelves of books were equally diverse. District 2 spans from the International District to Rainier Valley, covering the most ethnically diverse stretch of Seattle. Only 29.8 percent of people here are white, according to the city’s estimates, making it the council’s only district where white people form a minority of the population.
At the same time, change is coming quickly to south Seattle. While the brewery next door to the library expands, the neighboring Latin businesses start to close their doors. It seems like every other house in Columbia City gets replaced by ugly glassy mansions. Morales, a mother of three who has lived in Seattle since 2000 and works as a community organizer with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, frequently talked about these rapid changes during our conversation.
“Things are changing. There’s a lot of… land value speculation. People are selling land for way more than the market value because they know that change is coming. And that leaves out community organizations because immediately they can’t afford land anymore.”
Morales said the city needs to be doing more to make sure that the residents and businesses of District 2 are able to stay in the neighborhood even as it changes. She said she was “not a huge fan of the wholesale citywide upzone” being conducted through the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan. MHA has increased the maximum size of buildings, also referred to as “upzoning,” in five central Seattle neighborhoods. The council is still approving the remaining parts of MHA, including upzones in District 2. The upzones are essentially a deal between the city and developers where the developers get to build larger buildings as long as they either build affordable housing units or pay into a fund. Morales said she thinks the developers should be forced to build units instead of getting the option of just paying into a fund.
“In 2018, something like 9,000 market-rate units were built, less than 400 affordable housing units were built. So, developers were out there and they are building but there’s no reason for them to actually build affordable housing because it’s not required, they just throw some money in a pot and they call it good,” Morales said.
Morales said the city is still not spending the money contributed to the housing fund quick enough, delaying the development of affordable housing.
“I’m sure some of it’s being used and in two or three or four years maybe we’ll have some affordable housing units. But it’s a question of urgency, sooner or later we will get affordable housing units but we need them now because people in this district are getting pushed out every day,” Morales said.
Morales said she still thinks the MHA plan should bring more density to District 2, but she said more needs to be done to reduce the risk of displacement.
“In District 2, we have folks that are at the highest risk of displacement with the lowest opportunity to jobs and employment. That is a breeding ground for displacement, so OK we’ve identified those two problems. What are we going to do about it?”
Morales said allowing backyard cottages and the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability plan as possible solutions to reducing displacement. She also said the city should start directly building more public housing.
To fight rising childcare costs, Morales said the city should incentivize building new childcare centers and subsidy costs for families so no family is forced to spend more than ten percent of their income on healthcare.
“We do need some sort of subsidy for families because a year of infant childcare, for example, is three times as much as college tuition… so there has to be some sort of intervention there,” Morales said. “I know that no family should have to pay more than ten percent of their income on childcare.”
Morales said the city is not making progress on fighting homelessness and should increase spending on basic services like job training and showers, strengthen protections for renters facing evictions, and spend more money on public housing. She said she opposes sweeping homeless people in almost all situations and said Mayor Jenny Durkan has wrongly increased these sweeps.
“It feels like Mayor Durkan is doubling down on this. She just changed the MDARs [the city’s rules for clearing encampments] to give 30 minutes notices. 30 minutes* or we’re calling the cops! That’s fucking nuts,” Morales said, dropping the second fuck of our interview. The Stranger loves a good fuck.
Two local socialist parties—The Democratic Socialists of America and the Socialist Alternative—recently listed Morales as a speaker at an event billed as “Socialists Into City Hall—Building the MBMT in the 2019 Election” but Morales declined to say she was a socialist.
“I did join DSA several months ago. My campaign is really about serving the people of District 2 so I’m not sure that I want to align any certain way,” Morales said.
Throughout our interview, Morales frequently reiterated that the voters of District 2 have felt unheard by Harrell and the current City Council and that she was the person who could actually connect with them.
“I’ve been listening to the community for a long time. I think people are ready for someone that holds themselves accountable to the community and is very transparent about how things will work or not work,” Morales said.
Morales said her last campaign was driven by relentlessly knocking on doors and spending time in the district, something she plans on doing throughout this election.
“I was the only one out there that was knocking on doors. I was hearing from people their frustration,” Morales said. “What I learned was if you work your ass off you get really close.”
We’ll see if this election Morales is able to go from a close loss to a win.
*Chelsea Kellogg, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, reached out to me Friday morning and said Morales's claim is not accurate. Kellogg said some encampments are cleared without notice if they pose a hazard, while others receive 72-hour notice.
"As you know, the protocols allow the city, in some scenarios, to provide at least 72-hour removal notice to encampments on public property. In other circumstances, the rules call for the city to remove encampments that pose a hazard or an obstruction to public property without 72-hour notice," Kellogg said in an e-mail.