In 2017 Seattle began work to ensure that big businesses are paying their fair share through progressive taxes. Nearly three years later, our City Council passed a revenue package that looks like it’s finally going to stick. “JumpStart Seattle,” funded through a payroll-based tax on large corporations with high-salary employees, is expected to raise over $214 million annually.
The spending plan is up for a final vote today, July 20. The council intends to invest millions this year in communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes funds for housing and food security, aid to immigrants and refugees, and relief for small businesses and childcare providers. In 2021 and beyond, the revenue will help to prevent an austerity budget, bolster resiliency in communities affected by COVID-19, invest in Green New Deal programs with a focus on BIPOC communities, and build affordable housing.
In April, I wrote about my movement and theater academy that was shuttered on March 12 and the housing security issues my household faced. Small business aid has been spotty, like duct tape fixing a crack in a leaking dam. Schools are canceling fall programs. My summer was more or less cancelled out. I’ve still been teaching some classes, but enrollment through online sign-ups is a far cry from my 300 students last summer. I owe $10,000 in back rent that I must make up.
Earlier this year our city council passed legislation that requires landlords to accept payment plans for back rent, and a Winter Evictions Moratorium will keep many Seattleites safe from eviction till next March. Still, John Stovall of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance warns that with “139,000 Seattle Metro area renters unable to pay their rent on time, a tidal wave of evictions is on the way eventually, which will drive more into homelessness.”
JumpStart will allow the Office of Economic Development to provide 1,640 additional $10,000 Small Business Stabilization grants, with 340 allocated for essential childcare providers who are struggling to stay open, even as many parents return to work. These grants will be a gamechanger for workers at fledgling businesses like mine. In addition, there are funds for rent relief to help stem the tide of evictions. And, for the thousands of our neighbors who have already lost their homes, JumpStart includes funds to bolster the city’s homelessness response and to build deeply affordable housing, including permanent supportive housing.
As a white man, my needs pale in comparison to the struggle of many people in BIPOC and immigrant and refugee communities who were hurting long before COVID. “Our community was facing food and housing insecurity before COVID. Now that our people are facing greater economic distress than usual, the consequences are dire," said Kamali Senior, the executive director of Standing Against Foreclosures and Evictions, an anti-gentrification and displacement organization focused on BIPOC communities.
Cliff Cawthon, a local college professor and housing advocate rooted in Black community, said, “Despite the public's overwhelming support for the Black Lives Matter movement, this is the de-Blackening of Seattle.” He’s referring to the waves of displacement that have driven Black people out of the city as housing prices have risen rapidly, especially in the past decade. To address this, Cawthon said, “An intentional spend plan must prioritize funding for initiatives, such as the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) and grants to community organizations for developing community-owned and or driven affordable housing.”
JumpStart does this by directing ongoing funding to the city’s EDI to support community-driven projects, especially in BIPOC communities, and directs a portion of the affordable housing funds specifically to building homes in Seattle’s Central District, with a “community preference” policy designed to specifically address the ongoing displacement of Black communities.
Immigrant and refugee families, especially those whose breadwinners are undocumented, have been facing a lockout from federal pandemic assistance. Aside from funds like the COVID-19 Relief Fund for WA Undocumented Folks there is very little coming in for families facing economic distress. JumpStart sets aside $18 million for direct cash assistance and language access services for those locked out of systems that only benefit American citizens.
For all of these reasons, the JumpStart spending plan is a step forward in a time when so many of us are suddenly in survival mode, and BIPOC communities who were already there are struggling even more. Thanks to the tireless work of so many people who have fought for progressive taxation since 2017, and the bold leadership of our city council, in particular Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales.
Matthew Lang is the owner of Body, Heart, and Mind Academy.