There is no more time. After years of advocating for more housing at all income levels while facing arguments over how much housing is too much and what color of brick is appropriate or what would “match” the area, it’s time for change. But we keep seeing resistance to change despite worsening wildfires highlighting the urgency of our homelessness, housing, and climate crises. As I read the projected temperatures of over 100°, record-setting days that are uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst, I thought of and still think about our unhoused neighbors. These Seattleites have been priced out of their homes for many reasons: losing their jobs, going into medical debt, or simply as a symptom of our refusal to build more homes across our city.
Just like last year’s wildfire season, homeless people will remain outside in dangerous heat and breathing hazardous air as advisories tell us to go inside. Our unhoused neighbors are lucky to even find shade or sources of drinking water, all while knowing that any relief is temporary, and the City could show up at any moment, forcing them to pack what they can carry and hide out of sight. This is how we know that climate justice is social justice. Our lack of true help for our homeless population has proven hot-tempered and cold-blooded.
And yet our most vulnerable are the subject of much controversy: Compassion Seattle’s inhumane charter amendment is posed to legalize and excuse sweeps instead of offering legitimate, “compassionate” solutions based in reality. We see more and more people displaced and slip into homelessness day after day. Given that we have a mayor who rejects free federal money to temporarily house them, and no comprehensive solutions for the cold or hot extremes our weather brings in this climate emergency, I pose this question:
With our current leadership—and my peers in the mayoral race who boast more affiliations with that leadership than not—is anyone willing to prioritize the humans left to live on our streets?
The field of hopefuls running for office, our news outlets, and social media buzz with conversations about the unhoused, but usually not with them or for them.
One of my peers served as a council member for 12 years, including the period in which elected officials declared homelessness an emergency. Others served on nonprofit boards, City Council, or else occupied other positions that could have made a difference for our unhoused then, so why are we led to believe they will get it right now? We are not going back to the politics of past council members and an old guard who spent more time identifying problems than solving them.
The climate emergency is here. We are, right now, living in what scientists call the "Pyrocene," the ‘Era of Fire,' a fact that played a large role in my decision to run for mayor. We are, right now, at a point where it is simply not enough to mitigate a few effects of our worsening wildfires and smoke. This is especially true for our most marginalized and at-risk communities.
We must do everything we possibly can. This is why I have plans to deliver not just a rapid response to what our unhoused neighbors are living through right now, but also preventative measures, so that when we struggle we do not slip into homelessness.
Most of my proposals center on housing because the fastest way to see true progress on all of the crises we face—housing, homelessness, economic and social justice— is to finally accept that housing is a human right for every person in our city and to put jobs and housing close together in every single neighborhood. If we achieve the 15-Minute City ideal touted by groups such as C40 for years, we will see significant improvements in everyday lives and in the quality of life for ALL Seattleites, housed and unhoused.
This is a burden we must all share. But, like any load to bear, many hands make light work. Our sky and our air doesn’t end at the city line. The policy decisions we make as a city affect the entire country, and vice versa. Our response to the issues facing us today will set the tone for decades to come, and for cities to replicate, continuing our legacy as a progressive city on policies like a higher minimum wage and recreational marijuana. We must build a better Seattle and a better world. It all starts by taking action.
In order to realize this future, we must act quickly, meet the scale of this moment, and embrace change. We can work together to house every Seattleite and become the progressive city we so often proclaim to be. That’s why I put out a comprehensive policy platform with climate woven throughout every proposal.
We need action, and we need it now. After years of inaction, I will act.
Andrew Grant Houston is a Seattle mayoral candidate.