What If It Were Legal To House Everyone? Speak Out Seattle! District 1 Forum

What if it were legal to house everyone in Seattle? I’ll get to that, but here’s where that question came from:

District 1 Candidate Forum - Photo: Speak Out Seattle

District 1 Candidate Forum - Photo: Speak Out Seattle

On Thursday, March 21st, I attended the District 1 (West Seattle) City Council candidate forum sponsored by a local organization called Speak Out Seattle. All 5 District 1 candidates participated, including incumbent Lisa Herbold.

Full participation is notable, as SOS is accused of being anti-homeless and connected to an expressly alarmist facebook group: Safe Seattle. Because of this alleged association, several candidates in other districts, such as District 4 Candidates Emily Myers and Shaun Scott, denounced Speak Out Seattle and won't attend future candidate forums.

I think this is a mistake. You can read SOS’s policy positions here. They do seem to lean law and order—more than I do—but this is a reasonable position I disagree with, not boycott-able hate. Seattle is in trouble if progressive leaders won’t even acknowledge a group like SOS. Workable solutions and practical management are not likely in a scorched-earth, virtue signaling contest.

First of all, SOS denies its affiliation to Safe Seattle, and denies that it is anti-homeless. But ok, how do I know if that’s true or not?  Instead of boycotting this group altogether, I decided to see for myself at their first forum held at the American Legion hall in West Seattle. It was packed with predominantly gray-haired white people. Standing room only! I didn’t have a good feeling about this.

While I don’t buy the SOS = Safe Seattle line, I did think I was walking into the lion's den of close-minded monochromatic NIMBYS. That wasn’t the case. Was the audience in favor of the full-throated urbanism I support? Doubtful, but the packed room held more compassion than I was expecting.

How do I know that? That the audience at the allegedly anti-homeless SOS event wasn’t packed full of NIMBYS? Well, I “asked” the candidates this (poorly worded, from the mind of a very Dyslexic person) question:

“What would you do to make it legal to build homes at a density that would house ALL Seattleites?”

The video starts just before my question is asked.

Ok I didn’t ask the question. I submitted it to the SOS organizers when I walked in the door. It ended up being the first audience question for the candidates! If SOS were virulently anti-homeless, why would they choose this question?

Anyway, every candidate response was at least mildy pro-growth. Incumbent Lisa Herbold touted MHA, which recently upzoned 6% of the residential land in Seattle. Phillip Tavel was pro-MHA while impassionately critiquing its flaws. But it was the audience that surprised me. Watch the video! They applauded upzoning and affordable housing multiple times.

That caught me off guard. From what I was told to think of SOS and its constituency by candidates Shaun Scott and Emily Myers, I assumed this crowd would be hate fueled NIMBYville. It was not.

Yes, the audience did appear to want the SPD to crack down on property crime and open-air drug use—something I’m skeptical of. But it was audibly pro-density. And yet, some felt it fair to refer to this as an event run by “monsters.”

This event was not run by monsters, full stop.

That said, I’d argue none of the candidates answered my question fully. We need to find more than 12,000 homes for the more than 12,000 homeless in Seattle. And while we need social support in the forms of renter assistance, moving assistance, and affordable housing requirements, the top line issue is this:

It’s not legal to build homes at a density that would actually house everyone in this city.


I believe that the City Council should study this concept: a legal requirement that the city zoning must comprise enough housing units for its entire population. How they get built is the next step, but let's start from the top. If enough units aren’t legally allowed to exist, we will have homelessness.

Now maybe my notion is 100% wrong, but ideas come from open, good-faith discussion. That’s what happened at this forum, and we need more of it.

SOS’s next candidate forum for District 4 is on Saturday, March 30th, at The Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center:

6535 Ravenna Ave NE. 4:30-6 PM

I’ll be there. Will all the candidates be there? We’ll see...but Mr. Scott and Ms. Myers should go. We need more good-faith conversation on tough issues, not fewer.  

Nathan ChaffetzComment